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Anita Harris

Further information

About the author

Anita Harris is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Research, Monash University Victoria 3800. She is researching the political engagements of young women in relation to feminist issues and activism. Her publications in this area include 'Generation (se)X' in Rosamund Else-Mitchell and Naomi Flutter (eds.) (1998) Talking Up: Young Women's Take on Feminism Spinifex: North Melbourne and 'Defining and contesting DIY feminism: the politics of grrrlpower' in John Brookfield, Susan Windybank, Anna Benz and Vanessa Kirkpatrick (compilers) (1999) Proceedings of the 1999 Conference of the Australasian Political Studies Association 26-29 September University of Sydney Sydney: Australasian Political Studies Association volume 2, pp.283-288.

Publication details

Volume 8, May 2001

Not Waving or Drowning:
Young Women, Feminism, and the Limits of the Next Wave Debate


Debate over the 'next wave' has contributed to particular representations of young women and their relations to feminism. This debate has framed competing discourses about young feminists as 'power feminists' fighting 'victim feminism', girl-powered Do-It-Yourselfers developing a new style of sassy, in-your-face feminism, or the 'third wave' simply grasping the baton from the previous generation. Young women are primarily constructed (and many construct themselves) through these discourses as rejecting victimhood and instead seizing power. Here I argue that these kinds of claims about the nature of young feminism emerge out of a context within which girls have become cultural symbols of change, risk and danger. The desire to frame young feminism around the concept of power is in part a consequence of the overdetermination of girlhood as a container for cultural anxieties about social change. However, these (competing) claims about the ways young feminism rejects victimhood, and the attempt to homogenise young feminism into a single and identifiable 'wave' around the idea of power tends to obscure this context within which young women's lives have taken on new cultural meanings.

Further, the diversity of young women's political engagements, particularly those for whom the terms of this debate lack immediacy and meaning, can be lost in the process. This paper thus also seeks to map out the complexity, diversity and dynamism both within the category of young women and in terms of their feminist politics beyond the terms of the next wave debate. I suggest that the feminism lived by many young women is constituted in diverse, networked, global, and interconnected praxis. To move out of the victim/power framework of the next wave debate, I would argue that young women are not necessarily 'waving', but nor are they therefore 'drowning' as a consequence. Although their feminisms cannot be contained within the terms of a singular 'next wave' movement, young women, in their diversity and through a range of strategies, are passionately engaged with improving the lives of girls and women globally. However, it is only by acknowledging the limitations of a closed category such as the 'next wave' that this engagement, and perhaps the future of feminism, can be recognised.

Constructions of young women, constructions of young feminism

Since the early to mid 1990s, young womanhood has become a topic central to debates about culture and society. At this time, two discourses about girlhood took hold as key explanatory devices for understanding young women's lives. These were the stories of 'girlpower' on the one hand, and girls 'at risk' on the other. The story of girlpower, of girls as sassy, confident and sometimes dangerous, has seen a phenomenon whereby 'young women have replaced youth as a metaphor for social change' (MacRobbie, 2000: 200-201). The counter-story of girls at risk, which has seen a rising concern with young women's risk taking behaviours (drugs, sex, crime), has resulted in more elaborate 'regimes of youth regulation' (Griffin, 1997) directed specifically at girls. The debate about young women's relationship to feminism thus has taken place within a broader context of cultural fascination with girlhood, and against a framework which constructs young women as either 'having everything' or being in serious trouble.

To explore how young women became a 'problem' for feminism, we need to take this wider context into account. Specifically, young women were deemed to be silent on key feminist issues, either because they felt they already had everything (Summers, 1994), or because they were too deeply troubled to find a feminist voice (Pipher, 1997). If they were perceived as articulating feminist principles, they did not express their feminist convictions in appropriate ways, being either too absorbed in risk and victimhood (Garner, 1995), or mistaking feminism for simply reversing sexual objectification and having a laugh (Greer, 1999). This power/risk image was and continues to be bolstered by other popular contemporary moral panics around young women, for example, debates about either their increased 'sexiness' or sexual vulnerability, concerns about their apparently increasing tendencies toward violence and criminality, and discussions about their disaffection and disengagement from civic life more generally (see Laflin, 1996; Luker, 1996; Helve, 1997; Kuo, 1998).

It was along with these broader concerns about young women that this debate about the shape of young feminism emerged. In response to the image of young women as apathetic and selfish, or sociopathic and at risk, many have sought to challenge this binarism and demonstrate the ongoing feminist activism of a new generation. The identification of the 'next wave' of feminism became critical, not least on the part of young women themselves, many of whom felt maligned by their critics. In particular, young women urgently felt the need to explain what it meant to have some power and some rights, but to still see the need for feminist work; that is, to move forward as a generation for whom 'the legacy of feminism was a sense of entitlement' (Findlen, 1995:xiv). What quickly occurred, however, was the introduction of distinctive 'styles' of young feminism, which came with labels ('power feminism', 'DIY/girlpower', the third wave), leaders (Naomi Wolf, Courtney Love, Rebecca Walker) and, I would suggest, little in the way of elaborated theory and sometimes politics. The construction of these styles of new feminism lay somewhere between well-intentioned young women themselves, good marketing by publishing companies, and multinational corporations piggy-backing on new images of girlhood to gain access to potential consumers. Further, I would argue that the predominantly reactive nature of these elaborations has seen new feminisms also trapped in a power/risk framework, obliged to claim young feminism as primarily concerned with celebrating young women's power whilst seeking to outline the challenges facing them without resorting to 'victimhood'. Further, as I will go on to argue, in the hurried attempt to name, classify and own a new form of young feminism, the distinctive features of the range of young women's feminist politics of the 1990s and today - diversity, dispersion, leaderlessness and so on - were lost. However, before exploring this idea further, I will briefly work through three major ways young feminism is commonly represented.

Power feminism

One of the most significant ways in which the young woman's approach to gender inequality is categorised is through the concept of 'power feminism'. Power feminism represents itself as a completely new approach that breaks dramatically with the tradition of the previous two women's movements. It argues that the gains of the second wave have been underestimated, and that the key issues facing young women are those few lingering formal barriers to equality. It makes a clear distinction between the personal and the political, and tends to display commitment to either individual empowerment or single issue groups rather than a women's 'movement'. A key proponent is Natasha Walter (1998), who argues for a power-based approach in her book The New Feminism. She claims that this kind of feminism focuses on increased power and equality for women, is celebratory and optimistic, and is integrated into mainstream society rather than part of a radical fringe. It is made up of a large collection of allied organisations, with a focus on what she deems to be political rather than personal issues, that is, material inequities rather than private concerns, such as sexuality and body image. She says, 'Rather than concentrating its energy on the ways women dress and talk and make love, feminism must now attack the material basis of economic and social and political inequality' (1998:4). For Walter, this kind of feminism sees and celebrates the transformation in men, and has no ambivalence about women taking on power.

Naomi Wolf (1994), who actually coins the term 'power feminism' in Fire With Fire, also advocates a feminism that focuses on women's power rather than subordination or victimisation, and that distinguishes itself from 'gloomy' feminism by being sexy and fun. She believes that women are very close to equality, and should use their powers as consumers, tax payers and voters to fight for equality. Rene Denfeld (1995) in The New Victorians picks up on these themes, articulating the characteristics of power feminism as being against 'male-bashing', or believing that sexual violence, pornography and heterosexuality are modes of men's power, and focussing instead on issues such as childcare, political representation, abortion and contraception. We could also include here Katie Roiphe's (1993) The Morning After as another example of an articulation of new young feminism that seeks to restore women's status from victim to agent, and positions itself against previous waves of overzealous, 'anti-sex' feminism. What characterises power feminism is the rejection of what is deemed to be the 'victim feminism' of the second wave. That is, power feminists are concerned that feminism has become too focused on men's power versus women's oppression, and the ways these are played out in the realm of the sexual and the personal. They are concerned about young feminists getting caught up in this interpretation whereas they should see themselves as strong, sexual, and powerful, and should focus on women's individual strengths.

DIY and Grrrlpower

A rather different definition of young feminism is offered through the framework of Do-It-Yourself/grrrlpower. Grrrlpower is generally seen to have originally emerged from a combination of punk and feminism in the early 1990s. There are few formal texts that lay out the DIY/grrrlpower agenda, but there are many examples of this approach in less mainstream publications such as fanzines, webpages and music, and these have come to the attention of academics and journalists. These interpretations are found in books such as Karen Green and Tristan Taormino's (1997) A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World, Hillary Carlip's (1995) Girlpower, Kathy Bail's (1996) DIY Feminism and Marcelle Karp and Debbie Stoller's (1999) Bust Guide to the New Girl Order, which all focus on girls as capable, tough, articulate and reflective. DIY/grrrlpower draws on previous women's movements but argues for a new, 'girl-centred' feminism. It reclaims the word 'girl' and sometimes focuses on young women's anger as a feminist tool. It sees that many major issues still face young women, especially regarding the body and sexuality. At the same time, it emphasises autonomy, sassiness, and is sometimes depicted as sexy and aggressive.

Unlike power feminism, it is committed to a view of the personal (sexuality, body image, relationships, the impact of cultural representations) as political. However, it seeks to represent young women as angry, in charge and taking action. For example, Flea writes in her zine Thunderpussy, 'Feminism isn't over, it didn't fail, but something new happened- grrrl power. Next time a bloke feels your arse, patronises you, slags off your body, generally treats you like shit- forget the moral highground, forget he's been instilled with patriarchy and is a victim too, forget rationale and debate. Just deck the bastard'. In a slightly different take on girlpower and DIY, Kathy Bail (1996:5) argues that young women have embraced this form of 'in your face' feminism because they 'don't want to identify with something that sounds dowdy, asexual or shows them to be at a disadvantage. They don't want to be seen as victims.' Thus both 'power feminism' and 'grrrlpower/DIY' share a desire to mark out a new young feminism that is not based in victim images of girls.

While I would take issue with some of the rather stereotyped basic assumptions about previous waves of feminism that are held by versions of each of these new young feminisms (power feminism in particular), I believe this attempt to reclaim 'power' is worth looking at closely. In the context of the cultural dichotomisation of girls as either tough or hopeless, choosing the strong and powerful option makes some sense. To blame second wave feminism for emphasising the other is to my mind wrongheaded. But if generational divide is perceived as partially responsible for the construction of youth as an 'at risk' problem, it is easy to see how older feminists have become implicated. This sense of complicity is only fueled by observations by high profile second wavers such as Beatrice Faust (1996:23), who believes that 'many young women are so naïve that if you spit in their face they'll say it's raining', or Germaine Greer (1999:310), who claims that 'the career of the individual bad girl is likely to be a brief succession of episodes of chaotic drinking, casual sex, venereal infection and unwanted pregnancy, with consequences she will have to struggle with all her life'. In constructing a new young feminism that is sassy and smart, tough and in control, some young women are attempting to answer back to these images of girls' feminist principles as ingenuous, misguided and self-harming. In the process, however, the oppositional positions of 'powerful girl' versus 'victim' that are currently circulating only become further entrenched.

The Third Wave

The third example of an elaborated 'style' of young feminism includes those who actively embrace the term 'Third Wave' to mark their place as the next 'wave' in the tradition of the previous two women's movements. This category perhaps offers the most in terms of working outside the power/victim framework to complicate the picture of young feminism. Some specific examples of those whose work could be classified as Third Wave would include Rebecca Walker, who founded the Third Wave Direct Action Corporation in 1993 and edited To Be Real (1996). In this text she proclaims third wave feminism to be more individual, complex and 'imperfect' than previous waves. It is not as strictly defined or all-encompassing as the second wave, less punitive and rigid, especially about personal choices (fashion, sexuality), and is keen to avoid easy polarities in identifying forces of oppression in women's lives. Further, she claims it is more ethnically, sexually and economically diverse. Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake's (1997) Third Wave Agenda follows similar lines. They argue that the Third Wave elaborates and complicates the second wave critique of beauty, sexuality and power, is diverse in its membership, and focuses on the cultural field as a site of feminist activism (for example, music, TV, magazines).

As an Australian example, Virginia Trioli's (1996) Generation f is consistent with this kind of approach. She identifies this generation as highly pragmatic (that is, they implement their feminism in workplaces, law courts, and on the street), and particularly wise about using the law to fight sexism. She claims that they take feminist principles for granted as part of their world, and apply these both unashamedly and subtly. We could also include under this category Rosamund Else-Mitchell and Naomi Flutter's (1998) Talking Up, and Barbara Findlen's (1995) Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation.

Third Wave feminism thus places itself in an historical sequence, seeing itself as building on and expanding previous waves of feminism for contemporary times. It is particularly careful to acknowledge and thank second wave feminists, but argues that there are new issues facing young women today. These are generally associated with either the problems faced by women as they attempt to put second wave gains into action (for example, 'going to the cops', using new laws and policies), or with obstacles that are less obvious but just as real, for example, ideological barriers. The third wave considers the politics of issues such as beauty, sexuality, fashion and popular culture to be more complicated than is sometimes presented by earlier feminist analyses. In their debates, they attempt to explain what it means to enjoy some previously gained achievements but still fight for others in a world where both the state and political activism have changed radically. They talk about being 'the first generation for whom feminism has been entwined in the fabric of (their) lives' (Findlen, 1995:xv), who 'live their feminism each day' (Else-Mitchell and Flutter, 1998:xii); that is, with an ongoing sense of both entitlement and injustice. Consequently, they walk a fine line between displaying their strengths and working on what must still be done. The tendency in this literature to articulate the Third Wave agenda through personal stories of consciousness-raising is an interesting development that points to some of the difficulties in balancing articulations of both young women's power and the challenges that face them.

While Third Wave perspectives point to some interesting developments in new directions for feminism - diversity, tolerance for difference and contradiction, multi-level praxis - they tend to leave these under-theorised and at the level of anecdote. As Michelle Jensen (2000:24) suggests, this has posed a serious problem for those trying to teach feminism beyond the second wave. She reports that her students of third wave feminism have begun to ask '”Isn't there some Third Wave theory we could read?”'. For example, the evidence for this diversity and multiplicity is generally presented as the personal beliefs of individuals which have informed the ways they live their lives, rather than any specific political activism or internal feminist debate. As I will go on to argue, I believe these qualities are evident in young women's feminist politics, but we need to look in places other than third wave texts and to third wave icons to find them meaningfully acted out.

These three categorisations have become important ways in which young feminism is understood. Each of these positions demonstrates that the ground of 'new young feminism' is hotly contested. However, each is primarily concerned with demarcating a kind of new feminism that sees young women as powerful, but not yet entirely equal or free. As I have suggested, I believe the terms of the debate, and much of the generational conflict that has marked this passage into 'new feminism', speak of times in which girls have become cultural symbols of risk, danger and change. Popular images of young feminism feed into the constitution of girlhood in these ways. Thus the broader context of the meanings made of young women's lives in changing socio-economic times has over-determined the debate about what new feminism is and where young women are taking it. In their desire to resist representations of girls as victims, at risk, naïve and disengaged, young women have participated in the overpackaging of next wave feminism as primarily about power and difference.

What I want to explore next are other possibilities for feminism that can be discerned in young women's praxis. Specifically, I will attend to those practices that occur outside of this debate about which version of young feminism should be anointed as the 'real' one. I want to offer up some examples of political activism and debate that complicate and move beyond the framework of power/risk and suggest a real grappling with multiplicity, diversity and dispersion ushered in by socioeconomic circumstances of late modernity and cultural conditions of postmodernity. I believe Jensen is right to point out that, amidst all the talk of young feminism, there is little explication of how this constitutes a new theoretical framework. However, from another perspective, an absence of theory may well be a healthy sign of feminist activism that cannot be easily contained or summarised, and that may not lend itself to packaging as a style or a text. It is this kind of feminism I tentatively outline next, with the intention of pointing towards young feminisms that exist beyond the next wave debate.

Thinking beyond power feminism, DIY and the Third Wave

To think beyond power feminism, DIY/Girlpower or the Third Wave as the only categories of young feminism is to see that the young feminist membership is much larger than may be initially imagined, and further, is concerned with a feminism beyond merely claiming girls' power. Central to this perspective are two tasks. First, it is necessary to look at girls' issues and activism beyond the familiar, and especially beyond the West. The kinds of issues raised by young women outside the Western world draw attention to the limited focus of the 'young feminism' debate and its inability to account for a range of girls' voices. Second, it is critical to look in places often disregarded as sites for feminist work. The role of cultural productions such as zines, webpages, creative writing and performance in allowing 'ordinary' young women to express their views must not be underestimated. As I have argued elsewhere, amidst the current flurry of interest in girlhood, real sites and complex discourses for young women's own political articulations have diminished or gone 'underground' (Harris, forthcoming, 2002). Listening to 'other' voices, and looking in 'other' places can help to open up the debate about the next wave and identify some of the features of young feminisms that press beyond the limitations of the existing categories. I would suggest that in attending to these tasks, it becomes possible to see an enormous potential in new feminist praxis as diverse and open to a range of viewpoints; as exploiting the resources of contemporary societies (technology, popular culture, the media) in important ways; and as focussing on dispersed activism rather than a single leader or movement. Here I will offer some brief examples of these three features.

Diversity and Multiplicity

Much contemporary research finds that young women are keen to offer a critique of the standard categorisations of young feminism, or even feminism itself (see O'Brien, 1998; Pallotta-Chiarolli, 1999; Harris, 2001). Primarily, this is due to a perception of these categories as limited. I would argue that this demonstrates that young women are much more attentive to diversity and to the need for feminisms that are grounded in multiplicity than they are given credit for in categorisations of young women, or than feminists have perhaps been in the past. For example, Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (1999:75) has found in her research with 'ordinary' girls that young women's feminist praxis is marked by the following features. They acknowledge differences within and between groups of people, understand racism, homophobia and sexism as interconnected, acknowledge shift and flux in definitions and identities, and uphold self-ascriptive meanings as opposed to assigned labels. A small example of the ways these features are informing young feminisms can be found in the UNICEF on-line forum on girls' rights (https://www.unicef.org/). An interest in diversity, difference, and holding complexity manifests itself here in a range of young women's debates around the issues of race, religion and culture. The following discussion takes place amongst young women from Nigeria, the United Kingdom and China, who share their insights about the uses and abuses of religion and culture in the treatment and experiences of girls, and what this means for feminist theory and practice.

The work done in the past and being done now by UN on women and girls is commendable. I am a muslim woman living in the West, and any work on my gender to improve my life must take my belief system into consideration. Any work done on Gender issues pertaining to the Muslim Women cannot ignore “religion” - otherwise, the project is doomed to failure. (girl, UK)
In my country, Nigeria, boys are favoured (more) than the girls, in the area of education, boys are allowed to go to school while girls are thrown to one trade or the other, most times they are not allowed to learn any trade but stay at home and do all the work at home and later sent to an old man's house as a wife. This is done in the northern part of Nigeria where they are mostly muslims. This is very bad because this innocent girls end up having V.V.F [HIV] and end up being dumped by the so called husband who has about four of them as wives. Men don't allow their wives to work. I think we children should try to do something about it. (girl, Nigeria)
I think that most of the traditional religions are still imposing some unfair limit and “rules” on women. In addition, they give the men many privileges! Since those ideas are already brainwashed in everyone's brain, most of the people, especially the women, is just going to bear them. I am not challenging any religions, which may be worshiped by many people, but it is the time to think of it and ask WHY--why two sexes are not equal in front of most of the gods! To many women in some Asian countries, the beliefs of the local religion is really a great obstacle to their development. Changing such kind of ideas is difficult, and also, females are always taught to be “accepting” of anything, no matter it is fair or not. (girl, China)

While this discussion does not itself seek to resolve these different perspectives, or suggest ways activism might emerge out of the differences, we can see here that a range of views is opened up without any one being defended as 'more feminist' than another. The three perspectives build up a picture of the complexity of a feminist take on girls, religion, nation and culture. None of this fits easily into pre-constructed categories of young feminism, but to my mind suggests an important move forward in feminist analysis. In this example, these young women are expanding the concept of feminism to enable, as a matter of course, very careful and sophisticated analyses of the meanings of culture and religion. These analyses do not deny difference and the complexity of contradictory grounded experience that complicates fixed notions of privilege and discrimination. Raised here is the careful use of personal knowledge, as well as the potential for understanding the different meanings of, for example, living as a poor girl under Sharia law in the northern Islamic states of Nigeria, or as a second generation middle class women of Malaysian origin in London, or the degree to which 'traditionalism' dictates the repressive capacity of any religious belief.

The ways this translates into political practice, whilst this is not evidenced directly here, are also significant. In this next example, the US organisation Blackgrrrlrevolution offers some insights into how diversity and alliances work in their experience. They say:

there's like 20 areas on which we advocate for black grrrls, meaning all girls of colour and many languages - we stand on so many radical frontlines, so I think we're re-focusing our expectations of alliances. … We're not going to ally ourselves with the people everyone thinks that we would naturally ally ourselves with (interview, 2001).

This organisation advocates for a wide diversity of young women, but eschews what might be typical alliances, for example, with some other Black or girls' organisations, because they are perceived to be too rigid and limited in their focus. The fact that their platform is diverse and represents a range of differences in lived experience has led them to, as they say, 'shifting paradigms in terms of political organising and doing business' (for more details, see their webpage at blackgrrrlrevolution.org). However, the subtleties and complexities of this interest in diversity, change and multiplicity are not often attended to in the official versions of young feminism. In particular, they are not often addressed beyond individual grappling with difference. Neither are they addressed in terms of their implications for feminist praxis, the role and efficacy of women's programmes (for example, within the UN), and the capacity for a range of women to debate, disagree, and work together.

Other Sites

The fact that these debates about culture, religion, feminism and alliances take place in cyberspace is significant. We can see this as just one example of the contemporary sites and strategies for feminism developed or used by young women around new technology, as well as popular culture and the media. Young women who do not have access to publishers and cannot get their voices heard in the mainstream have been responsible for creating new feminist activism and networks through alternative media. Henry Giroux (1998:24) argues that 'when youth do speak, the current generation in particular, their voices generally emerge on the margins of society - in underground magazines, alternative music spheres, computer hacker clubs and other subcultural sites'. This is certainly the case for much young feminist debate, for example, as evidenced in the creation of grrrlzines, girls' webpages and chat rooms. 'Zines', short for fanzines, are independently produced informal newsletters, which usually include reviews, information sharing, editorials and creative writing around issues relevant to young women. They are distributed through wide networks for the purposes of sharing information and building a community of young feminists. Stephen Duncombe (1998:3) argues that zines have become an important new locale for young people's political debate and resistance in the wake of the decline of old style social movements. He says 'throughout the 1980s while the Left was left behind, crumbling and attracting few new converts, zines and underground culture grew by leaps and bounds, resonating deeply with disaffected young people … (constituting) perhaps … the next wave of meaningful political resistance.' (see also Leonard, 1998, for an analysis of grrrlzines as new feminist communities). Many young women also use the internet as a place for political action through listservs and chatrooms (see Scott-Dixon, 1999).

These kinds of cultural politics - zines, e-zines, comics and webpages - have often been misinterpreted as girls just 'having fun'. Rather, I would argue that they hold real promise for feminist work precisely because they constitute 'other spaces' for politics. The three 'next wave' categories tend to concentrate on either demonstrating young women's continued engagement with old style political activism (lobbying government, holding protests, campaigning, civil disobedience and so on), or on their lack of need for this. What is lost in the two sides of this argument is the possibility (and indeed, the very real evidence) that young women have developed quite new ways of conducting political organisation, protest, debate and agitation. These new ways are a response to the perceived co-option of left politics as merely a marketable style, and appropriation of their resistant voices when expressed through traditional protest modes. The trend towards an increased surveillance of youth, the re-discovery of young women in particular as the new consumers, and the cultural fascination with girlhood, have all resulted in a deep suspicion of overt activism as the best method for protest and the creation of social change. Young women have repeatedly seen their politics sold back to them as products, and consequently seek other modes for debate and agitation.

Movements without leaders

Finally, another feature of an uncategorised young feminism is that there is not a single leader heading up a single movement. (Of course, this is not to suggest that the second wave was a uniform dictatorship!). This trend away from the organised, hierarchised movement is a key feature of many forms of social justice action under postindustrialisation (see Melucci, 1996). As Naomi Klein (2000) argues, these new practices of resistance respond 'to corporate concentration with a maze of fragmentation, to globalization with its own kind of localization, to power consolidation with radical power dispersal'. The dispersion of the feminist movement is consistent with this broader shift. This has become an important way to enact feminist change within particular communities on specific issues relevant to that place. Young women are engaged in both specific issues that affect them in their own communities and in wider concerns that reach across the world. These include anti-sweat shop and other labour-related campaigns, raising awareness about health, sexuality and disease, environmental and animal rights activism, pro-education and anti-sex slavery work, and so on. All of this is feminist. As Blackgrrrlrevolution claims in their case, but arguably in the case of many forms of young feminism, feminism as a framework has become broader. They say:

feminism is a necessary tool for human liberation, freedom and empowerment: that's broad. … What that essentially is saying is that pro black girl feminism, the pro black girl movement is a queer movement, it is a Marxist movement, it is a social movement, it is a labour movement, it is a civil rights movement, it is a gay rights movement, it is every movement (interview, 2001).

There is no requirement put on them to choose any one or the other, or to try to homogenise issues into one big movement that might involve silencing or excluding some over others. The three next wave categories have tended to articulate this move away from the movement by at times denying it, or by overstating young women's desire to express individual needs. None has contextualised this change in terms of the wider trend of left politics, where it can be most easily understood as a reorganisation rather than disintegration of feminist alliances.


The purpose of offering these notes towards other kinds of feminisms enacted by young women is to push open the categories currently competing for preselection as the 'real' next wave. I have argued that the three most common representations of this next wave are stylised versions of 'feminism as girls' empowerment'. These have emerged in response to the construction of contemporary girlhood as at risk, and contemporary young women as troubled, naïve or selfish. However, in this race to colonise the terrain of young feminism, some of the most exciting, if uncategoriseable, girls' activism and politics are being lost. The same circumstances which have seen girlhood become a receptacle for social anxieties about change have also seen new possibilities, places and modes for their feminist theory and practice. It is in these other spaces and through these other expressions that may emerge 'a “new feminism” we do not yet know' (Bulbeck, 2000:21).

As a concluding thought, I would proffer the idea that where the activism is happening today is where it hasn't been seen to happen in feminism for years. In Australia at least, we are perhaps seeing some kind of hearkening back to the forgotten feminism between the wars that was heavily concentrated on Aboriginal rights, ideas of nation, citizenship and equality, union issues and migrant labour debates. While I have not had room here to explore specific issues addressed by young women working beyond the categories of the next wave, I would just note that it is possible to document a kind of resurgence of these sorts of concerns today. These are of course also inflected by new developments in the lives of young women, and new technologies and changing socioeconomic circumstances - for example, changes brought about by the internet, globalisation, and the forces of postindustrialisation. To look at the YWCA 'yGALS', who are non-Aboriginal young women working on reconciliation, the involvement of young women in anti-sweatshop campaigns and broader anti-globalisation movements, the anti-Hanson high school walkouts, and the anti-capitalist and anti-corporate feminist politics of many contemporary young women, is to see some interesting parallels with 'between the waves' Australian feminism. Interestingly, this older period in feminist history has remained unlabelled (see Simic, 1999) and is remembered as a time when young women deserted feminism. Further, it was also a period in which enormous social, economic and cultural changes were taking place that saw young women become a cultural presence in unprecedented ways. During this period, also, younger women were at times blamed by older women for being unfeminist and too concerned with themselves, and having sold out to frivolity, image and self-interest (see Holmes and Lake, 1995:52). I would suggest that today, as in the past, there is another story to be told about young women and feminism. This story does not fit neatly into texts or labels; it presses both the borders of generational feminist debates and the constitution of girlhood as a carrier for cultural anxieties about change. It is a story that responds to the particular and complex social worlds within which young women live.


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