“Third Wave” feminism comes to Lawrence

Bonnie Tilland

The co-authors of the critically acclaimed book MANIFESTA: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future came to Wriston Auditorium on Monday to discuss Third Wave Feminism. Jennifer Baumgardner (Lawrence class of ’92) and Amy Richards met each other as interns at “Ms. Magazine,” and since then they have been active in spreading this “new wave” of feminism across America, via their work on “Ms. Magazine,” other women’s magazines, and co-founding of the Third Wave Foundation. Their forum at Wriston was well attended and audience members were encouraged to ask questions or make comments throughout the presentation.Baumgardner and Richards began their lecture with a “what-if,” inviting the audience to think about what a day without feminism would be like for us. They read a passage from their introduction, which draws on the experiences of their mothers’ generation and, later, their own childhood experiences. For those of us who grew up in the last thirty years, Baumgardner and Richards suggest, it is difficult to imagine what our lives would be like without the influence of the women’s movement, because at least some aspects of feminism were “in the water,” whether or not we chose to actively get involved with the movement or identify ourselves as a feminist.

Both Baumgardner and Richards were born in 1970, and their mothers told them stories of a time when changing a baby’s name to the mother’s maiden name involved intense legal battles, and the National Merit Society could kick a girl out for no other reason but “getting herself pregnant.” Because we have come of age after many equal rights battles were fought and won, they suggest, we can now enjoy the benefits of these earlier battles without having to give them much thought. What’s important now, for the third wave of feminism, is motivating people to continue to fight for changes in the status quo, realizing how far we have come in the feminist movement, but also how far we still have to go.

The book Manifesta received mixed reviews; some critics praised it as the most accessible and thorough book on third wave feminism, while others criticized it as being somewhat narrowly focused and from too “privileged” a position. However, most critics at least agreed that it was a step in the right direction, with pure motives and mostly positive influences.

It’s true that both Baumgardner and Richards were wealthy enough to attend expensive universities, and had many more options open to them than poor, working-class women. They addressed this issue in their lecture, recognizing that class and race create huge divides between women in this country. One of the goals of third wave feminism is to make both women and men see that feminism isn’t dead because the privileges of educated, upper-middle class Americans aren’t the same for others in our society. Baumgardner and Richards are both hopeful that various “factions” of feminism will be able to come together, because sexism affects women and men, and cuts across all levels of society.

Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future is an important book, and is currently being read for a gender studies class at Lawrence.