Thursday, October 22

The three successive “waves” that built modern feminism


By Anne Chemin

Posted on October 16, 2020 at 6:00 a.m., updated at 12:49 p.m.

It’s a pretty metaphor that has accompanied feminist movements for decades: to tell the story of the mobilizations in favor of equality, historiography readily speaks of a first, a second and a third “wave”. The first, under IIIe Republic, has embarked on the conquest of civil and political rights; the second, during the rebel years of the 1970s, worked for the liberation of the female body; the third, since the end of the 1990s, denounces, from sexual harassment to feminicide, the long continuum of violence against women.

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For Christine Bard, professor of contemporary history at the University of Angers, this marine metaphor is a “Precious identity mark of the historiography of feminism”. “We could of course speak of a collective mobilization cycle but it would be a shame to ban a term as poetic as the wave. It evokes water, a feminine element which can refer to an essentializing imagination, but also the sculpture by Camille Claudel which depicts three bathers facing a huge wave, or the poem-game by Virginia Woolf published in 1931. It is a term specific to the history of feminism and they are not that many! “

This image had also seduced, from the beginning of the XXe century, the writer and trade unionist Marcelle Capy. In the first issue of a periodical published in 1918, she already evoked a “Female wave” from ” construction sites, workshops, schools, countryside ”. “She rises from wherever women’s bodies are weighed down, where women’s hearts are broken. She rises from the female people who pant on the machines, turn pale on the registers; of the female people who are hungry, who are cold, who weep, who think. (…) It assails social injustice, prejudices, errors, violence erected in dogma. “

However, we must wait until the end of the XXe century so that the word “vague” designates, in public and academic debate, a peak moment in the fight for equality. In 1968, a century after the pioneering generation campaigning for the right to vote, a journalist from the New York Times Magazine indeed qualifies the feminist movements born in the 1960s as “Second wave”. Twenty years later, the American writer Rebecca Walker acts in the magazine Ms the birth of the “Third wave”. The trilogy that today is a consensus in the historiography of feminism was born.

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