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The Third Wave

"Feminism is having a new wave. The first was about the vote; the second was about identity and . . . the pressure cooker of women being in the home; this third wave is about violence. It’s about women being murdered and raped. It’s more self defence than self assertion."


If you have a strong aversion to extreme examples of sexism and discrimination, this is probably not the book for you. Rena McGee, reviewing Life

"Daz stared at the muddy river. “If you don't understand, I don't think I can tell you. Anna, where you and I live, women's rights is old news. Intelligent women want to be judged on their own merits and find the whole feminist thing embarrassing and whiney. But here, where I come from... it's a can of worms. If you start applying the concept of ‘human rights” to women, in Asia and Africa, you uncover a holocaust . . . (and) It's getting worse, not better."

I never took to Third Wave Feminism. By the time it reached me, TWF was Feminism Lite. Not so much a compromise between feminism, and women who identified primarily as African Americans; and who didn't want to condemn misogynist male behaviour, because that involved stigmatising the African American male. Not so much Grrls Can Be Punks Too . . ! More a kind of fancy diet food, whereby "we" can be just as righteous as Second Wave Feminists, without giving up any of our sexy, feminine treats! Lapdancing, power-heels, the pretty dresses, the boob-jobs, the whole armoury, yum! It just wasn't for me.

But I can definitely get on board Margaret Atwood's Third Wave. Rape, murder, mutilation . . . Film-maker Leslee Udin's movie India's Daughter, examining the horrific attitudes of India's men, revealed in the wake of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. The women of Forward (Tackling Female Genital Mutilation) whom I first met at an Amnesty International UK conference, in 1994. They were Africans, but not in the least sentimental about African traditional culture, male or female. No more than I feel sentimental about the misogynist traditions of the UK; why should they? People like these are my Third Wave Feminists. You can probably all think of your own examples, at home or abroad; wherever you are.

The FGM situation in the UK has not improved. Far from it. All sorts of brutal pressures on women and girls, the world over are getting worse, not better, in this twentyfirst century. The indignant, feisty, so-called Second Wave Feminism of the Sixties and Seventies starts to look pitifully naive.


“I think,” said Anna slowly, “that human sexuality will be changed. This thing is not a fashionable fad: it’s bound to change everything, some way or other. And I think it doesn't matter. In the liberal world we already live as if people can choose at whim whether to take on a “male” or “female” lifestyle . . . In time, TY may create a situation where there are no genetic traits exclusive to “men” or “women”: when sexual difference is in the individual, not a case of belonging to one half of the species or the other. Will that be a lot different from the way we are now?"

My lack of interest in transgender issues has upset some readers of Life. "I wish Anna didn't have to be so cis and heterosexual", said one Goodreads reviewer. But as I couldn't help knowing, after the research I did, the "third sex" phenomenon is nothing new. People who don't feel themselves to be either one sex nor the other; people who are sexual mosaics (often a benign condition; sometimes, before successful treatments, a life of misery). Women who choose to live as men, men who choose to live as women; "inters" and all shades between, have been around forever, in every culture. It's a perfectly normal situation. What's new, what would be new, would be a world where sexual difference does not define a person's chances in life. This is the hope, and the ever-receding goal, that I call feminism.

Why aren't we there yet? Why aren't we even nearly there?

Because feminism is hard. Feminism is hard, and the world is huge. Changing this huge world of seven billions and counting is far, far more of a proposition than "we" imagined, back in the naive Seventies. We have a long way to go, that's all.


Space is hard, as they say at NASA, when we demand to know what happened to that dream about colonising the galaxy. Feminism is hard too. We'll get there.

This entry is the fourth in a series inspired by the PKDick award storybundle. Available only for a few more days. Offer ends on the 15th October!


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