Two years ago I was in Buenos Aires walking across a rusted out bridge over train tracks when I looked down and saw the words (in beautifully handcrafted spray paint) “Bitch Taste My Cum” plastered on the side of the tracks. I stopped on the bridge and stared at the graffiti. I was shocked by the English word; I ransacked my mind trying to remember just what bitch meant.
After just a few months in Buenos Aires I had been assaulted with varying degrees of profane piropos (a very cute word for a very disgusting form of cat calling); everything from my blond hair to my concha had been properly judged and named as either dirty, cute, slutty or precious. But with all this vulgarity tossed my way, nothing seemed to cut quite like seeing that familiar word “bitch” plastered against a brick wall.
It was not simply that the word was in front of me but that it was in front of me in Argentina; like the word “bitch” had sinisterly followed me 2,000 miles just to visually attack me one sunny Argentine morning. I stopped, stared and eventually took a picture of that graffiti because it was proof of the porous world we now live in; a world where degrading sexist slang from one country can easily and seamlessly move to be the degrading sexist slang of another. It is a new world and a new wave.
The third wave of feminism, although dreadfully hard to define is clear in two aspects: it is currently occurring and it has come after the first and second waves. The rest is up for interpretation.
In my cliff notes version, the three waves flow like this: the right to vote , the right to fuck, the right to choose to vote and/or to fuck.
Of course there is a little more to it.
To start with the first wave was the era of fighting for basic rights and of becoming equal to men de jure. It was defined by suffrage, carefully worded speeches by upper class white women and pantaloons.
The second wave was the age of rallying for gender equality and for societal balance between the genders. It was defined by The Feminine Mystique, liberated and optimistic young college protesters and the burning of bras.
The third wave is the push for more; a movement to go beyond de jure and de facto equality and obtain true balance not just in the U.S. and Europe but across the globe. It is an era of wanting it all for everyone: the high heels and the law degree, the lip stick and the hijab, the career and the kids, of wanting it all including the inherent contradictions that come with wanting everything. It is a movement that reaches beyond the restrictions of laws, nationality, religion or age to encompass equality for all women.
And here we are right in the thick of it on International Women’s Day 2010. From women in Iraq braving terrorist attacks to vote to Chile’s first female president soothing a nation rattle by natural disaster, the world now realizes 3 billion women are holding up half the sky.
The third wave may be one of contention but it is also one of choice. And more importantly it is an era of potential; an age where women’s choices and voices are not just heard but amplified across the globe.
It is a wave where “bitch” can appear on the side of the train tracks in Argentina or on the top of a feminist magazine in Portland, and we can choose whether we hate it or love it; embrace it or flick it off.
On this International Women’s Day in the middle of the third wave, all women have a reason to mourn, protest, and celebrate; because today the world acknowledges the other half.