Topic 4 The “third” wave of feminism – post-modern feminism

The “third” wave of feminism, with vague start-up times, as some researchers place it, in the 1980s while others in the early 1990s, focused primarily on a transformative interpretation of gender and sexuality as well as gender entanglement, race, ethnicity, religion and social class. It challenged the perceptions of the second feminist movement about women and criticised it for putting emphasis on white women who belonged in the upper middle class (Maropoulou, 2016a).

The third feminist wave develops under the influence of transformational theories and critical theoretical thinking, as developed by M. Foucault, J. Deleuze & F. Guattari and J. Derrida. In this context, gender difference and gender identity are not seen simply as a result of cultural subordination and exploitation of women by men, but as a result of power relations and hierarchies from the imposition of the heterosexual system.

Therefore, what is required, according to the feminists of this period is the deconstruction of the bipolar notion of gender in order to reintegrate all identical categories of sexuality into the concept of normal and the existence of relationships beyond gender (Maropoulou, 2016a, p. 19).

For the feminists of the third feminist wave, gender is not considered ontologically stable, nor is it considered a social achievement but is perceived  as a technology of power and as a process of renegotiating normalcy. Both gender and sexuality, emphasises Athanassiou (2006), are historical and cultural constructions that function as technologies of subjectivity and social discipline, while they are produced and composed by the grid of power that is scattered.

Therefore, the gendered subject is made up of power relations and is punished when it does not function according to the established rules (Athanassiou, 2006). Thus, through the bipolar segregation of the sexes, the social phenomena of oppression are legitimised (Wittig, 2006) and hierarchical relations are created, with the female sex being considered “by definition as subordinate” and consequently preventing any change (Pechtelidis, 2012, p. 197).

As Cameron (2020, p. 105) points out, the fact that characterising a woman’s behaviour or image as inappropriate confirms that femininity is socially constructed, is a social imperative, “a set of expectations, instructions and prohibitions imposed through a reward and punishment system”. And, as she points out, gender is not a neutral categorization system, but instead operates hierarchically with femininity ranked second in relation to masculinity.

Thus, “masculinity is active, decisive, rational, strong and bold” and that is why men are expected to dominate public life and exercise power. In contrast, “femininity is passive, submissive, emotional, weak”, which is why women have a secondary and supportive role (Cameron, 2020, p. 106)

During this period, through the reflections on gender and sexuality, new approaches are presented, and the queer theory is developed. Its aim is to overturn the perception of homosexuality as a genetic disease through the analysis of the social and political context of sexuality as well as the understanding of gender identities as “doubtful and contingent performances” (Athanassiou, 2006, p. 65). The aim is to critique, in the Foucauldian sense, the rules that constitute sexuality and determine what is normal and what is not for the purpose of social exclusion.

Also, Pierre (2000) states that the feminists of this period are fascinated by the perception of postmodernism that considers knowledge and truth to be unstable and contingent and determined by power relations. Thus, Kokogiannis (2007, p. 24) emphasises, modern feminism challenges the “belief in truth, knowledge, power, self and language.”