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Third-Wave Feminism and the Defense of “Choice”

  • R. Claire Snyder-Hall (a1)

How should feminist theorists respond when women who claim to be feminists make “choices” that seemingly prop up patriarchy, like posing for Playboy, eroticizing male dominance, or advocating wifely submission? This article argues that the conflict between the quest for gender equality and the desire for sexual pleasure has long been a challenge for feminism. In fact, the second-wave of the American feminist movement split over issues related to sexuality. Feminists found themselves on opposite sides of a series of contentious debates about issues such as pornography, sex work, and heterosexuality, with one side seeing evidence of gender oppression and the other opportunities for sexual pleasure and empowerment. Since the mid-1990s, however, a third wave of feminism has developed that seeks to reunite the ideals of gender equality and sexual freedom. Inclusive, pluralistic, and non-judgmental, third-wave feminism respects the right of women to decide for themselves how to negotiate the often contradictory desires for both gender equality and sexual pleasure. While this approach is sometimes caricatured as uncritically endorsing whatever a woman chooses to do as feminist, this essay argues that third-wave feminism actually exhibits not a thoughtless endorsement of “choice,” but rather a deep respect for pluralism and self-determination.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
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