Not Up from the Fringes

September 8, 2008

I will not get into why I’m writing this post, but I have a question: Is the Third Wave, enmeshed as it is in mainstream popular culture, all that much on the fringe?

I’m willing to admit that not everyone will know Ladyfest, the festival that I worked with for four years for my dissertation research.  But, by and large, I think that people would recognize the cultural politics the festivals endorse as not all that fringe-y.  For example, the most outre political event discussed in my dissertation was when an anarchist marching band crashed a festival.  But the anarchist marching band was not originally part of the festival; in fact, most of the organizers rolled their eyes at said anarchist marching band’s politics.  Instead, mostly the festival is about promoting local women musicians and raising money for women’s charities; nothing fringe-y in that.  The larger scope of the politics is how this festival engages with the often conflicting discourses of Third Wave feminism: the use and purposes of pop culture; the reclamation of femininity and frank presentation of sexuality; the acknowledgment that much of this sexuality is white and middle class, and yet the Third Wave is supposed to understand intersecting identities; etc.

What perhaps bothered me more, however, was the idea that this person considered Third Wave feminism more generally a fringe topic.  Surely, Bust is not that weird!  A heck of a lot of people read Jezebel, and feministing, and feministe, and Shakesville, and Shapely Prose and Salon.com’s Broadsheet and dozens of other feminist blogs and websites.  And lots of people buy Liz Phair’s and Le Tigre’s and Hole’s and Sleater-Kinney’s and even Alanis Morissette’s music, and a lot of people place all of that music in the category of “Third Wave” (the feminism that sometimes dare not speak its name).

And, in relation to my research, is that music festival that fringe if it was covered in Time?  Or on Mtv.com?  Or that it was covered in dozens of local papers?  And has occurred in more than 200 iterations worldwide?

Perhaps, though, this is not quite the issue.  What is so striking to me is that the politics in the Third Wave are not exactly a movement; they are pop-cultural; they sometimes overlap; they sometimes conflict; they sometimes don’t call themselves “feminist”; they sometimes call things “feminist” that the Second Wave would not identify as such.  In this sense, maybe people who are not of the younger generation see things as fringier than they are, because it’s not a “movement” in the same sense as the Second Wave/women’s liberation movement.  Instead, it is cultural politics, that is trying to change the world via culture (pop and otherwise), and that is not always as easy to recognize as legislative-based politics.  In these pop-cultural spaces, one sometimes has to be of it in order to recognize the politics, and that means that sometimes people only interpret the things on the edges as truly political, because they are more used to seeing those things as political.

I realize that this is perhaps a more “academic” blog post than I usually make, but it’s pretty much what I have been thinking about all day.

Anyway, tomorrow will brings the return of Rock History, What I Leave Out. This week’s topic: Queen!

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