Third Wave Of Feminism - The Sex Vs. Gender Debate!



Like second wave feminism, third wave feminism questions sex and gender conceptions. 

Many third-wave feminists, on the other hand, oppose such structures by embracing them. 


  • This is also a rejection of gender norms in the sense that anybody may accept a variety of apparently conflicting gender conceptions. 
  • As a result, a woman may be both girlish and powerful, or feminine and self-assuredly powerful. Some third-wave feminists support women's use of cosmetics and cosmetic surgery as a form of self-expression (whereas second wave feminists likely see in both a manifestation of oppressive beauty standards). 


As you would expect, some feminists, particularly those who identify as second wave feminists, find this troublesome. 


Third-wave feminists support the practice as a means to give individual girls and women the freedom to choose what they want to be and who they want to be. 


Gender as performance is another facet of third-wave feminism. 

Judith Butler argues in Gender Trouble (1990) that gender performativity, 

– acting out gender in a continuous sort of process

– actually creates the illusion of stable gender identities, 

Despite the fact that some of the themes she discusses fall more naturally under the cluster of topics described as second wave. 



Her work on performativity has been picked up and expanded upon by theorists both within and outside of feminism. 


  • Butler dismisses French feminism (such as that of Irigaray and Cixous) as essentialist because it uses a concept of the feminine to articulate feminine writing or the "feminine feminine." 
  • Gender as performance refers to the artificial creation of all gender via social activities that determine what constitutes gender. 
  • Butler uses drag to demonstrate how putting on gender is essentially embracing the societal conventions that determine what gender involves. 


Some people take Butler's statement to mean that he rejects the category of sex and replaces it with gender as performance. 


  • However, in a subsequent book, Bodies that Matter (1993), she refutes this view, claiming that sex, as a biological category, is likewise molded by material conditioning. 
  • In other words, just as there are no natural men and women, there are no natural males and females. 
  • The bodies we postulate as existing independently of the discourse that creates them are a product of discourse. 



Some third-wave feminists contend, in a similar vein, that desire is also manufactured rather than inherent. 


  • The theory argues that people aren't "naturally heterosexual" or "naturally gay." 
  • Acts and expressions are produced in accordance with societal standards that define a particular spectrum of wants, thus sexual identities are assumed via their performance. 



Third-wave feminists open the way for flexible wants and what Butler refers to as "subversive repetition" by deconstructing natural desire. 


  • Despite being constrained by societal norms that define acceptable kinds of want, a person may experiment with new forms of desire and discreetly challenge the rules. 
  • This draws on the French postmodern feminists' ideas of autoeroticism and the diversity of sexual organs or female pleasure sites, as well as the second wave feminism's Our Bodies, Ourselves movement. 

The focus is on enabling or empowering women to pursue their own sexual satisfaction in their own way.


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