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Historians point to two major events which sparked the birth of the third wave, the Antia Hill hearings and “Grrl riot” groups. 

  1. October 11th 1991: Law professor Antia Hill testified against then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment in hearings before the U.S Senate. Nationally broadcasted and widely watched, Hill came forward stating how during her time working with Thomas at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he repeatedly made sexually inappropriate comments and pressured her to go on dates during their intercations. The senate ultimately confirmed Thomas to the Supreme Court, and women, particularly women of color began to mobilize and organize in response 

  • After the hearings, Black feminist intellectuals mobilized to form the group “African American Women In Defnese of Ourselves and raise $50,000 for the purpose of taking out a pull page ad in the New York Times. Inspired by Black feminist activist from decades prior like the Combahee River Collective, the proclamation published in 1991 with the signatures of over 1,600 Black feminist historians. Featured quote “We are particularly outraged by the racist and sexist treatment of Professor Anita Hill, an African American woman who was maligned and castigated for daring to speak publicly of her own experience of sexual abuse.” - many women after also began to speak out 

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2. “Riot Grrrl” groups combine punk with politics and feminism (1991-early 2000) 

  • originated Olympia, Washington 1991 in response calls to address sexism in the punk community

  •  included bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinny, Hole, and Pussy Riot 

  • Used their voices to express anti-capitalist, anti-sexist, anti-racist sentiments through lyrics discussing experiences with deeply personal topics including sexual assault, incest, and  struggles with mental health and disordered eating 

  • Largely captured traction from white, middle class adolescent girls in American suburban neighborhoods, Black women and Asian American women too were part of this movement and articulated critiques from their experience and perspectives 

  •  Creating a “girl riot” in a patriarchal society which offered little to no validation for women’s perspectives and experiences, offering new ways to think about beauty and sexuality 

“Third wave” feminist literature and theory 

  • 1989 K. Crenshaw develops the theory of “intersectionality” in academic literature to analyze how different aspects of a person’s identity shape dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression

  • Soon after intersectional feminism develops as a response to examine the multiple ways in which women face oppression 

  • 1990: Judith Butler publishes “Gender Trouble”

  • 1990: Patricia Hill Collins publishes “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment” 

  • -Butler and Collins approach to feminist theory by studying women’s political and social identities 

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Rebecca Walker

  • Daughter of Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple and Mel Leventhal, a civil rights lawyer. Gloria Steinam as her Godmother, grew up directly around leading voices from the 2nd wave of feminism. 

  • Coined the term “the third wave” in article published in Ms. magazine (1992) 

    • “Let this dismissal of a woman’s experiences move you to anger. Turn your rage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they vote for us. Do not have sex with them. Do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they do not prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives. I am not a post feminist, I am the third wave” (Walker 87) 

  • Founded organization “Third Wave Fund” which offers grants to young women and transgender youth working for social justice 

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Rise of DIY/zine culture

  • encouraged girls to seek control over their creative production and create their own materials rather than drawing upon those already existing 


  • Ramdasha Bikceem; author, singer, skateboarder 

  • authored zine GUNK (issue No,4 featured below) 

  • Bikceem’s essays in these zines spoke out on the challenges Black girls specifically faced in the punk scene, the dual burden of being a Black girl having to deal with white girls in the subculture on top of having to deal with the white men dominating mosh pits at punk shows. Further she called out the pervasive whiteness which is commonly threaded in the punk scene and often resulted in experiences of feeling tokenized. Her essays and zine journals illustrate how race and gender intersect in the Riot Grrrl movement.

  • encouraged girls to create their own materials rather than following existing ones 

flier from 1990 as apart of Kathleen Hanna (Lead member of band, Bikini Kill)  papers at the Fales Library and Special Collections of New York University. New York University Fales Library and Special Collections (retrieved from NY times article) 

  • Involvement in labor force/economy 

  • 1992 headlined to be “Year of the Woman” after Nancy Kassebaum, Barabara Mukulksi, Patty Murray, Diane Finestein, Barbara Boxer and  Carol Moseley Braun were elected to the United States Senate 

  • First time in American history that four women were elected to the Senate in a single election year 

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Reproductive Justice movement (1994)

  • Organized response to lack of inclusion / confines of the Reproductive Rights movement which often ignored race and class in their advocacy, leadership, and analysis 

  • About access, not choice

    • Mainstream reproductive rights movements have centered around keeping abortion legal as a matter of individual choice. In response, reproductive justice extends the argument to recognize that even when abortion is legal, many women of color cannot afford it, cannot afford to travel to long distances to access nearest clinic. 

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (1997)

  • Southern based, national membership organization started by 16 organizations of women of color representing Indigenous, African American, Latina and Asian American communities in response to the need for self-representative advocacy and “equally compelling need to advance the perspective and needs of women of color”

  • Uses intersectionality as the basic framework for analyzing and responding to inequity embedded within reproductive politics in the United States 

  • “When there is no access there is no choice"

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  • Greater access to online spaces allowed women and girls to organize politically and create community personally through message boards and listservs. This also allowed women to more easily and widely share their networks and exchange resources. 


  • 1994 Congress adopts the Gender Equity in Education Act to train teachers in gender equity, promote math and science learning by girls, counsel pregnant teens, and prevent sexual harassment

  • 1996 United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), affirms that the male-only admissions policy of the state-supported Virginia Military Institute violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

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