Traversing 2nd and 3rd Waves: Feminist Legal Theory Moving Forward

University of Baltimore Law Forum, Vol. 39, No. 1, Fall 2008

20 Pages Posted: 2 May 2009 Last revised: 23 Jun 2010

See all articles by Barbara Ann White

Barbara Ann White

University of Baltimore - School of Law

Date Written: Fall 2008


During the course of debates as to feminism's relevancy by its proponents from the '60's, 70's and 80's, a new feminism emerged with the coming of age of a younger generation, a feminism with very different values, goals and world view and which claimed the title of being the 3rd Wave. Though in its nascence during the '90's, the 3rd Wave has increasingly made its presence felt, particularly among young women, in the first decade of the new millennium. For reasons discussed in this essay, the 3rd Wave has made little effort to engage the legal arena or the legal academy. Many long-standing feminists (referred to by some as the 2nd Wave) have not even heard of the 3rd Wave; others who have are, to a certain degree, agape at the direction this new feminism has taken. Some feminists of 2nd or 3rd Wave generation age do not identify with either wave. Not infrequently, 3rd wavers and 2nd wavers more familiar with each other express hesitation or even rejection of what they each view the other stands for.

This essay creates a unifying framework for extrapolating the varied themes manifested in the papers presented at the very first day-long Feminist Legal Theory and Feminisms Conference, sponsored by the University Of Baltimore School Of Law. The participants included many noted feminist scholars as well as those who are not yet well known. The diversity spanned in age from the mid-70's to the mid-20's, in geography from the United States to China, in social rank: Professors, a Judge, a law clerk, law students and activists. The subjects ranged from the 2nd and 3rd Waves generally to specific topics such as: pornography, cross-dressing, female television judges, regulating pregnancy, determining parenting rights, Muslim women's feminism and what, if anything, feminism means for the poor, either domestically or internationally. The papers' structures ranged from theoretical expositions to case analyses and to empirical studies. The participants were both male and female and from across racial and ethnic lines.

The purpose of this essay's unifying framework is to demonstrate that despite the disparate points of view, style of analysis and subject matters presented – a coherency among the 20 or so extremely diverse presenters can indeed be distilled - a coherency from which Feminist Legal Theory can move forward.

Keywords: Feminism, 2nd wave, 3rd wave, Third Wave, Second Wave, First Wave, feminist legal theory, women's issues, gender, discrimination, anti-essentialism, empowerment, pornography, sexuality, rape, New Women's Movement Initiative, Social Justice Feminism, women's liberation, Islamic feminism,

JEL Classification: K19, K39

Suggested Citation

White, Barbara Ann, Traversing 2nd and 3rd Waves: Feminist Legal Theory Moving Forward (Fall 2008). University of Baltimore Law Forum, Vol. 39, No. 1, Fall 2008, Available at SSRN:

Barbara Ann White (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
U Baltimore Law
Baltimore, MD 21201
United States


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