Rebecca Walker



by Amy Kay Nelson,©, September 26, 1996


Diversity defines author and activist Rebecca Walker's life -- her focuses range from biracial issues to bisexual awareness. But the overarching concern of feminism tends to fuel her energies. Recipient of the Feminist of the Year award in 1993 from the Fund for the Feminist Majority and named by Time magazine in 1994 as one of the 50 future leaders of America, Walker recently compiled and edited a book that explores the multiple sides of feminism -- To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism. Essay topics are as varied as those writing them, from Jeannine DeLombard's desire to be the femme in her lesbian relationship, to Naomi Wolf's analysis on women's cravings for traditional weddings. Walker, 26, is also founder of Third Wave Direct Action Corporation, a group organized to encourage young women's leadership and activism. A&E talked with Walker about her new book and her work in feminism.

Many people say we are in the third wave of feminism. What are the current main issues for young women?

First of all, the whole idea of waves is erroneous in that there have been a million waves in women's activism, of course. But people seem to think about the first wave as being the suffragist movement, the second wave as being the activists of the late '60s or early '70s who did a lot of work around reproductive freedom and around separating sex from gender, helping us understand ways in which gender was totally constructed.

My organization Third Wave was conceived as a way of creating a space for younger women to come into activism in a way that was new and fresh and which would give them an opportunity to redefine feminism. When we started the organization we felt like a lot of the young women we talked to were alienated from the whole concept of feminism and were then stepping away from taking an active role in fighting for or even discussing issues of concern like sexual harassment or equal pay or discrimination in hiring. What we wanted to do was say this is a way for us to articulate a feminism that was not tied to any of perceptions of the second wave, which may have been alienating.

What's come out of that is a feminism that is decidedly not about taking on the big label of feminism but is about taking a more active role in the fronts of a lot of different issues. It's not just women's issues, but issues of racial discrimination, sexual orientation and gender. So the Third Wave is something that is multi-issue, multicultural, multisexual orientation, which means we can do projects ranging from voter registration to literacy to online activism to organizing gay pride marches.

The third wave title also has been used to refer to the information revolution, which follows the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Author Alvin Toffler is often credited with penning the phrase. Yet statistics show only about 30 percent of online information users are female. How are you focusing on that?

We've been working on the project Third Wave Online as a way to bring young women's organizations together. Just because I think it's important for women to use the resources that are available and not of being afraid of making those resources work for us. I think that is one of the many differences of the generations. In the '60s and '70s there was a real shunning of the establishment, power or working with money. I think we understand that we've got to be able to work with these institutions. We have to be able to work with the media, we have to be able to work with large sums of money if we want to accomplish anything.

With Alvin Toffler, I take it that one of his ideas is that as we move into the future we're going to be looking at a world that is less leadership-driven, that is more about individuals leading themselves and trying to redefine community in ways that aren't as hierarchically based. I think we at Third Wave have thought a lot about that and want to cultivate a feminism or an activist movement that isn't about two leaders and an group of followers.

Your book contains different stories from younger feminists, some which readers may identify with and others which they may disagree with. What has been the reaction and have there been any surprises?

The overall reaction is great. The most painful stuff has been from older women who feel like the book is berating them or that they are being excluded or pigeon-holed or blamed for creating perceptions or divisions that they felt they worked really hard not to make. It's really painful because I felt like I took great steps to have an intergenerational dialogue to not blame anyone. But I do feel like the book is confrontational.

But the foreword is by Gloria Steinem. Do you still work with those feminists of the second wave on some of your work?

Oh sure.

Do you ever think you'll do another book like this in 20 years or so when there may be still another new wave?

I'll probably do a book on bisexuality instead. But it's interesting, people have been talking to me about pieces that they would want to write like in To Be Real. It could be interesting to do a follow-up, but it's definitely not in the works.

Do you ever find that being so diverse and not pegged to one particular issue stems your energy?

Like you have to sit down and concentrate on bisexual issues for a period of time and then focus on interracial relations at a different point. I'm pretty fluid, I just move from one thing to the next. I feel like I'm more of an artist than a strategist. I just respond to what I'm feeling. Third Wave was kind of founded out of an intense anger and frustration that I felt at not seeing young women's voices come from out of the media responding to issues like the Rodney King verdict or the Anita Hill case. "To Be Real" was born out of a feeling that I'm different from my mom and my mother's generation politically and I'm terrified by that and I want to explore that. That's where the book came from.

What are you working on now that the book is finished?

I'm working on an autobiographical non-fiction book called "Morphology". It's about growing up in a lot of different backgrounds and creating an identity from that.

Rebecca Walker will speak and read from her book, To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Walker Auditorium, Walker Art Center. $5. 375-7622



Rebecca Walker - All Rights Reserved 2007. - Rebecca @ MySpace