Walker, co-founder of Third
Wave Direct Action Corporation, a national multicultural
organization dedicated to facilitating and initiating young
womens activism and empowerment, is giving feminism
a new look. A Third Wave Feminist (as opposed to the First
Wave Feminists who won women the right to vote in 1920 and
the Second Wave Feminists of the 1960s and 70s), Walker
recognizes that the feminism of todays generation
of young women need not be a mirror image of the feminism
of our mothers.
To say this is not to criticize or disrespect Second Wavers,
but simply to affirm and celebrate a new generation of feminist
activism. She recognizes that, "the ever-shifting
but ever-present ideals of feminism cant help but
leave young women and men struggling with the reality of
who we are. Constantly measuring up to some cohesive fully
down-for-the-cause identity without contradictions and messiness
and lusts for power and luxury items is not a fun or easy
task." As a result, todays young feminists
are caught between the reality of our own generation and
the pressure to be "good feminists" in
paying homage to the legacies of our mothers generation.
The fact that a term which, at its core is about choice,
has become so constraining for some, is both ironic and
tragic. Thus, Walker is striving to open up the definition
of what a feminist is, dispelling myths and combating the
"medias generally horrific characterization
of feminists." To do this, Walker has taken on
multiple roles: from activist to writer to entrepreneur
to visionary. She is the editor of To be Real: Telling the
Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, an anthology of
articles which explore the contradiction and ambiguity that
can be associated with female empowerment. Walker wants
young women to know that they can want to be treated "like
a lady," get married, have a BMW, be Christian,
be a supermodel, even like music with misogynistic lyrics,
and still claim the word feminist. As she says, "If
feminism is to be radical and alive [it needs] to respond
to new situations, needs, desires and incorporate all those
who swear by it."
Walker has written articles for magazines such as Essence,
Sassy, Harpers, The Black Scholar, and Spin and has
been a contributing editor to Ms. magazine since 1989. In
1996, she opened a Cyberlounge/Espresso Bar/Bookstore in
Brooklyn, designed to provide Internet access and education
to urban multicultural communities. She was named Feminist
of the Year by the Feminist Majority Fund, and as one of
50 Future Leaders of America by Time magazine. She also
tours the country lecturing on young women and feminism.
Walker has certainly not been content to sit idly by while,
as the Third Wave Web Page reads, "An entire generation
of women is coming of age to find a future less optimistic
than our mothers' vision; a future where women are NOT equal
and their lives are increasingly filled with obstacles and
restrictions." Instead, she helped to create Third
Wave to "harness the energy of young women and men
by sharing information and resources between young women,
together creating a community in which members can coalesce,
network, strategize, and ultimately take action around issues
that affect us all." The organization strives to
be "the thread that connects young women to the
resources necessary to counter attacks on their personal
freedoms," and, "to combat inequalities
that we ourselves face as a result of our age, gender, race,
sexual orientation, economic status, or level of education."
As a young feminist activist, I am excited by Walkers
message. I often feel like I must be on call for the movement
24/7. Frankly, it can be exhausting to feel I must always
tow the p.c. (politically correct) line and take the appropriate
feminist stance. I think Walker is right: we do not want
fitting into the mold of an ideal feminist to become as
constraining for women today as fitting into the mold of
ideal womanhood was for previous generations. Walker is
giving us some breathing room inside the definition of what
it is to be a good feminist and activist. I can claim and
support my feminist convictions with every ounce of passion
within me, but still just be myself rather than worrying
about who I should be as a good feminist.
Sure, I live feminism every day of my life; its a
crucial part of who I am. If someone makes a sexist, racist,
elitist, heterosexist, etc. comment around me, Im
going to call them on it, but by the same token, theres
a point where Im going to look out for my own sanity.
I refuse to allow every choice that I make to be held up
to a litmus test that rates my feminism. Feminism is about
choice, after all. That fact should be an attraction to
young women today, not a deterrent because one has to worry
about making the right choices. In preparing
for her upcoming lecture at Vanderbilt on March 21, I was
thrilled to be able to ask Ms. Walker several questions
about her feminist activism. Her answers only added to my
anticipation of her visit and my interest in her message.
What was your college experience like? Where did you go
to school and what was the activist environment like?
I went to Yale at a time when there was a lot of campus
activism. My freshperson year I was involved in the divestment
from South Africa movement and continued to be involved
in speak outs and rallies on several issues, from retaining
faculty of color to date rape. Ultimately, though, I ended
up trying to address issues through art, founding with other
students a journal for students of color, and making a documentary
about the experience of being a student of color in a mostly
white Ivy League school. I enjoyed college, but looking
back wish that I hadn't felt so obligated and drawn to rail
against the administration quite as much. College is a time
of reflection and learning and is really critical developmentally.
It is sad that so many students have to spend much of that
time fighting for something as simple as their right to
I encounter many women here at Vanderbilt who, to a great
extent, come from a background of both socioeconomic and
white privilege, and who not only do not consider themselves
feminists, but do not see a need for a modern feminist movement.
What would you say to these women?
I don't think it is necessary for them to "consider
themselves feminists" for them to be human beings with
conscience, human beings who act on that conscience when
they come to understand certain realities of the world in
which we live. I think it is less important for young women
and men to personally identify with feminism than it is
for them to actually do something about injustices and inequalities
and, to put it even more simply, problems they see in their
world. Hunger, homelessness, sexual abuse, limiting and
psychically wounding definitions of race, class, gender
or sexuality, environmental destruction; I could go on,
each of these has found advocates within the feminist movement.
Whether you want to work against all of these things using
the tools or under the umbrella of feminism or not, the
most important thing is to recognize they exist and to feel
that it is part of your responsibility as a being on the
planet to respond and address these things that hurt us
all. Byllye Y. Avery, founder of the National Black Women's
Health Project says, "Just because you are not sick
doesn't mean you should close the hospital," and I
think this is certainly applicable to people who feel their
lives to be untouched by these issues. However, generally
I find that there is no one who is untouched, no one who
doesn't have an eating disorder, or a cousin who had an
abortion or a relative or friend who can't afford decent
housing. What we are talking about isn't feminism so much
as it is taking responsibility for some of what goes on
in the world. It is being committed enough to challenge
the status quo and make a difference, no matter how seemingly
As rewarding as activism can be, I know it can also be exhausting.
What gives you your drive and energy?
The truth is that my activism right now is located in
my writing work, and in raising a child. I just finished
a book about growing up black and Jewish and what it means
to have many different organic reference points to define
you. I think the book reflects the kind of time we are living
in now, in which few of us grew up in one place in one way.
Our identities are more collage, more postmodern than ever
before, and yet we long for the meaningful connection of
family and long-term relationships. My book explores these
Raising a child is also where I find that I work the
hardest. Parenting a boy, especially, is a challenge in
a culture that feeds and distracts kids with video games
which teach to capture and destroy, and with social mores
which tell a boy that crying or feeling vulnerable at all
is a weakness, a defect. My job protecting my son's emotional
and psychic space, insisting that he be allowed the whole
range of his feelings is enormous. And then negotiating
the process of raising a child with brown skin in a culture
which imprisons most of its brown-skinned males, is terrifying.
How do I teach him to feel good about himself and not be
paranoid while at the same time teaching him to be extra
careful around police because they might harm him, kill
him even, as he reaches for his registration?
There is still the specter of burnout though, of course.
I handle it by trying hard to eat healthy organic food (lots
of soy chocolate milk!) and getting a lot of rest and exercise.
I also take good long breaks, where I go somewhere beautiful
and recharge. I try to live a full, healthy, happy life.
I don't believe in self sacrifice for the movement, I believe
that the movement, if there is going to be one, has to be
for me as much as it is for anyone else.