Jo Reger, professor of sociology at Oakland University and editor of the book Different Wavelengths: Past, Present, and Future in Contemporary US Feminism, came to speak at Aquinas College on March 31, 2006. She spoke about feminism in the United States – how it has changed over the years, and how it fits into society right now. Reger spoke of three themes that emerge from contemporary feminism: divisions and inclusivity, changes in ideology and strategy, and origins and delineations of feminist waves. Mentioned was the “commonly accepted” version of feminine history, which views the white woman as universal. The “reenvisioned” version, on the other hand, acknowledges that women of all ethnicities have worked on similar issues. Reger, a white woman, stated that while second wave feminism (feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s) did have problems regarding its race and class makeup, the traditionally told history of second wave feminism writes off the significant contributions of nonwhite women and the times in which white women and nonwhite women from various socioeconomic classes did work together. Some challenges to contemporary feminism mentioned by Reger include the complex construction of feminine history and the necessity to avoid monolithic interpretations.
Reger noted that there has been a call for changes in the strategies and ideology of the feminist movement in the third wave (what some see as feminism’s current wave). These include an emphasis on power feminism versus a feminism that views women as victims as well as an emphasis on the individual’s actions rather than the actions of a group. Traditional strategies seem to be losing their effectiveness. Second wave feminism placed importance on the resistance of heterosexuality. Current feminism (known as the third wave) places importance on resistance through personal choices; for example, making one’s appearance a form of “everyday resistance.” Also, certain domestic tasks are being reinvented by women, such as knitting – Reger notes that knitting has become an especially popular method of making a political statement about domesticity. On the national level, Reger has observed that there are no feminist leaders. Instead, there has been a trend toward turning to musicians, such as Ani DiFranco and Kathleen Hanna, for “emotional empowerment.”
As for the future of feminism, Reger mentioned referred to “social movement spillover” – she noted that most activists are involved in a variety of causes such as anti globalization, and that these causes often intertwine. Feminism is shaped by local communities, and can not be universally defined; it is “diverse and fragmented.” It is for this reason Reger stated in her presentation’s end that it may be misleading to speak about values, tactics, and emphases of the third wave, since contemporary feminist movement is so decentralized.
After Dr. Reger’s presentation, small groups were formed to discuss issues regarding women’s liberation on local college campuses, as the audience was made up almost entirely of student and faculty from area schools. The discussions made painfully clear the draconian treatment of students working to dismantle patriarchy and heterosexism by the administrations of many local conservative colleges. While no concrete organizational plans resulted from these small groups, connections were made between schools and consciousness was raised of the reality of organizing and of life in general for those working on ending oppression while living under it.