This article explores the ways in which current feminist frameworks are dividing the women’s movement along generational lines, thereby inhibiting progress in the struggle for gender equality. Third-wave feminists, or the generation of feminists that came of age in the 1990s and continues today, have been criticized for focusing on personal stories of oppression and failing to influence feminist legal theory. Yet this critique presupposes that third-wave feminism is fundamentally different from the feminism of past generations. In contrast, this article argues that third-wave feminism is rooted in the feminist legal theory developed in the prior generation.

This article demonstrates that the third-wave appears to be failing to influence feminist legal theory not because it is theoretically different, but because third-wave feminists approach activism in such a different way. For example, third-wavers envision “women’s issues” broadly, and rely on new tactics such as online organizing. Using the case study of Spark, a nonprofit organization employing third-wave activism to support global grassroots women’s organizations, this article provides a model of this new brand of feminism in practice.

This article proposes the adoption of social justice feminism, which advocates casting a broader feminist net to capture those who have been traditionally neglected by the women’s movement, such as low-income women and women of color. Social justice feminism is a way to broaden the focus from a rights-based approach to an examination of the dynamics of power and privilege that continue to shape women’s lives even when legal rights to equality have been won. Adopting social justice feminism can be a way to bridge second- and third-wave feminism and create a more robust and unified feminist movement, thereby mending the divisions that currently prevent unification in the women’s movement.

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