Waving, not drowning: an inter-generational perspective on the enactment of fourth wave feminism in the #metoo movement.

Authors: Van Raalte, C. and Van Raalte, G.

Start date: 11 July 2018

The #Metoo movement can be regarded as a quintessentially Fourth Wave Feminist phenomenon, combining as it does the defining characteristics of this latest ‘wave’ of feminism: a re-discovery of sexism (often unhampered by any awareness of historical or political precedent) and a re-engagement with collective action, primarily online. With its focus on the experience of sexual harassment and assault, the movement seems to herald the return of a ‘second wave’ sensibility that its detractors have labelled ‘victim feminism’, and presents a challenge to some of the more naive assumptions that underpinned the third wave’s ‘power feminism’. At the same time the movement is permeated by the neo-liberal individualism which underpins much third wave feminist thought and postfeminist culture.

What emerges from these contradictions is a nuanced narrative of power, vulnerability and authenticity that challenges generational and ideological divides. The discussion is framed by a clear recognition that the ‘victim’ is not defined by her experience, opening up space for a discussion of vulnerability unfettered by the accusations of those Alyson Cole (1999) dubbed the ‘AVFers’ (anti ‘victim feminists’). Meanwhile questions of authenticity are never far from the surface. The apparent ‘authenticity’ offered by the fragmented, grassroots nature of social media presents some challenges for academic feminism, and is in turn challenged by notions of self-disclosure as performance.

This joint paper brings an intergenerational perspective to bear on the ways in which the concepts of vulnerability and authenticity have informed, and been represented in the #Metoo movement.

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