The Emergence of Intersectionality and Third Wave Feminism

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Feminist definition as told by Beyonce.

Feminism is the “belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”[1] The term was coined by French philosopher, Charles Fourier, in 1837. Since then, we have seen feminism go through four waves. Each wave is focused on different issues regarding gender equality. Third-wave feminism is debuted with the emergence of the term intersectionality and is focused primarily on sexual harassment and victim blaming.


During the third-wave, the fight for gender equality began to include women of color. Throughout the second-wave, women of color felt excluded from the movement and so forth Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s term intersectionality was born. [2] As a result, the third-wave was fixated on diversity within the feminist movement while the second wave focused on fixing gender inequality. [3]

Third-wave feminism dates from the early 1990’s until around 2012 when the fourth-wave began. The start of the third-wave can be marked by Anita Hill’s testimony to an “all-white” and “all-male” Senate Judiciary Committee in which she charged Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. [4] Furthermore, the term third-wave was coined from Rebecca Walker’s Becoming the Third Wave which was a response to Thomas’ confirmation. At the end she states, “I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.” [5]


Visual representation of the components of Intersectionality.

The term intersectionality was introduced by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989. [6] Intersectionality is a “lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.”[7] It studies the intersection between gender, race, class, age, disability, and sexual orientation and “how different power structures interact in the lives of minorities.” [8]


Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment was a central issue during the third-wave movement, specifically surrounding women of color in the workplace. Before the third-wave, there was a preconceived notion that the victims of sexual assault were at fault and that they had the power to stop it, “[women] could avoid being ‘victimized’ if they didn’t dress ‘like sluts’.” [9] The third-wave worked to fight against slut-shaming/victim blaming and helped move towards sexual liberation for women. Moreover, it worked to ensure that a woman’s credibility was not tarnished when coming forward about sexual harassment. 

Victim Blaming

The Handmaid's Tale
Poster of Janine claiming that your body is no longer within your control.

In Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the readers are shown an extreme case of victim blaming when Janine tells the other Handmaid’s that she was gang-raped at fourteen. Aunt Lydia explains (p.49),

“They can’t help it, she said, God made them that way but He did not make you that way. He made you different. It’s up to you to set the boundaries.”[10]

This statement takes the stance that women should be held responsible when they are sexual harassed because they did not set up with appropriate boundaries. The Aunts have ingrained this in the Handmaid's heads, “It was my own fault. I led them on. I deserved the pain.” (p. 83)[10]. The Aunts encourage the other Handmaid’s the partake in the slut shaming (p. 82),

“But whose fault was it? ...

Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison.

Who led them on? ...

She did. She did. She did.

Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen?

Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.”[10]

Third-wave feminism fought to move away from slut-shaming and to embrace women’s sexuality. It redefined women as “assertive, powerful, and sometimes promiscuous” and allowed them to have sexual liberation without the fear of being at fault for sexual harassment. [11]

Black Women and Sexual Harassment

In Crenshaw’s article, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex she states, “Rape statues generally do not reflect male control over female control, but white male regulation of white female sexuality."[6] This statement alludes to the fact that courts do not recognize the sexual assault of a black woman because were “not presumed to be chaste.” [6] By being African American they were not protected from rape because “the successful conviction of a white man for raping a Black woman was virtually unthinkable.” [6] We see an example of this in the Anita Hill vs. Justice Clarence Thomas case. 

The Times cover of the Anita Hill v. Justice Clarence Thomas case.
Anita Hill v. Justice Clarence Thomas

Anita Hill v. Justice Clarence Thomas marked the start of third-wave feminism. It brought forth the issue of sexual harassment, specifically of Black women, to global attention. This case was especially influential on the debate of sexual harassment and intersectionality because Anita Hill was an African-American lawyer testifying to the character of a white Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. She faced intense public scrutiny throughout the testimony and when Thomas was confirmed, Hill had her credibility questioned for long after the hearing. Nevertheless, Hill became a “symbol for the sexual harassment issue.”[12] She showed women that they too can speak out and seek justice for sexual harassment. 

#MeToo Movement
The #MeToo Movement shows the widespread issue of sexual harassment.

The #MeToo Movement began with African American woman, Tarana Burke. Her vision was “empowerment through empathy.”[13] #MeToo was created to show survivors that they were not alone. It is aimed at helping sexual assault survivors, especially young women of color, find ways to heal. This movement encourages woman to speak up instead of staying silent, “the story of western literature is also the story of rape victims silenced forever.” [14] It gives victims a safe place to tell their stories without experiencing judgement or victim blaming.  The #MeToo Movement took off on social media and as a result has demonstrated how prevalent and widespread sexual assault is. 


Third-wave feminism saw the introduction of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s intersectionality which led to feminism expanding to include women of color. This wave was focused on diversity within the movement instead of gender inequality. Additionally, the third-wave fought to combat sexual harassment and victim blaming. Analysis of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Anita Hill v. Justice Clarence Thomas case and the #MeToo Movement are used to display the issues that the third-wave was combating.

Also See


  1. Reisenwitz, C. (n.d.). The Definition of Feminism: What Does Feminism Mean? Retrieved July 19, 2018, from
  2. Buchanan, I. (2018). Third Wave feminism. In  (Ed.), A Dictionary of Critical Theory. : Oxford University Press,. Retrieved 18 Jul. 2018, from
  3. Chapman, R., & Ciment, J. (2010). Culture Wars. 222. doi:10.4324/9781315705323
  4. Anita Hill. (2012). In Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from
  5. Walker, R. (n.d.). Becoming the Third Wave. Retrieved July 19, 2018, from
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum,1989(1), 157-159. Retrieved July 19, 2018, from
  7. Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later. (2017, June 8). Retrieved July 19, 2018, from
  8. Adewunmi, B. (2014, April 2). Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality: "I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use". Retrieved July 19, 2018, from
  9. Mendes, K. (2015). SlutWalk : Feminism, Activism and Media. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1985. Print
  11. Brunell, L. (2008, January 30). Feminism Reimagined: The Third Wave. Retrieved July 19, 2018, from
  12. Black, A. E., & Allen, J. L. (2001). Tracing the legacy of anita hill: The Thomas/Hill hearings and media coverage of sexual harassment. Gender Issues, 19(1), 33-52. Retrieved from
  13. You Are Not Alone. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2018, from 
  14. Airey, J. L. (2018). #MeToo. Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature,37(1). Retrieved July 20, 2018, from