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lesson 4

third wave

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To remember some key points from the last lesson

To understand the two main ideas of third wave feminism

To understand the definition of 'intersectionality'

To study the most influential Cambridge women in the third wave

To consolidate learning through a flash card activity




activity 1

Before we begin learning about third wave feminism, and how Cambridge women contributed to it, have a go at writing some bullet points on what you remember from last time about:  


Second Wave Feminism - What were the main aims?


Names of any Second Wave Feminists - What did they achieve? 

Any interesting facts that stood out for you?  


This should take 5 minutes.

THird Wave Feminism 1990s - 2010s

The third wave of feminism was led by a generation of daughters who were inspired by their mothers from the second wave. What this new generation aimed to achieve was for all women of different ethnicities, religions and sexualities to be represented. They also wanted women to stop being viewed as 'objects of beauty' but rather to be judged on their abilities.
To understand the two key ideas of third wave feminism, there are two American feminists that we must learn about:

idea 1 - The beauty myth

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Naomi Wolf wrote: 'The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women'. She calls the concept of beauty a "belief system". She explores how the media had begun to put an even greater emphasis on encouraging women to obsess over their physical appearance. This preoccupies them and distracts them from concentrating on more important things in life. She also talks about how the freedoms gained from the second wave had created new patriarchal traps for women such as the rise of the diet, cosmetics, pornography and plastic surgery industries. 

activity 2

Can you think about what types of adverts are designed to create insecurities in women and girls about their appearance? List 3 brands you think do this and what type of industry they come from.

idea 2 - international feminism and intersectionality

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Alongside the focus on feminism in different continents, one of the important ideas of third wave feminism was the concept of ‘intersectionality’. This word was invented by Kimberlé Crenshaw to explain how people can be affected by having more than one aspect of their identity that others can discriminate against.
Crenshaw's goal was to broaden the aims of feminism by getting people to understand that injustices and discrimination can differentiate between women depending on their identity based on the following categories:

activity 3

  • Race, class, language, culture, ethnicity, gender, age, ability, sexuality and education.
Watch the videos below to get a better understanding of the concept.

impact of the cambridge THIRD wave feminists

During the third wave, Cambridge produced feminists such as Sandi Toksvig, Emma Thompson and Natasha Walter that could use the media to their advantage and were able to get into high positions in journalism and culture to spread their ideas further. The international focus of feminism in the third wave was demonstrated by Baroness Haleh Afshar and her work on Islamic feminism.

Natasha Walter


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  • Natasha is a highly academic feminist; she gained a First from St John's College, Cambridge and went on to study and teach at Harvard in America.

  • In 2015, she became a Visiting Professor of Women's Rights at Cambridge University, so still holds onto her Cambridge roots.

  • Walter was the Deputy Literary Editor of The Independent, and later a Columnist for the Guardian.

  • However what brought her most significantly into the spotlight of the third wave was her book: 'The New Feminism' (1998).

  • Walter's work celebrated women's growing political power and economic equality. She also tries to make clear that we have to keep fighting for equality and that the first 2 waves have not achieved everything women need to progress.

  • Walter is still a very influential figure in feminism now, and went on to write 3 more books, including both fictional spy genres about feminism, and more of her own views surrounding 'The Return of Sexism'.

  • She founded the Women for Refugee Women (2006). It is a charity that is 'challenging the injustices (unfairness) experienced by women who seek asylum (shelter) in the United Kingdom'.

  • She has also gone on to become an activist in Extinction Rebellion.

baroness Haleh Afshar, OBE


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  • Haleh got a PhD at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, after already having done her undergraduate degree at the University of York.

  • She is a Muslim feminist and writes on Iranian politics and women. She has written 6 books on these subjects.

  • However, the book that most encapsulated the third wave was 'Islam and Feminisms' (1998). This played into the key themes of the third wave as it explored the recognition of women having very similar experiences, goals and problems despite having different cultures.

  • She wanted Western society to understand that Islamic women can and do have a feminist position which must be included in the third wave.

  • In 2003, Afshar became a founding member of the Muslim Women's Network.

  • In 2007 she became a Baroness and in 2009, she was named as one of the 20 most successful Muslim women in the UK, on the Muslim Women Power List.

Sandi Toksvig, OBE


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  • Sandi studied at Girton College, Cambridge.

  • You might be familiar with her as the co-presenter of the Great British Bake Off; however, it is also important to learn about her Herstory and previous achievements.

  • One of which was the University of Cambridge's Footlights show. This is an amateur theatrical group which has helped to bring recognition to many comedians and actors that you have probably heard of: Stephen Fry,  John Cleese, Germaine Greer (among the first women to be allowed back on the stage in 1964), Hugh Laurie, John Oliver, Sue Perkins and Emma Thompson to name a few. However what Sandi did, along with Emma Thompson, was to create the first all female Footlights show: Woman's Hour (1980!). They staged it because they were 'sick of getting cast as receptionists in sketches'. Their show was a success and allowed a new pathway for other aspiring female comedians and actors to follow them.

  • Toksvig has written over 20 fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children. One of her most notable being her 2008: Girls are Best, which was a Herstory book intended to be read by young girls, to gain different perspectives of history.

  • Sandi came out as a lesbian in 1994, which was more 'accepted' during the third wave. However as a result of this choice, Toksvig was dropped by the 'Save the Children' charity. Can you remember who set this charity up?  This led Sandi to become an even stronger activist...

  • In 2015, she co-founded the Women's Equality Party. It is a political party that 'campaigns for gender equality to the benefit of all'. 

  • They fight for equality in: Health, representation, pay and opportunities, parenting and care-giving, education, media treatment and an end to violence against women.



1. Have a go at creating a flash card for each of the Cambridge women of the third wave.

2. One side of the card with their name, and the other side with three 'key fact' bullet points about their life.

3. Once you have done this, test yourself on each one until you can remember them.

This activity should take you 10 -15 minutes to complete.

flash cards

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Next Lesson...

In our final lesson, we will be learning about how fourth wave feminism is moving on from third wave - right now -  to tackle patriarchy through using different media, especially the internet (social media).

You will learn about which Cambridge women are at the front of this important development.

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