A Manifesta Revisited

"Babies born on this day are automatically given their father's name. … The only prestigious physical activity for girls is cheerleading or being a drum majorette. … If a pregnancy happens, an enterprising gal can get a legal abortion only if she lives in New York or is rich enough to fly there, or Cuba, London, or Scandinavia. … Lesbians are rarely 'out,' except in certain bars owned by organized crime."

This is how Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards describe the year of their birth, 1970, in their turn-of-the-millennium feminist classic, Manifesta. Jen and Amy, as they are affectionately known, began the book that crystallized the third wave with the above description of "the baptismal moment of a decade that would change dramatically the lives of American women."

A 10th anniversary edition of Manifesta, updated and with a new preface added, has just been released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. And in many ways, our last decade was also a baptismal moment of sorts for women (though it's certainly been less covered by the mainstream media). To steal a page from Jen and Amy, consider the state of all things feminist in the year 2000: Birth politics is a niche issue. Gay celebrities are a scandal. Feminism is about women, not gender, and most U.S. feminists have never heard of child trafficking or female genital cutting. The notion of a woman, much less a black, president is still more pipe dream than actual possibility. There are no feminist blogs.

In the last 10 years, a new generation has seized on some of the feminist tropes of old -- "the personal is political," especially -- and remade them in their millennial image. And in some ways, the inception of my own feminism came that year. A movement I had seen as outdated, characterized by my mom's women's groups and "down with the patriarchy" politics, got a makeover the moment that Jen and Amy walked into a lecture hall at Barnard College to give their talk on Manifesta. They were young, hip, and authentic. They made it OK to be feminist and funny (this had always been the case, of course, but I'd been duped).

I bought a copy and devoured it on my way to South Africa for study abroad. Though I left many possessions in Cape Town, my earmarked, underlined copy of Manifesta came home with me, my new blueprint for being a contemporary feminist.

Jen and Amy's version of feminism is intersectional, diffuse, and friendly. They are champions of locally-based organizing, following up Manifesta with Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism. They encourage young women to use their corporate copy machines to print pro-choice flyers, and they agitate for solid sexual-assault policies in their schools. As Jen and Amy have traveled the country speaking about feminism at over 250 colleges and high schools over the past decade, they've espoused a decidedly big-tent version of the movement -- one where even women opposed to abortion could potentially have a seat at the table.

"In addition to history and political consciousness, the Third Wave reputedly lacks a leader," Jen and Amy wrote. But with Manifesta, they would become leaders, espousing a new feminism that was both respectful of their foremothers and respectfully disagreed that young women were apathetic or disinterested in feminist issues.

Times have certainly changed. Jen and Amy own homes, have become mothers, "head" their households, and run a small business together. They still visit college campuses but speak less as peers. Instead, they point the next generation of women's studies majors toward hot issues -- gender fluidity, reproductive justice, queer rights -- playing out on hot mediums -- blogs, Twitter, Facebook.

Their leadership has been inspired on many fronts. They've made feminism accessible again, and they've done it as a collaborative pair -- modeling a remarkable partnership that flies in the face of past waves, where the feminists icons were pit against one another, most famously Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. As Deborah Siegel writes in her 2007 book, Sisterhood Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild: "From its inception, the movement known as feminism has been one of the most internally fragmented and outwardly controversial -- perhaps because so many have so much to gain." Jen and Amy have proved that this doesn't have to remain so.

Jen and Amy also constantly encouraged diversity in the movement, including race as a key feminist issue in all of their writings and speeches. Amy co-founded the Third Wave Foundation, which "works nationally to support young women and transgender youth ages 15 to 30" and makes supporting young women of color -- the fourth wave of leaders, if you will -- a central part of its work. Jen and Amy also key in on the subtle stuff, like refusing to be on panels without women of color, for example.

Jen and Amy have modeled transparency in their evolution as thinkers. In the new preface they admit that the book was criticized for being "too middle-class" or "too white" but add, "We are proud that we created (not completely) an inclusive book -- and are reminded to ask again why inclusivity is expected only of feminists." They add that some things in the old edition "make us cringe," such as an overemphasis on the Spice Girls and Monica Lewinsky. They've brought along the best of their own experiences of being mentored (most famously, by Steinem) and given so much to younger women who reach out to them. At the time of Manifesta's publication, the relationship between the second and third waves of feminism was frequently tarnished by patronizing interventions from the earlier class. And often, young women were made to feel invisible within the movement. Jen and Amy have avoided engaging in that sort of generational antagonism, still too common among some older feminists who fear the movement is dying but aren't willing to look for it in new places.

"The public heroines of one generation are the private heroines of the next," Alice Rossi wrote in The Feminist Papers. Jen and Amy included this quotation in 2000, and re-emphasized it in their new preface -- perhaps making an anniversary wish of sorts. They want to see what they have done -- making feminism fresh, personal, and populist -- to be "well, duh" among the next generation. They want to be surprised by the impending fourth wave. "Whatever you call it," they write, "it is necessary to acknowledge and value those younger people (younger than us) who continue to identify new issues and new tactics. And more important than labeling the feminism is identifying the power that comes from simply living feminist lives."

As they turn 40, and their feminist classic turns 10, they don't pass the torch so much as share the spark with the next pair of rabble rousers, plotting away in a dorm room or pecking away on a brand new blog, hoping to change the whole God damn world. Feminist leaders have never, and will never, hope for less.