Fourth Wave Feminism Applied in a First Wave World
All women know the feeling of being treated differently because you are “just a woman.” Growing up around boys demonstrates a clear contrast of what people think you, “just a girl,” are capable of and what you are not. The feminist movement has helped break down these ideas that have been instilled in many of us. After breaking it down feminism tears the socially appropriate rules right in half, and breaks the assumptions that people make because of one’s gender. In the novel “Buddha in the Attic” Julie Otsuka tells a story of many different women who came to the United States from Japan almost a hundred years ago. Being Japanese women in a new country presented struggles that many people will never experience. Julie Otsuka uses a collective “we” and first person plural. By grouping all of these women together she gives them a voice among each other but still presents their individual experiences with a clear, strong proclamation. Feminist criticism assists the reader in a better understanding of the roles these women played in day to day existence and life in their homes. Otsuka chooses fourth wave feminist topics throughout her chapters based in a first wave world. These topics include sexual experiences, gender roles in the home, and intersectionality.
Women have been classified as second class citizens for much of history and even still today. “To be seen and not heard” is a quote many women are familiar with. Women were being underrepresented and oppressed in every platform of life and the feminist critic was born of this subjugation. This perspective and school of literary criticism forces the reader to analyze and inspect women’s roles in relation to what they are reading. The feminist critic takes into account how much women speak, if they speak at all, how many women are in the story, how they are treated and so on (Norton’s). Although, it is not just the text that is focused on, it is the larger picture that is mirrored from the written word to the whole world. Feminist criticism changes as time goes on as well, to fit the issues in the time period at hand.
After first wave feminism and the focus on the suffragette movement, there came an expansion. There was the second wave which resulted from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the third wave which started in the 1990’s in response to a hyper-sexualization of women in the media ( website). The fourth wave is happening currently, and is the most inclusive wave of feminism so far. This wave includes the nonwhite woman, the gay woman, the transgender woman, the poor woman, the sexual woman, even men as well, which has inspired many to refer to it as fourth wave inclusive feminism. As I said previously, feminism is an ever changing word, and mirrors what is happening in society in that moment. The right to vote was imperative, but did not resonate with the picture brides, because they would not even be included, as they were U.S. residents and not citizens (Otsuka 58). The women in “Buddha in the Attic” needed fourth wave feminism, as they did not represent what the first wave was displaying. They were fourth wave feminists in a first wave world. For example, women from the first wave could not relate to them because the picture brides took on two roles, as the American women were focused on establishing the equality of women. In this time there was not much flexibility in gender roles, when it came to a family Otsuka describes many times over how the picture brides took on both male and female roles in their homes. “…no matter how tired we were when we came home from the fields, they sat down and read the paper while we cooked for the children and stayed up washing and mending piles of clothes until late” (Otsuka 63). They had both male and female responsibilities and the women of the first wave would have had no idea what that was like. Their white counterparts had the luxury of spending the time and doing the work to change the laws around them. They did not have jobs they needed to attend to, and they had other people who could watch their children, cook their meals, and attend to their homes. The main characters in “Buddha in the Attic” did not have any luxuries given to them, and had to fight for everything they had just to have anything at all.
The feminist perspective allows me to understand this novel better because it was written by a fourth wave feminist. Julie Otsuka was born long after the first wave of feminism was over. Therefore, she chose topics for this novel that come from the mind of a fourth wave feminist. If it was written by someone who lived in the early 1900’s and spoke about it from that historical perspective, it would be a very different novel. The subjects she touches on are more consistent with present day issues. Although these issues were still present in their day, it certainly was not a subject discussed. For example, Otsuka dedicates a whole chapter to the women’s first sexual experiences with their new husbands. In fact, sex is a subject that is talked about throughout the entire novel. Since Otsuka offers the reader the perspective of many different women, a plethora of different views on sex are described. Some women liked it, some did not like it at all, some were completely surprised to like it, “They took us as we cried out with pleasure and then covered our mouths with shame” (Otuska 22). But the topic of sex was something that was not shared by many first wave feminists. Otsuka injects a contrast of sex positivity and confronting the issue of non-consensual sex all at the same time. Providing a very honest view, since there are many different women’s stories being told, on a very intense subject.
Another example of Otsuka’s modern philosophy in this first wave world is the concept of intersectionality in regards to these groups of women. “The concept of intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others” (Crosley). One could see how this common experience, being a woman, could bring these two groups of people together. They were in the same boat as these rich white women being that all women were treated as second class citizens simply because of their sex. Despite that similarity, the women in Otsuka’s novel had so many more disadvantages than their rich white counterparts. They were a minority in this new country, they did not speak the language, and they were living in poverty. So, in fact the movement of first wave feminism and the subsequent right to vote did not and could not really resonate with them. Their white counterparts were oppressed, and from this oppression is where the women’s relationships developed. Otsuka touches on this kinship between the white women and the picture brides, saying how the white women were good teachers. “It was their women who taught us the things we most needed to know” (Otsuka 38). Following that is about two dozen “how to’s.” Otsuka describes an intimate relationship, “When they called out for us in the middle of the night we went to them and lay with them until morning” (Otsuka 40). But even with all of this sweetness, one can still recognize how they view each other in their respective boxes.
Without this perspective, it would be more difficult for the modern mind to relate to and understand the struggles of the women who were living during that period. Because Otsuka lives in a time when feminism has grown and expanded, she can emphasize the stark difference between women then and now. By doing this, she creates a broader statement of the oppression under which her characters lived. The fourth wave feminist filter that is used on a landscape that is the first wave world expands the readers view further than if it was written by someone who was there.
Booth, Alison, J. Paul Hunter, and Kelly J. Mays. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. Print.
Crosley-Corcoran, Gina. “Explaining White Privilege to A Broke White Person.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
“Main – Densho: Japanese American Incarceration and Japanese Internment.” Densho: Japanese American Incarceration and Japanese Internment. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Otsuka, Julie. The Buddha in the Attic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.
Rampton, Martha “Four Waves of Feminism.” Four Waves of Feminism | Pacific University. N.p., 25 Oct. 2015 Web. 10 Nov. 2016.