Instructor, Department of History
Lyz Bly received her Doctor of Philosophy in History at Case Western Reserve University in 2010. Her dissertation is titled, " Generation X and the Invention of a Third Feminist Wave."
In the early 1990s, young middle-class women took to the streets to protest the erosion of abortion and reproductive rights, gathered in coffee shops and dorm rooms to discuss their personal experiences with sexism and violence, and assembled in punk rock nightclubs and hijacked typically masculine spaces in order to stage their own creative and political actions. This surge of activism is identified as the beginning “third wave” feminist activism. By no coincidence, the progenitors of “third wave” feminism were largely members of Generation X, the group of Americans born between 1960 and 1975. As heirs of the cultural and political transformations of previous decades, this generation grew up benefiting from the gains made by the women’s liberation movement of the sixties and seventies. As GenXers came of age as teens and young adults in the eighties and nineties, the privileges of “normative” identity—those wrought from whiteness, masculinity, and social class—had been thoroughly challenged by three decades of activism, and nearly two decades of academic proliferation of French post structuralism and post modernism, which were mainstreamed in the U.S. under the rubrics of “multiculturalism” and “identity politics.”
Generation X and the Invention of a Third Feminist Wave is a study of late twentieth century feminist activism, popular culture, and the gendered implications of the 1990s political conflict known as the culture wars. The dissertation explores two inextricably linked phenomena: Generation X and third wave feminism. Third wave, what I term “GenX,” feminism emerged as an example of political action in an age of paralyzing ironic detachment. GenX feminism surfaced at a time in history when it seemed impossible to incite political activism based solely on gender. Feminists of this generation understood the ways in which various socially constructed categories of identity intermingled and produced social inequality. As activists and scholars grappled with the complex implications of the intersections of identity, markers such as “woman” came to be understood as problematically limiting concepts. In charting the life cycle of white, middle-class GenX women, this dissertation illuminates the forces that shaped the generation’s worldview. It also elucidates the ways in which GenX feminism both challenged and maintained conventions of femininity and feminist activism during the last decade of the twentieth century.