My friend Linda sent me this article, The End of the Women’s Movement, by Courtney E. Martin, today with a query for my thoughts. Linda is herself of the “second wave” generation of feminist activists (although I try to avoid generational language as much as possible when talking and writing about women’s history), while Ms. Martin and I are in our twenties and of the “third” (or possibly forth?) wave era. Since intergenerational tension within feminist activism is an issue I care deeply about, and this article was published on my birthday, I thought it deserved it’s own post rather than being buried in my next links list.
Courtney Martin, whom I read regularly at the blog Feministing, is herself involved in ongoing activism in this area as part of a roadshow of intergenerational feminists. In this particular piece, she takes a gathering at the Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art as a jumping-off point to write about the process of feminist activism today, and specifically some of the differences between today’s political change and the activism of movements in the 1960s and 1970s:
People within feminist circles may recognize names like Jessica Valenti or Jennifer Baumgardner, but the general public doesn’t. This is largely due to what Wired editor Chris Anderson calls “the long tail” — the decreasing presence of a mainstream culture and the increasing influence of more diffuse communities organized around specific interests. In other words, we don’t have a leader because it’s hard to even pin down who “we” are. Leaders are useful for galvanizing movements, but they also rise to fame at a critical cost. Young feminists should count ourselves lucky that we don’t have one face representing our generation — which would mean one race, one socioeconomic class, one ideological bent. Nothing could be less representative, actually.
She also makes what I think is a fascinating observation that:
Members of the second-wave generation developed their feminist identity during the heyday of direct action. They had ecstatic, very physical experiences of feminism. . . . Now these women are older, many of them happily shifting into what Jane Fonda calls ‘the third act’ — a stage of life when they don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks, and they want to see the world live up to its God damn potential, once and for all. . . They’re prioritizing changing the world again. And as such, they seem to experience an old hankering for an unapologetic women’s movement that they can see, hear, and touch.
I had never before thought of situating women’s movement activism in sensory experience; in the body — and I think using embodiment as a framework to describe what is so compelling about the narrative and experience of that era is an intriguing new approach to understanding what the 1960s and ’70s counterculture might offer us in terms of wisdom for the future.
The essay as a whole is thoughtful, and I think balances fairly well the task of respecting the lessons to be gleaned from historical circumstances and the experiences of our elders — without losing sight of the fact that grafting past tactics onto present-day situations can often be counter-productive. Read the whole thing here.
UPDATE: Pursuit of Harpyness has a group post up discussing the article as well. Highly recommend checking it out.