As I believe I’ve said before on this blog, I’ve long been deeply skeptical of the so-called generational schism between “second wave” and “third wave” feminist thinkers and activists. A lot of ink (and maybe even a little blood!) has been spilled over the supposed age-based animosity between younger feminists and their elders. It’s a narrative that neatly fits into American conceptions of coming-of-age rebellion and feeds the media need for drama (preferably drama with the possibility of naked mud wrestling!)
Well, Katha Pollitt, over at The Nation deconstructs this story of parents, grandparents, and children intractably at odds, in her column Subject to Debate.
Can we please stop talking about feminism as if it is mothers and daughters fighting about clothes? Second wave: you’re going out in that? Third wave: just drink your herbal tea and leave me alone! Media commentators love to reduce everything about women to catfights about sex, so it’s not surprising that this belittling and historically inaccurate way of looking at the women’s movement–angry prudes versus drunken sluts–has recently taken on new life, including among feminists. Writing on DoubleX .com, the new Slate spinoff for women, the redoubtable Linda Hirshman delivered a sweeping attack on younger feminists for irresponsible partying, as chronicled on Jezebel.com, a Gawker-family blog devoted to “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing.” Likewise, a silly “debate” over whether Sex and the Single Girl did more for women than The Feminine Mystique followed the release of Jennifer Scanlon’s Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown. As Naomi Wolf wrote in the Washington Post, “The stereotype of feminists as asexual, hirsute Amazons in Birkenstocks that has reigned on campus for the past two decades has been replaced by a breezy vision of hip, smart young women who will take a date to the right-on, woman-friendly sex shop Babeland.” Pick your caricature.
What’s wrong with parsing feminism along a mother/daughter divide? Everything.
She obviously can’t tackle in a single column all of the ways this “mother/daughter divide” is inaccurate — but I think she makes a great start. You can read the whole thing here.
via Courtney @ Feministing.
Stating the obvious: I think a lot of the “generational divide” (if there is one – and it can go the other way!) is due to a lack of understanding about different cultures.
First of all, the idea that the only divide is generational, and that younger feminists tend to be more progressive than older feminists, is just silly. Younger feminists (like myself) are often more pro-life and sexually conservative than older women (for reasons that I won't detail here), so the idea of us all as progressive, Obama-endorsing, raging sluts is a bit wrong.
More than that, the various ways of looking at feminism are as diverse as women are – which is how it should be! About 90% of women self-identify as feminists (and most of the other 10% do not because of the stereotypes of feminists, both second-wave and third-wave). Yet married women with mortgages and children have very different political views than do single women who live in the city. Women split not just by level of education, but by type of education – the lawyers and engineers, on the whole, think differently than do the humanities PhDs.
I've always hated when people look at “diversity” in a very narrow manner, confining it only to age, race, sex, or anything else that can be quickly put on a Census form. It's absolutely asinine to break down the vibrant, intra-feminist debates along those lines, as if age is the only thing that would cause 150 million American feminist women to have different ideas.