Unfinished Business of Feminism

It was not only the second year anniversary of the truly awesome Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art on Saturday, but the “coming out party” for Unfinished Business, an intergenerational clan of diverse women who have been meeting privately but are now going public. They’re hope is that they can inspire other “UB pods” of women from varied backgrounds, experiences, and ages to get together and talk about the vast range of issues that feminists care about.
The event was inventive–starting with a keynote by C. Nicole Mason, activist and researcher, and transitioning into a short Q&A with Esther Broner and Ai-jen Poo (moderated by the always dynamic and refreshing Laura Flanders), that evolved into an audience-involved speak out of sorts.
The event invoked some serious overwhelm in me and I’ve been trying to process just why ever since. First and foremost, there were so many important issues brought up in this two hour span–everything from domestic workers’ rights to Hollywood’s inadequate portraits of women, from socialism to corporate accountability, from child development to the dearth of female artists’ work in major museums and galleries. I suppose one is bound to feel a little paralyzed hearing about this vast range of problems and challenges.
But there’s something more subtle that I’m trying to unpack. I feel like women who lived through the 60s feminist movement tend to have a very sweeping, visionary relationship to social change. At one point, Esther Broner (who I absolutely fell in love with), said that she has experienced her entire life through the lens of her 60s era feminist activism. Sometimes it feels like second wavers have this giant mirage–the Movement–in their minds that no longer exists.
Today’s feminism, in my experience, is fragmented and specialized–so many women all over the country, all over the world, doing all sorts of amazing work. There is no capital M, Movement anymore. At least not one that I feel a part of. I’m connected to this loose and wonderful network of awake, active women of so many ages and cultures who are doing what they know how to do in order to create change and make the world better.
Would we all be more effective if we had a unified mission? Perhaps. But is that even possible? Sometimes while listening to the women speak out at Unfinished Business I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s really worth our while to spend so much time and energy trying to zero in on a collective definition of what feminism is or a shared point of view on what work must be done and in what way. It sounds comforting and far more simple. But it just doesn’t strike me as realistic. Call me fatally pragmatic, but I’m always asking myself, “Is this really possible? If so, how? If not, what else can we focus our precious energy on?”
Check out Deborah Siegel’s very thorough live blogging of the whole event over at Girl w/ Pen.

Join the Conversation