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.

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11 Comments

  1. Tara K.
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree. I feel like there’s not a unitary feminism, which seems inherently bad, but on second thought I think I really embrace it. That feminism has become diverse and fractured, with different (sometimes nearly antonymous) outlets represents that it has become more enculturated. Anything in its homogenous form is young, immature; it has not developed. That so many people now have varying concepts of feminism means that it’s being incorporated into more aspects of more people’s lives.

  2. PilgrimSoul
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Well, if there’s no movement, then we’re all just individuals. And if we’re all just individuals, then we are back where liberal idealism put us; no one has any obligation to anyone else.
    To me, the more naive position is to assume that solidarity is impossible. Small group of people can change the world Margaret Mead blah blah.

  3. myheartisagapinghole
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think all feminists need to sign off on one mission statement. Also, it’s unrealistic and undesirable to fight the same old wars the same old way. The most important thing is to not let class and racism divide us.

  4. Robotronik
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had this exact conversation with several male and female family members and friends and very much agree with Courtney.
    I feel there is a lack of issues specific to females and with general concepts of feminism widely known and in the general consciousness nearly all of the issues raised with feminism have been addressed (to varying degrees of success). The capital M movement is no longer necessary, but on the other hand Unfinished Business can address specific issues where they need to be addressed.
    What I see replacing the Feminist movement (and other movements such as Gay Rights and Civil Rights) is a general Humanism (+/- the anti-supernatural aspects) which fulfills the needs of the previously mention movements.

  5. jafagirl
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    My definition of feminism is equal rights economically, politically etc. Not sure why it should be so fragmented? The times have changed and how we approach them may be different but the core principle is the same is it not?
    In this day and age women in the USA are still earning less for the same job. That to me as an older feminist is unfinished business.

  6. MadamaAmbi
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    hi Courtney–It may be that older feminists see what’s happening now as evolutionary and how it’s all connected. I do. I don’t think we all have to sign off on one agenda or one definition, but I would like our communications to be more visible. I think a major part of the reason you and many others I’ve heard from feel that women’s movement is so fragmented is that we never see it or hear about it via mainstream media. The way it stands now, you have to conference hop, and social network your butt off to get the lay of the land.
    I’m working on visibility projects. Some of them are easy to explain, like podcast interviews, webcam roundtables, etc. Some of them are more longterm ways to make us visible to ourselves and the world. I will be saying more about this soon.
    Finally, I just want to say that I understand your feeling of overwhelm. We’re up against some mighty forces. For those forces, I do have a unifying concept: patriarchy. That’s the bad news. The good news is that President Obama just created The White House Council on Women and Girls, and he appointed two outstanding women to lead. Over the weekend I saw one of them, Tina Tchen, address the Feminist Majority Campus conference in DC and she was fantastic!!!! And she wore red!!!
    Do you know what I mean when I tell you that she wore red? Let me know.

  7. Roja
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Courtney,
    I agree with you, women’s rights activism is very fragmented. That has benefits but it has huge downfalls if we don’t make coalitions when it comes to specific realistic goals. (not a unified mission statement or ideology, but short term, specific, shared goals that mobilize large numbers of people).
    I personally feel a huge void in this area and that there is so much potential that is not being used. I have been looking and I don’t see coalitions in any area other than when it comes to some specific policies (like choice, and equal pay). And even these coalitions might have been created due to the history of these issues.
    when it comes to issues that affect me, my mom, my sister, and my friends, we are left high and dry on our own. All we can do is huddle together and write complaint letters randomly. This is how it feels for people who are not part of small active circles that some others might be a part of. Maybe if I quit my day job and become a full-time activist, then I could feel positive about the whole thing, but as things are right now, there is not much I can do as a professional woman other than what I do individually. and often it has no direction, it is not joined with other voices, and it falls on deaf ears.
    it’s not working out for me.

  8. fairbanksgrrrl
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    To me, multiplicity (fragmentation sounds negative) is the nature of feminism(s). The early 2nd wavers did some great things, but they lacked, in my opinion, complexity. They left out lower class women, women of color, and later, even lesbians. All those women sacrificed for the goal of “unity”. No thank you.
    The modern movement is about inclusion. It’s about multiple voices, experiences, goals, and methods. It’s about ending oppression everywhere. And if it sometimes feels confusing, or disjointed, or amorphous, I say good. Let the men have their pointed, exclusive, driven, and dare I say phallic? movements.
    We’re about something different.

  9. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    What does it mean that she wore red?

  10. MadamaAmbi
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you that we don’t have to ape the patriarchy, and that when you are inclusive and horizontal rather than vertical/hierarchical, it all looks more confusing…however, I also think that we need to keep discussing ways to strengthen our networks, make the vastness of the femisphere visible and accessible, and keep growing our connectedness to one another if not to one large goal…
    I’d be interested in having your feedback on a proposal I just wrote. You can read it at http://needia.blogspot.com
    media shmedia…we need needia

  11. MadamaAmbi
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    in my experience, only people who are comfortable with being powerful wear red…many people wouldn’t even consider wearing red in public because it gets attention…

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