Sometimes women are just assholes, OR resisting generalizations in intergenerational discourse

As many of you know, I’ve been known to think a lot about intergenerational issues, particularly when it comes to feminism. As I’ve stepped into the role of mentor in the last few years, it’s pushed me to reflect more on my own expectations and experiences of the older women who stepped into my life and helped me become who I wanted to be in the world.
One of the things that I’m pretty clear about now, that I was totally fuzzy about back in the day, is that too often women take one bad experience with someone of a different generation and then globalize it. I remember having a particularly disappointing interaction with someone that I really looked up to and admired, and then projecting my pain over that one individual’s dysfunction on a much broader scale. That one older feminist was a bad listener and, suddenly, in my mind, the majority of older feminists were bad listeners. (I may be overstating the case, but I did some pretty catastrophic thinking as a youngin’.)
I think this also happens in the reverse, of course. An older woman meets one younger woman who doesn’t identity as feminist and, in fact, thinks the feminist fight is no longer necessary. Suddenly, this older woman is ranting and raving all around town about how younger women believe that equality has been achieved.
First and foremost, we all need to have a critical mass of experiences with feminists from various generational groups in order to break down these stereotypes. But beyond that, I think it’s our individual responsibility to catch ourselves in the ineffective tendency to globalize. Sometimes women just got issues or haven’t learned the tao of feminism. Sometimes people are just jerks or emotionally unstable or limited leaders. It’s better for the movement if we recognize this as an individual issue, rather than slowing down a whole movement with the weight of judgments and generalizations.

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4 Comments

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted May 5, 2010 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I think it’s just an inevitability of human interaction to some extent. But if we are mindful of it individually I think we can look past bad personal experiences.
    We’ve all had bad experiences, and in my own work as a Quaker activist I am always cognizant of how powerful a first impression truly is. If someone visits my meeting or attends a function and is treated negatively by anyone or has a negative experience, they are far less likely to want to return. And yet, there’s a limit also to what I as a leader can do. Micromanaging leaves one exhausted and might not even accomplish the goal of growing our numbers.
    There’s a strong tendency to judge people instantly for not sticking it out. There are cold and unhelpful people in every group! Why couldn’t you see past it! But when you do this, you forget your own visceral response in a similar circumstance.
    Yet again, it’s a balancing act.

  2. suebaker
    Posted May 5, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I find generalizations on the basis of (perceived) age/generation as offensive as generalizations on the basis of (perceived) race, ethnicity, gender identity, class, sexual identity, etc. and am always disappointed when I hear this kind of language from feminists. Thanks for calling it out.

  3. timothy_nakayama
    Posted May 6, 2010 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    I agree with Comrade Kevin regarding the inevitability of human interaction part. A lot of people do this, basing a generation/sex/race/movement/company by the first person they talk from that that denomination.
    Living in Australia (which isn’t a great bastion of being racially tolerant), I always have to ensure that all my actions are polite and good, and that I don’t do or act badly. Not because they reflect badly on me, but on ALL Asians who live in Sydney/Melbourne/Perth, etc. And they don’t distinguish between Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Japanese, etc., so it’s even more imperative to do good things or not cause trouble to keep away from the image of “gang fighting Asian who causes trouble”.

  4. alumiere
    Posted May 6, 2010 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I agree with you that the strggle isn’t over. But one of the things I’ve found time and again is the number of women who don’t self identify as feminists. I know I don’t, and that’s a direct result of the behaviors of the feminists in my community growing up in the mid-late 80′s (NYC, mid-town Manhattan).
    I was made to feel unwelcome, my opinions and ideas shut down, my dress and sexuality degraded by other women, all of whom called themselves feminists. So the word feminist has some seriously negative connotations for me.
    And I’m lucky, in that I was privileged in many ways; I appear to not be a WOC (I am mixed-race), I went to private school so am well-spoken and well educated, while we were always struggling we were never so poor that I went hungry, etc. I know a large number of WOC who needed the feminist movement and were similarly driven away.
    I’ve returned somewhat to the fold (hey, I’m reading this), but I still have a hard time self-identifying as a feminist. I repost feminist articles, I write blogs about feminist topics, but my history with the larger group of feminists has never recovered from that series of bad experiences.
    I sometimes find feministing and other feminist sites an extremely good read, and other times I get frustrated. As a 43 y.o., mixed-race, queer, bisexual, polyamorous, woman with disabilities, the feminist movement is full of mixed signals. I can only imagine what it would seem like to today’s 20-something.
    While I have no idea how to fix this for myself other than more time and continuing to read, write, watch, I do think some of the problems still exist. And if we want younger women (and male allies) to become active parts of the feminist continuium, they need to be more welcomed, our voices and faces more diverse, our leadership more responsive to all women. Race, age, religion, appearance, sexuality, gender identity, and class among others still seem to divide us in too many ways.
    And while I understand how hard it is to deal with the intersectionality of these other issues with feminism, I think that may be the key to mitigating the impact of the assholes.

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