A movement has got to move.

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I’m adding my thoughts in response to Susan Faludi’s recent Harper’s article. Courtney began our series yesterday, with this response.

I just got to the end of the piece, and it’s almost impossible to leave it feeling anything but sadness and maybe some anger. For someone who positions herself outside of the waves of feminism (at 51 she says she’s too old for second and third wave and doesn’t clearly align herself with another sector), it’s pretty clear where Faludi stands at the end of the piece. She doesn’t get contemporary feminism (at least, as Courtney points out, the contemporary feminism she analyzes–academic and institutional). She finds it confusing, trite, commercial. She finds it sad.

Her article is like ringing a death-bell for feminism. Does she want it to die out completely? Does she think that it is so far gone, she’s okay with simply writing it’s obituary? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought Faludi herself was a feminist.

I’m not saying she made up what is in the article, or that her thesis of mother/daughter conflict (and matricide as she calls it) are totally untrue. There are threads of this throughout our history, it’s impossible to ignore. But it’s clear that Faludi has made a choice here–she’s painting one picture of today’s feminism and it’s not a pretty one.

Courtney pointed out the places she might have considered looking for evidence a thriving and vibrant feminism and I agree that those were sorely missed in this piece. Academic institutions have all sorts of problems, feminism aside, that play into the dynamics she describes. So do non-profits.

When I look to see where feminism is thriving, it isn’t necessarily (only) among tenured professors and national women’s organizations. Faludi had a thesis, and she built up evidence to support it from the sources she chose to investigate.

Leaving Faludi’s particular article aside, these conversations are not new. You can’t go anywhere in feminism these days without having to talk about the intergenerational struggles. What’s not unique here is that any social movement has got to move. If we’re actually making any progress, than the mission is going to have to evolve along with that change.

What these intergenerational conversations seem to ignore is the fact that these changes in contemporary feminism, young feminism, fourth wave feminism or whatever are THANKS TO THE SUCCESSES OF OUR “MOTHER’S” FEMINISM.

I can’t talk about our “mother’s” feminism without mentioning the fact not all of us are literally following in the footsteps of our mothers. Not everyone’s mother was a feminist, or an activist. I’ve talked some about my experience with my Cuban immigrant mother. Her feminism was definitely not the Gloria Steinem variety. I saw feminism in her life, in her survival as a divorcee and single mom. But she wasn’t doing the “street activism” that is lauded by seventies feminists either. So often when I say “foremother” or “mother” it’s meant in a metaphorical sense more than a literal one. This is part of the legacy that we are shifting–we’re trying to bring new people into the fold, people who may not have grown up with feminism in their household, but can be part of the movement going forward. More women of color, more queer folks, more people of all identities, ages and races.

The reason feminism’s mission is changing is because feminists have changed a lot of things. They won a lot of the battles they were fighting for. Sometimes I want to scream IT’S A GOOD THING PEOPLE! A movement has got to move, after all. If we didn’t, what kind of progress would be made?

But obviously the contention here is what kind of movement we’re making and how the mission is changing. This is where there is debate. This is where the “your generation’s feminism is all about sex and wearing skimpy clothes” bullshit comes in.

It’s reasonable that we don’t all agree. If we did, it’d be totally fake, and then we’d be the Republican Party. The fact that there is dissent in our movement is a sign of health, and the possibility for growth. The problem is, we don’t know what to do with that dissent. It’s festering, and fracturing the movement, rather than moving us forward. Hence the countless articles about feminism that focus on these divides.

I’m tired of talking about the past, about what came before, about the golden days of activism. I want to talk about the now, about the activism that is thriving these days, and how we can make sure that gender is being discussed in every activist space, not just at NOW conferences or in academic feminist classrooms. This is not to dismiss what has come before me, or to not acknowledge that it is the stepping stone of my feminism. I know that, I live that. Now I want to build on that. I’d love to do it in partnership with feminists of all ages, races, sexual orientations, abilities and identities.

But if we can’t all agree that today’s feminism needs to look different than yesterday’s, there is no way we’re going to get anywhere. And it’s doesn’t need to look different than yesterday’s feminism because yesterday’s feminism was wrong, or bad, or ineffective. It’s needs to look different because today is different, my life is different, our gender roles are different. That’s a good thing right? It’s proof that we’re getting somewhere. Let’s keep moving.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted September 28, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    As an older woman I find myself basically agreeing with Faludi. For example, I don’t think the gay marriage stuff has been accompanied by the kind of critique of marriage, property and class, and so on, that I would have expected back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I don’t get the sense that it’s because younger women have rejected that kind of analysis, exactly, but that it doesn’t seem to have come up in conversation very often. I tend to blame Reaganism and the US’s big swing to the right, but in any event I think there really is a difference.

  2. Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Regardless of whether the climate was more suited for feminism at one time or another, I do believe that we are pertinent and relevant to the debate. And I do believe that our mother’s generation has a curious way of looking at their own achievements. They point to them with pride, but then fail to understand that what they accomplished produced us.

    I think it’s partially a very human response. Change happens incrementally day by day, but when we look back across a generation, we see how much change has progressed year by year.

  3. Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I love young feminists and I love old feminists. I love Hillary and I love the younger feminists who went for Obama. I love Susan Faludi. I love all feminists, of every stripe and nationality. I find nothing lacking in the modern movement, only in the patriarchy which finds more and more complex ways to hold women back, such as trying to co-opt the feminist banner with women politicians who would roll back womens’ rights. As time goes on, my admiration for feminists of all types only grows.

  4. Posted September 29, 2010 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    I admittedly have not read the article (as I don’t really feel like paying the $17 subscription), so I will have to respond with a great amount of ignorance.

    It is easy to be dismissive of others when their circumstances are different from your own. Other people face different problems, so their goals will be different, and it is unrealistic to fairly judge their goals and performance against your own experiences. It fuels a lots of different biases, including the whole dictionary of -isms. I could easily try to dismiss Faludi for selling out by being “edgy” to draw more attention to her work and keep getting paid. Doing so does not result in a contradiction with my life (I earn my keep by teaching math), but it is convenient for me to treat her this way.

    I am going to toss out a observation/opinion: I think a problem we are facing here is that a lot of media (not specifically this article any particular type of media) centers around judgment. Fear and sensationalism are talked about quite a bit, but I think they mainly serve to make people vulnerable. Judgment (especially the negative kind) is what can consume our energy and exhaust us.

    The two responses to the article seems to point that today’s challenges for feminism are more complicated and less clear-cut. (How should girls/women dress? What sort of career and family goals should women have?) Even though we have a healthy base of ideas to work from, it probably takes more effort to hammer out what is the “right” way to deal with the remaining “unsolved” issues. At the same time, the impact of “judgment” has become greater in media, and the exhausting effect of this judgment leaves us less able to exchange ideas concerning matters of growing complexity.

    It is for this reason that Courtney’s conclusion is relevant: “It’s time that we took this dialogue to a new level; instead we’re wallowing in finger-pointing and holier-than-thou judgment.” If we are going to move forward, we may need to spend more time engaging in discourse to figure out what it is that we want (and determine the “rules” — in the best sense of the word — that people should live by) rather than judging friends (and even foes), particularly as bad.

One Trackback

  1. By What We’ve Been Reading « Politics Power Sex on October 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    [...] piece is only available to paid subscribers).  So, please check out pieces by Courtney Martin, Miriam Perez, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, and Jennifer Baumgarder.  If nothing else, read the way Samhita ends her [...]

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