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.