Friday Feminist Fuck Yeah: Nonagenarian feminists

My grandmother turned 97 this week. She was born in 1914, which, as I reminded her several times throughout the day, was a very, very long time ago. Of course, the fact that she turned 97 on Wednesday didn’t stop her from kicking my sorry ass at Scrabble on Wednesday – twice. The second time, it was by a 107-point margin. That one still stings.

But this blog post is not about just how badly my grandmother trounced me at Scrabble. Nor is it about the trash-talking that took place during said trouncing (“I’m kicking your butt, little girl!”). It is about nonagenarian feminists. Why not simply “old” feminists? Because if I’m ever going to beat this woman at Scrabble, I need to practice using big words.

At some point during the day, I said to her, “did you know that when you were born, women in America were still six years away from the right to vote?”

Yes, she did know that.

“And did you know that when you were born, only about 5% of American women went to college?”

Yes, she knew that too. She also has memories of being one of the few women in her lectures at Baruch College in the 1930s.

She knew all this because while to me, women’s suffrage and the advent of co-educational universities are events in women’s history, to her, they are just things she watched happen. Things she lived through and was a part of. To me, this is history. To her, it is life. And when you live for almost a hundred years, you inevitably get to live through a few exciting things that your young, upstart grandkids will one day consider to be “history.” Here are a few things that we young ones consider history, that my grandmother lived through.

Women’s suffrage. The legalization of birth control, first for married couples, then for everyone. The legalization of abortion. The elimination of laws that prohibited women from owning property, or from opening a credit card or buying a car without a husband’s or father’s permission.

The Women’s, gay rights and Civil Rights movements. No big deal. Just a series of cultural, social and legal overhauls that changed the way Americans think about equality.

The election of the country’s first woman Representative and Senator. The appointment of the country’s first woman cabinet secretary, first woman Supreme Court Justice and first woman Secretary of State. The opening of the Ivy League and other prestigious institutions to women (just in time for my grandmother’s daughter to have memories of being one of the only women in her lectures at Yale University!). The first women Ivy League presidents.

The first women to run for major party Presidential nominations. The first woman on a Presidential ticket. The first First Lady with a graduate degree. The first Black First Lady.

And on, and on it goes. To me, and to many women my age, this is history. To my grandmother, and to many other older women still alive today, this is life. These are monumental events, yes, but they’re also just things they lived through. And they happened in part because my grandmother’s generation of women, and the generation of women they raised, demanded them. The older generation might not have called themselves feminists – though my grandmother certainly would – but they fought for the social, political and legal changes that meant that the world they were born into bore very little resemblance to the one we grew up in.

So thanks, nonagenarian feminists (and octogenarian feminists, and septuagenarian feminists, too), for living through those things, for making those things happen, so that we can look back in awe at how much the world has changed in the last 97 years.

And sorry, grandma, for saying “fuck” in a post about you. Although, let’s be honest – a K is worth five points in Scrabble, and if you could find a triple letter score square to put it on, you would totally do it.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • Cara

    I just love this. Thank you for sharing. 97! What a life.

  • nazza

    Heh. I remember, back in the day, Shirley Manson of Garbage talking about the same thing with her Gran. The phrase “she robbed me fucking blind at Scrabble” was uttered.

  • emily burke

    If you value “nonagenarian” feminists so much, why is Feministing only for “young” feminists blogging, organizing, and kicking ass?

    • Nicki Meier

      Emily, in response to your question, which I think is a good one:

      I think that all too often, women are age, don’t worry themselves with feminist issues, we aren’t as “activist” as First and Second Wave Feminists were and Blogs such as Feministing try to light a spark under young women’s butts in order to get them up and passionate about very important issues that need to be resolved and reworked.

      For the exact reason that this article was about. A lot of young women see all these Women’s Rights issues as simply history, that we don’t have much, if any, work to do in ending the gender gap, but this blog would have young women think otherwise.

      I don’t think this blog is solely for young women, but rather what young women have to say on modern topics that are very important to our future!

  • Megan Hussey

    My mom is 80, absolutely beautiful and a proud feminist!

  • Matt

    To Emily’s comment: I don’t know how much control Chloe has over Feministing’s slogan, but it may have been the sort of thing where the site started off as a “safe” place for younger Feminists alienated from the more “mainstream” Feminist leadership and organizations to have a voice (or to simply discuss the particular issues that concerned them). It is not a blanket disapproval of older Feminists any more than Feminists “hate” men.

    To the original post:

    My 92 year-old grandmother (“Nana”) and I have visited hundreds of times the last ~decade, particularly with her (to varying degrees) needing daily visitors during that stretch. We have touched upon a lot of the same history as it came up in conversation and how it fit into her life. However, her “breaking the mold” wasn’t going to college but to simply finish junior high (~9th grade) in an area where children of farmers (particularly girls but even boys) were typically pulled out of school before that age. Her junior high teacher (a woman, for what it’s worth) threatened her father by saying the government would come after him if he tried to do it with her (at a time when education was either not compulsory or not enforced), but the negotiated outcome was that my grandmother would not start school until October/November and would have to leave after March/April. She often had to work hard, late at night, and during lunch to get caught up and to complete her education in that limited time, but she succeeded. [She later earned a GED.] She developed such a rich appreciation of education to save up money and pay for a major chunk of her grandkids’ college educations (for all five of them).

    Admittedly, while she leans in that direction, she does not have overwhelmingly feminist views (it is a tall order since she does not benefit from more interaction and education, and she’s pretty much lived on her own for over three decades). Still, when her grandson (me) divulges that his gender nonconformity sometimes includes him wearing dresses, Nana expressed concerns about whether he would fall into a “label,” but she also found a way to relate to him (recalling a time she and others were picked on in school by “rich” kids for being poor), and she still wrapped her head around the idea well enough to offer practical and positive feedback when he asked and modeled a few of the clothes.

    I think she’s pretty damned cool.