Intergenerational feminism and the path ahead

Image of woman at a protest, holding a sign that says "Working Women Want Real Wages.:

(Image source: actu.org)

“So, what brings you to this luncheon?”

I smile. “I’m a writer with Feministing.com, a blog for young feminists.”

“Oh,” the woman raises her eyebrows. “How interesting! So are you a lawyer?”

I look around at the room full of human rights lawyers and smile again. “No, Feministing is a blog, like a website? Anyways, I’ll be live-tweeting the event today.” The woman gave me a politely confused look.

This was one of many funny learning moments I had at this event organized by Equal Rights Advocates, a national organization fighting for women’s economic and educational access and opportunities. The crowd at the event included a lot of feminists who might still measure the movement in “waves” and plenty who knew very little about the online work that the feminist movement is doing today. On the other hand, there were also a few younger members of the crowd — including myself — who benefitted from an inspiring history lesson on feminist activism.

That afternoon, we heard from keynote speaker Professor Anita Hill on her mother who, with a sixth grade education herself, managed to send her daughters to college. Presenters from ERA shared about the organization’s tireless work making way for women at work, and fighting to end sexual harassment against marginalized women workers.

I was reminded that online feminism stands upon the shoulders of these incredible women. I took a moment to honor the fact that, may we now use different tools, our goals have not changed. Some of them we’ve achieved, and some are still very much works in progress. In particular, as ERA Champion of Justice Award Winner Maya Harris stated at the luncheon, “Looking to the next 50 years of the Civil Rights movement, we have got to do more to center women of color in the movement.”

Anita Hill

(Image Source: blackfilm.com)

Part of that work is in opening up opportunities for those young women in the work place today. Speaking to Professor Hill on the phone before the luncheon, she had some prime advice for young women of color currently entering the work force for the first time. She said that before starting a new position, it’s important to identify what you need from a workplace, and to outline which needs are non-negotiable. Consider not only the work that you will be doing but the social atmosphere you will be in. Are there social expectations with the job that make you uncomfortable? Are you allowed to discuss your pay with colleagues?

Professor Hill noted that young women hoping to be leaders in their fields should also consider opportunities for growth within a job. According to her, “If you don’t investigate [potential for growth], you might become leader by chance. We need women to become leaders by design.”

At the end of our chat, I asked Professor Hill what had been the best moment in her career as an activist.

“The best moment was when I realized that there are generations of women your age, even girls, who are able to articulate a vision for equality that is so advanced and so inclusive. When I realized that another generation of women were going to be moving into the world with so much stronger visions, and they are willing to stand up for them. That for me is the best thing. Because even though I know there are challenges, I know that [there are] women and men who read your website, and who subscribe to a new way of thinking. I know that you are in a much better shape than my generation was. And that feels like the best thing we can hope for.

I will continue to be in there with you for as long as I am breathing.”

But we know that Professor Hill will be here long after that. Perhaps that is the only reason we do this work: because we know that long after we stop breathing, our slow march towards justice will continue.

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Juliana is going to fight as long as she is breathing.

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