Part 1: The historical myth that younger women aren’t feminists.
Those of you following me on twitter may have noticed that I had an inter-generational moment during one of the international women’s day celebrations. Some of you who’ve known me for a while, will know that I’ve been having this moment for sometime – you see despite what we are often told I don’t believe there is a generational divide in Australian feminism.
I’d had a bit of a hard start to the week, and so decided that it order to shake the bad mood what I needed was to be refreshed in the women’s movement and given a good shot of inspiration. So, I’d taken myself down to the ACT Government’s International Women’s Day Awards.
The inspiration was there. Not only in the award winners (there’s a list at www.women.act.gov.au) but in the audience: amazing women who give tirelessly to many organisations and causes and have been important to me as I have evolved as a feminist. I was glad to be there. Glad not only to honour the women nominated but to catch up with old friends.
And then I went quickly from inspired to outraged (probably an even better way to shake the mood).
Why, oh why, is it still ok for people at feminist gatherings, having very carefully noted the diversity of women, to suddenly have a moment where they announce that young women (as a collective entity) have failed the cause and don’t understand what it was like for their mothers.
I understand that looking out on the audience you could have wondered where the younger women were. But being able to attend a function that starts at 10am in the morning is something of a privilege. I came into work very early, took what I billed as a very early and somewhat long lunch, and stayed late in order to be at the event. But if I worked somewhere where working hours were less flexible this likely wouldn’t have been an option without losing a shift’s pay. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the majority of people in the audience were workers in the community sector or dedicated volunteers post-retirement.
And I know I’m not really a young woman anymore either, but I’ve been cranky about this for about 15 years.
Let me say it once again – young women are active in the women’s movement today. When the second wave of feminism took off in the 1970s every woman didn’t hit the streets. Lots did. But lots didn’t. Therefore, if you know one young(er) women who doesn’t describe herself as a feminist please, please don’t decide that everyone too young to have been active in the 1970s doesn’t know their feminist history, or call themselves a feminist, or know that there is lots of work still to be done.
Oh and I’ll let you in on an even bigger secret. Not only are women born since the 1970s active in the women’s movement, but they contribute to the leadership of it.
Part 2: A seemingly new myth – that older women aren’t sharing their stories of the women’s movement!
Having written the first half of this blog I then had something of the reverse experience.
A young woman speaking at an International Women’s Day event later in the week said the most amazing thing. Speaking after a number of prominent and long time feminists she said that she wished older feminists would reach out to younger women and share the stories of the movement.
Now, this may be her experience of being in the women’s movement, and I can’t question that. But underlying the statement was the same generalising assumption, that an individual experience can be used to portray a whole generation of women.
I recognise that the organisation she’s associated with is a relative newcomer and doesn’t have the prominent history that some organisations do. But the foremothers of her organisation were in the room. And they are some amazing women. I wish she had heard their stories.
I’m sorry that this has been her experience of being part of the women’s movement. I know that one the experiences I cherish most is the generosity of the women who’ve mentored me and shared their stories with me.
So, perhaps as I end this blog – I’d like to ask two things, and temper my original call. One, please recognise the presence and leadership of younger women in the women’s movement. And two, whether you are new to the movement or have been a long time member why not celebrate women’s history month by reaching out to either hear or share a story.
Erica Lewis is a thirty-something feminist who has been active in the women's movement since the early 1990s. She is a life member of the YWCA of Canberra and a past National Convenor of the Women's Electoral Lobby. Her current work focuses on supporting women to take up leadership roles in social justice organisations and she has a fledging blog at http://www.strengtheningwomensleadership.blogspot.com/.