USA Today ran and article claiming young women are no longer interested in the feminist movement. This is my response.
In the past several years I have found myself as the youngest women in packed rooms at a number of feminist events. At these events speakers stand before the crowd and preach the importance of nurturing the next generation in the movement. They say there is so much work still to be done, and that the current generation is ready to take the torch. At this point either someone will ask these questions directly to the speaker, or mumble them to a person sitting nearby: “Where is the next generation? They are not here! What are we going to do, how do we get them to care?!”
Usually mixed in these statements and questions is some heavy ageism. Once when talking to a legislator about the important of anti-bullying laws in Ohio, he said that “kids” these days (referring to people high school-aged) are running wild terrorizing and beating up teachers and the elderly. I was stunned. Usually ageist comments made at this point include statements about young people being too distracted by the Kardashians, computers or their cell phone. Young people just don’t care about important issues, they cry! This generation is a lost cause!
Well, I am a young women, and DEEPLY concerned about gender equaither. Therefore, I am going to address the main problems with the young feminists missing in action argument…
1. The older generation is looking in the wrong places for young feminists.
2. They are also looking for the wrong people.
Question number one: Where are the young feminists?
The question of where are the young feminists usually occurs in a setting that, for various reasons, is not accessible to young people. It is at a fund raiser for a feminist organization that costs hundreds of dollars to attend, is at a time young people are in class, or at a place that you would need a car to drive to. You cannot create spaces that are appropriate for one generation, and expect another generation to just come a knocking. This is not just true for young people, but also people of different races, classes, mobility, sexuality and so on.
Let me begin to explain all the places I see young feminist. I see them on college campuses. They meet late at night on campus and talk about shackling of pregnant women. They are student leaders in not only groups that address reproductive justice, or gender issues, but leaders in their Greek Life community and academic programs. They are in classrooms talking about the impact of gender roles not only in women studies classes, but engineering and pre-med classes.
They are in our communities. They are on the phone late at night with college friends now across the country talking about balancing graduate school, a budding career, and an upcoming wedding. They get married and plan weddings that are environmentally friendly. They are in gardens fueling an emerging urban farming community. They are serving leadership roles through internships and volunteer work. They are leading and participating in the Occupy movement. They are speaking up on important issues of economic and social justice.
They are on the internet. I would say that 80% of my education on social justice issues is rooted in the internet. Sites like RH Reality Check, Feministing, Amplify, and Sociological images have become places for me to push my values and beliefs and broaden my perspective. I have also found other strong feminist communities on Facebook, twitter and tumblr. #Fem2 anyone?
In addition to looking in all the wrong places, they often are not looking for the right people.
Question: What do young feminist look like?
Feminists work on more than just feminist issues. I see young feminist addressing intersectionality. Occupiers, tree huggers, and civil rights activists are feminists. There are feminists working on all progressive issues. I have an amazing friend working as a community organizer around labor issues in Ohio. She said to me, can women have full rights if people in our state still do not have economic justice? Gender inequality is not an isolated issue, and neither are other social justice issues. This is why you see feminists working in all progressive issues.
Feminist are not only people who are female-bodied. It shouldn’t be assumed that all young people in a feminist movement are women! Some of the most inspiring young feminists I know are men, transgender, gender queer, or other identities other than female-bodied. Therefore, the feminist movement is about ALL feminists, not just women.
I find articles claiming that feminism is dying as not only false but insulting.
At work and in my free time I am surrounded by amazing feminist. My soon-to-be-husband and I often engage in long discussions of social justice and gender inequality. It is part of who I am to talk about these issues, and part of our relationships. I work with amazing women of varied ages, races, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds, economic statuses and life experiences. I work with college students as they form student organizations and work with me as interns. In all of these experiences I get the opportunity to be a mentor, friend, student and partner – all along the way helping to foster an intergenerational feminist movement.
The people I work with allow me to grow. In turn, I get the honor of seeing the growth of others. Nothing about my job gives me more satisfaction then hearing young women talk about why organizing around feminist issues is important to them. It is refreshing and inspiring.
I came to this movement on accident. I wanted to be a health educator, and instead turned into a social justice warrior (not that those two things are mutually exclusive). I came to where I am today because the feminist community is so rich and vibrant to this day. The work of feminists is far from over, and I have complete faith that the next generation of feminism is ready for the challenge.