Last week I wrote about the Melbourne Writers’ Festival event, entitled A Long, Long Way to Go: Why We Still Need Feminism, presented by Sophie Cunningham and Monica Dux.
On the whole, Cunningham’s presentation was thought-provoking, if a little small-minded, but my main point of contention is as follows.
Cunningham brought up third/fourth wave feminism (the feminism we’re experiencing now, by most accounts), saying that while she applauds the grassroots feminist movements such as SlutWalk, she wasn’t sure 25-year-old women could fully understand the concept of feminism because they still have men fawning all over them at that age.
Now that’s just a whole lot of wrong.
First of all, I am soon-to-be-24 and I don’t have men falling at my feet (well, except when it’s unwanted), and nor do my similarly-aged friends.
Secondly, who’s to say that even if we did, we wouldn’t recognise that, unless they had had some kind of interaction with us other than staring at our boobs, they were interested in us purely for our looks, and that’s anti-feminist. (Then again, I know girls who do have men fawning all over them purely for their looks and couldn’t care less.)
And thirdly, this kind of feminism in fighting is exactly what has been undoing the feminist movement in recent years. As I wrote:
“… Cunningham saw a sort of ‘bottleneck’ in modern feminism, where white, privileged feminists like myself don’t understand the problems facing feminists of colour, feminists with sexual orientation other than straight, feminists with gender other than cis, and feminists with disabilities…”
This is not to mention conflict between the ages, or waves, of feminism.
In Susan Faludi’s attempted takedown of young feminists in her article, “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide”, last year, she writes:
“… Despite its [feminism’s] many victories, it seems to falter along a ‘mother–daughter’ divide. A generational breakdown underlies so many of the pathologies that have long disturbed American [or, rather, Western] feminism—… its bitter divisions over sex… [and] alongside the battle of the sexes rages the battle of the ages.”
I can’t think of a better example than, oddly enough, an episode of Gossip Girl from its most recent season, in which it addresses the clash between young and old feminists after Serena van der Woodsen is accused of having an STD. Her dean at Columbia University tells her:
“Women of my generation had to fight for every opportunity. And to be taken seriously, and your attitude, Miss van der Woodsen, makes a mockery of that.”
I wrote in response at the time, in reference to Faludi’s article:
“Now if that isn’t the second wave looking down upon the third wave for our apparent flippancy about ‘activism’, our ‘obsession with technology’ (Gossip Girl’s blasts are a prime example of this), our ‘unwilling[ness] to challenge sexual exploitation for fear of pissing off men’ (hello, Serena), and our infatuation with Lady Gaga (well, Gossip Girl did feature the Lady herself in an episode…), I don’t know what is.
“… It would be interesting to see Serena fight back and declare herself ‘sick to death of hearing about the glory days of Seventies feminism’, whilst older women, like Dean Reuther, ‘declaring themselves sick to death of being swept into the dustbin of history.’
“Faludi spends a lot of time criticising (via her second wave subjects) the technology third wavers use, specifically blogging: ‘All they want to do is sit at their computers and blog.’ Ouch.
“I’m sure Gossip Girl would have something to say about that.”
Exhibit A: SlutWalk as an anti-testament to Faludi’s assertion.
Could it be jealousy these second-wavers are suffering from? I’d like to think feminism is above that, but it is one of the seven deadly sins and can get the better of us. Contrary to what Cunningham said, I don’t think it’s because of the way we look. Everyone knows age is not a precursor to looking hot. I think second-wavers might long for their glory days of making things happen, being invigorated and excited by feminism, instead of seeing their options shrivel up and die the older they get. Again, please see exhibit A. While I don’t know the ages of those who were critical of the SlutWalk, but if they were older it might be easy to see why they were a bit miffed by the anti-slut-shaming and -victim-blaming movement that they felt left them behind.
There needs to be something done to rectify this. Not only the gap between the ages, but the gap between the races, the abilities, the genders and the sexual orientations.
I don’t pretend to know how we’re going to do this, but it will have to start with listening and understanding, empathy, perhaps some mentoring and—what feminism is all about, not just between the sexes, but between all those I mention above—equality.