Electras Respond to Susan Faludi’s Intergenerational Feminism Essay
Last month, Harper's published an essay by Susan Faludi about intergenerational feminist tension, in which she examines how the "mother-daughter divide" damages the feminist movement. The way she sees it, younger women have "fallen into the 1920s trap of employing a commercialized ersatz 'liberation' to undermine the political mobilization of their mothers." In essence, she casts older women as politically focused, radical activists who are reluctant to see their movement get passed on to a group of young women who they see as too focused on the wrong things -- namely body image and pop culture. Older women, this juxtaposition goes, care about legislation, protesting, and sisterhood. Younger women are too busy blogging about their sex lives and criticizing the mainstream media images that make them feel fat to get any real work done. It's not a new argument, but it was made again under Faludi's very respected watch this time around.
Amanda Marcotte, Emily Bazelon, and others have posted thoughtful responses to it, and I'm sure plenty of good dialogue has been going on in offline listserves and coffee shops alike. At Feministing, where I'm an editor, we mulled over how to respond most effectively, and decided to publish a week-long series of responses from a diversity of young voices in our community, in addition to a guest post from Jennifer Baumgardner. You can also find posts from Samhita and Perez here. Mine is featured below.
I was really looking forward to Susan Faludi's essay on intergenerational feminism, which I knew (via fact-checking and her own heads up), was coming via Harper's this month. I respect Faludi's work, not only because she's managed to carve out a career in just the intersections I aspire to, but also because she's such an original, fierce thinker -- always bringing a fresh perspective to tired issues and making bold arguments that really stir up a good debate.
So it was with genuine disappointment that I read this latest piece. For starters, I found myself cast as the symbol of matricidal, consumerist, pop culture-obsessed young feminism. Not a fun place to find oneself. It was particularly crushing as I just published a book that represents two full years of work researching, reporting on, and writing about activism -- a subject which she argues that my generation of feminist leaders is uninterested in, at best, and all-out rejects, at worst. I've spent the last few years constantly engaged in intergenerational feminist work -- via the panel that is referenced in the article, but also through a partnership with The Women's Therapy Centre Institute, and friendships with so many amazing older feminists. I made a short documentary film called Letter to My Mother, in which I paid homage to my predecessors and told the story of my first feminist protest march, and write frequently about these issues in my column at The American Prospect, and of course, at Feministing. Suffice to say that if I'm enacting a "ritual matricide," murder is looking pretty kind these days.
But beside my personal chagrin at being mischaracterized, the most disappointing thing about this piece was the reporting. Faludi searches for the center of feminist struggle at academic conferences and organizational elections. Of course the field of Women's Studies is critical, and institutional feminism has brought all sorts of stability to the movement, but if you want to find feminism-in-action, you need to go where some of the most dynamic work is -- environmental justice meetings where young leaders are talking about the disproportionate effects of climate change on women of color, safe houses for former sex workers where young women are helping one another get out of "the life," veterans who are bonding together to fight back against military sexual assault etc. There are young, feminist-identified women doing community and political work every single day, aware of their legacy and confident about their future.
Faludi has a throw-away line pointing towards this: "Feminism takes many forms and plays out in efforts in which younger and older women do collaborate over serious issues, usually out of the spotlight." But she neglects to acknowledge the huge flood light in her own hands as she writes this. It is journalists, particularly ones with access to such precious media real estate, that must tell the real behind-the-scenes story, not rehash the same tired misconceptions.
Faludi writes, "What gets passed on is the predisposition to dispossess, a legacy of no legacy." Is there nothing in between becoming mini-me's of our mother's revolution and mass foremother genocide? To my mind, we are in a sometimes difficult, but often worthwhile dialogue with the past, while forging a new path into the future -- one where we can engage on issues that we care most deeply about in methods that fit our contemporary times. Faludi quotes me, out of context, as having said that young feminists need to "be seen." What I meant was not that our revolution is one of aesthetics, but that our leadership has to reflect who we are and who we want to become, or we won't be able to identify with the movement. This is as much a race and class issue, as it is an age one -- something that pulses underneath the story, but is never explicitly addressed.
I talked to my own mom as I was deciding how to respond to this article and she said this: "The way I see it, you have to stop listening to my voice at times, so you can learn to listen to your own." I depend on both my own mother, and the larger feminist legacy, for wisdom, but I expect to be seen and heard accurately and compassionately in return. It's time that we took this dialogue to a new level; instead we're wallowing in finger-pointing and holier-than-thou judgment. There are real enemies out there, waiting for our good energy and savvy methodologies. Let's not waste all of our time parodying one another.