Feminism and "The Wave"

BlogHer Original Post

Having a conversation about the state of feminism today should be a good thing, right? There's certainly plenty of fodder to start that chat with Hillary Clinton still in the presidential race and all the gender rhetoric that has surrounded her candidacy.

There's been a recent spark of interest in what the most recent feminist "wave" is as we watch Hillary conduct her campaign. The "mothers" of the movement consider themselves the "first wave." Second- and third-wave feminists in the generations after Gloria Steinem feel strongly about their feminist goals, but they differ somewhat in their approach to getting things done. A recent New York magazine article, The Feminist Reawakening, has started a new discussion about where we are and how to deal with the disconnect among "the waves."

Unfortunately, that dialogue hasn't always been civil.

An offshoot of this most recent discussion on the state of feminism is the how mothers and daughters are differing in their political choices in this presidential campaign. Again, that should be a good conversation starter among women who respect one another's opinions. But there are some who just never like to engage in an actual discussion because it's so much easier to attack and name call, rather than make a thoughtful rebuttal, in order to get media attention.

Amy Tiemann wrote a piece for Women's eNews entitled Obama v. Clinton Puts Stretchmarks on Sisterhood. Her main point was this -- that the various "waves" of feminism are illustrated today by differences between political mothers and daughters, and even though we may differ in our presidential choices, it's imperative that women find a way to bridge those differences toward our common goals. It is a thoughtful and well-written piece, as is everything that Amy, a.k.a. MojoMom, writes.

In her essay, Amy says:

The Mother-Daughter dynamic illuminates a power differential. In many ways the Mothers have the upper hand. They control the largest established organizations, the purse strings of foundation grants. By excluding younger women's definitions of feminism, however, the Mothers are short-circuiting their power.

If we want to proceed together, rather than breaking into splinter movements, we are going to have to create a coalition that shares power and respects a wider variety of opinions.

Since no good deed goes unpunished, perennial feminist nay-sayer Linda Hirshman attacked Tiemann, and others, in a piece she wrote for Slate called Yo Mamma: Hillary Clinton as the Battleground Between Mothers and Daughters, ridiculing those who disagree with her viewpoints. (I know from personal experience how much Hirshman likes to call people names and put them down to lift herself up).

But Hirshman didn't stop there. She also took on Courtney Martin, who blogs at feministing and is the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters. I would have been angry enough in principle at her attacks on two great women writers, but Amy and Courtney are my friends, as well, and that just made me even angrier.

Then, I found I wasn't alone. Which says to me that Linda Hirshman is out of touch with the world of feminism today. I understand she wants us all to be grateful for the trails she believes that she (supposedly), along with others, forged for the rest of us. But just as our own children won't necessarily follow the same paths we took, that doesn't mean they don't love us and respect us. It's their job,as the next generation, to find their own way. It's no different for feminists -- by definition, we'll never all march to one drummer.

Hirshman isn't alone in her view of feminist whipper-snappers. Deborah Dickerson at Mother Jones blog,wrote Throwing Clinton Under the Bus to Spite Mom, and commented:

Young women [are] rejecting 'embarrassing, old school feminism' just to annoy their moms. I oversimplify, but so do young women who inherited what we mothers fought for and now want us to disappear so our girls can go wild and pole dance without feeling all guilty. Caricatures work both ways, missy.

Pole dancing? Missy? I'm not even going to go there.

My problem is this -- I'm not Hirshman's generation and I'm not part of Gen X. Does that mean I have to moderate this fight? Because if I do, I hate to say it, I'm going to have to side with the young-'uns.

Why are we wasting all this psychic energy? First-wavers, it's time to put your egos aside and embrace how younger feminists are feeling. And when I say younger, I'm including those from their 20's to their almost 50's.

I have to ask -- why are the so many first-wavers so ticked off at the second-, third-, and fourth- wavers?? Take a page from Gloria Feldt at HeartFeldt Politics. She disagrees with some of her younger compatriots in how we should be steering the collective feminist ship, but does it in a respectful way without throwing any incendiary devices:


We progressive women, we feminists who are activists in a thousand worthy social causes, might decide to squander this [m]oment and justify in a thousand ways why it’s our right to decide as individuals when we choose our candidate.

Well, yes, it is our right. But is it the sum total of our responsibility? Is it enough to really, really like Obama? Is it enough to flee from Hillary Clinton because of, say, one vote we didn’t like (even though her opponent never had to put his vote where his anti-war voice now is)? Or because her husband lacks impulse control?

In my mind, no. And I believe history will agree with me when feminist activists 70 years from now—yes, friends, at the rate we’re going there will still be a need for feminist activists then—look back at this year. I believe they too will say, “No, it was not enough.”

So why do I bring this all up? Because it's time to ignore those who are more interested in being feminist 'mean girls' and focus on those who want to have a conversation. I'm sorry if Hirshman and Dickerson had their feelings hurt because we're not all walking lock-step behind them and flipping our hair in some signature, 'real' feminist way.

Since when was feminism about following one thing, one person, or one idea?

It's not.

Contributing Editor Joanne Bamberger blogs about the intersection of the personal and political at her place under her alter ego, PunditMom. You can also find her at MOMocrats, MomsRising and The Huffington Post.


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