older and younger feminists need more dialogue
by Stephanie Gross
feminists and younger ones can learn a lot from each other, but
they need to communicate better, agreed Gloria Steinem and two
young feminists who addressed an overflow crowd in the Law
School's 550-seat Caplin Auditorium Sept. 19.
forum was one of several events planned for this fall to commemorate
the 10th anniversary of the U.Va. Women's
want this generation to start speaking for [itself]," said
Jennifer Baumgardner, a 1992 U.Va. alumna who worked at Ms. magazine
for five years and co-authored Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism,
and the Future, published this month by Farrar Straus & Giroux.
feminists also need to learn more about their predecessors, said
Amy Richards, the book's other co-author, noting that many young
women are more likely to know the media's image of early feminism
than the real stories of the women who shaped it.
who co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972 and is currently a consulting
editor, has written several books on feminism. She said the dynamics
between younger and older feminists often parallel those commonly
found between mothers and daughters.
older feminists were insufficiently rewarded for their activism
and may be seeking retroactive gratitude from younger ones. Or
they may, like mothers who did not have the opportunities their
daughters now have and take for granted, be jealous of their freedom,"
She offered older feminists the following advice: "Don't
think of young women as your daughters. They're more like peers
from a different country. ... Young women won't become feminists
out of guilt or gratitude. They need to find their own anger."
added that many women tend to be more conservative in their early
years, but to become radicalized once they enter the workplace
and encounter discrimination, or when they become mothers and
find themselves working two jobs with little help.
also recommended that older feminists retire the question, "Where
are the young feminists?"
misses the point," she said. "We've produced the most
uppity generation of young women in history. Enjoy them."
and Richards have some advice for "first-wave" feminists
as well: listen to what the younger generation has to say. In
their book, they note that young women are often asked to act
as assistants to older ones.
ask us to introduce them at conferences, but not to contribute
our own ideas, even about issues concerning us," such as
abortion, she said.
source of misunderstanding between younger and older feminists
lies in how they express their feminism, whether through culture
or politics, the speakers agreed.
"Our generation has all this great feminist culture, with
magazines like Riot Girl and Sassy, but we're less interested
in politics," Baumgardner said.
Richards and Baumgardner want to convince their generation that
political and legal issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment
and equal pay for equal work are important, they said, as well
as enlighten their peers that "girly culture is very white,
middle-class and consumer-based."
of the smart insights in [Manifesta] is that, in the '60s, politics
was culture," Steinem said. "Now culture needs politics.
Both [older and younger feminist contingencies] need remedial
efforts. The younger women need to recognize that power relations
influence culture. And feminists from the '60s have to realize
that we emphasized politics [in part] because it was taken seriously
Steinem noted that older feminists, who turned to books and meetings
to hone their political beliefs, may not understand the importance
of such cultural elements as songs with feminist lyrics that the
younger generation has grown up on and holds dear.
the question-and-answer period, an audience member asked what's
being done to include more women of color in the feminist movement.
responded that they've always been there, noting that, in the
'70s, the first national poll of women's issues showed that African-American
women were two times as likely to be feminists as white women.
Richards warned against becoming misdirected by divisions in the
movement. "We don't all have to agree on everything. Feminists
have tended to strive for perfection. We don't want to have a
meeting unless [women from every race] are represented there."
added, "This generation brings a willingness to deal with
conflict, whereas earlier feminists feared the media would report
that women can't get along. We overdid our unanimity."
polls, at least one-third of all women claim to be feminists.
When asked if they support the political, economic and social
equality of women and men -- the dictionary's and Steinem's definition
of feminism -- the figure rises to 70 percent.