From a Young Woman to (Some) of the ‘Menopausal Militia’

Shelby Knox

Shelby responds to Rebecca Sive's post in her reader diary.

I write as a member of the so-called “millennial generation” that’s been the subject of several lectures from older feminists this week, from an article proclaiming our ignorance in the New York Times to Rebecca Sive’s lecture demanding my generation “wake up and realize that women’s reproductive rights can only be secured by battling to secure this human right.”

Well, excuse you.  Some of us have been here the whole time. And we’re damn tired of our experience being disappeared by older activists who, in their (sometimes) valid critiques of portions of the younger generation who aren’t as engaged as we are, seem to forget every single young activist who ever crossed their path.

I’m not arguing that some young women aren’t apathetic about reproductive rights. Some young women don’t identify as feminists and some are as caught up in maintaining the patriarchy as Congressman Stupak and his clan of faux progressives. Women are the only group that grows more radical with age and the gains of the Women’s Liberation movement shield many young women from blatant sexism until they start to see pay disparities, or discover that their workplace has no childcare plan, or that the sexual power they thought liberated them one day disappears. It is both my responsibility and yours to raise the consciousness of these young women. I know how I do it. Besides screaming at them, what may I ask are you doing on this front?

So no, I’m not talking for or about these young women. I am addressing you as a sister. I am not your daughter, your niece, your granddaughter or your goddaughter. I am your colleague. I’m 23 and I’ve been in this movement for eight years, more than a third my lifetime. I was not raised with “feminism in the water” nor am I an anomaly – I travel across this country organizing with young women on campuses and in communities for reproductive justice, better sex education, access to birth control and pre-natal services for teen mothers. And yes, abortion rights.

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As a colleague, a bit of friendly advice: it does nothing to build our movement when you channel frustration about the rollback of women’s rights in this country onto young women in general, as if we more than any other group can be considered a homogenous lump. In fact, it does the opposite, perpetuating the generational divide that has weakened our movement since even before Betty Friedan had select words for a young writer named Gloria Steinem.

Yesterday at the National Day of Action, every speaker fell all over herself to thank young women for simply showing up. The stage behind the podium was carefully dotted with young faces sporting bright pink t-shirts and signs. Yet only one speaker was under the age of thirty – a white woman from a private college whose only role was to list the universities from which student activists had traveled.

But, behind the scenes, young feminists who are dedicated organizers crafted a youth specific response. Sarah Audelo, a twenty-four year old organizer at Advocates for Youth, created  The Hanger Project, which mobilizes college students to distribute wire hangers with facts about illegal and inaccessible abortion on their campuses and send pictures of their actions to elected representatives. The team of twenty-something organizers from the Feminist Majority Foundation coordinated with young activists across the country to plan local call-ins and rallies to coincide with the national day of action. When buses from New York and Philly and Toledo and Atlanta descended on the Capitol yesterday, many of the riders were students taking time out during the last week of classes to fight for the right to control their bodies.

Sadly, many gender justice minded young women have abandoned mainstream feminist organizations after realizing their pleas for young voices were really nothing more than casting calls for politically expedient window dressing – a position none of our barrier-breaking Second Wave sisters would have settled for, either. As any veteran of social justice movements knows, tokenization without a real seat at the table is just another form of oppression.

Still others leave our movement because, after making the signs and running registration and sending out the email blasts and designing the social media campaigns and taking the pictures and doing all the things young women happily do in this movement, we still have to listen to our bosses and sheroes bemoan young women’s apathy and inaction. It’s disheartening. It’s hurtful. And, it’s not true.

The road to “generational cooperation” is a minefield, with ageism as well as racism, classism, homophobia, and cissexism from both sides mixed in with very valid ideological disputes that can only make our movement stronger. Feminists of all ages have a responsibility to do better – to see ourselves as both pupils and teachers and to remember that our movement is about at it’s very core honoring and celebrating one another’s lived experience.  But most of all, we can’t be throwing each other under the bus because that’s what everyone else is trying to do!

Sister, are you with me on that?     

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