This article is third in a series published in conjunction with Choice USA in an effort to highlight the importance of intergenerational dialogue within the reproductive justice movement and to uncover ways to work together across generations in order to sustain and thrive. Read the first two in the series by Andrew Jenkins and Eleanor Hinton Hoytt here.
Generation X. The Lost Generation. The Forgotten Generation. The MTV Generation. Whatever you call us, we are that generation sandwiched in between the unstoppable Baby Boomers and the ever-growing Millennials. We’ve been characterized as jaded, individualistic and apathetic. Our impact on the reproductive health, rights and justice movement is undoubtedly as complex as we are.
I was first introduced to the movement in college in the early 1990s. After women’s studies, history lessons and a few meetings with local reproductive rights groups, I understood that the reproductive rights movement was a movement built and strengthened by the Baby Boomers. I was honored to have inherited such an influential movement. I revered those strong men and women who were there in 1973, who paved the way for me and my friends – those like Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan and Reverend Howard Moody. I understood and benefited from the sacrifices they made, the work they did to secure access to abortion. I wanted to put in that same effort to make sure that access was never eroded under my generation’s watch. I wanted to stand on their shoulders. Who wouldn’t?
As my involvement in our movement grew deeper, the honeymoon was over, as they say. The imperfections of the movement, the Baby Boomer’s movement, became glaring. Their Second Wave ways didn’t resonate with my Third Wave thinking, and I took that personally. I (along with many of my peers) had a growing dissatisfaction with the invisibility of certain communities within the movement’s leadership and goals. Where were contributions and influence of people of color? Of poor people? Of queer people? And why weren’t they giving us the space we needed to thrive as young activists?
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Slowly but surely, we learned that, with the help of some of our more supportive foremothers, we needed to create our own spaces. Thus was born Bitch and Bust and the Riot grrl movement and the Third Wave Foundation and even my stomping grounds – Choice USA. Thus was born a youth movement for reproductive justice.
Once we started to find and create those important spaces, we began to learn how to check those Baby Boomers and ourselves. We learned how to work together in productive, effective and efficient ways. We learned, and at times are still learning, how to balance our respect and critique of those who went before us. We learned that torches aren’t something to be passed; they are something we all carry. We stopped asking for permission. We found our voice.
Then came the Millennials – a generation so different, so politically ambiguous, so huge that we Gen Xers once again risked being “lost.” All the while, the older generations began to see Gen Xers and Millennials as one clump of youth, though we couldn’t be more different – our individualism and their search for community being just one key distinction.
These tech-savants were looking to climb the ladder we just managed to create. We were vigilant in creating spaces where young voices, ideas and strategies could flourish; where we could flourish. Before we could get our footing, though, Millennials emerged with such strength and force, with unique perspectives and needs. We feared being eclipsed, overlooked. We set out to create the space that we felt wasn’t created for us but we also wanted to hold the ground we won.
So, we have become bilingual, in a sense. We are becoming a bridge, able to speak with and work with both Boomers and Millennials. We are becoming able to simultaneously speak in “we” and “they.” We are becoming the translator to help these two, massive generations to work together. Sometimes, it seems to work. Sometimes, it doesn’t.
I want the mark of my generation to be a positive one, one that goes beyond critiques we gave and includes the great contributions we’ve all made and will continue to make. This movement we once thought was made of immortal and invincible icons, we have now realized is made of real people, as flawed and precious as ourselves. This consciousness – despite the frustration it breeds at times – keeps us engaged, helps us understand those who have gone before us and helps us foster the leadership of those who are coming after us.
Generation X isn’t lost. It’s just that sometimes people aren’t looking in the right places to find us. We all carry our own torches. We are as different and as dedicated as the other generations that make up our movement. And we are just getting started.