In defence of all young feminists (like *cough* me)

If only I’d been born three years earlier! Then I’d stand a chance of being a decent feminist. Alas, ‘tis not to be. Since I fall (just) in the 20 to 40 age bracket, I fear I may be one of those women who, according to the Independent’s Yasmin Alibhai Brown, “have squandered  the hard-won achievements of the original feminism”. And she’s not happy about it:

I squarely blame the young, who, through foolish apathy, criminal self-indulgence and sometimes uninformed loathing of the women’s movement, have ensured that our social, political and economic environment is less fulfilling, much less safe, less equal and less nurturing than it was even in the 70s and 80s when we old Fems were burning bras and raising hell.

Oh dear. That’s a telling off and a half. But Yasmin, seriously, do you mean the likes of me? I suspect you probably do.

Let’s look at the evidence: I have read (but not actually liked) Bridget Jones’ Diary. I used to own a Spice Girls T-shirt. I have a terminally naff collection of women’s erotic literature. I’ve suffered from anorexia and bulimia, those most self-indulgent of potentially fatal illnesses. I’ve slept around and enjoyed it or, to use Alibhai Brown’s words, found it “hard to say no to sex”. I’ve had bouts of depression during which I’ve raised an insufficient amount of hell. All of which makes me responsible for the fact that childcare isn’t affordable or something. Whatever. Anyhow, it’s all my fault. Only best not start discussing the social issues Alibhai Brown mentions, since that would also make me an impractical, time-wasting intersectionalist. Best shut up and feel ashamed at not having been a true radical, just like my anti-choice, distinctly anti-feminist mother and all her friends never, ever were.

I have to say, it’s a strange world Alibhai Brown lives in. She makes something look like a generational dispute when actually, it’s just her making the rather odd assumption that all women her age were feminists (they weren’t) and all women my age want to be Kate Middleton (we don’t). If her rather skewed historical analysis demonstrates anything, it’s that achieving equality is bloody difficult. You close one door on injustice and it sneaks in through the window instead. That’s not a reason to stop trying. Women of Alibhai Brown’s generation have made a difference, as have women of mine (to be fair, I owe it to my mother that I became a feminist but only insofar as her opposition to criminalising rape in marriage gave me that final push over the edge).

Tempting though it is to say the real problem facing feminism today is older feminists criticising younger feminists – or, conversely, younger feminists merrily dismissing second-wavers as not inclusive enough for the likes of them — it isn’t. It’s still the same basic stuff: women being considered less human, less valuable, less in need of economic emancipation, less diverse, less holy, less in charge of their own minds and bodies, than men. That kind of thing, I reckon, but with perhaps more nuance than before (one hopes – but is that ageist? I can’t tell). But anyhow, rants such as Alibhai Brown’s don’t really help. In terms of “damaging to womankind” I’d probably rate them no higher than the existence of Rod Liddle or Jeremy Clarkson. All the same, it’s something all of us, whatever our age, could do without.


5 thoughts on “In defence of all young feminists (like *cough* me)

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I believe that feminism is and ought to be a diverse collection of movements and activisms. For feminists to shoot each other down over details is unfortunate, I think. Your last paragraph really gets to the heart of the matter.

    I do wonder sometimes whether today’s feminists are as dedicated to activism as yesterday’s activists. Of course, we live in an age where we can connect with people around the world at the press of a finger (and we suffer the consequences of doing so, thanks NSA). So our activism probably looks different than that of our sisters in the 70s. Anyway I agree with you that being jealous that younger feminists aren’t interested in second wave thoughts and beliefs doesn’t really help correct the gender paradigms under which we suffer.

    I also don’t like people vilifying self-indulgence 🙂

  2. I’d say this is an amazingly restrained response: that piece was misogynistic, victim blaming bile and the Independent should be ashamed of having published it.

  3. “That kind of thing, I reckon, but with perhaps more nuance than before (one hopes – but is that ageist? I can’t tell.”

    Well put. I’m in my forties and struggling with what I think Feminism needs to do/be now. I think you’ve hit something with the word ‘nuance’. Many of the problems don’t seem so black and white as they did when I was a young feminist, and I find 70s / 80s style rhetoric really old fashioned and unhelpful nowadays. This is probably because, as you say, new injustices fly in through the window and they get subtler and more difficult to work out how to respond. Old fashioned stompy activism doesn’t seem to me to be the way in the main.

    Still working on what the way is, though.

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