Beginning again from the ground up

Beginning again from the ground up

Young women should educate themselves fully about women’s history and how their mothers and grandmothers fought to create a better world for them. In the long, hard fight that they face post-Roe, their elders will be marching, protesting, voting, lobbying, and more by their side.

BRATTLEBORO — Just days before the horrific Supreme Court decision that killed Roe v. Wade - a grievous act that rendered women and girls property of the state and subjected them to forced childbearing - a spate of opinion pieces appeared bemoaning the fact that feminism was all but gone in the face of massive backlash.

Feminists I admire wrote disheartening columns that included expert opinion, research findings, and personal analysis.

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote that “as the backlash gains steam, a lot of feminism feels enervated. There had been a desperate hope, among reproductive rights activists and Democratic strategists alike, that the end of Roe v. Wade would lead to an explosive feminist mobilization, that people committed to women's equality would take to the streets and recommit themselves to politics.”

“But after the leak of the Supreme Court's draft decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, it's far from clear whether a political groundswell will materialize,” Goldberg wrote.

Susan Faludi's New York Times piece argued that pop culture, celebrity, and rampant consumerism along with fierce individualism have fueled not just a backlash but a subtle generational divide in which younger feminists can be said to fight against “practical impediments to equality,” while second-wave feminists (like myself) were “old-fashioned shoe-leather organiz[ers]” who were “oblivious to race and class.”

In making her argument against generational conflict she asks for “a reckoning with feminism” that “go[es] beyond generational indictments.”

What these two essays have in common is a focus on millennial feminism, and their collective analysis should be taken seriously. But what troubles me is the notion that feminism, in all its variations and iterations, has spawned a powerful backlash and become divisive to the point of annihilation.

As a second-wave feminist who has worked, marched, protested with, and mentored millennial women, I reject that idea.

The feminism of my generation, flawed though it has been, is not dead; it is exhausted.

In the words of the beloved civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, we are simply “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

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Our fight has been long and arduous and, unless you've been through it, it's impossible to grasp what it took to keep on keeping on, and how punishing it could be - which leads me to some thoughts on younger feminists.

First, with due respect to millennial women who never experienced a pregnancy scare in pre–Roe v. Wade times, there are lessons to be learned from those feminists - their mothers and grandmothers - who preceded and fought for them in an era when women couldn't get credit without a male guarantor, could be fired for being pregnant, couldn't earn anything like what men doing the same work did, had no recourse to domestic violence, and more.

Sadly, they are about to find out what it's like and what it takes to begin again from the ground up.

When they do find out, their elders will be marching, protesting, voting, lobbying, and more by their side. There will be no false dichotomy, because we are all women who have been there or find ourselves there now.

In that sense, context, as older feminists know, is everything, and (to paraphrase the headline of a 1970 essay by Carol Hanisch), the personal really is political. That's because what happens to one of us can happen to all of us when male power presides over our lives.

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In that context, I urge young women to educate themselves fully about women's history and courageous fights for equality, full personhood, social justice, and human rights in this country. Our battles cross every sector of society, and we have fought them well so that our daughters and granddaughters could lead better lives than many of my generation did.

As I tell my young friends, there is a qualitative difference between pussy hats and T-shirt slogans, and social media is not the same as showing up in big numbers, which takes organizing on a scale that can feel overwhelming. (Just ask Stacey Abrams.)

Also, it's deeply important to understand the politics of power - and the power of politics - in order to think and act strategically, enough for change to become a new reality.

I'm not arguing against a new, different feminism; as the wise Greek philosopher Heraclitus knew, “The only constant in life is change.” I'm making a case for a hybrid feminism that doesn't fall prey to conflict among its constituents for lack of context, depth, and experience.

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As for the disastrous decisions of a Supreme Court run amok, Rebecca Traister offered this call for hope: Noting that the situation is “wretched and plain” and “it will get worse,” she wrote in The Cut, “the task for those who are stunned by the baldness of the horror, paralyzed by the bleakness of the view, is to figure out how to move forward anyway.”

“Because while it is incumbent on us to digest the scope and breadth of the badness, it is equally our responsibility not to despair,” she wrote.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Tina Smith agree. Writing in a New York Times op-ed, they noted that this is a “dark moment” that will require “a long, hard fight.”

As second-wave feminists, they know what they're talking about.

“The two of us lived in an America without Roe, and we are not going back. Not now. Not ever.”

I'm with them.

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