Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Generation Gap: Feminism

There's an interesting little spat between feminists today. The New York chapter of NOW criticized Ted Kennedy for NOT endorsing Hillary Clinton (for the record, apparently this was just the NY chapter, the national group didn't take this position).

This did not sit well with at least one feminist. This is a great response.

For the record, I am fully aware of the dangers posed by a straight white guy commenting on an intra-feminist dispute. That's what blogs are for - taking risks. Damn the torpedoes.

This brings up something many people have noticed in this campaign: a generation gap between Hillary's supporters and Obama people. This minor clash between two feminists highlights the difference in perspective. I don't know who at NY NOW took this position, so I am going to use Gloria Steinem as a stand-in for her generation of feminists. I don't think she'll mind.

Gloria Steinem was born in 1934. That was very early in FDR's administration. It was during the Depression. She grew up during WWII. For me, those things are ancient history. Think about this: she turned 21 in 1955, during the Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower was born in 1890. When Gloria Steinem was coming of age, some of the people in power were born in the 19th century. Gloria Steinem accomplished great things by breaking down barriers to women's success, and, of course, she had to fight lots of men to do it. But they were older men. That is her defining experience - fighting men who were older than her. By the time the late '60's rolled around, she was already in her 30's.

But women like SusanG on Daily Kos grew up in the post-feminist (for lack of a better term) era, and while they've had to fight their battles, they have also spent a lot of time working with, and competing against, men their own age. That is THEIR defining experience. Btw, I am assuming SusanG doesn't mind me using her as an example of how younger women think. For the record, she's actually a Baby Boomer, not GenX (I'm not going to reveal her age). It feels like she is speaking my language.

Gloria Steinem: fighting AGAINST older men.
Younger women: working WITH men their own age.

That's a gross oversimplification in many ways - I'm sure Gloria Steinem had some great men as allies, and women of today can, I'm equally sure, cite lots of examples of sexism from their own lives, particularly from older men. I'm sure this dispute went on among feminists of Gloria Steinem's era. There may very well be feminists of Generation X or Y who agree with NY NOW.

But the key difference is that women of today have a lot less reason to be angry at men. Which, at the end of the day, is a testament to the achievements of Gloria Steinem's generation.

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