Feminism and "The Wave"

Fri, April 25, 2008


Having a conversation about the state of feminism today should be a good thing, right? There’s certainly plenty of fodder to start that chat with Hillary Clinton still in the presidential race and all the gender rhetoric that has surrounded her candidacy.

There’s been a recent spark of interest in what the most recent feminist “wave” is as we watch Hillary conduct her campaign. The “mothers” of the movement consider themselves the “first wave.” Second- and third-wave feminists in the generations after Gloria Steinem feel strongly about their feminist goals, but they differ somewhat in their approach to getting things done. A recent New York magazine article, The Feminist Reawakening, has started a new discussion about where we are and how to deal with the disconnect among “the waves.”

Unfortunately, that dialogue hasn’t always been civil.

An offshoot of this most recent discussion on the state of feminism is the how mothers and daughters are differing in their political choices in this presidential campaign. Again, that should be a good conversation starter among women who respect one another’s opinions. But there are some who just never like to engage in an actual discussion because it’s so much easier to attack and name call, rather than make a thoughtful rebuttal, in order to get media attention.

Amy Tiemann wrote a piece for Women’s eNews entitled Obama v. Clinton Puts Stretchmarks on Sisterhood. Her main point was this — that the various “waves” of feminism are illustrated today by differences between political mothers and daughters, and even though we may differ in our presidential choices, it’s imperative that women find a way to bridge those differences toward our common goals. It is a thoughtful and well-written piece, as is everything that Amy, a.k.a. MojoMom, writes.

In her essay, Amy says:

The Mother-Daughter dynamic illuminates a power differential. In many ways the Mothers have the upper hand. They control the largest established organizations, the purse strings of foundation grants. By excluding younger women’s definitions of feminism, however, the Mothers are short-circuiting their power.

If we want to proceed together, rather than breaking into splinter movements, we are going to have to create a coalition that shares power and respects a wider variety of opinions.

Since no good deed goes unpunished, perennial feminist nay-sayer Linda Hirshman attacked Tiemann, and others, in a piece she wrote for Slate called Yo Mamma: Hillary Clinton as the Battleground Between Mothers and Daughters, ridiculing those who disagree with her viewpoints. (I know from personal experience how much Hirshman likes to call people names and put them down to lift herself up).

But Hirshman didn’t stop there. She also took on Courtney Martin, who blogs at feministing and is the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters. I would have been angry enough in principle at her attacks on two great women writers, but Amy and Courtney are my friends, as well, and that just made me even angrier.

Then, I found I wasn’t alone. Which says to me that Linda Hirshman is out of touch with the world of feminism today. I understand she wants us all to be grateful for the trails she believes that she (supposedly), along with others, forged for the rest of us. But just as our own children won’t necessarily follow the same paths we took, that doesn’t mean they don’t love us and respect us. It’s their job,as the next generation, to find their own way. It’s no different for feminists — by definition, we’ll never all march to one drummer.

Hirshman isn’t alone in her view of feminist whipper-snappers. Deborah Dickerson at Mother Jones blog,wrote Throwing Clinton Under the Bus to Spite Mom, and commented:

Young women [are] rejecting ‘embarrassing, old school feminism’ just to annoy their moms. I oversimplify, but so do young women who inherited what we mothers fought for and now want us to disappear so our girls can go wild and pole dance without feeling all guilty. Caricatures work both ways, missy.

Pole dancing? Missy? I’m not even going to go there.

My problem is this — I’m not Hirshman’s generation and I’m not part of Gen X. Does that mean I have to moderate this fight? Because if I do, I hate to say it, but I’m going to have to side with the young-’uns.

Why are we wasting all this psychic energy? First-wavers, it’s time to put your egos aside and embrace how younger feminists are feeling. And when I say younger, I’m including those from their 20′s to their almost 50′s.

I have to ask — why are the so many first-wavers so ticked off at the second-, third-, and fourth- wavers?? Take a page from Gloria Feldt at HeartFeldt Politics. She disagrees with some of her younger compatriots in how we should be steering the collective feminist ship, but does it in a respectful way without throwing any incendiary devices:

We progressive women, we feminists who are activists in a thousand worthy social causes, might decide to squander this [m]oment and justify in a thousand ways why it’s our right to decide as individuals when we choose our candidate.

Well, yes, it is our right. But is it the sum total of our responsibility? Is it enough to really, really like Obama? Is it enough to flee from Hillary Clinton because of, say, one vote we didn’t like (even though her opponent never had to put his vote where his anti-war voice now is)? Or because her husband lacks impulse control?

In my mind, no. And I believe history will agree with me when feminist activists 70 years from now—yes, friends, at the rate we’re going there will still be a need for feminist activists then—look back at this year. I believe they too will say, “No, it was not enough.”

So why do I bring this all up? Because I believe that it’s time to ignore those who are more interested in being feminist ‘mean girls’ and focus on those who want to have a conversation. I’m sorry if Hirshman and Dickerson had their feelings hurt because we’re not all walking lock-step behind them and flipping our hair in some signature, ‘real’ feminist way.

Since when was feminism about following one thing, one person, or one idea?

It’s not.

Cross-posted from BlogHer, where PunditMom is a Contributing Editor for Politics & News.

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9 Responses to “Feminism and "The Wave"”

  1. Lawyer Mama Says:

    Thank you! I was annoyed and yes, insulted, by the Hirshman piece. Maybe *her* daughter is still going through a teenage rebellion but it’s so demeaning to be treated and spoken of as children instead of thoughtful, intelligent adults.
    Our mothers’ generation did so much for us. But I also think they’ve squandered that good will in many ways by taking “feminism” to a point where it’s their way or the highway.
    I wonder what they’d call my mother, one of their feminist sisters, who plans to vote for Obama? I’m sure Hirshman would just say she’s becoming senile.

  2. Gloria Feldt Says:

    Thanks for the shout out, Pundit Mom, and moreso thanks for the reminder that disagreement without being disagreeable informs us and enhances the political process. It’s a lot harder to marshal cogent arguments than to attack, but everyone learns a lot more from the former, whereas the latter tends to turn of the very people whose voices are most needed in the political conversation.

    Btw, I think that Linda Hirshman speaks with brilliance and courage but I wish with more positive intent to advance to debate than to win it.

  3. Becky Says:

    ” … (even though her opponent never had to put his vote where his anti-war voice now is) … “

    Yep. I wrote about that too. It bothers me. What bothers me about both of them, though, is that I don’t believe either one will end the war like they’re promising they will.

  4. Glennia Says:

    I think of Hirshman as a polemicist more than actual feminist or representing the “traditional” feminist point of view. She takes an extreme position to provoke people into a dialogue, but her views can be so extreme that it turns quickly to a shouting match. I am grateful to the women who marched and made strides for women, but the 1970′s are long over. Hirshman’s generation failed miserably to pass the ERA and were easy fodder for the right-wing attack machine. I understand why Gen-X & Gen-Y would say “we’ve come a long way, baby, but not far enough.”

  5. slouching mom Says:

    this has been bothering me so much. i’ve been fairly open on my blog about supporting obama, and i’ve been chastised here and there — particularly by women older than i am — for forgetting what the feminist movement was all about.

    i thought it was about ensuring that women gained the ability to CHOOSE for themselves. silly me.

  6. Lisa Says:

    You make some great points, lady. It is facinating to see how differently the different waves think and especially WHY they think differently from previous generations.

  7. Diana Says:

    Great piece! This extreme, my-way-or-the-highway, first-wave feminist thought is exactly what turned me off about identifying myself as a feminist during my late-teen years. For as long as I can remember I was proud of feminists but then suddenly I just thought “Whoa! Wait a minute, that’s not who I am.” I’m back. Prouder than ever. But I’m still not that person, and that’s ok. We can be feminists without being carbon copy robots of our foremothers.

  8. Daisy Says:

    I am an almost-first-wave feminist (age 47) who dared to try typical boy things in high school and college, but eventually ended up working in a largely female field: teaching elementary school. Does this put me in the middle or the “old”? I am currently supporting Hillary, not because of her gender, but because I believe she knows what education really needs. She’ll help my profession and the children I teach.

  9. MojoMom Says:

    PunditMom, thanks for your piece and the great links to other women writing about these issues. I am heartened by the many conversations I’ve had with Hillary supporters (including you and Deborah Siegel) that show that we can find a lot of common ground even if we are personally supporting different candidates. After all, we have a battle in November that will require all of our collective effort to win.

    I wish Second Wave feminists would take a moment to look at the election through my eyes. I am not a pole-dancing Girl Gone Wild as Mother Jones suggested (that is NOT how I imagined making my first appearance in Mother Jones….).

    But my age is relevant to my decision. Part of the reason I do not support Clinton is that this is my sixth Presidential election, and they’ve been won by Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush…. Fellow feminists, feel free to disagree for this as a deciding factor in your vote, but don’t just dismiss me as clueless and naive.

    On the other side, Obama’s style of leadership resonates with the grassroots, participatory style of leadership that I am drawn to based on my own experience.

    We Gen Xers aren’t “kids” any more, and even if we were, some of the smartest people I have ever met are in the generation coming up fifteen years behind me.

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