I saw this article in the Washington Post this morning and just rolled my eyes. If I have any hope for the new year (or, indeed, the new decade), it’s that we stop having conversations about the so-called “generational divide” within feminism, and especially that we just stop talking about who voted for Hillary Clinton – whether it’s to castigate young women for abandoning their sisters or scorn older women who ignored the fact that Obama is a feminist too. The election is over, folks. This discussion ended almost two years ago. That particular horse is very dead.
The important lesson, I think, is that in 2010, we need to shift the conversation away from the generational issue, and even from discussions of gender alone (does anyone remember Gloria Steinem’s op-ed from just about two years ago, in which she declared that “women are never the front-runners”? Unproductive and infuriating much?). And the more important question is not why young women didn’t vote for Clinton (if that’s indeed the case), but why young women are not themselves running for office.
If anything, looking back on the 2008 primary season, the media cashed in on this perceived divide in a big way, playing up the idea that Obama was the candidate for the youthful generation, and that Clinton represented everything that was scary about second-wave feminism (just watch Media Matters and the Women’s Media Center’s video “Sexism Sells, But We’re Not Buying it” and you can relive some of the most horrifying moments from that election season). The depiction of Hillary Clinton during the election cycle was problematic and a little terrifying, but it had less to do with a generational divide and more to do with the way the media treats female candidates generally.
Young women who voted for Obama may well have done so because they felt feminism was obsolete. But that is less a problem with young women, and more of a problem with the state of the movement as a whole. And if, as many young women felt, Obama was a better candidate for them – he was, after all, endorsed by NARAL – then they should have been able to vote for him without feeling that they were casting aside “the dreams of a generation and a movement.” Yes, it would be great to have a woman as president. But clearly, Clinton didn’t resonate with a lot of people, and instead of playing the blame game two years later, we need to be looking to the future.
How can we encourage more women to run for office? How can we stop the ridiculous depictions of women in the media? How can we erase the double standards for female behavior? How can we recast our cultural models of what leadership looks like so that women can easily fit them? These are the questions that feminists of all ages should be asking – and we should be looking back to 2008 to learn lessons, not point fingers.
As this WaPo article points out, feminism does have an image problem. But we’re not going to make feminism seem more relevant or inclusive by emphasizing these generational divides, and blaming any age group for all of feminism’s problems. And for goodness’ sake, we can start by refusing to reduce “young women” and “older women” to single categories. The media loves internal strife – but we, as feminists, can stop playing into their hands.
Photo courtesy of Marcn's Flickr Photostream.
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