What Young Women Do Understand

Written by Jennifer Mandelblatt

“Young women today don’t understand.” Oh, but we do.

In one sense, that we apparently “don’t understand” should be a testament to the work of the women who came before—those who made the world a little better than they found it. But in a much larger sense, suggesting we “don’t understand” negates the fact that young women today are acutely aware of the pain and systemic problems that run so deep in our society—that they are the very fabric of our society. It discredits and silences the leadership of the remarkable young women who lead and it also undermines the work of the women who paved the way. It clouds the reality that through the pain and the systemic barriers, young women push forward—not just far enough to resist, but far enough to create anew.

While young women will never truly understand what it was like to live at any other moment in time, just like we will never truly understand what it means to walk in our sisters’ shoes, we understand what’s at stake. We are learning, we are teaching and we are standing by each other’s sides to carry our truths forward.

We aren’t hiding our heads in the sand—we are holding them a little higher as the women around us fuel our strength and accept these truths. We aren’t sticking our fingers in our ears and screaming to drown out the noise—we are picking up the phones and posters and creating the noise. Young women today understand the world around us for what it is, and are committed to fighting for what it could be.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they carried banners and mattresses across stages at graduation to raise awareness for sexual violence and hold their universities accountable.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they responded to racist violence with planning marches, organizing an occupation of the student union, lobbying the University Assembly, and delivering a list of demands to the university president.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they got arrested for protesting health care repeal efforts and for centering disability rights in the national conversation.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they traveled to DC to call on Congress to act on college affordability and to actually represent their constituents.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they campaigned for their university to establish gender-neutral housing.

These stories of the young women who lead are not the exceptions. They aren’t making headlines because they are novelties for fluff pieces. They are making headlines because they are making an impact. These young women show strength and vulnerability—and strength through their vulnerability. They take every opportunity to make their voices heard and fight for new opportunities to be heard.

Through it all, these women live the ideals of feminist leadership: of having the audacity to lead when others think you cannot; of having the audacity to reach for more than the world tells you you’re worth.

To the women who paved the way: You empowered us to have this audacity. I hope you’ll trust that we too want to make the world a little better than we found it.

This post originally appeared on Ms. Magazine

Photo Credit: Greg Zulkie/Flickr

68 comments

Chad A
Chad A17 days ago

Thank you!

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Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O17 days ago

To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman? ― Mahatma Gandhi

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Monique R
Monique R18 days ago

The aims of Soroptimist International are precisely those: to improve the situation of women and girls throughout the world and to empower women, mostly thanks to a better education. Check www.soroptimistinternational.org

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Anne F
Anne F19 days ago

And @Eric L the economics of getting tertiary education but coming out with crushing debt, of the science jobs that don't exist because of university and government cuts, of high rents (and an application process that resembles getting a security clearance), of health insurance that costs oodles, of super expensive child care (when available, unless one has a fortune and hires some other baby's mom to come to the States and live in). These cloud any rational person's optimism.

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Anne F
Anne F19 days ago

Young women are making education, career, and partner choices with bravery. Thanks for the article

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Leanne K
Leanne K20 days ago

I say bravo to the ones before and the up and coming... I admire many young women, far more ballsy and know where theyre going... but theres many who bristle and lash out viciously if you fail to totally agree and empathise with them. In an article about #Me too on line, discussing what needs improving- I didnt disagree but mention that we have made progress.. ie no girly posters plastered everywhere. But apparently thats fine and dandy and the tales began. All awful, yes, wrong, yes, new?? Um no... room for improvement, yes.. but dont demand a voice and recognition and sympathy if you are going to deny other victims those things...

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Leanne K
Leanne K20 days ago

Oh please... far more likely to be ignored by younger women who think they have it far worse than what we ever did and things are different nowadays, not that we would know that apparently...

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Jetana A
Jetana A20 days ago

Sandy G, what a rude and absurd comment!

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Jetana A
Jetana A20 days ago

An empowering [wo]manifesto, which I hope applies to a great many young wimmin.

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Angela J
Angela J20 days ago

Thank you.

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