10 November 2009

Who's A Feminist Today?

In her response to the topic “What Is The Evolving Meaning of Feminism?” Jaclyn Friedman told us that she—at 38—bridges the gap between older feminists who say, “Where are the young women? Why aren’t they feminists?” and younger feminists who say, “Why don’t the older women support us?”

There are young feminists out there I’m not supporting? Please tell me where. Many other Second Wavers and I are eager to join forces with them. Friedman said because younger women don’t do feminism the way we of the Second Wave do, we tend not to find them. They’re on the Internet.

So I went to the Internet. I checked out Feministing.com, a place Friedman recommended and that must get a lot of traffic. First thing I looked at was their mission:

Young women are rarely given the opportunity to speak on their own behalf on issues that affect their lives and futures. Feministing provides a platform for us to comment, analyze, influence and connect.

I’m down with that. Sounds a lot like TOP. Except we meet face-to-face on Thursdays rather than connecting mostly on line. Is that the only difference between young feminists and me?

Approach and Images Differ

The first thing I noticed on the website was the logo: black cutouts of women with simplified outlines accentuating breasts, hips and hair that made me think of the trailers for the Charlie’s Angels movie popular with middle-schoolers at the turn of the millennium. The logo also looked like some of the figures cavorting through the title sequence of old James Bond movies. (That’s the second time I’ve referred to Bond in two blogs; is it me or something in the air when the subject of feminism comes up?)

Feministing creators call their logo “the mud-flap girl” and it’s meant to be ironic because she’s raising her middle finger (oops— I interpreted that as an adamant index finger) and they’re taking the image back. I’m more open to this kind of tactic than I once was (see earlier November blog Virgin or What?)

Language Differs

The Feministing site uses contemporary terms—“you guys” and “girls”— referring to women that feel like a poke in the eye to this Second Waver. Along with others, I spent years training colleagues in the business world, friends, relatives and lovers to say and write the radical word “woman” when referring to a female human older than your average high school graduate.

But I also learned a term—cis-gendered—that refers to a group I didn’t know I was in! Cis-gendered people are comfortable in the sexual identity they were born with, unlike trans-gendered folks. (Cis is a Latin prefix used in chemistry for “on the same side” vs. trans which means “on the other side.”)

I applaud this term, despite its initial awkwardness on the tongue. It follows the principle of naming the majority (instead of leaving it as the unspoken norm) as well as the minority, much like “straight” and “gay.”

Evolution Includes Differences and Similarities

Maybe these differences are what my 20 year-old daughter means when, if asked if she's a feminist, she responds, “Yeah, but not like she is,” pointing at her mother. There seem to be looser parameters around language and imagery for younger feminists than the ones we set up for ourselves in the 1960s and 1970s.

It will take more exploring online and more conversations with younger women for me to come to a deeper understanding than this brief reaction to Jaclyn Friedman’s comment about bridging a divide on my behalf. I have some homework to do, and I’m looking forward to it.

I feel great hope for Second Wavers’ ability to work with today’s generation of feminists when I see things like Sarah Jayne’s blog on Feministing. She quotes her friend’s perfect description of feminism:

“…feminism is about waking up and finding yourself in a community, its about having wicked empowered sex, feeling like you can take on any challenge, build real love, and stop feeling like you are the only person who ever thought.... damn, this world needs to change...”

What feminist in her right mind wouldn’t be delighted to subscribe to that world view?

—Cheryl Suchors


  1. Cheryl, So glad I read this. I have realized lately that I am not as careful as I used to be with my language choices regarding gender. I used to be extremely cautious about those issues in the days when I had more militant feelings about feminism. Have we come so far that those issues are less important ? I'm not really sure. Need to ponder on that one.
    I will definitely check out Feministing.com. and tell my friends about it. And of course I'll be back to read this blog again. Thanks! Jean

  2. Wow, great blog!

    I run a discussion at Lesley about once a year entitled "I'm Not A Feminist, But... A Discussion on Why Feminism (Still) Matters." It's a way to introduce young women to feminism, and to make it not such a "dirty" word. A lot of young women I know say, "I'm not a feminist, BUT I hate that it's so hard to get contraception," or "I'm not a feminist, BUT I hate it when the guys I work with make fun of me for being a woman." The discussion I run teaches young women that these ARE feminist issues, and that being a feminist doesn't have to be a bad thing.

    Also, I hate the use of the word "girl." I try to use "young women" when talking about my peers.

    I'm reblogging this post to my blog, check it out!


  3. Here is an interesting article on the California Governor's race.


    It raises the question: If older men favor a very accomplished woman over male candidates, why don't women?

  4. Cheryl, great blog and invitation to explore a movement and its issues. Have just been blogging myself on this passion of mine.

    I am a Christian feminist, one of many. That means that I nag the hell out of my tradition and church about inclusive language especially for Godde (feminist spelling—softer and open-ended.) It means that as a woman priest I preach and teach about women's spirituality and women's roles in religion. They get sick of me but the women love it or are indulgent. It means that I teach and write books about women in the bible and liberate them from anonymity. It means I know and love the sacred feminine and address Holy Spirit as She. It means that I see Jesus' politics and inclusive values as clearly femininist. It means I understand bilical story and character not in a literal sense but as archetypal, universal stories whose universal themes and meanings continue to shape our lives today.

    Finally, it means that Godde is not a man-on-high but a spirit of goodness embedded in all creation including our human bodies.

    The soul of Christianity for this feminist is body—emobdiment.