Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mamma Feminists: Take Heart in Your Success

I don't know about you, but I have been absolutely fascinated by the conversation that has emerged between our feminist boomer mothers and the younger generation it birthed about the Clinton candidacy and the state of feminism today. The older generation, frustrated with our general lack of enthusiasm to finally seize the day to elect our country's first female President, has accused my generation of rebelling against our mothers, apathy toward the female cause or worse -- total rejection of feminism to gain the approval of our "boyfriends." At the heart of it is the older generation's complete and utter horror at the suggestion that sexism in America no longer exists the way it once did for them.

I find it surprising that the older generation doesn't seem to recognize just how much second-wave feminist accomplishments shaped my generation and the world in which we live today. From birth, the question of whether or not we could achieve the same as our male counterparts was never a question. Growing up in a post-Title IX world, most of us had lots of opportunities to participate in traditionally male-dominated activities like little league and auto shop. Post Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs, we celebrated female athletes like Chris Evert and Dorothy Hamill and watched TV shows like "Mary Tyler Moore," "The Bionic Woman" and "Charlie's Angels." Indoctrinated by women's lib empowerment that gave rise to that famous "I can bring home the bacon" commercial that's now engraved in our collective psyche, we were imbued with the notion that we could have it all. Most of us went to college without any hint of gender bias or restrictions. And by the time we entered the workforce, movies like "9 to5" and the Anita Hill hearings had blown the lid off and sufficiently squashed sexual harassment in the workplace, leaving us free to succeed in our careers. Through it all, we were taught to be strong, to think for ourselves and to speak our minds.

So while you can argue the imperfections of Title IX and its inconsistent application across races or the continued existence of latent or blatant sexism, especially in male-dominated fields, the reality is that my generation has come of age largely unencumbered by our gender and completely empowered by our upbringing. So if we appear to be an "entitled" generation, well maybe we are, but wasn't that the point? Isn't the vision of feminism to give rise to a generation of women that are entitled to the same freedoms as men? Are we not entitled to our own opinions about our Presidential candidates and should we not be free to express those opinions? My generation is so secure in the inevitability of a female President that yes, some of us are actually willing to wait for one we like. To suggest that our opinions are colored by something other than our own independent thinking, or to insist that we somehow owe our mothers or "the cause" a debt of gratitude by voting for a candidate we don't truly support in our heart of hearts seems somehow ironically contrary to everything second-wave feminists fought for and the way our mothers raised us.

As for the idea that the older generation has somehow failed to pass on a sense of duty to the younger generation to maintain momentum for the feminist cause, it simply cannot be done. Social movements cannot survive on moral obligation alone -- they are sparked and inflamed by personal pain and oppression. While my generation has not, for the most part, been subjugated by our gender, we have struggled to reconcile our roles as mothers and our desires to succeed in our own right. Now that we have the choice to pursue a career, we're finding that choice to be an excruciating one as our society still does not yet fully support a mother's ability to raise her children while pursuing her dreams, or even a simple paycheck for those that don't have a choice. Through organizations like, those of us who have crossed the threshold of motherhood are beginning to coalesce around the idea that we have to continue to challenge and change our outdated social institutions -- corporate America, our childcare and health care systems -- to truly realize the vision of equality.

So, Mamma Feminists, take heart. While you may not appreciate our choice in candidates, we feel free to make that choice based on the rights and empowerment you afforded us. And we have not abandoned the feminist cause -- the next wave may well be upon us. While this wave may not look quite like yours, it is simply feminism evolving, as it always does, to meet the challenges of our time.


MojoMom said...

Well said! Thanks for adding your voice to this conversation.

I wanted to add that I taught the high school classes of 1997-2001 and there are brilliant women and men coming up 10 to 15 years behind me (high school class of 1986).

None of us can afford to overlook the talents of these twentysomethings, especially when it comes to grassroots activism and organizing.

They'll be the ones to teach us how to use Facebook to take over the world!

PunditMom said...

It's an interesting conversation -- I've written about it, as well. I'm not sure how we get all the "waves" to reconcile -- over a glass of wine, maybe? ;)