Review: Undecided

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for You by Barbara Kelley & Shannon Kelley

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Mom-and-daughter pair Barbara and Shannon Kelley have a gem here — an important read for basically any shrewd woman of my generation. It’s a relentlessly chatty book but it dives right to the core of women’s “analysis paralysis,” wisely eschewing self-help rhetoric in favor of a more rigorous cultural investigation of the professional challenges that plague today’s young women. The Kelleys thoroughly map the complex web of expectations, both social and internal, that push women to agonize over each and every life decision, and to grieve excessively for the loss of the option given up.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel right at home in discussions of the laundry list of institutional forces that manipulate women’s professional choices. But what shook me up about this book was its insightful analysis of the ways in which we paralyze and punish ourselves. By ascribing so much meaning to our decisions large and small, meaningful and inconsequential, we lock ourselves into a cycle of yearning and remorse. And in our haste to take advantage of our newly afforded privileges in academia and in the professional world, it’s all too easy to sacrifice authentic decision-making in favor of other people’s estimations of what we are — or aren’t — capable of. (Me becoming an engineer just to disprove sexist stereotypes doesn’t mean shit in the big picture if I’m not truly invested. It’s just another way of conforming, of basing my decisions on patriarchal frameworks.)

It’s steadily depressing fare, but the Kelleys rescue the reader by concluding with advice to pursue “work worth doing” — work at the intersection of pleasure and meaning — and a spirited vision of what a feminized professional landscape might look like: one in which women and men are given social permission to implement leadership styles that emphasize collaboration, relationships, emotional connection. It’s a meaningful read.

Disgruntled Adolescent Complaint Department

January 8, 2011 § 6 Comments

by KATIE E.

Something has been irking me for the past couple of days.

I thought maybe I was over-reacting. Maybe that I should have just kept my mouth shut. But, I can’t stop thinking about it. So here it goes:

I do not want to be a part of a feminist movement that conflates youth with a lack of intelligence.

I am, in particular, referring to this. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of misogyny in the piece from the Catholic League, and it deserves to be written about, but not only is it problematic to only pick on the writer’s grammar, it is absolutely infuriating to blame it on supposed youth, even as a “joke.”

You do not get to take your anger about misogyny out on young people. Period. There are many young people (including myself and my co-bloggers) who do not feel that way. Recognition of that is past due.

This is not the first time I’ve seen something like this and been mad, though. This one just wins the honor of putting me over the edge. I can’t deal with so-called feminists who don’t show an iota of respect to young people anymore. I can’t deal with feeling like I’m a sub-par feminist writer just because I’m under 18 anymore. My opinions, ideas, and writings are no less legitimate than any adult blogger, so please stop making me feel that way, thanks.

One thing I hear entirely too much about in feminist circles is the so-called “generational divide” between second and third wave feminists. I hear a lot of complaints particularly (though not exclusively) from 20-something feminists who were too young for the height of either about how they’re not taken seriously, oppressed, ignored, whatever you want to call it.

I’m not going to be a jerk and say that isn’t true. It has only been very recently that younger (emphasis on the fact that they are youngER, not the youngEST) feminists have gotten the respect they deserve. And there are still occasional comments from some older, legendary feminist about how 20-somethings/college students/young people in general/whatever either aren’t feminists or aren’t doing it right. And I feel the sting of those comments, too, and I think the complaints are completely legitimate and should be heard.

But, seriously? It is not the same being a younger feminist and one of the youngest feminists. Not. At. All. There is little to no discussion given to feminists under 18 in these “generational divide” discussions, and feminists who are claiming they are not taken seriously for being born in the 70s or 80s are helping to perpetuate that. The ageism that victimizes you may be real, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t keeping the cycle going in another way. The voices of feminists who aren’t yet adults are silenced even more than yours are, yet you ignore us.

I am betting now that multiple people are going to claim that starting a whole discussion about the generational divide and ageism against youth stemming from one teeny Feministe post is overreacting, but it is not. Language is how this cycle keeps going, and language is where I feel it the most.

So, please, if you have any respect or support for myself, my younger co-bloggers, and other feminists who are teenagers or younger: stop equating a lack of intelligence, misogyny, or anything else that you hate with us. We are not like that, and you effectively erase us by doing it.

This Lady, Right Here

August 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Remember this epic fail of an article from back in April, in which Newsweek posited that young voters, women in particular, are “lukewarm” on pro-choice politics and think abortion rights “don’t need defending”?

Ugh. If you’d forgotten, I’m sorry to bring it up.

The article relies heavily on commentary from Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. To be fair, there are not many direct quotes from her, but there are monumentally disheartening paragraphs like this:

NARAL president Nancy Keenan had grown fearful about the future of her movement even before the health-care debate. Keenan considers herself part of the “postmenopausal militia,” a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.

Ahem. Emphasis on the “they still run.” Young women, and particularly young women of color, are systematically kept out of the boardroom and away from leadership positions in non-profit and advocacy groups. Latifa Lyles’ campaign for president of NOW is a perfect example of this. Notes from the campaign in June 2009:

Both contenders [Latifa Lyles and Terry O'Neill] expect the election to be close, and both are promoting themselves as best able to bolster NOW’s membership.

“We are not the strongest grass-roots movement we can be — we both agree on that,” Lyles said. “The question is how we deal with that.”

Noting that she contrasts with NOW’s mostly white and over-40 membership, Lyles said she could help give NOW a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists and reinvigorate the broader movement.

“The profile of NOW is just as important as the work we do,” she said. “There are a lot of antiquated notions about what feminism is.”

Lyles, a 33-year-old black vice president of the organization, was edged out by 56-year-old white activist Terry O’Neill, despite an enthusiastic endorsement by NOW’s then-president Kim Gandy. Qualified, passionate, well-recommended… but not elected. Clearly it’s not for lack of interest that young women aren’t running the pro-choice show.

Back to Keenan and NARAL.

These leaders will retire in a decade or so. And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation — at least, not among those on her side.

THIS SHIT IS OUTRAGEOUS. MY PRO-CHOICE GIRLS GOT PASSION RUNNING OUT THEIR EARS. For me, the cherry on top is that I have been volunteering at NARAL Pro-Choice New York, the state affiliate of the national NARAL, for years.

I just don’t know what we have to do to be seen and heard. Online activism isn’t taken seriously, apparently — even though groups like NARAL certainly rely on blogs and social networking sites to get the word out. But it seems that the hundreds of hours of in-person volunteer work that this lady, right here has contributed — collecting petition signatures for the Reproductive Health Act, calling voters in support of pro-choice candidates, distributing condoms and information about emergency contraception, blah blah blah — aren’t taken seriously either.

Jessica Valenti was so fucking right on when she wrote of this debacle last summer:

Who do you think has been making your photocopies and volunteering and organizing for these big organizations all of these years?

The work of the mainstream pro-choice movement is built on younger women’s labor — unpaid and underpaid — who do the majority of the grunt work but who are rarely recognized. And I don’t know about you — but I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist.

Where would NARAL Pro-Choice America or NOW be without the work done by younger women?

Who would do their outreach? Who would volunteer? Who would take unpaid internships? Who would carry their action items on blogs and forward them by email, Facebook and Twitter? Who would Blog for Choice?

Seriously, what would happen if young women decided they had enough of being ignored and started simply decided to stop working for these organizations? Even if for a month young women boycotted the organizations that refuse to acknowledge their hard work — the movement would fall on its ass.

And there’s the rub — young women don’t want to forsake this movement. We don’t want to let it crumble to the side of the road, because control over our own bodies is infinitely more important than “postmenopausal militia” doubt about our commitment. Dropping out of the race is counterproductive. We’re still running, we’re still working damn fucking hard, no matter what any president says.

Check out all the other entries in the THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE blog carnival over at Fair and Feminist.

Edited for clarity on August 27.

Review: Enlightened Sexism

April 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done by Susan J. Douglas

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In her latest work, the razor-sharp Susan Douglas argues that the deluge of powerful fictional women in our media — think of all those surgeons, lawyers, businesswomen, and politicians on TV — has slowly and steadily convinced us that real women enjoy the same relatively easy professional success.

Women watch these shows because they are inspirational; but when the TV goes dark, it’s not patriarchy that’s blamed for keeping real women subservient — it’s women ourselves. These shows convince us that true equality is not only possible, but actual — and if we’re not faring well in our relationships or jobs, it’s our own fault for not measuring up.

What I like best about the work is that it does not shy away from complexity and ambiguity; indeed, its thesis lies in the precarious balance between oppression and liberation, autonomy and blind consumerism. Furthermore, Douglas is hilarious, and her call for older feminists — “Vintage females,” in her words — like herself to work together with their millenial counterparts is a refreshing antidote to generational squabble. I would have appreciated more attention and analysis paid to representations of American women beyond the white / black racial dichotomy, but overall, this is a very successful book.

Go Read This

January 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

When Sex is Normal, Normal People Will Have Sex, by the ever-awesome Jaclyn Friedman — one of my most passionate feminist crushes.

Think about tattoos. It used to be that a tattoo meant that you were low-class and possibly dangerous. Part of a fringe element. Nowadays, over 35% of Americans age 18-40 have at least one tattoo. You can’t write off people because they have a tattoo anymore — there are just too many people involved. It’s too normal.

What if public acknowledgments of sexuality became like tattoos? What if, due to Facebook and Twitter and blogs and all the other ways we have to communicate with each other online, and the number of young people posting personal things about themselves through these media — what if it became normal for there to be some publicly available information about a person’s current or former sex life? What if too many people were in that situation for it to mean anything about your authority, or anything about your character at all? What if kids knew, via Google or whatever comes after Google, that their teachers — heck, their parents — are or have been sexual beings, and that there’s nothing wrong with that? What if the web made sexuality normal?

This is an issue I think about a lot. I’ve skirted the topic of my own sexuality here on Women’s Glib, for many reasons. Though I don’t print my last name or my school, many of my friends and acquaintances — people who know me already — read this blog, and anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows I’m the author of many posts here. I don’t want just anyone knowing details that might shame me in another context.

And part of it is exactly what Jaclyn describes — I don’t want to limit my professional opportunities now or later in life. Talking explicitly and personally about sex, unfortunately, is unprofessional.

Rhyming Revenge

May 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

For my second piece in this new weekend series, I am rhyming revenge for all the mothers of feminism/feminist mothers out there who too often go unappreciated. In honor of Mother’s Day, I hope you enjoy my second totally stream-of-consciousness positioning of words:

You may say she does not deserve a say

even when she works without reputed pay

though without our mothers

we would see it as a bother

to care about the world

or watch human kindness unfurl

in an overwhelming whirl

of adolescent screeches

and guilt-giving speeches.

I know this is the case

for I have given this example a face,

but I am writing revenge on myself now

to reveal the communal ways how

we can protect the reputation

of a vociferous generation

and encourage open communication,

leading to progressive appreciation

Together we can trace

the sexism we want erased

and move past ageism

to fight a thousand other -isms.

We must pay up

and let our mothers drink from the prideful cup

of equality and choice;

they birthed us a voice.

Feministing’s Fire in the Belly Series

March 24, 2009 § 2 Comments

I just wanted to take a few minutes to highlight Feministing‘s Fire in the Belly series, a response to the Times asking if young women should be passed the reproductive rights torch and us replying that we are more than up to the task. From Feministing:

Sally Burgess, executive director of the Hope clinic, who is also chairwoman of the National Abortion Federation, said [in the article]: “What I observe for women in their 20s and 30s — there are fewer who really have the fire in the belly for this.” Then it devolved from there with Debra Dickersen over at MotherJones.com, demanding “Tell me exactly what today’s feminists are doing for the struggle.”

As young feminists, we’re unfortunately all too familiar with this blatant ageism. The pervasive stereotype of youth as apathetic, lazy people who take the struggles of those before us for granted is unproductive and destructive to the feminist movement. The time we spend bickering amongst ourselves about who does more for the cause is time we should be spending fighting the good fight.

Here are just a few things that myself, the rest of the Women’s Glib crew, and other young’uns are doing to keep the fire in our own bellies alive:

  1. We are spending election season talking to our friends and relatives and calling voters in support of pro-choice candidates nationwide.
  2. We are distributing condoms and information about emergency contraception at subway stops all over the city as part of NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action (keep an eye out for pictures later in the week!).
  3. We are starting clubs (Shira and I created Feminist Focus this year at our school; Silvia spearheaded The F-Word at hers) – and blogs! – to make feminism accessible to youth and to amplify our too-often-silenced voices.
  4. We are talking back to doctors who ask, “What’s the rush?” when we confide that we’re sexually active.
  5. We are speaking out in support of comprehensive sex education and against manipulative abstinence-only rhetoric.
  6. We are buying condoms, taking birth control, having sex, and making our own reproductive decisions without shame.

 With all that pro-choice goodness in mind, Feministing is bringing us wisdom from five young women working in reproductive justice fields throughout the week. Links and tidbits from the first two women are below; check back with Feministing for the rest.

Part I: Liza Fuentes.

I had never really questioned before that having an abortion was something that I shouldn’t talk about. But then I thought about what I went though trying to get the abortion–being shunned by my doctor and figuring out how to pay for it. And I saw that the whole process was made to ensure that women are ashamed of themselves no matter how they go about it. And I decided that I didn’t want to stand for it anymore.

Part II: Alma Avila Pilchman

While it may be true that some of us haven’t gotten the message that we are under attack in the U.S. –that our rights are being taking away with laws like “parental notification” and “24-hour waiting periods”–there are many of us who are dedicating ourselves to this issue. I think that mainstream reproductive rights organizations are still in the process of recognizing that, and are only now beginning to accept young women, and especially women of color, as strong activist leaders.

Also, it is imperative to redefine what being pro-choice means. Young people are seeing abortion rights differently than those who were part of Roe. For us, abortion is only a piece of the huge puzzle of women’s rights, and ultimately human rights.

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