Monday, February 5, 2018

Feminism Has an Ageism Problem

At 34, I'm still a year shy of no longer being considered a "young adult" in demographic polls. And yet I'm already experiencing a shift. I find that I have to spend a lot more time working to be relevant. As a writer, my paycheck depends on it. The death knell for my coolness finally sounded a few weeks ago, when I had to look up what the young people mean when they say they're doing or thinking something "low key."

It's happened. I am no longer young and cool (though, to be fair, I have never been cool). On top of that, I'm a mom. That's a double dose of irrelevance as far as young people are concerned. I'm not bothered by this. We all have to get old. I'd rather get old than get dead. Lately, though, I find myself wishing that young feminists would stop treating me like I'm already dead.

We need to talk about feminism's ageism problem.

Is Feminism a Daughters-Only Movement?
Sometime around the birth of my daughter, I began to feel the shift. I'd walk into a feminist event or business and feel eyerolls and disdain. At first, I attributed this to being a mother. The more I looked around, the more I saw evidence of something else.

Navigate to any of the major feminist websites. Click on their writers. You'll see a sea of hip, thoughtful people in their twenties and early thirties. It's as if feminists die when they hit 35.

It's gotten worse over the last 10 years. When I was in college, being a feminist was the least cool thing you could be. Now every college student I know proudly identifies as a feminist. That's great progress. It's also turned feminism into something of a trend. It's what the cool people do.

Moms and older women are not cool.

Adrienne Rich talks about feminism as a daughter's movement. The problem is that when a young woman's only connection to motherhood is through her own mother, she can't see older women or mothers for who they really are. They're caricatures. They're irrelevant. They're something to rebel against.

And so we end up with a feminist movement led almost exclusively by young women. Just as a white or male-dominated organization will neglect the needs of people who don't check those boxes, a feminist movement primarily led by young people will ignore older women. We can't expect people to think critically and deeply about issues that don't affect them. That's why it's not enough for feminist websites to occasionally assign an article about "older women" to a 20-year-old, or to ask a childless man to write about the maternal health crisis.

And most women are over 35. This means that mainstream feminism isn't so much a women's movement. It's a movement for young, childless women. When I started this blog, I wrote about how mainstream feminism doesn't care about mothers. I think the real problem is that the movement is uninterested in those of us who are no longer young and hip.

Why We Need a Multigenerational Feminist Movement
Some of feminism's most pressing issues exclusively affect older women and mothers. And almost every feminist issue is compounded by age. That's intersectionality 101. Occupy more than one oppressed category and you experience a categorically different form of oppression.

Consider the following:

Older women can passionately and powerfully speak to these issues. Yet we silence them, mock them, dismiss them as no longer cool and highly likely to say something embarrassing. 

I Don't Need to Be Relevant to Young Feminists
I might not know how to talk like a cool person. And I definitely have no idea who the cool musicians are. I'm fairly certain people no longer say "cool," either. What I've realized lately is that I don't need to know these things. Being young and hip should not be a prerequisite to participation in feminist activism. It certainly shouldn't make a feminist's voice irrelevant.

The way to stay relevant isn't to stay on top of emerging lingo and pop culture. The fact that those of us outside of our twenties feel pressure to do so speaks to the larger problem.

Pop culture is not relevant to me. I don't care about sounding hip. What I do care about is the fact that the maternal death rate is skyrocketing, white feminists are still ignoring black feminists, older women are still living in poverty, and homicide is the leading cause of death in pregnant women.

Relevancy in feminism should be about investing in issues that matter. And right now, there are far too few feminist voices invested in issues that matter to women outside of their twenties.

Feminism has an ageism problem. Young feminists cannot do it all. And older feminists should not have to be cool to be relevant. 

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