Last week, on the CNN show Amanpour, I heard a discussion between the host of the show (and long-time anchor-crush of mine. Anderson who?) Christiane Amanpour talking with Louise Vance and Marie Wilson (founder of The White House Project) about feminism today. While I can’t track down a video clip of the conversation, the transcript is here. Filmmaker, Louise Vance has just created a film which will show on PBS called “Seneca Falls.” She says,
“I think what’s common is that women of all ages, but particularly young women, have no idea that the condition of women 150 years ago in this country was really akin to slavery. Women had no rights. They were banned from college. They didn’t own their wages. They couldn’t sit on a jury. They couldn’t hold public office. They were really in a condition that is hard to describe or even conceive of today.”
First, a comment: to compare gender discrimination to slavery is particularly ridiculous, considering that it makes women of color invisible and tries to create a hierarchy of suffering that is not only futile but also wrong. White women were not slaves. Their possibilities were limited, certainly, but they were not legal property. Their options were often constrained and their lives proscribed, but they were not bought and sold on the open market. This comparison is egregious, and serves no real purpose in building a movement for social justice because many women, especially poor women and women of color have very limited access to the rights Vance mentions as though they exist equally for all women today.
Also, if I ever hear another person say that young people, young women in particular, are not engaged in the political process, I’ll scream. Likely, at them. Crunk is as crunk does, after all. Over the past few years, like Vance did on CNN, I’ve heard more and more people say that young people just don’t care, or they just don’t know the history of feminism.
I heard it from the pundits during the presidential election. Will the young people come out to vote?
I hear it time and again from others, often older second wave feminists (but sometimes younger, as well) that young feminists don’t know their histories. That they don’t know what’s at stake.
I hear it time and again, but what I see is something else entirely.
This past weekend I was confronted again, like I frequently am with beautiful evidence to the contrary. At the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program (full disclosure: I used to work at CLPP) there were hundreds of young people gathered to learn and discuss the trajectory of the movement for reproductive justice. (Here’s some great content coverage from our friends over at Feministing.)
Lots of students, from high schools and colleges. Lots of young people who know the importance of building a movement committed to knowing history and looking to the future. A movement that includes young people expressing their deepest longings for a just world. They have a vast and expansive view of gender justice, that goes beyond sex to include gender expression. They link race, class, gender, ability, nationality and other identities with marvelous ease and brilliance. So don’t tell me young people don’t care.
They do. I know them. I work with them. I see it every day.
At the conference, I moderated a panel on “Working in the Movement” and was struck by the passion and dedication of the young people who came. It was attended by young people who go to conferences to learn about repro justice and then want to passionately participate in the creation of a world that meets their needs and the needs of the communities they live in. To make it their life’s work.
They do participate. They come to the meetings and events I organize on health reform. They intern in my office. They challenge me and make me a better activist. At 29, I’m pushing the edge of the category “young activist” but it’s cool with me, because there are so many young, engaged people to work with and learn from.
So to those who say that young people aren’t paying attention, I say: look around. They are. They are leading campaigns for change in their communities. They are continuing to work for healthcare access and reproductive justice. We’ll always need more of them, but the ones I meet and work with are working as hard as anyone and deserve recognition, not dismissal.
So to those who say that we need young people because they are the future, I say: look around, the future is now.