An Open Letter to My Fellow White Older Feminists: Lets Talk About Our Ignorance

“Maturity is more absurd than youth and frequently is most unjust to youth.”

Thomas A Edison

Gather round my sisters-of-a-certain-age. We need to have a chat about something.

It didn’t start with you Gloria Steinem when you decided to throw a whole generation of young women under a bus suggesting that by supporting Bernie Sanders, they are doing so to get attention from boys. And I’m not sure if it was ignorance or arrogance, but either way it was undiluted misogyny and frankly you should be ashamed of yourself.

But it’s not just you, of course. (And I’m looking particularly at you Julia Hartley Brewer and Louise Mensch: neither of you are exactly covering yourselves in glory with your shameful behaviour toward certain young women are you?)

See, we have a problem, and if some of you haven’t already stormed off in a huff muttering incoherently about our collective war wounds from battles past, or how unappreciated you seem to think we are, then stay with me because I would imagine a lot of the rest of you will have by the end of this too. Hopefully, some of you are going to reflect, and listen. And I am hopeful because we are treating our young women, our young feminists, like crap. And that’s because we’re being ignorant.

I know you don’t like hearing it but, well – tough.  Because its true.

I don’t know what you see when you look at the young women out there – well, okay, I know what some of you think you see. You might hang your head in despair (that’s if you manage to remove it from up your own backsides long enough), but I don’t. I see these young women loving themselves and taking control of their own images and my heart sings. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not here for a good old heart to heart so that we can all walk away from this feeling a bit better about ourselves and having a collective slap on the back.

We just need to stop being so bloody awful to young women. For their sake.

It is blindingly obvious that quite a number of us have imbibed of the patriarchal cup and gotten just a teensy bit drunk on the idea that being ‘equal’ (cough) to men means having an equal shot at shaming young women. ‘But no’! I hear you cry.

Well yesJust a bit.

And I really don’t give a monkeys what you think about selfies either. Thankfully, neither do our young women. They do not need our approval to post pictures of themselves, any more than they need the approval of other men.

That’s kind of the point.

Next – it is also strikingly clear that you think their politics and feminist campaigns are somehow ‘letting the side down’.  And this is where I need you to pay attention because a number of you seem to think that they have failed to learn something from us – and I’m going to say something about that will permanently make me the most unpopular girl in school. Just as well feminism isn’t some sort of popularity contest really, isn’t it?

They learned plenty. We are the ones who are failing to learn from them. We are letting them down.

And oh, I can hear you all already: but we did this thing! And won that battle! And got these rights!

Yes. And the fact that some of you think that they don’t know that is appalling. Of course they know that. Every anniversary of Roe v Wade, young feminists stream across my social media in celebration. (And that’s just one example). Of course they know it, and value it. For those so wilfully blind as to refuse to see it, whose future were you fighting for anyway? Because it can’t possibly have been theirs.

But some of you do know this: what you don’t like is how they don’t always agree with you about some stuff. You don’t like that they are exploring and generating and imagining new ways of understanding feminism, and their lives – how they are evolving the feminism you somehow became convinced was set in stone with us – because you’re not comfortable with it. Quite a lot of you don’t like being trans inclusive, quite a lot more of you get real squeamish around queer theory, and good lord I watch us as we tie ourselves up in knots over intersectional theory, and its painful to behold.

And the point is not whether or not you agree or disagree with what they are learning and developing, and it doesn’t matter a jot whether any of that speaks to your life because (again) they do not need our approval to develop the narratives of their own lives. (And how you don’t see that they have learned that from us better than we have learned it ourselves is completely beyond me).

The point is that we give them better than we were given – that we uphold them because they are, not because they have to agree with us first.  (And that some of you carry on as though they ought to is just another example of how much patriarchy we absorbed without recognising it).

You might not want to learn anything from them, although I promise you your life and thinking and learning would be the richer for it.  But for the love of all that is holy, will you stop with the sense of entitlement about what you think they owe us?

All of us have enough on our plates dealing with that from men. We damn well shouldn’t be giving our young women that from us either.

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Sometimes I am Rage – Sometimes I am Grace: My Feminism and the Myth of Shared Girlhood

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  ~ Vivian Greene

For those few of you who follow this little blog, you may have noticed an inconsistency in what I write (as well as in how I write), particularly about feminism: sometimes I write from a place of grace, and plead to my fellow white cis feminists to listen, to open up our minds and ears to different ideas and perspectives -and perhaps even grapple with the idea that our over loud voices could be stilled in favour of women whom we have helped to silence.

At other times I have been angry, and have felt the need to push back at what has felt like a movement which constricts us all with its demands to conform to a single homogeneous type, which forces a false sense of unity, and that can seem only to celebrate individuality on the surface – which brings me to the subject of ‘shared girlhood’.

It’s sounds like such an innocuous phrase. It’s really not.

My own premise is simple: I do not believe that holding to a notion of ‘shared girlhood’ is required to be a feminist, and feel that my own feminism is the richer for not believing in, or holding to, such misplaced ideology.

It really doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that the lived experience of my girlhood was not the same as the lived experiences of young girls in India, China or a dozen other cultures and countries, and young trans*/transgender girls around the world – and frankly was not the same as the lived experience of most of the young girls I grew up with. Growing up with MRKH I am sure will have meant a girlhood very different for those who have that condition, to my own experiences growing up with endometriosis and adenomyosis. Whilst still at junior school, one young friend struggled with the early development of her breasts, and 9 is a young age to require adult bra’s. None of us knew what she felt – how could we? We were all still at least three or four years away from even needing to think about such things.

The lives of young girls everywhere are rich and varied – each story that these different experiences speak of brings some new, brighter, better understanding of who we are. In the tears, in the joys, in the struggles and the victories of those stories there is an abundance of strength and wisdom, some of which can be shared ~ but some of which should be shared only with those who have a similar story to tell.

The reality of perpetuating some idea of one experience of girlhood shared by all is so easily seen in what happens when someone dares challenge the needless dogma we white feminists so thoughtlessly push. Let me be clear – wanting, and needing to know that we can share our experience with someone is a good and human thing.

Erasing someone else’s experience and trying to force yours on them, is destructive and dehumanising.

A little background. An excellent blog by Black Girl Dangerous hit twitter late last year called ‘The Myth of Shared Female Experience and How It Perpetuates Inequality.’  I really suggest that you read it, firstly because I am not going to quote from it and also have not had permission to do so.

And the first reaction of a white woman to it? Yes, you’ve guessed it – the white woman took upon herself to tell the black woman why her feelings and opinion were wrong. Via the hashtag #sharedgirlhood it should have become clear very quickly that whilst white cis women were saying that shared girlhood was real and needed, women, trans*/transgender and of colour were loudly saying otherwise. And perhaps not surprisingly, those women who would insist that trans*/transgender women should essentially drop off the face of the planet (or at the very least, stop breathing) used the conversation as an excuse to once again abuse and negate those women and their lives.

Even less surprisingly, the receipts from the ensuing mess were collected by a woman of colour – in this case the excellent Flavia Dzodan: you can read that on her blog here.  (Oh, and whilst you are there, read the rest of her blog too because it is brilliant and you’ll get an education).

We cannot ignore that women are saying that they do not feel their girlhood is shared with all girls everywhere, we cannot watch how it inflicts pain and hurt on other women – and yet still insist that shared girlhood is both real and vital to the dismantling of the patriarchy. It’s exactly like sticking your fingers in your ears and going ‘la-la-la’ at the top of your voice.

But there is something else too – as I was scrolling down through the conversation there was this from @Artemissian.

I’m personally deeply troubled by how some seem to define “girlhood” in terms of oppression? Does this mean that w/o oppression…

we’re no longer women? No! We still are. I feel that when #sharedgirlhood comes to mean just & only #sharedvictimhood we might…

…be internalizing the definitions of womanhood that the kyriarchry enforces, & give up our right to self-define who we are?

It articulated some of my other mis-givings, and  highlighted a further problem. Some white cis feminists push the idea of shared girlhood because they believe we all in some way share the experience of living under patriarchy, and by treating our girlhoods as a shared experience we are stronger in the face of it against the patriarchy.

When in fact the opposite is true – n0t just for each of us as women white or black, trans or cis, able bodied or differently abled; shared girlhood is just another tool to take away our right to self define.  And as a movement, that does not make us better or stronger, but weaker. A movement that is incapable of celebrating the individuals within that movement will founder. A movement that does not recognise the individuals within that movement will not succeed in empowering and improving the lives of everyone it seeks to support.

Oh… the frustration! I can see how glorious it could be.

And so oft times I rage, and also love with all my heart. And in the midst of the storms that occur as we struggle to understand, and grasp, and better and change – I will embrace the thunder. And dance in the rain.

I would like to thank both Flavia Dzodan at Red Light Politics and Alicia (@Artemissian) for allowing me to link to, and quote, them.