“A movement has got to move”: on feminism’s future

September 29, 2010

We’re still passing around a shared print copy of this month’s controversial Harper’s cover story, “Feminism’s Ritual Matricide,” by feminist author and critic Susan Faludi. The full text isn’t available online, but a healthy debate over her analysis — of how feminism divides along mother/daughter lines — is heating up on the same feminist blogs that, according to Faludi’s observation, some second wave feminists’ view with “tolerance” and “bewilderment.”

Miriam Perez at Feministing offers this angle, in “A Movement has got to move,” on why all of ways that feminism has only become broader is a sign of victory for those in the women’s movement who have come before us, not a signal of our disapproval or resentment as the next generations:

It’s reasonable that we don’t all agree. If we did, it’d be totally fake, and then we’d be the Republican Party. The fact that there is dissent in our movement is a sign of health, and the possibility for growth. The problem is, we don’t know what to do with that dissent. It’s festering, and fracturing the movement, rather than moving us forward. Hence the countless articles about feminism that focus on these divides.

I’m tired of talking about the past, about what came before, about the golden days of activism. I want to talk about the now, about the activism that is thriving these days, and how we can make sure that gender is being discussed in every activist space, not just at NOW conferences or in academic feminist classrooms. This is not to dismiss what has come before me, or to not acknowledge that it is the stepping stone of my feminism. I know that, I live that. Now I want to build on that. I’d love to do it in partnership with feminists of all ages, races, sexual orientations, abilities and identities.

But if we can’t all agree that today’s feminism needs to look different than yesterday’s, there is no way we’re going to get anywhere. And it’s doesn’t need to look different than yesterday’s feminism because yesterday’s feminism was wrong, or bad, or ineffective. It’s needs to look different because today is different, my life is different, our gender roles are different. That’s a good thing right? It’s proof that we’re getting somewhere. Let’s keep moving.

One thing up front in the essay, which Perez points out as well, is Faludi’s choice of focus on the National Organization for Women, academia, and to a lesser extent, the feminist internet, as her sites of critique. What vibrant activism has Faludi overlooked by not digging into the work of grassroots, community-based organizations? We support local, state, and national work towards gender justice, because we believe it is critical to address gender inequity on multiple fronts. But it’s worth thinking about, as Faludi raises, why the kinds of feminisms rooted in our daily lives are still perceived to be of marginal consequence when compared to what happens within institutions. Where is the balance, where one drives the other?

Related, and more critically, I wish Faludi had directly challenged the ways that the women’s movement still struggles with race, class, sexuality, and gender identity. I want to dig more into how these struggles inform the argument that feminists are pitted against one another primarily along generational lines, as Faludi claims. She raises racism and classism and heterosexism as the complaints of the third wave lodged against the second wave, and not, more accurately, as the lived reality of feminists, of every generation.

Posted in: Community, Movement Building

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