Feminism's Frankensteins

| Tue Mar. 31, 2009 10:22 PM EDT

"Feminism's Frankensteins" is Courtney E. Martin's phrase, not mine. And she's right.

Writing in TAP, she argues that, "The era of the singular feminist agenda is over. But that doesn't mean gender-based activism is."

If it's Tuesday, that means the feminist movement has been declared DOA again. This time, though, the analysis is actually worthy. Usually what that means is that women are not, and perhaps never were, discriminated against; the movement is over because it is no longer, or never was, needed. In other words: Bitches, quit your bitching. The absolute worst of these 'feminism is dead' dirges are the ones written by young female wannabees with nothing to offer the world but their quest for unearned fame. Martin's saying something quite different. Attending an old school feminist forum, she writes:

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Now these women are older, many of them happily shifting into what Jane Fonda calls "the third act"—a stage of life when they don't give a shit what anyone else thinks, and they want to see the world live up to its God damn potential, once and for all. They start dying their hair funky shades of red. They urge their husband to get a hobby as they head out for another expletive- and laughter-filled lunch with their friends—other women who are funding feminist causes, editing feminist publications, and leading local feminist efforts. In some ways, it's a return to their earnest youth—a time less fraught with the compromises that come with juggling families and careers. They're prioritizing changing the world again. And as such, they seem to experience an old hankering for an unapologetic women's movement that they can see, hear, and touch.
I don't blame them. All of their stories—about marching in the streets, about taking over offices, about riding around the country in vans, falling in love—not only sounds like they had a whole lot of fun, but also managed to make some profound political changes. But I also recognize that it is a time that has passed. Not only is the women's movement—as it was known in the 1960s—over, but women my age don't even agree on what a "woman" really is.
Sometimes I feel as if my generation—women in our 20s and 30s—are feminism's Frankensteins...
We march in the streets when we're called to (the March for Women's Lives in 2004, Take Back the Night each year on most college campuses) but more as a matter of solidarity and fun than out of any real conviction that protesting still creates change. Many of us, myself included, believe that change is created through strategic communication, alliance-building, and a million little grass-roots movements all over the country that fight for justice and may or may not call themselves feminist (I don't actually care much).

OK. I'm busted.

This is the argument I've been making about the future of the civil rights struggle for years, the argument that makes me a pariah on the black left—the time for protest is past, the maddest of props to those who made it happen. But the best way to honor their legacy, to deserve the name of civil rights activist, is by forging and wielding weapons suited to the present (like the Internet) and not the past (bullhorns), and certainly not for simple self-aggrandizement. Now is the time for mentoring, op-eding, doing O'Reilly, communicating strategically, and in particular, those million little grassroots movements. Damn.

I have no illusion that Martin had me in mind when she wrote this, but she might as well have. It was respectful, humble, clear-eyed, unapologetic, and spot on. I asked what young women were doing for the movement. This is a very good answer. Most of the responses to my two posts on abortion providers and feminism were so high school bitchy and self-righteous, all I could do was move on. I do my best to avoid the all too typical left-wing circular firing squad (and believe me, I got lots of calls to continue that "discussion"). But responses like this one were what I was after. And sorta dreaded getting.

I can assure that if any anonymous person who spent a year walking to and from work during the Montgomery bus boycott, or helped legalize abortion, wants to talk to me about my own race or gender activism, I'll give an answer like Martin's (and I have for the last dozen or so years in my work). I'll give an answer that can't be easily dismissed no matter how annoying grumpy oldsters—who worry themselves to death over you—can be.

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