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What I Learned Growing Up in the South as a Feminist, and the Problems With Today's Feminist Movement

Young women turning away from feminism has become a media meme. What's up with that?

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Why has barely anyone acknowledged Karen Lewis, the powerful president of the Chicago Teachers Union, an overwhelmingly female-dominated union and profession, as an important feminist? Somehow individualistically climbing the corporate ladder a la Sheryl Sandberg reads as feminist in our culture, but improving the economic status of thousands of female workers does not. That is bizarre. To me, the essence of feminism is not, 'you go girl, you choose your choice.' It's about women taking collective action to advance women as a class.”

Geier acknowledges that the corporate side of feminism is real, but emphasizes it is only one aspect of feminism. As a corrective, she advocates focusing on economic issues like paid family leave, paid sick leave, workplace flexibility, a higher minimum wage, and universal childcare. She points out that feminists can get behind these issues, but “they don’t need to own it.” Such issues belong to everyone. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Geier is critical of the emphasis some feminist writers have placed on sexism in culture, and I think she is right to note that for middle-class readers, cultural issues tend to draw attention more than economic ones.

However, as a cultural theorist, I’m also mindful that economic issues are embedded in culture, and that cultural clashes often serve as a proxy for economic struggles. (Anyone who just watched the emotions unleashed as economic giant Germany won the World Cup can attest to that.) So when it comes to examining the economy and popular culture, I’m going to go for a postmodern “and/both” as opposed to “either/or.” Cultural productions tell us much about the psychological and sociological themes and structures that support and reflect the conditions in which economic realities exist. But I think the point is well taken that some feminist cultural critics do not pay sufficient attention (or even have knowledge of) the economic forces at work in the texts they study. I’d like to bring the study of economics and the study of culture together, to reveal how they influence and shape each other.

I also think that positive expressions of feminism in popular culture can go a long way toward challenging the stereotypes and mythology that plague the movement, and help with the branding issue for young people. Pop culture heroine Katniss Everdeen seems to be embodying feminist ideas as well as economic egalitarianism — which are, of course, intimately connected (or should be).

Some of the young women who are expressing antagonism toward feminism on social media — and in the popular arena — will likely change their attitude as they experience the realities of the workplace and the economic conditions they find themselves in later in life. Not all of them will come around, but when some of them do, let’s work to make sure they find feminism that is inclusive, intellectually robust, open to dissent, and deeply aware of economic realities.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.