Susan Faludi Tackles Feminist Generational Rift in Harper's -- Critic Marcotte Responds
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Editor's Note: Author Susan Faludi's recent article in Harper's, " American Electra: Feminism's ritual matricide" kicked up a key debate in the feminist arena; the generational question. Faludi begins her article, "No one who has been engaged in feminist politics and thought for any length of time can be oblivious to an abiding aspect of the modern women’s movement in America—that so often, and despite its many victories, it seems to falter along a “mother-daughter” divide. A generational breakdown underlies so many of the pathologies that have long disturbed American feminism—its fleeting mobilizations followed by long hibernations; its bitter divisions over sex; and its reflexive renunciation of its prior incarnations, its progenitors, even its very name. The contemporary women’s movement seems fated to fight a war on two fronts: alongside the battle of the sexes rages the battle of the ages." Prominent feminist bloggers including Amanda Marcotte, Courtney Martin and Emily Bazelon wrote responses to Faludi's piece.
Below is the text of Marcotte's response:
When I saw that Susan Faludi was tackling one of the most difficult issues in feminism to talk about -- the inter-generational power struggle, often cast (and Faludi’s piece is no exception) in “mother-daughter” terms -- I got really excited. Faludi often has an ability to cut through bullshit and bring genuine insight to sticky problems. A voice like that could bring a lot to a discussion that tends to end up in recriminations or denials more than it does any kind of productive discourse. And for the first parts of her piece, I honestly thought Faludi was going in that direction. She laid out a case that this kind of battling does exist. She puts out evidence that younger feminists are sometimes unfair and ungrateful to older feminists, and that older feminists are sometimes so afraid of younger women that they go out of their way to exclude them, all while complaining that younger women don’t care. She even kindly points out that this struggle owes a lot just general misunderstanding between generations, pointing out how second wavers often took swipes at their own, actual mothers for being subject to the patriarchy, even as they criticized the oppression that meant their mothers had little choice. She gives interesting context about how this sort of thing happened even with the suffragists and their daughters -- and the media was as gleeful in the 1920s to declare feminism dead as it is now.
But then she flies completely off the rails, attributing this divide to the same, tired, evidence-free stereotypes of bimbo daughters and harridan mothers that you always get. The only way she updated it is by dismantling the “harridan mothers” part of the equation, sympathetically casting feminists older than her 51 years as hard-working activists being shoved out the door by ungrateful young’uns who never listen to their mothers. And she reinforces a jumble of often conflicting stereotypes on younger feminists to discredit us: that we’re obsessed with navel-gazing over activism, that our obsession with technology comes at the expense of actual work, that we don’t know our history and don’t care about systemic issues, that we’re materialist and unwilling to challenge sexual exploitation for fear of pissing off men, that we’re so busy cultivating our graduate degrees writing about Lady Gaga (using academic language that excludes most readers even as we have pretensions to pop culture appeal) that we can’t be bothered to worry about real world issues. She ends the story on a sad note, talking to a professor whose job teaching feminism has been cut as the entire women’s studies department at her school is being shuttered. The professor tried to include hip young writers on her syllabus, but her students treated her like an old bag anyway. Faludi implies that this struggle is why the department itself has gone under.