Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reflections on Last Night's Great Event

Thanks to everyone who came out last night for our lively discussion about feminism, work, and the economy. The 92Y people made us feel right at home, creating a beautiful event complete with fun music and seamless visuals. There were so many interesting points brought up, both by our panelists (if we do say so ourselves) and the amazing audience--which was refreshingly intergenerational with plenty o' great men representin'. Here are just a few of the things that I (Courtney) will be chewing on for awhile:

* There is an opportunity, this economic downturn, for all sorts of gender shake-up. When we're forced to recognize that old styles of leadership and assumptions about gender roles are no longer valid, we can get even the most reluctant folks to try a more enlightened, equal approach. The media coverage of this phenomenon has been totally unsatisfying (dads who cook! women who work! what a revelation!), but in truth, there is something interesting going on.

* American workplaces won't change--in policy or culture--until men take this on as their own issue just as women have for years. If they can't do it under this big tent movement called feminism, maybe they can invent their own way of owning the issues. I recommend John DeGraff's Take Back Your Time organization as one way for men to test the waters.

* When older women are happy with younger women, they refer to them as empowered. When they're irritated, they call us entitled. The real meaning of entitlement is "a belief that one is deserving of certain privileges or rights." Sounds like what feminism had in mind all along, no?

* The word "choice," as you might imagine, came up an awful lot. Gloria Feldt, who is part of the ungeneration and has been through a lot of life, gets irritated when women lament how difficult it is to have so many choices. Debbie Siegel, 40-years-old and facing lay off woes with her husband, talked about men being in a unique position to choose how they want to remake masculinity in this age of uncertainty. Elizabeth Hines, in her early 30s and 9 months pregnant, talked about how it never seemed like there was a "choice" to be had in her family. Women worked through motherhood, no question about it. I am really interested in the idea that feminism is too often cast as heroism instead of self-respect. In other words, it's been perverted to meant that you choose yes on everything, rather than carefully choosing autonomy, health, fulfillment, and yes, family, if that's what you want. I think our outlandish expectations for ourselves mixed with that sense so many women have that only they can make the dinner, have the talk with their teenage daughter, clean up the living room etc. well enough, perpetuates this sense of never being enough, either in work or family.

We'd love to hear if you attended--what were your take-aways?


Gloria Feldt said...

Just to add to Courtney's reflections (and her kudos to the 92Y Tribeca and to Maya who organized the event), I want to say what a privilege it is to have these conversations, both public and private, with these incredible WomenGirlsLadies. I learn something every time. But mostly, I can get teary-eyed real quickly when I see how passionately each generation represented takes up the mantle of feminism, which is simply the cause of simple justice and equality for women and men, and keeps these ideals moving forward.

I have also been reading the feedback we received from attendees--here's a quick summary: Young women are asking for older women to mentor them. Older women want younger ones to hang in there and go for the leadership positions in their workplaces. These ought to be doable, so let's get going!

Sara said...

I'm sorry I couldn't stay after last night and chat. I wanted to elaborate on my disappointment that there wasn't more talk on the concerns of younger women, like the last questioner mentioned wanting to hear about teens and tweens and how they fit into the intergenerational feminist discussion (full disclosure: the questioner was my sister)—It maybe cliché to point this out, but the younger generations are going to structure themselves very differently than we’ve seen before as the result of the internet and social networking. I think the difference will be more drastic than we realize just yet, for the girls still in elementary, middle, and high school. Tie that to the fact that American girls have literally grown up under the Bush administration and a particular backlash towards women, and we ignore them or wait for them to grow up at our own peril. Like Courtney said, I think there are some truly astonishing and wonderful young feminists already writing and working for their issues in humbling ways, but we feminists of other generations need to figure out how to communicate with the rest of girls who may not identify as feminists, as opposed to communicating to them.

Even as someone who is 25 and also a ‘professional feminist,’ I felt pretty left out of the substantial part of the conversation that was about developing equality through individual stable, heteronormative, relationships as opposed to, say, seeking systemic legitimization of diverse family/support structures. I think the most exciting thing anyone said was that this is a moment the feminist movement can take advantage of the social chaos to effect broad change, but if we're not looking beyond the division of work at home and our ability to balance family and work life, even just in the context of work we’re limiting ourselves.

I agree that ‘choice’ is a large component of what will help women achieve equality in the US, but I think we need to take a cue from the shifting of the reproductive choice movement to the reproductive justice movement, and remember to keep holistic justice frameworks in mind. I do not doubt that you all do in your fabulous work, but I think that there was a bit of a disconnect between the discussion of people’s ‘personal’ and the broader ‘political’ last night.

On a side note, I implore the panel to stop categorically describing young women as Obama supporters and older women as Hillary supporters—plenty of younger women supported Clinton, plenty of older women supported Obama, and plenty of Clinton supporters supported Obama as well. Drawing these lines in the sand is alienating and unproductive, even in a throwaway comment like last night’s.

Hugo said...

My goodness, how I wish I could have heard this discussion -- right up my alley.

When are these events going up as videos or podcasts? (hint, hint).

Gloria Feldt said...

Hugo, we will have some video to post soon!

Sara, Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. I need a lot of educating on this new generation. I also wanted to say a lot more about what I'd like to see the teen mags do for young women and girls, but the reality is that the mags that come closest to the model I'd like to see keep going out of business: Savvy, Jane, to some extent CosmoGirl, etc. Maybe we need to have a convo on just that topic over @ Seventeen because I know there are some wonderful editors there who would be open.

Deborah Siegel said...

Courtney, thanks for posting these great reflections, and Sara, for responding! Hugo: we videoed, so keep an eye out on our various blogs for clips, down the road!

I wanted to address the young women=Obama supporters / older women=Hillary supporters dichotomy, since I was the panelist who mentioned it :) I agree with you, Sara, and urge you to check out the oped Courtney and I wrote together for the Washington Post last year: "Come Together? Yes We Can!" We were both sick and tired of the way media -- and some feminists themselves -- were pitting "young" against "old" in the primaries. It's here:

And your sister's -- and your -- comments have really got me thinking: it'd be very cool to include a girl on our panel in the future. Thank you for reinforcing that suggestion!

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