The Feminist Blame Game


If the previous generation wants to talk to young feminists, they should stop assuming that we are all members of the “Pole-dancing, walking around half-naked, posting drunk photos on Facebook, and blogging about [our] sex lives” sector, and realize that we’re still working—we’re just doing different things.

In her blog on Mother Jones yesterday, Debra J. Dickerson blamed the apathy of young feminists for the lack of staff in abortion clinics.

“Women want reproductive choice to remain more than rhetoric, they’d better stop assuming these clinics will be there when they need them. Because like priests and nuns, abortion doctors are not reproducing.”


Sounds to me like there needs to be more funding for these clinics. Or perhaps this is a job for lobbyists—like one comment on the blog suggests—to oppose the Physician’s lobby and “[push] more states to open up the right to perform abortions to nurse practitioners.” I certainly appreciate the fact that most abortion doctors are approaching retirement—which is happening across all sectors, not just healthcare—and how the dangers associated with the job can scare away potential doctors, but I fail to see how this indicates that young feminists are doing nothing.

“Tell me exactly what today’s feminists are doing for the struggle,” she wrote. I’d like to suggest that feminists are out there and working, we’re just a little spread out right now. True, we have begun to drift away from taking abortion advocacy to the streets. We were a little preoccupied by global wars and poverty caused by overpopulation, a deteriorating ecosystem, and the depression that is quickly creeping its way across the globe—problems that my generation certainly didn’t create, but ones that we will be left to solve.

Ms. Dickerson is sick of young women ragging on her generation. Fair enough. I’m a little tired of being criticized for not always having the same priorities as a feminist would’ve had 30 years ago—or being told that my supposed apathy is the cause for a slew of new problems. Does being a feminist mean that I can only pay attention to traditionally “feminist issues,” and ignore everything else?

Sometimes I get distracted from abortion access in the states when, on the same news feed, I’m getting reports of millions of women tormented by AIDS, starvation, and the constant threat of kidnapping, rape, torture and death. To say that we are not as active as the previous generation isn’t true; we’ve just got a lot of new problems to pay attention to, on top of all the old ones.

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  • hysperia

    I hear your frustration.  There is always lack of respect when anyone blames a whole generation for anything.  But it doesn’t seem a good tactic to try to stop this blame game by blaming older feminists either.  The rants on both sides sure aren’t helpful.  It would be so great if we could figure out how to express frustrations and disappointments and find ways to unite in understanding.  Sometimes, the critiques may be legitimate and we just might learn something.  At other times, the criticism points to problems that none of us control and points to a different kind of action.  What I’m sick of us the "generation gap" on both sides that prevent us from acting together and keep all of us spread too thin.  We have stuff to learn from each other and no time to lose.  Keep on keepin’ on sister!

    • http://24hourwristbands.com/ invalid-0

      Criticism is not neccessailly a bad thing for as long as its constructuve. I’ve improved my life a lot by listening to sound advice, however you would be a fool to chnage everything people criticise you for.

  • http://dontgelyet.typepad.com/dontgeltoosoon invalid-0

    This was a fine post and well-executed. I have mourned for years at the divisions between women my age and those closer to yours. Many of us are working to build bridges to change that; take a look at this panel from Fem 2.0. http://dontgelyet.typepad.com/dontgeltoosoon/2009/02/fem-20-panel-video-at-a-crossroads-organizing-the-next-generation-of-feminists-online-and-off.html
    We need to find more places to meet and work together. Let’s try.

  • http://www.kathapollitt.com invalid-0

    Hi Liz, that was a very spirited post. Some overstatement on both sides. I don’t think Debra was talking about people spending too much time on AIDS and global warming. She was talking about women for whom feminism has lost its political activist edge and who don’t help other women or care about their rights — women who think freedom is all about sexual display and consumerism. I must say I don’t know young feminists like this! The ones I know are pretty active on repro-rights and other feminist issues.
    However, to the extent that young women, feminist or not, expect to use their repro freedoms, ignoring the threat to abortion access is kind of self-defeating, isn’t it? It’s your bodies, after all. Abortion rights and access isn’t some old-fashioned fad like wearing earth shoes. It is hard to think of something more relevant to women’s lives than the ability to decide when and if to have a child. That right is connected to getting out of poverty, getting an education, not being stuck in a terrible relationship etc.
    You should check out the National Network of Abortion Funds at http://www.nyaaf.org. They raise money to help poor women pay for their abortions. Lots of local funds are run by young women — the New York Abortion Access Fund, for example, was started by Barnard students.
    It’s true that there are lots of crucial causes in the world, all claiming our attention. But there aren’t so many causes where raising $100 or $200 solves someone’s problem for good. Because hard as it is to believe, there are women who end up having babies against their will, with terrible consequences for their well-being and their futures, because they can’t come up with a few hundred bucks in time. As the economy gets worse, there will be more and more women like that.

  • invalid-0

    I see. Your generation is the only one that cares about, and has ever worked on, poverty, economic justice, AIDS, violence, starvation and so on. New problems = lol!

    There are always many, many exceptions to generalities about generations, but to indulge for a moment – the quality I find unique to your generation is your overwhelming credulity, especially compared to Gen-X’s hardwired skepticism. Your ability to absorb and regurgitate labels, brands, and slogans is astounding. In this way, your generation has much more in common with the Boomers, many of whom similarly flocked to platitudes.

    But the Boomers learned, the hard way, that Woodstock and “peace, love, and understanding” weren’t enough; just as you’ll learn that wearing pink t-shirts, colored wristbands, and chanting “yes we can” isn’t going to make the world a better place.

    You may appreciate where you are, but you don’t seems to understand how you got here. The rights of women in the United States are starting to trail behind the rights of women in many of the other wealthy countries, but I wonder if you know what rights those are.

    Writing things like “Sounds to me like there needs to be more funding for these clinics” — ya think? This is the sort of thing that would make any feminist either laugh, cry, or suffer a major aneurysm.

    So let’s make a deal — when your generation secures 12 weeks of guaranteed paid parental leave (the EU standard) for all workers; elects a Congress that is 50% women; elects a female head of state; guarantees access to no-cost daycare and preschool; includes all family planning services and supplies as part of a universal, low-cost health care system; creates a cabinet level post to monitor gender equality; and transforms our government into one that unmistakably acts on the belief that sexual and gender rights are human rights — all things that have been achieved in other countries, all first and second wave feminist issues — then we can talk whatever “new” feminist issues you find so pressing.

    Until then, you’ve got a long way to go, baby.

  • invalid-0

    I cannot think of a single person that I know (or am merely an acquaintance of!) of my and the author’s generation that does not have a deep and profound caring for the sociopolitical landscape of the US at large and feminism.

    Other Anonymous, your premises are all screwed up. You talk about old problems being the same as new problems, and while you are right that they can all be CALLED the same thing, the essence of them is entirely different.

    There is no feminist activist edge because women in American have to come the point where, more so than not, they are suffering just as equally as their male counterparts. Reproductive rights are not a woman’s issue anymore, they are more broadly tied to Conservative morality in politics overall. Female head of state? Not so much seen an impossibility anymore. The NEW problem that stems from this is finding the right woman candidate — this is a party issue, not a feminist issue.

    The amount of time Americans spent on AIDS activism in earlier generations was limited in scope and mainly applied only to people with the US. Now, American youth is all over the WORLD working on this issue. Alas, in the same breath you compare the ailing state of feminist rights in the US to the world.

    Here’s the kick: There has never been a period in time that has been so globally charged as today. In fact, we will be able to say the same thing tomorrow about today. For example, the “American Made” portion of the stimulus probably would have caused little, if any, stir in an economic policy fifteen years ago — Reagan may even have rejoiced at such a notion!

    In the end, you need to stop worrying about who did what, or when, and just do shit now. And please pull your head out of your old ass.

  • invalid-0

    little harsh. I believe she is on your side. Any way from another old fart. Does it not bother you that women are still not paid fairly? That there are barely any in congress and senate (really important) and only 3 in fortune 500? I have a daughter who is almost 29. She is a tough cookie and I am very proud of her. I want the best for her and other girls now, and coming in the future. All of you deserve fair treatment. We do need to keep up the fight only this time getting into politics and educating each other on what is going on. It is more of a doing thing now. Good article. Best of luck to your generation.

  • invalid-0

    All of your goals naturally follow from a re-engineering of how mainstream US society and culture think about women. The past two months, let alone the prior eight years, have shown that a certain, double-digit percentage of US voters will consistently sabotage this re-engineering as an affront to “the way things ought to be”, which is code for “the way things have always been”. The same time frame has also shown that a larger double-digit percentage of US voters have latent aspirations to that halcyon time that never existed and can be brought on board with that resistance through emotional arousal with carefully crafted and expensive broadcast messages.

    The gains women have made are predicated on the interdependence afforded by a fairly complex, industrial civilization; should it collapse in the near future, odds are that the woman’s role in society will revert to that of subordinate uterus in most places. Those who are politically progressive recognize this and rightly turn their focus away from forcing a massive multi-decade generational consciousness change, if only temporarily.

  • colleen

    "The gains women have made are predicated on the interdependence
    afforded by a fairly complex, industrial civilization; should it
    collapse in the near future, odds are that the woman’s role in society
    will revert to that of subordinate uterus in most places."

     So, do you envision a reversion to institutions like slavery or economic systems resembling feudalism too? Do you imagine that most of us would fight back or that we would simply welcome the new overlords…. Are you arguing that subordinate roles are the natural state for women if we don’t have cars and washing machines?

     

     

    "Those who are politically progressive recognize this and rightly turn
    their focus away from forcing a massive multi-decade generational
    consciousness change, if only temporarily."

     

    Oh, it takes someone who is politically progressive to understand that we cannot rock the boat or try to change anything? Are you aware that in every generation conservatives have argued for this precise result and you have always been wrong.  

     

  • invalid-0

    Lets not be in a positive frame of mind or anything!
    You seem to be looking for an open window to push women back in the past. All I can say as an independent women who has not ever depended on any man (except my dad who was a true gentleman when I was a child.) “Over my dead body would I ever be enslaved to men!!!!”

    • http://chicagostorage.biz/ invalid-0

      I dont understand this game, It is like I blame you and you blame me?

  • invalid-0

    OK, I’m not tracking. I’m assuming you are referring to the West, since women as a whole are still socially subordinate.

    Are you suggesting that if the West collapses into ? (not clear here), western women will abruptly be stripped of their of their rights by a minority of the population?

    Spell it out for us.

  • invalid-0

    Elizabeth’s post raises some important issues. The problems in the relationship between generations of feminists is wider than abortion rights in the US. It is experienced by many of us in developing countries and I think it is at the core of what has made the political force of feminism and the social movements it used to create less relevant.
    It is not, as Elizabeth says, the fact that there are so many problems that young feminists are concerned about (I include myself here), but the fact that we have not been able to articulate clearly how this problems are interdependent. We have dedicated little effort to new ways of organizing that create synergies between generations and gender identities, not schisms.

  • invalid-0

    A recent article in NYT also finds older abortion care workers lamenting the lack of a younger generation to take up their work. I have been musing if perhaps the not-for-profit clinic model is part of the problem, as many of us young feminists don’t want to have to choose between supporting our families and fighting the good fight. The private office model at my workplace (Aurora Medical Services) has lead to decent wages, good benefits and a host of young employees who care deeply about repro rights, among other things.

  • invalid-0

    My d aughter is a young feminist, I am an old one-thank goodness we listen to each other-someone should be listening to the poster-the simple fact is we all want the same for all women- humanhood- call it what you will but those I talk to dont want to limit “feminisim” the way the so called civil rights movement did-all of us want HUMAN Rights for all of us, and together we can get closer.

  • http://www.Gloriafeldt.com invalid-0

    Honestly, I have never understood why anyone spends much time arguing about which generation is right, wrong, or indifferent. Who cares? What matters is what we do something for the good of women now. Katha gave a good example of concrete action. There are many others.

    If you’re in NY and want to see some feminists who span 40 years and don’t always agree but seem to be able to talk without blaming, come join the WomenGirlsLadies on March 18 at 7pm at the 92Y Tribeca, 200 Hudson.

    For more info and a link to the Y for tickets:
    http://www.gloriafeldt.com/powered-women/2009/3/7/womens-history-month-7-womengirlsladies-and-the-language-we.html

  • invalid-0

    I am a proud “child of the ’60s” and feel very loyal to my generation and our contributions to a better world. But my generation produced George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, and many, many others whom I do not admire.

    Attacking some other generation for not being as terrific as one’s own generation is, in my view, about as valid and useful as the three-card monte games played on the streets of New York. Every generation includes many courageous, inspiring activists; every generation includes lots of people who just don’t care; and every generation includes some people who only care about advancing themselves.

    There aren’t enough of us in ANY generation working to defend women’s reproductive rights or doing 10,000 other important things that need to be done. Is it really helpful to debate which generation has the most feminist activists or the best feminist activists? Those of us who care about the problems facing abortion clinics or any other serious issue need to find ways to respect each other and work together.

  • invalid-0

    At the same time, letting young feminists be attacked like this without saying anything doesn’t solve the problem. The Blame Game never solves anything, but people need to be held responsible for what they say. I know many people who are afraid to be called feminists because of old stereotypes AND new ones that have arisen such as the idea we’re all promiscuous and never wear more than our “self-asserted” nakedness. What she said is offensive to many people, and it’s important to point that out. It’s like letting a person be racist without calling attention to it. Without negative social repercussions the behavior will continue (social exchange theary).

    The generation gap is something that we need to call attention to, and part of that is pointing out when there is an attack from either side. We should understand that while we may be different, it is that difference that is part of the core of feminism. We didn’t want to be inferior just because we were different as women. Well, Second wave and Third wave tend to be very different. Does that mean that one is inferior to the other? No, of course not. But pointing out when someone is treating it that way is important to addressing the issue in the first place.

  • http://www.momstinfoilhat.wordpress.com invalid-0

    This is the reply I posted on Mother Jones, Feministing, my site, and here:

    Blogging and activism are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I blog, I joined Facebook because my medical school class had a group on there, and I am a member of Medical Students for Choice. I am one of those future abortion providers you want so badly. I am also a young (well, not so young, but still…) feminist.

    I think the problem with convincing people to become abortion providers is a lack of dialogue on the subject, which makes it easier for medical students (and the rest of the public with whom they interact) to dehumanize women who get abortions. Women most certainly do not talk about it in person, if you haven’t noticed. Do you know the most effective way I get involved in changing the dialogue about abortion? Through blogging and on message boards. I can talk to one medical student at a time, one person at a time face to face. I get hundreds of hits a day on my blog right now.

    I agree with your cause. I don’t agree with your methods. Slut-shaming young feminists is not going to create future abortion providers. What are you doing to support MY future as an abortion provider? I am lucky to have my in laws pay for my younger son’s day care, and my mother pays my car bills, and we still struggle for me to stay in medical school. And this is with me taking out the maximum in loans. I will be graduating with about $300,000 in debt. This is not even considering the money I will have to pay in malpractice in ob/gyn on top of my loan payments.

    And where is the money come to pay for abortion services? Are YOU fighting for reimbursement of abortion and contraception by insurance and Medicaid? Do you know how I stay informed and fight for issues such as that? On (gasp!) blogs!

    Please, find a better way to help me out.

  • invalid-0

    a commenter above wanted to give younger feminists props only after we have:

    – secured 12 weeks parental leave for all workers. uh, no. how about we secure 12 weeks leave for everyone, instead of discriminating against non-parents??

    – elects a Congress that is 50% women & elects a female head of state. OK, sounds good to me.

    – guarantees access to no-cost daycare and preschool. and why is that? some women and other gendered persons choose to have children. some do not. our society should promote the wellness of all people and their creations, not just mothers and their offspring.

    – includes all family planning services and supplies as part of a universal, low-cost health care system. sounds great!

    – creates a cabinet level post to monitor gender equality. no, it’ll take a few generations and eventually not *need* such a post.

    – and transforms our government into one that unmistakably acts on the belief that sexual and gender rights are human rights — all things that have been achieved in other countries, all first and second wave feminist issues — then we can talk whatever “new” feminist issues you find so pressing.

    to use a popular term of my generation in an all-genders-welcome fashion: DUDE! have you forgotten that the personal is the political? there is more to feminism than changing the freakin’ government. if we don’t actively and outspokenly promote the personal, cultural, and governmental/political issues simultaneously– new ones and old ones alike– people will get bored and turned off by what they think of as “feminism.” this happened to most of my generation.

  • jacqueline-nolley-echegaray

    "True, we have begun to drift away from taking abortion advocacy to the
    streets. We were a little preoccupied by global wars and poverty caused
    by overpopulation
    , a deteriorating ecosystem, and the depression that
    is quickly creeping its way across the globe—problems that my
    generation certainly didn’t create, but ones that we will be left to
    solve." [emphasis added]

     

    Please please PLEASE do not buy into or perpetuate this simplistic, flawed view on the relationship between population size and poverty!  Poverty, particularly extreme poverty in the developing world, is primarily a function of the global economic system and the neoliberal economic model, both of which prioritize making profit over the equitable distribution of resources, guaranteeing dignfied livlihoods, social justice, etc. 

     

    The number of children a family has may exacerbate their own financial dire straits, but family size pales in comparison to the power of economic policy (at all levels) when it comes to determining the resources made available to whom, and where.  

     

    I realize this is not the focus of your post, but please, take a deeper look at these issues, especially before making such a sweeping, inaccurate statement in a public forum.  It is grossly unfair to assign blame to the world’s poor for their own grinding poverty.

  • http://www.snickers-clothing.co.uk invalid-0

    I appreciate that the world is getting fairer (in most places) but are we ever going to see true equlity with the sexes?

  • http://the-car-loans.com/ invalid-0

    I’ve learned that women who have successfully freed themselves from an abusive partnership need to recognize that they are not to blame. No level of instigating or antagonizing should result in physical harm. The criminal is the batterer. The violent partner physically and emotionally harms to create an unbalanced relationship where (usually he) gains power and control. – http://www.patriotledger.com/archive/x2087809133/EVERYDAY-FEMINIST-Blame-the-abuser-not-yourself

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  • http://www.resumonovelas.com invalid-0

    Do you really believe in the equlity with the sexes? I’m not too sure about that! Regards. Karen.

  • invalid-0

    I believe that the viewpoint and contribution of each sex is at least equal, equally thought provoking, equally deserving of an audience. Neither outlook or contribution is better than the other.
    Although to read history or study politics, religion, sociology etc. one would certainly come to believe that women made no contribution except for child bearing.

  • http://audientiks.info invalid-0

    Before blaming anyone you need just ask yourself first: what are you doing to help in this issue? This concerns not only Debra, but anyone else who is dared to blame instead of thinking and doing.
    np, peace