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feminism

Stop it with the feminist food fights

A few weeks back, major polling organizations revealed a huge divide among women voting for the Democratic presidential candidates. The polling showed a big generational divide, with large majorities of women under age 30 supporting Bernie Sanders and older women supporting Hillary Clinton.

That’s certainly news and a big concern for the Clinton campaign. What drove the news coverage for weeks, however, were comments by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and longtime feminist Gloria Steinem that were interpreted as patronizing and criticizing young women for not supporting Clinton.

Both women apologized for their comments but not before dozens of media outlets ran stories about “aging feminists” rebuking young women and imposing their views on others, as well as about the “bankruptcy” of 21st-century feminism.

The media love a feminist food fight. Feminist accomplishments, not so much.

It reminded me of the 1980s, when the backlash to the Second Wave of feminism took hold. Major books at the time railed about “The Feminist Mistake” and “The Myth of Women’s Liberation in America.”

In 1987, I wrote my masters thesis on the history of a feminist organization in Milwaukee, the Women’s Coalition. I wrote it to dispel the claims that feminism was somehow a failure and that feminists themselves were responsible for the problems of women, a common complaint of conservatives.

What I found in Milwaukee was hard work and incredible self-sacrifice on the part of feminist activists. They pioneered the battered women’s movement, changed rape and marriage laws, established women’s studies programs, created myriad social services, reformed law enforcement practices and much more.

They achieved these things while also arguing over priorities and personal politics. At different times, there were purges of lesbians, socialists, straight women, men and transgender people. There were passionate fights over inclusion and exclusion, political involvement or cultural separatism, militant tactics or patient consultation.

The feminist movement has always encompassed a multiplicity of individuals and organizations from the grassroots to the national level. Goals vary. Tactics differ. Ideologies shift and often conflict. Leaders are effective or flawed. Mistakes are made. The women’s movement is not monolithic. It is diverse and dynamic.

Feminists do not march in step, nor do they all wear their feminism on their sleeves. They come in all ages, races, classes and sexualities. They range from genderqueer youth organizing on social media to women working across cultures to advance women’s rights in countries where women are treated like dogs.

They are the women who revolutionized women’s health care and the women today working to defend Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive freedom. They are the women leading the fight for the $15 minimum wage and women working to make their churches less sexist.

They are the women who worked hard for years to build partnerships and raise funds for the new Family Peace Center. It’s a multimillion dollar facility that centralizes all domestic violence services in Milwaukee. It’s an amazing advance from the 1970s, when feminist volunteers risked their lives rescuing women and hiding them in a network of safe houses.

I don’t know if these women will vote for Hillary Clinton, but I believe their work transcends any one political moment. It will continue and it will endure.

So ignore the bad press. Feminism lives!

 

 

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