This article originally appeared in Discorder Magazine, March 2000
YOUNG WOMEN are in. Girls rule, spangly nail polish and barrets are fashion accessories no girl with breasts bursting forth from a baby tee can do without, and the Women’s Movement has abandoned young women to our bad music choices. All those women from the 60’s and 70’s refuse to let us enter the movement, doncha know.
What the hell is that about?
At the risk of sounding like the Marxist I used to be, young women must understand this idea as a capitalist conspiracy, meant to distract us away from the fight for women’s liberation, and lead us stampeding into the malls instead.
Unfortunately the women’s movement earnestly addresses this supposed criticism from the youth. (The UN defines a youth as 14-35 years old – no joke.) In the States, Ms. magazine led the way, publishing excerpts from Listen UP! Voices from the next Feminist Generation. In Canada, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women worked extremely hard to make room for young women in recent years. There are magazine articles, discussions in activist radio, questions raised from the mike at rallies. At her speech in February, Angela Davis argued the old guard must make room for young comrades. Feminists criticize the cult of youth, yet we fall over ourselves to accommodate it in this current incarnation.
Which all strikes me as odd. An activist for about 12 years now, I have access to resources, information and power within women’s groups and so do any women who make a commitment to the work. In fact, in the Vancouver women’s movement, there is a large group of women aged about 28-35 who hold a lot of power and influence in our women’s groups we volunteer and do paid work for. The number of younger women coming into influence after us has not decreased: in my organization alone, at least ½ of the women working are under 25.
Older women (read 36 and up (I’m sorry, sisters, but that’s the capitalist demographics)) are not hording power. They spend a lot of time training, teaching, listening, putting up with temper tantrums, encouraging, learning from younger women. All while continuing their other work and projects. I saw true joy on the faces of my older women friends and co-conspirators at Take Back the Night the year Riot GRRLs emerged in Vancouver. The proliferation of events and strategies led by young women is great – Rock for Choice is only one example – and older women come out in force to support this work, lending bodies, ideas, money, and yes, sometimes criticism, towards their success.
Race and class oppression and their intersections with sexism slip away too. Women’s oppression is redefined into boxes devoid of politics; one is now labelled young women’s issues. Instead of the personal is political, the personal is primary. Young is not just an age but an inescapable state of being, and it is argued, an oppression on equal footing with that faced by women of colour and poor women. It simply isn’t so.
I’m 30, on the edge of young. I gave birth, raise a child, negotiate complicated love relationships, fight with government ministers, protest in the streets, pay parking fines, deal with debt, was on welfare, have opinions on world events, I vote. I have not been a girl since 1988, but insist on womanhood, my status as fully autonomous adult.
Still, when corporations of various sorts package their stuff, they consider us girls, no matter how much living we’ve done. They infantilise us and refuse our agency daily. Unless our choice is about the newest and wettest lipstick to slick our lips with.
One last clue to the conspiracy in the spirit of anti-APEC and anti-WTO: North American and European women are busily and compliantly Spice Girl’d to death, and women half our age work for 1/8 our wages or less to make the damn crap we consume in pursuit of youth and frivolity.
When those of us considered young participate in all this ruckus, we refuse equality with older women, refuse our place as adults in the world. They say to us: We have work to do, will you join us? Some of us relate as if they just asked us to clean up our rooms, as if they are our mothers, to rebel against.
It’s women’s oppression we must rebel against, not other women. All the style and wit we put into our wardrobes can be harnessed on behalf of women’s liberation. Just think of the parties when the work is done.