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Stuck in a time warp: Where is the next generation of feminism?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 1 Mar 2011 21:18 GMT
Author: kathryn-marshall
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Kathryn Marshall is a Canadian political commentator and activist. She is a law student at the University of Calgary and has a women’s studies degree from the University of Western Ontario. The opinions expressed are her own. Thomson Reuters will host a International Women's Day live blog on March 8, 2011.

Feminism has many achievements; however it is failing to achieve something critical: evolve.

In Canada, many of the leaders and voices of feminism are the same people who led the movement 30 years ago. It’s the same politicians, academics, authors and activists, singing the same old tune.

Where is the next generation of feminism? Why hasn’t the younger generation taken to the frontlines of the movement?

Feminism is disconnected from young women today. I was struck by this disconnect during my time as an undergraduate women’s studies student.

The department seemed preoccupied with the battles of the 1960s, and 1970s. These were the exciting times of change and revolution, when the feminist movement was at its peak.

There was a sense of feminist nostalgia in almost everything that I studied in women’s studies; a sense of longing for exciting times gone by. Most women’s studies departments were set up in the 1970s, and it seems many have gotten stuck in a time warp. 

Recently some women’s studies departments have decided to use “womyn” instead of “women” in their headers, a desperate throw back to nostalgia for the era of radical feminism.

It isn’t just the academic side of feminism that has failed to evolve; the activist side also has the brakes on.  Several years ago I attended a meeting of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, a feminist organisation. 

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the committee was one of the most prominent and effective activist organizations in Canada.

The disorganized meeting I witnessed had little more than 40 women in attendance, most of them over the age of 50. It was barely a shell of its former self, having failed to evolve with time and renew its purpose.

I had a similar experience at a meeting put on by Equal Voice, a publicly funded activist organization dedicated to increasing the number of women elected to office.

The room was mostly filled with women middle-aged and older, preaching about the importance of increased female representation in government. The idea of quotas came up frequently.

Even though I am very politically active, I never attended another Equal Voice event. I found their message uninspiring, and the idea that anyone should be elected based on anything other than merit bothered me.  I don’t want special treatment because of my gender.

The society I have grown up in is very different from the one my mother grew up in. The collective struggle for basic gender equality fought and won by our mothers brought women together and created a movement and solidarity.

I’m part of a generation of women who have been brought up believing we can take on the world as strong individuals. 

I am now a law student, and over half my class are female; which is typical in Canadian universities.  One of the barriers for women in law practice is the long hours, which are not exactly conducive to family life.

A recent speaker from a women’s legal organization suggested that this barrier should be reduced by mandating shorter work hours in law firms. I found this suggestion insulting; an ironic manifestation of feminist paternalism, which I find disillusioning.

I have willingly made a choice to enter a career I know requires me to work long hours.  My choices empower me.

Feminism has failed to attract the next generation because it is out of touch with women of today.  Feminism of the future won’t mirror feminism of the past.

Women won’t rally around the causes of decades ago. We won’t be organizing in the same way or advocating for the same solutions. Women will get excited about new, different challenges, and we’ll do things our own way.

That’s progress.

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