Feminism’s generation wars
Feminism today is focused around young women. From social media use to sexual harassment on campus, it’s often twenty-somethings who are dominating the discussion about women’s place in society.
But since the #MeToo furore broke last year, feminism’s generational divide has turned into a war. While many younger feminists claimed that wolf whistling and dirty jokes were harmful to women’s mental health, older feminists began to use their experience of sexism to criticise the #MeToo movement. This clash of fighting feminisms has led to ugly battles on social media.
TV presenter Anne Robinson got into trouble for suggesting that young women be more like warriors – laughing at men’s uninvited advances rather than ‘crying in the loos’. Veteran journalist Ann Leslie caused similar controversy for suggesting that younger women should grow a backbone. Outside of the UK, author Margaret Atwood was hounded on social media for an article she wrote suggesting that #MeToo was damaging justice with its penchant for trial by social media. And French actress Catherine Deneuve was labelled a traitor for signing a letter criticising the #MeToo movement for conflating flirting and sexual harassment.
It’s not just in relation to sex that the generations differ. Some older feminists, like Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, have been labelled as behind the times for their outspoken opinions on the trans movement. Arguing that men who ‘cut off their penis’ can’t become women, Greer and her supporters have been denounced by younger feminists as non-inclusive.
Many of these older feminists are bewildered by their younger counterparts’ interpretation of feminism. Having lived through a time when women were institutionally and socially discriminated against, they argue that life is better today because of their ability to battle for a place at the table with men.
However, times change. Many younger women argue that older feminists are unaware of the challenges their daughters and granddaughters face. With advertising, body-image concerns and a new dating environment, many argue that the older generation can’t understand what it’s like to be a young woman in the twenty-first century.
What has caused this generational divide among feminists? Should women be clubbing together instead of fighting each other? Is there any benefit in listening to your elders? Or is it time for older feminists to take a back seat, and let the youth define the fight for women’s freedom today?