By Norma Nyhoff, Field Intern
I got to attend my first ever NOW Conference this year, and as a young person, it felt good to be heard. I was able to network with other young feminists, as well as some of the old guard– and no one dismissed me, as I had anticipated.
I already knew that NOW members and I were likely to agree on most issues and that we were united behind an interconnected group of feminist causes. I knew that NOW’s agenda is set by resolutions proposed by its own membership, and that it encourages member interaction and initiative on feminist issues. I knew that NOW let its members choose the direction and strategies of the organization, and that every voice was valued.
Somehow, though, I thought that this standard would be different for me because I’m young. Young people have a history of being regarded in larger activist circles as too impulsive, too inexperienced, too self-centered, or just plain too stupid for positions of responsibility and leadership within the movement. As I am all too aware, young women are particularly likely to be written off for perceived vapidity or naïveté.
However, I found with every workshop, plenary, and issue hearing that I attended that young people — young women — were being heard. In fact, they were taking on leadership roles within the conference and within their activist circles. In the Young Feminist Leaders workshop, all of the presenters were young women, and attendees of all ages were willing to accept young women’s voices as authoritative ones. I was able to discuss engagement strategies in a group that included old guard feminists, college students, a high school student, and young professional women. And when I spoke, I felt respected.
Rushing to set up for a plenary, I told Patricia Ireland, a former president of NOW, that I was “just an intern.” She stopped me, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Never say that you are just an intern.” That sentence rattled around in my head for days.
At the NOW Conference, older feminists let young feminists voice our experiences rather than have our experiences dictated to us. After years of feeling silenced, I find that sort of openness precious. Thank you, NOW, for making me feel like part of the movement rather than a hanger-on. Thank you for valuing not only the past and the present, but also the future.