The Media’s Feminist Generational Divide Conspiracy

By Erin Matson, NOW Action Vice President

There’s a shoegaze sideshow within feminist activism, and it’s the generational divide. Frankly I’m sick of it. As a movement we have at least stated rejection to division on the basis of race, sexuality, class, citizenship, motherhood, and ability, and though those items remain works in progress, I look forward to watching that list grow. I nominate age with more than a little exasperation.

It seems the only topic on which older and younger feminists can definitively agree is that we have opinions about young feminism. (I want to be very clear that there are real issues, and I have discussed some of them on this blog before.) Older feminists are the most likely to get air time, which is unfortunate, indefensible, and yet understandable.

In the past year, the mainstream media has interviewed older leaders ad nauseum about the so-called lack of activism, affiliation and passion by U35s, particularly in the area of abortion rights. While there’s some lazy reporting involved (most quote nary a young woman), it’s no accident and we need to understand why it’s happening instead of getting our undies in a bunch and shoegazing instead of hitting the streets.

First, many journalists do have a centrist tilt, and they get what could happen if the most extreme right-wing takeover of the Republican party in decades is allowed more formal influence on the democratic process (PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF EVERY UTERUS IN THE NATION, VOTE IN NOVEMBER AND GET THE COMMITMENT OF FIVE NON-POLITICAL FRIENDS TO DO SO AS WELL.) Many journalists do not want corporate and religious fundamentalists to initiate the next great depression in the name of tax cuts for billionaires, and they’re also acutely aware that contrary to the charges of said group on Obama, Pelosi and Reid’s alleged leftism, many actual leftists are dangerously dissatisfied and at risk of de facto voting in the radical right should they stay at home in November.

We need to be very clear that abortion rights have been decimated in the past year and it’s on the brink of getting much worse if we don’t vote, angry as we should be. It’s getting to be black-diamond dangerous to miss a period, especially for students and economically disadvantaged women. Women are turning to drugs, chemical concoctions and violence against themselves with the escalating denial of accessible abortion care — this part is slowly leaking into the media. More popular is a story line that young women don’t care about abortion rights, aren’t feminists, don’t get along with feminists, and all the activists are dying off, and that story line strategically supports a centrist goal of keeping the country from liquidating all but those who earn more than $250,000 a year.

Second, it’s profitable to write obituaries for the feminist movement, or at least document intergenerational strife, especially since most of the traditional, non-partisan media finds itself broke as a non-joke (don’t worry, we’ll get to Jon Stewartism in a moment). Perhaps some of you remember when CBS changed its advertising policy earlier this year to allow Focus on the Family, an extremist group somewhere to the right of Christine O’Donnell, to air an anti-abortion rights ad to the tune of $1,000,000 from an undisclosed donor. The money is in the radical reactionary right. It’s easier not to talk about the loss of integrity in funding operations with openly extremist support when you’re arguing that most of the population agrees with, or at least isn’t threatened by and ready to take action against, their horrific messages.

Third, the media has bought into Jon Stewartism, or the idea that what is “progressive” need not come out into the open. We haven’t seen nearly enough coverage of progressive activism in the media, but we hear all about a joke rally against the Tea Party movement that also makes clear that it’s “extreme” to recognize Bush as the war criminal he is. Under this order to hide progressivism the active, vibrant and powerful young feminists are declared non-existent, and the older ones dying, while nitpicking and internecine squabbles are put on pedestals.

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