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So… Where Are All the Millennial Feminists?

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November 27, 2012

Last month, Taylor Swift’s “I’m not a feminist, lol it’s not about boys against girls” comment springboarded a lot of Internet feelings and commentary. Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart pulled her hair out and congratulated Swift for missing the point of feminism. Meanwhile, a writer over at XOJane used Swift’s anti-feminism to justify her own tragically limited worldview. Personally, I sat back and patiently waited for Swift-related headlines to stop appearing in my Google Reader. I mean, I didn’t exactly expect a singer-songwriter who once waxed poetically, “So tell my friends that I’m obsessive and crazy/that’s fine/I’ll tell mine that you’re gay” to be a card-toting member of NOW or anything.

Just when I thought the “Taylor Swift is not a feminist” horse had been beaten to death, CNN has picked up the stick for a final blow. CNN intern-turned-contributor Hannah Weinberger has begged the question, “Where are all the millenial feminists?”

I don’t know, you tell me: Where are you guys right now? Are you working on a finals essay? Are you on a therapist-recommended post-election sabbatical? You obviously aren’t reading CNN right in this moment–which is probably a good thing, considering that the network has become quite the bastion of gender inequality. CNN recently came under scrutiny for posting an article entitled, “Do hormones drive women’s votes?” The piece was quickly removed after web-savvy feminist bloggers and social networking fiends called foul. I don’t even know why Weinberger is asking where millennial feminists are. We basically live online and Lord knows we were all up in some voting booths last month.

Weinberger predictably begins her piece by referencing the dialogue surrounding Taylor Swift. She then proclaims herself a feminist, but concedes to being confused by the movement:

I can’t say I blame Swift if she hasn’t quite pinned down the definition of the word. I do identify as a feminist — after all, I trust in my abilities, combat stereotypes and believe in equal rights. But I’ve also been unsure at times what exactly it means to be a feminist and whether the modern movement is the best vehicle for gender equality.

While confusion is a fundamental part of my awkward existence, it’s problematic to even compare modern political divisions among women to those of the 18th century. Up until 1920, American women had no political agency of which to speak. It’s impossible to tabulate who wanted the right to vote yet couldn’t voice this because of familial and societal pressures, which might mean a politically-minded woman would have a feeding tube forced down her throat like suffragist Alice Paul, or be strung up like Lucy Burns. In 2012, identifying as a feminist is a lot less likely to have these ramifications. Thanks to women’s suffrage, today we actually have the power to vote our own rights away! Even attempting to draw that parallel between generations discredits the experiences of those who fought for our right to vote and only further amplifies the tension between older and younger feminists.

Weinberger interviewed a wide array of young women for her piece, most of whom do not identify as feminists. If you’re going to ask where the millennial feminists are, why not do your job as a journalist and actually find them? When I linked Bess Neumeister, a 25 year old Choice USA member and college student, to this article (sans ranting commentary), her immediate response was, “I feel like they didn’t even look for us. Like, we’re not that rare. It makes me wonder who they think voted in the election. I would guess a whole mess of these elusive millennial feminists she’s unable to locate. We do not warrant a NatGeo documentary.”

 We’re privy to some predictably misguided feedback on what feminism is about:

“Feminism is supposed to be about choice, but it never played out that way,” said Sharon Rosenblatt, 24, a document remediation officer in Maryland. The way Rosenblatt sees it, feminism is a movement that takes away more than it gives. “Women think we all need to look out for each other, and that ends up shooting us in the foot because then we’re thought of as incapable,” Rosenblatt said. “If a woman stood up for herself as a person (instead of) demanding rights based on gender, I think that’d be a much stronger platform.”

Modern feminists want to become men rather than celebrate their femininity, said advertising account executive Emily Drost, 26, of Colorado. “We can do just about anything,” she said, “and not only that — we can do it with a smile on our face and a graceful wave.”

“Extremists are what turn me off from immediately labeling myself as a feminist,” said Amelia Vereb, 25, a media relations manager. “What they preach and what I’m actually experiencing, or noticing … don’t always align.” She explained that she hasn’t actually experienced discrimination in the workplace, though feminists would insist she has. “Considering how terrifying the job market was when I graduated, I feel like I’ve been able to achieve the type of success that I had hoped for at this point in my life.”

Feminism’s existence is not up for debate. It is an imperative, and an especially obvious one given that we just survived Hellection Season 2k12 — binders full of women, legitimate rape, and all. But with so many mixed feelings about feminism, should we be working to define it? Early on in her piece, Weinberger cites the Merriam-Webster’s definition of the f-word:

Feminism (noun) 1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes 2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

I’d like to think that we can expand on this definition without discrediting the entire movement; that, in addition to equality of the sexes, we can also talk about other issues, like gender and racial equality. A professor at my university once defined “feminism” by writing “it’s complicated” on her dry-erase board. I’ve yet to find a better way of pinning the term down.

Millennial feminists are working from a unique place of triplicate difficulty. We have to acknowledge previous waves’ contributions while reconciling their critical errors and also lighting fires under the apathetic asses of our own generation. While it is not my intention to discredit Gloria Steinem’s laundry list of accomplishments, I find myself facepalming when I think about her transphobic comments and inability to grasp why Obama’s democratic primary win over Clinton was a win for equality. I want to spit when I think of NOW president Betty Friedan excluding lesbians from the First Congress to Unite Women. “Alice Paul was sort of a racist bitch and that wasn’t really addressed. And I know inclusion of of women of color has been an issue throughout the history of feminism,” College graduate Heather Stout, 22, told me.

If history’s taught us anything, it’s that feminism is far from perfect. And contrary to what our “Generation Me” egos, sass, and swagger might suggest, we aren’t either. But we’re remarkably good at calling our own bluffs and checking our privilege. We aren’t our mother’s feminists, and this is a wonderful thing. Millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation yet. We’re not just intersectional feminists: We are the intersection (I’m on my freeway shit right now). We’re trying our best to have a good grasp of the apex of race, sex, gender, class, privilege, and all of the bullsh*t that comes with it, all while trying to finish up our degrees despite the looming threats of privatized education and tuition hikes. But just like the ones of our feminist foremothers, our experiences could not be more relevant.

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