What I’ve learned about Feminism from my Gen Z daughter.

As long as we continue to disagree over who is a womxn and who is more oppressed by the current systems of power, we are perpetuating the current system of power.

The current debate between trans-friendly feminists and the J.K. Rowling ranters, combined with a number of conversations I’ve had lately with my Gen Z daughter and her friends, has left me pondering the following question:

What does a post-gender feminism look like?

If I’m honest, this conversation started a few years ago when Emma came out as pansexual. I remember half-jokingly saying to her, “Why can’t you be normal gay like the rest of us?” To which, she in her infinite wit responded, “Really, mom?”

At some point, we had an honest late-night porch conversation where I opened up about how all the fighting and marching and screaming we had done to move womxn’s rights forward felt lost if I bought into the idea that we are post-gender.

What happens to the womxn’s movement if there are no more womxn?

It seemed our worlds were so far apart, and I wondered how we could create progress with this great of a divide between our generations.

When she visited a college and got to choose a class to observe, I asked her if she was going to choose the Gender Studies class. “Uh, I’m good,” she said. I asked her, “Wouldn’t it be so great to be in a college class and hear what college kids are discussing about gender? See if there’s a world waiting for you that shares your beliefs about gender being so yesterday?”

Emma looked at me, with the wisdom of all 16 of her years (and the eons she’s clearly lived before that) and said, “My entire life has been a Study in Gender. It’s been discussed in relation to literally everything. If there’s one thing I don’t need to go to college to explore, it’s gender.” And she kicked out the wheel of her Heely (in a drop the mic sort of way) and skated off into her room.

About a year later, we were discussing what Emma called the Gender Confidence Gap. She explained to me how she was noticing that the boys her age were becoming more confident (or maintaining the same level of confidence). In contrast, the girls she knew were starting to be less sure of themselves and more prone to shrinking back. She explained that she believed it’s because boys are socially conditioned to be confident whether they know what they are talking about or not and girls are socially conditioned to not be confident whether they know what they are talking about or not.

When I asked her why her confidence hadn’t waned, she said, “You raised me with feminist ideals — not in a person openly breastfeeding in the corner under a poster of raised fists sort of way, but in an every single womxn who has the chance to influence you is going to be a womxn who believes that you 100% can do anything and everything you want sort of way. And many of those womxn didn’t believe that they could do whatever they wanted, they just believed that I could. And now, so do I.”

(As a side note, there was quite a bit of the openly breastfeeding / posters with raised fists kinds of feminism too, it just seems to have left less of an impression!)

Time and time again, Emma has shared stories with me — stories of trans men who share about the privilege they now experience from looking like a man, stories of kids who identify with multiple genders or no genders and find solidarity in knowing other people like them exist, and stories of her own friends whose gender identity changes regularly or who adopt the pronouns they/them early on and how hard it has been for them to get kids and teachers to use the pronouns they identify with, and not out them to their parents, who aren’t necessarily supportive.

Time and time again I’ve thought, “What is feminism? What should it be? And how can we use it to create a world that is better for womxn — and everyone else?”

This inquiry took me back to the very core of feminism, as explained by Gloria Steinem, “to free the uniqueness of the individual and to understand that inside each of us is a unique human being who is a combination of heredity and environment.”

Feminism should never have been just about womxn, and certainly not just about white womxn.

Equal pay. Bodily autonomy. Marry or don’t marry. Own property. Run for office. Work or don’t work. These issues apply to many marginalized groups, not just womxn. Patriarchy is hurting all of us.

  • The recent show, Disclosure, made it clear that the stereotypes attributed to trans people throughout the history of Hollywood have done as much damage as the trope of the stay-at-home wife, the Jezebel temptress, and the overbearing mother-in-law.
  • BIPOC & Queer people routinely make less money than their white, male counterparts, just as womxn do.
  • Getting insurance to pay for gender reassignment surgery and/or hormone treatment is just as important as getting it to pay for birth control and abortions is.

While not an extensive analysis, it’s clear to see that the foundations of Feminism could help many people, and that it is the goal of those in power to keep us from realizing this. It reminds me of the concept of Othering as discussed by Michel Foucault, as well as his perspectives on the creation of Others in relation to power. What I remember most from studying Foucault’s work is that

  1. We create others in order to have a better sense of our own selves. I remember the day one of my professors said, “There was no straight until there was gay.” That really stuck with me.
  2. While the creation of others is done by those in power in order to hold on to power, the truth is that the others (they created) are in a unique position to act together to take that power for themselves.

But here’s the kicker as I see it,
as long as you see yourself as separate from (an)other, you cannot fight together to overthrow those in power.

Instead, those in power stay in power. When the others, as defined by those in power, stop seeing each other as separate and start identifying with each other, we have more of a chance of overthrowing the existing power, for multiple reasons, including sheer numbers.

Constance Grady wrote in Vox, in 2018, that the various waves of Feminism and the current discord represent “part of what has always been the history of feminism: passionate disagreement between different schools of thought, which history will later smooth out into a single overarching ‘wave’ of discourse.”

I’m calling bullshit on that. These passionate disagreements have been the history of our movement to our detriment, and that of the world’s. Feminism’s inability to stand in solidarity with other marginalized groups, even if it meant waiting longer for something we wanted, is how we got here: still fighting for bodily autonomy, equal pay, and general respect. Now is the time for Feminists to step up as leaders and be part of creating a movement that joins all the various oppressed groups to build a new world that is intentional, inclusive, and intersectional.

As long as we continue to disagree over who is a womxn and who is more oppressed by the current systems of power, we are perpetuating the current system of power.

Seneca Falls was in 1848. For 172 years, feminists have been screaming for equality for womxn, often to the vocal and visible exclusion of others .

Gloria Steinem also said, “If you say I’m for equal pay, that’s a reform. But if you say, I’m for Feminism, that’s a transformation of society.” That may not have been more goal than reality in the 70’s, but we have the chance now, today, to live up to this expectation of what Feminism can be.

It’s time to ask the hard question:

How does a feminist perspective further economic justice, racial justice, queer justice, and climate justice, as well as gender justice?

And then get on about the business of answering it.

I expand in the words written by others and write words to change the narrative.

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