You Can Get Change, But Good Luck Dictating What Shape It Will Take

I have to ask you something, and please don’t answer, “You need to stop right now!”

How do you know, though, when to stop, when to step aside and let the new folks take over?

I’m thirty three.  I’ll be thirty four this year.  I’m not expecting to be a great feminist thinker; I’m not expecting to see any who are my age.  I imagine I’ll live with feminist “leaders” who were born before Vietnamization or after, just like always.

I sometimes get uneasy with what the younger women are up to, what they find important.  I do sometimes worry that the things I want out of feminism are not the things they want and that my concerns will get left behind.

But then, I think, I’ve got it pretty good and I want the things I want so that my life is better and so that the women (and men) who come after me won’t have to continue to want those things.

I say all this as a way of explaining that I get why the Second Wave Feminists are so hell-bent on getting Clinton into office.  They are fighting for a world in which a woman can be president.  To them, if a woman can be president, that will be some symbolic moment that proves women have been fully assimilated into the system.

They have been working their whole lives to bring us a world in which a woman can be president.

They have achieved that.  They have brought about the change they hoped for.  And now all they need is to put a woman in the White House and victory is theirs/ours.  From The Vote to the White House in just under 90 years.

For some of them, they knew women who fought for the right to vote.

But you see what I’m suggesting in the title?  They got the change they wanted.  They should be thrilled.  But they also want to dictate the shape that change will take.  It’s not enough that a woman can be a plausible and likely candidate for president; they want Clinton in the White House.

And they’re pissed that the younger, third wave feminists aren’t lining up to support them.

From where I’m sitting, it appears that the feminist movement is an extremely fragile coalition of different women with different ideas and different struggles to overcome.  We’re already seeing the tattered, frayed spots and hearing from large swaths of women that they never even felt welcome to help make up the fabric of feminism.

I don’t think that feminism as a theoretical position or a personal philosophy is going anywhere, but damn, I have to say, it seems to me like, if the second-wavers cannot step back and see the effects of what they’re doing on other feminists, how their nonsense poisons all of us, feminism as a movement is over.

I don’t know.  I keep thinking about that speaker that the Professor and I saw, who talked about the two strands of second-wave feminism–the strand where women just wanted access to what men had, to be a part of things, and the strand that wanted new systems and wanted to change women so that we could create new ways of doing things.

I can’t help but think that the more vocal second-wavers–Pollitt, Steinem, Jong, etc.–seem pissed to discover that, even with all they’ve achieved in the world, they cannot muster an army of younger women to follow them and do what they tell us to do.  Where are their minions?  What are the perques they get for having made it to being rich, powerful, old, and white?

They’re trying to declare victory (which, I believe, is what a Clinton win to them would mean) only to discover that the other branch of second wave feminism is the one that actually won, that has actually changed what women (and some men) think social justice is and how it’s done.

26 thoughts on “You Can Get Change, But Good Luck Dictating What Shape It Will Take

  1. Thank you Aunt B. Feminism will survive…as a “third waver”, I know all too well that the battles that the “Second Wave” fought are not over yet. But to assume that all women want the same thing or think in the same way is ridiculous. It wasn’t that way back in the 60s and it’s not that way now. And if the feminist “leaders” continue to act like it is or it should be, then they’re doomed to become relics.

  2. Once again, brilliant.

    There is much irony on several issues regarding the way “they” think we should vote for Hillary, but the main one is “they” would surely object to Hillary’s voting record in the Senate, right down to her refusing to apologize for voting for Bush’s war.

    Let me put it this way. Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman have almost identical voting records.

    So I’m supposed to sell out my progressive/liberal beliefs to vote for a woman who votes like Joe Lieberman?

    I don’t think so.

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  4. I’m leaning towards Obama. That said, I marvel at how many people have bought into the Destruction Of Hillary. This is the result of her early career, and sadly too many have not done their homework.

    I wonder what Obama’s voting record would have looked at after 8 years?

  5. B, darling, given that in your conclusion you note that there are two strands of second-wave feminism (I would say there are more than two), would you please stop with all that “he Second Wave Feminists are so hell-bent on getting Clinton into office” stuff? Because, since that’s only some of them, it’s kind of insulting to the rest of us.

  6. Yeah, but my point is that this has little to do with Clinton herself as a candidate (at least here on the feminist side). She’s a perfectly plausible president and we live at a time when the odds are that we’ll get to see how she does as an actual president.

    I’m really more interested in how the feminist movement is going to bash itself against the rocks over what her candidacy supposedly means for women.

    Either she is president or she isn’t. There’s only so much I can do about that.

    But I still want to live in this movement, as silly as it sometimes is, so it concerns me this stupidness over what she “Means.”

  7. NM, duly noted. I should be using quotes around “Second Wave Feminists” as I mean the women who have convinced the world that they represent true feminism, especially true second wave feminism.

    Sorry about that.

  8. So, are you saying that “Clinton herself as a candidate” doesn’t factor into the choice made by 2nd wavers? I’m asking because doesn’t her history matter more, to say, women 50 and up who actually lived through that time with Nixon?

    I think its germane, actually, to the overall point you make.

  9. Well, I’m saying that it’s hard for me to see it. If they believe that Clinton is the best candidate, let’s hear it. Because the signal to noise ratio…. well, the noise I get on my headset is all about how it’s “our” turn to have a president and it’s not fair for Obama to compete against her. And I’m just not buying “Vote for Clinton, because it’s a woman’s turn” is really an argument.

    Vote for Clinton because she has experience. Vote for Clinton because she, as a woman, has the unique experience of being an Washington insider and perpetual outsider. Vote for Clinton because she’ll keep America safe. Or whatever.

    Those are things that have something to do with Clinton herself.

    And I hope it’s clear that I’m not holding it against Clinton that some of her most ardent supporters seem to have lost their damn minds. I’m holding it against them.

  10. I voted for Obama this morning. I won’t have a problem voting for Clinton in the general election, if she gets the nomination, but she isn’t nearly liberal/progressive enough for me to really support her.

    OTOH, this if Florida: even if they count my vote, my vote doesn’t count (at the Democratic convention). :-)

  11. I would vote for Hillary if she were a man and not associated with Bill Clinton. In fact, both facts would make her more electable to many people. (S)he is politically wise because of experience and trial by Republican trial and fire, smart, tough, compassionate, and committed to change especially for women, children and the less entitled which are my issues. And I too am tired of this second wave, third wave stuff. Joining together gives feminists, which are both men and women, power, not arguing over the bread crumbs.

  12. There is one point about the “it’s a woman’s turn” argument (or, at any rate, a point about who the argument is really aimed at) that I think a lot of people are missing. I really hate getting into the horse-race analysis and ignoring substantive and policy-based arguments, but I’m going to go there for a minute anyway. Look at where the base of Clinton’s female* support is: older (i.e. my age and above), working-class women. The more education women have, and the younger they are, the more likely they are to support Obama; the more self-identified they are with left politics and explicitly working-class causes, the more likely they are to support Edwards.

    Clinton’s supporters among women are those who, like me, got their first jobs looking through ads that were titled “Help Wanted–Women,” knowing that most of the jobs they wold have liked to have were listed under “Help Wanted–Men.” They went to work when it was routine for women to be paid about half of what men were paid for the same jobs, when women were automatically rejected for promotion, when … well, you’ve heard the litany before. Things have gotten better for them during their working lives, but they’re mostly in jobs where a lot of unfairness remains. And they’ve suffered through all the recessions, and even under the tech boom/(Bill) Clinton recovery, their joke was, “yeah, Clinton has created half a million new jobs. I know; I’m working three of them.”

    And they’re pretty jaded, and have become relatively apolitical over time (I’m not speculating here; you can look at the polling data about voting and political participation), and don’t expect any candidate, or any president, to make that big a difference to their lives in practical terms. (If they could still expect that, they’d be Edwards voters, probably, or Obama voters if their kids were enthusiastic about him.)

    So, WHY NOT vote for Clinton because it’s a woman’s turn? If you aren’t going to get anything else out of the election, at least you can get that. Yeah, Steinem publishes her piece in the NYTimes (which supports Clinton because it’s the Establishment paper and she’s the Establishment candidate), but the audience she most wants to reach is the people who don’t read that paper, but who will hear the discussion on the radio or TV news. And who will respond to that call because it’s about all they expect.

    *She has other bases of support, as well.

  13. NM, I’m sure you’re right in your thinking. And I’m fine with whoever wants to vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman. Lord knows I’ve gone in and stared at names and voted for people in races just because I thought they were women.

    But I’m very concerned about how feminists seem to be rallying women to vote for Clinton as if “because she’s a woman” is just as good, if not better, a reason as any other. That seems to have with it a lot of collateral damage that hurts folks internal to the movement.

  14. Well, I’m a second wave feminist, and I don’t support Hillary Clinton. We feminists have never thought “as one,” and we never will. Which is a good thing. And I like to think that my not supporting Hillary *is* a feminist thing: if I support her just because she’s a woman, then doesn’t that say something about where we have not yet got? I’d like to think that women have reached the point that we can support someone based on their positions. And I like to think that’s more feminist than some version of identity politics. I understand that some people have not gotten to the point of supporting a candidate on the basis of the candidate’s views, and wouldn’t vote for Hillary precisely because she’s a woman, but I don’t feel either compelled or obligated to allow such ignorance to determine my actions.
    I don’t support Hillary Clinton for several reasons: I don’t support her because I think it’s good for the country or for democracy for two families to control the White House for over 20 years. I don’t support her because her positions have been adopted and abandoned not out of principle but out of her sense of the political price or benefit of holding those positions.
    So drum me out of the feminist corps…

  15. Sorry. Many of the “second wave” supporters of HC look just like her: well educated, professional work force, married/divorced/single with children but did the relationship thing the hard way – worked at it, and have flat heads from hitting the glass ceiling. Glad we broke or at least cracked the glass for others, not just women but all minorities too. Look out for the glass fixers, they’ll take care of the cracks quickly or replace the glass with no history of what happened.

  16. It’s the College Professor! The woman who taught me everything I know about being an uncouth, loudmouth feminist. If you think I’m bad, Tennessee, you should meet her!

    TK, I’m sorry to be obtuse, but I don’t get what you’re saying. Do you think those things aren’t true for other women as well? And do you not see how other folks could reasonably feel like y’all got through the glass ceiling and then threw a rug over the unsightly hole you left so as to not leave any light for the rest of us to follow?

    We can stop talking in generalities and start airing dirty laundry about how some second wave feminists treat other women, but there are second wavers who I love, like the College Professor and like NM and I don’t really care to risk getting them caught in the cross-fire.

    I’ll say this. My experience, as a self-identified feminist has been that there is a strain of professional, affluent, white second wave feminism that is vile in how it treats other women and I see the women I associate with that outraged that other women aren’t just falling in line to do what we’re told.

    Well, to that, I say ‘surprise, surprise.” You taught me not to take shit from men and I learned that I shouldn’t have to take shit from anyone. Guess that didn’t work out quite how Steinem et al hoped.

  17. Well, we should continue this conversation because the folks who fought are not always the visible ones. I happen to like some of GS’s writings but her experience growing up was very different and much more brutal than mine. And she’s about 15 years older. I hope you have read her history.

    I just figured out that no matter what I did or how well I did it, I wasn’t going to get the interview or be taken seriously. I have some very clear experiences from the late 60s and on to document it. All in our deep south. I was not priviledged but college educated because my own parents from the depression of widowed mothers worked their way through college and taught me that you had not finished your education until you finished college. There was NO PRIVILEGE just focus on learning and education.

  18. The other thing I have noticed since I’m “old” is that priviledge was privously described in sociology terms by education, money(achieved)and family background, (ascribed). No one has a clue what that means now and only assumes priviledge is related to wealth. I think this is a disconnect in these discussions. I also think knowing how to spell relates to educational priviledge or spell check.

  19. Aunt B,
    How nice you are, putting yourself between me and crossfire. This is a novel position for me to be in and perhaps a tiny bit alarming, thinking that I need the cover of a younger feminist makes me feel that yes, I really am over the hill!
    I gave up teaching women’s studies a few years ago on the grounds that young women’s fights and concerns just weren’t mine any more, and I felt I wasn’t doing for them as I should. College women are often concerned with their ability to find a place for themselves that doesn’t hold them back or mark them as second class, and these issues are playing themselves out in relationships, family dynamics, and their career choices. And here I am, over 50, with institutional power and position (tenure/department chair) and a mostly equal marriage (of 25 years duration). I’ve also learned a thing or two, one of them being that although the social restrictions are what they are, individual histories and personalities will also determine what one’s able to become, challenge, and do. I fought my generation’s fight in my generation’s society. It’s a different fight now, because much has changed since 1971 (when Ms. magazine put out it’s first issue).
    So somehow I don’t think of the women who are insisting that we vote for Hillary as amorphous “second wave feminists with privilege”; I think of them as women who belong to parts of established institutions, and they think like it. Institutions are beholden to funding, they are connected by webs of influence and Boards, they move slowly, they’re inflexible, self-protective, and they maybe even look a little too much inward. When I directed the women’s studies program, I learned that the Feminist Majority, which supports a college version of itself, gets a lot of its funds from those who support the legal right to choose an abortion, and that therefore much of their focus was on the right to choose an abortion. Ok, but that turned out to mean that the national office would not allow their college chapters to partner with any campus group who opposed abortion, even when the issue the two groups were cooperating on had nothing to do with abortion. This seemed to me ethically wrong, strategically stupid, and socially backward. But I didn’t say, oh, Ellie Smeal, she’s a pushy second wave feminist who only wants third wavers to do what she says. I thought: oh, money makes policy, and as usual, those on the vanguard will have to do this work without institutional support.
    I suspect the Hillary supporters are thinking through their institutional lenses, but they’re also, I think, thinking through their shared history, and acting from their shared experience of a particular time. And don’t forget: some of Hillary’s supporters are not college educated women, who are voting, we’re told, for Obama; no, her supporters are coming from working class women, some of whom are sticking with Hillary because they recognize in her marriage to Bill some of what they have endured, and hear her speak in very concrete terms about their concerns.
    Anyway: if Hillary makes the top of the ticket, I bet feminists first, second, and third wave will vote for her.

  20. Pingback: The rest of the story… « My Beautiful Wickedness

  21. Oh, I completely agree. Shoot, if I can vote for Clinton in November, I’ll do so while dancing. I’ve got a list of folks here who are getting visits from me so that they will get the cooties of a feminist and the cooties of a woman who voted for a woman for president on them. I hope someone does a dance mix of “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” so that I can use that as my song while I’m doing it.

    And like I said, I don’t begrudge anyone voting for Clinton because she’s a woman or because they identify with her.

    I begrudge Steinem and the NY chapter of NOW and various other established feminists trying to argue crap about “turns” in a way that ends up being racist and stupid.

    TK, I think you and NM are saying the same thing, and that’s something I do need to be more careful about and for which I apologize. The second wave was not a singular movement and I need to stop treating most second-wavers as if they are the women who push my buttons, because y’all are not.

    I would just say that many of us here who you’re talking to, also come from modest backgrounds (shoot, the College Professor could tell you stories about how mad she’d get at me about my terrible spelling, which, I think you’re right, is a class marker and one I was completely oblivious to) and we wouldn’t have the opportunities we have if not for women who worked very hard to stretch the boundaries of what is acceptable.

    But I think that part of the hostility I feel (and many other medium younger feminists feel) is that we heard all this stuff about the importance of networking and sticking up for each other and supporting each other only to find that, when we got into the business world or the academic world, often, our biggest problems came from older feminists who seem convinced that, because they hold a certain philosophy, however they want to treat other women is fine.

    It’s a bit like, if Disney’s Cinderella ended with Cinderella coming back to her step-mother’s house after marrying the prince and putting out a bunch of mousetraps.

    Also, College Professor, I need to print this–“as usual, those on the vanguard will have to do this work without institutional support”–out and put it some place where I have to look at it regularly.

  22. College Professor is right about the institutional/Establishment aspects of Clinton’s support. And TK is right about (some) women moving into areas of privilege, adopting the signifiers, and protecting (what is now) their turf (too). But I don’t see why we can’t keep on having this discussion, or why anyone needs to be protected, so long as we’re clear that “second wave feminism/ts” does not equal “establishment feminism/ts.” I wanted to point out that they’re not the same thing, but I think the criticisms B started out with are well taken, as long as they’re directed less indiscriminately.

  23. Well, as a second waver who always tried to hire and then promote younger women, it’s hard because there is not a common bond except maybe children and the less fortunate. No matter how high we go or how successful we feel, we still are the other in the larger world. Look at all the ruling bodies of the world and they are mostly still male. Now, as then, if I had to decide between protecting my children and achieving in my career, I would nurture and protect my kids. The reason we need more women, and the men who are doing more caring roles, to be elected is to change the paradigm of what is success and achievement. I have friends in their 70s, 80s, and 90s and they can’t believe how little has really changed.

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