As feminism takes on a very visual resurgence, thanks to the recent Women’s March, some of the latest commentary from the older tribe seeks to again remind us younger ones that we should appropriately remember the work and legacy of the feminists before.
Over 20 years ago, I was part of a very heated conversation with women actively working in women’s rights, on this very topic. At the time, I suggested that their successes could be gauged by the way women coming through took for granted some of the basic gains their activity achieved. There were rumblings in the camp at this suggestion. So I qualified by saying, young women would be in a position to achieve certain gains without the need to second-guess themselves; to not have to think themselves lucky. At this point the group turned into a hive and the discussion went straight to the need for recognition: my suggestion in some way implied younger women would be ‘ungrateful’.
Fast-forward to now and echoes of this conversation continue. But we’ve spoken long into the night about the women and their important work which brought us to this point. Like it or not, much broader considerations need to be on our collective feminist agenda. Circular arguments about the need for gratitude and acknowledgement divert the attention away from discussions on how to go forward. Generations move on. Generation X, with its often-silent voice, is quietly coming out from the back of stage with a new set of life challenges. Millennials, much maligned within the career and leadership spaces, are seeking avenues of change not even considered by their forebears, squeezed into new ways of dealing with work, financing dreams and building relationships in a modern context.
‘What the discussion needs to be about’ goes further than the ‘can’t have it all’ conundrum we’ve ruminated about in the media, over coffee with our girlfriends, as we’ve dropped briefcases coming home from careers to make dinner and bath our kids. That’s been turned inside-out as we’ve felt guilty about our bodies and lack of fitness while flicking through a book on how to truly tidy the house once and for all. Motherhood now has a whole new set of judgements placed upon it. Women-as-mothers can be agents of radical but quiet change. Mothers have the potential to educate and shape future generations. They can teach both their sons and daughters about building self-esteem, participation, opportunity and acceptance.
They can provide frameworks and safe spaces to address the hard conversations around violence, pornography, inclusion and respect to inform a new generation. If they have been supported to make choices that do not include finding ‘bad boys’ exciting or remotely acceptable, they have the capacity to support their children into emotionally robust and healthy relationships. Collectively and strategically, we as the next generation of women should be looking to build our own corporations, our own boards and establish our own financial institutions. We need to have honest and open conversation about the short-falls of the sisterhood where women take on the range of patriarchal behaviours in the workplace, mother’s groups and even volunteer organisations.
This often keeps other women contained and unheard for the purpose of their own ambitions. Whether you like it or not, it is part of our glass ceiling problem, our self-esteem issues and our requirement to look or be a certain way. As women we need to honestly acknowledge our day-to-day challenges along with those we generationally inherit. These include sexually transmitted debt, the almost endemic instance of anxiety in women, the focus on pancake makeup, custody arrangements and parenting plans, online dating and our ability to be okay if we’re single. This list is far from exhaustive. We need to make it okay to be ourselves. To set boundaries around our time; speak openly about what we need; create time for the pursuit of dreams.
This needs to happen as an essential part of a socio-economic structure that depends on our daily labour. Those beautiful things about us, like our nurturing ability, our cognitive prowess and gentle response to things that shake us to the core, need to sit front and centre, depicting what we represent. Our presence, our very essence, requires a rebirthing. We need to stop thinking of intuition, emotion, and feelings as dirty little secrets. Our next steps and what they achieve, will blossom from embracing those aspects we’ve pushed down in order to supposedly ‘rise up’. Let’s stop wasting time arguing over whether or not we have done a good enough job thanking anyone.
I don’t want to be a mother who gives tough love to my daughter because I’m too busy earning more money than a lot of men I know to actually spend any decent time with her. I want to see all my great male friends in the camp with me so that collectively we are building a world that is better for everyone, no matter their sexual preference or what’s in their pants. I am hopeful women can set aside the male behaviours they have embodied in an effort to be seen and validated within their workplaces and beyond. Women’s constructs of Western life may still mirror some of the rigidity and invisibility experienced by our mothers and grandmothers. And yes, the daily routines, which keep the world turning, continue; it’s how we survive as humans.
Changes within the ebb and flows of how we run our Monday to Sunday might seem glacial but within this time and space we can examine the possible outcomes of the shifts I propose. The real issues in urgent need of taking the spotlight. We build on what has come before. A clear examination of what affects us now implies all the protesting, bra-burning and serious legislative work was not for naught. I wish to focus on what is important to take us further, to lay the foundations that will serve us in the future. I wish for women to know, and work to, their real strengths (instead of borrowing behaviours from the patriarchy).
To be enabled to work collaboratively with a new-thinking generation of men. It’s time that many of us voice that we want to move onto Feminism 2.0. We need to put up our hands and say: I want a broader, future-orientated discussion. For those Generation X women, whom I speak to and who stay silent about what they really need feminism to be for them, I implore you to bring your voices into the broader arena and participate in the discussion. For those women who currently dominate the commentary, I implore you to listen, and make room for a new era and a new generation of women whose challenges are uniquely relevant to the time they live in.
Our focus needs to be relevant to a society shaped by both the impacts of an industrial revolution and the more recent transition to a global community bolstered by tech and a ‘faster, bigger, better’ attitude.Within this, women will continue to stand as the barometer to our humanity. But the future direction needs to be navigated by the generations coming through. Individually we need to commit, within our already overburdened and busy lives, to making decisions about honouring our needs at the coalface. We need to work collectively with the people who support us, inspire us and tell us that anything is possible. Taking our placards to the streets is just the beginning.