Time to be ungrateful!

14 Jun

Gloria Steinem recently stated, when asked whether young girls take for granted the successes of Second Wave feminism, “Our job is not to make women grateful…Gratitude never radicalized anybody”, and I am inclined to agree.

In any article you may read about contemporary women’s issues, there will inevitably be a sentence stating that though there are still issues, just think of how far we’ve come, how lucky this generation is. Many of the older generation feel it’s their duty to educate young women on the difficulties faced by the suffragettes, or the hardship of those who fought for women’s rights in the ‘70s. But what of the gender equality movement today?

This desire to constantly look nostalgically on the historical achievements of the women’s movement has caused us to turn our backs on the issues facing us now, distracting us from the barriers we still have to overcome.

Though some important battles have been fought and won, the war still rages in the fight for women’s equality. Sexism may be different now to what it once was, but it certainly didn’t evaporate in the heat of the mythological bra burning in the 1970’s as some would like us to believe.

By constantly reminiscing about the feminism of yore, we are unintentionally implying that the struggle for women’s equality should be relegated to history books and museums where young women can give cursory thanks for the right to vote or use contraception. The younger generation is sheltered from discussions on the current gender wage gap or the scarcity of women in positions of influence. Instead, we are led to believe that any gender-based issues existing today are a result of individual choice and, in some cases, the fault of the very movement highlighting them.

However, young people cannot escape some of the issues faced by their generation of women. The high incidence of sexual assault and rape, along with an increasing number of young women and girls suffering from eating disorders, is hard to ignore. But, instead of getting angry about these issues, we are becoming complacent. When women’s liberation is relegated to history textbooks, these problems are excused as unfortunate realities and people are discouraged from trying to enact change.

I myself am a 21-year-old woman who grew up in the era of Girl Power and Wonder Woman. Uncomfortable with labeling myself as a feminist, I like many others, used to believe that my generation of women were free agents, no longer restrained by the challenges overcome by my mother’s generation. It was not until I experienced blatant gender-based discrimination that I realised it was not all as it seemed.

Most of the young feminists I know have also experienced this light bulb moment, related to an unpleasant or unfortunate incident they were unable to dismiss. I find it distressing that so many of the women who are joining the ranks of this new generation of feminists are ones who had to go through something so profound that they were unable to turn a blind eye. It is disappointing that in order for women to believe sexism still exists, they have to be wounded by it first.

I believe that it is time to bury nostalgia about the past and instead focus our efforts on improving the future. As Gloria Steinem said, the achievements of Second Wave feminism would never have happened if women spent all their time thanking the First Wave for the vote. It’s time to make feminism relevant to young women before they realise they need it, so that if they do experience gender-based discrimination they can recognise it for what it is, unfair.

Feminism does not need to be a dirty word and nor is it part of an ancient dialect. It is as relevant and important today as it ever was. So let’s keep our eyes on the road ahead and let the past enjoy its position in the annals of history. If nothing else, let’s try and make the next generation of women have something to be grateful to us for!

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