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Experimental Essay #2 Revision

abby rose's picture

Abby Rose

Arts of Freedom

Prof. Joel Schlosser


Confronting Ageism and Embracing My Mother’s Feminism: A Second Look at Women’s Lib

                I entered the interview with my mother with great skepticism, just as I entered learning about the women’s liberation movement in class. My preconceived understandings of the women’s lib movement were that it stood as the foundation of mainstream white feminism, a feminism that was narrow-minded and focused solely on the advancements of white, middle-class women in the United States and excluded the needs and desires of a majority of the women in the country. Even while reading Sara Evans’ Personal Politics that explicitly stated the connection between the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement, I did not entirely buy into the idea that they were in support of one another. To me, even after reading the text, I was viewing the women’s lib movement as though it had entirely appropriated the efforts of the civil rights movement and had taken feminism to a place that actively oppressed queer women, women of color, working class women, and disabled women. When I called my mother and asked her if I could have a conversation with her about her involvement in women’s liberation, she excitedly said “My movement!” The assumption I made after this exclamation was that my mother’s feminism would align with the feminism that I had ascribed to mainstream feminism of women’s lib. However, after speaking extensively with my mother and reconsidering Personal Politics, I realized eventually that I was very wrong.  

                Personal Politics explains that the women’s liberation movement was born out of the civil rights movement as white women who were involved in Freedom Summer returned home discouraged, disconnected, and empowered by their organizing efforts in the rural South. They were compelled to change their communities and deconstruct the insidious racism and sexism that exist as foundations of the country and its government. Intrigued by the inspiration garnered from the civil rights movement, I wanted to know more about what initiated my mother’s feminism and activism. My mom explained:

“For me, I initially got exposed to it [because] at the time, there was social turmoil in so many areas… the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement… the upending of social norms and expectations in society. It struck a chord with me and I read more about it. It was in line with my belief system of equality.”

                So, I saw that instead of joining women’s liberation through the mainstream media understandings of feminism[1], my mother’s feminism was also inspired by greater civil unrest; in other words, her activism was not born in a vacuum and was connected to issues that affected people who did not fit into the white middle class category that she does. My mother continued on to explain how women’s liberation and her own activism are connected to issues that speak to an intersectional understanding of womanhood. Denial of intersectionality was and is my greatest criticism of mainstream feminism, and having a woman that I have always assumed to be so connected to this (mis)understanding of women’s liberation actively speaking against that was crucial to my re-evaluation of the women’s liberation movement.

                After sitting with the transcript of our interview, I realized that I was making so many assumptions about my mother and feeling far too self-righteous and immature with my own feminism. In her essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde talks about ageism as a necessary component in the oppression of women. She clarifies the damaging effects of the “generation gap”:

“If the younger members of a community view the older members as contemptible or suspect or excess, they will never be able to join hands and examine the living memories of the community, not ask the all important question, “Why?” This gives rise to a historical amnesia that keeps us working to invent the wheel every time we have to go to the store for bread” (117)[2].

By assuming my mom to be a supporter of the kind of feminism I so vehemently oppose, I denied our ability to really connect on the goals that we share for equality in the United States. My interview really forced me to check myself: although I know terms like “intersectionality” because of my modern liberal arts education, my mother understands intersectionality through her own experience moving through the world and engaging in her own discussions on equality for women in the U.S. When I defined the term for her in our interview, my mom immediately grasped the concept because of her own line of work and her own feminist morals. This dialogue deconstructed the generation gap that Lorde attributes to the separation of women fighting for the same causes. Just because we do not have the same vocabulary does not mean that we do not share the same beliefs.  

                Bridging the unnecessary and oppressive generation gap is a fundamental next step for me as a feminist and activist. My mother proved without effort that she is far more receptive and understanding than I was ever willing to give her credit for. Just as the women’s lib movement was inspired by and connected to the civil rights movement, I can learn from my mother’s knowledge and experiences in a similar way. Not only does she possess a trove of valuable insight and intelligence, but she models for me the exact kind of feminism and activism that has brought me to this point in my life. Like her mother demonstrated to her through daily life, my mother has taught me how to be a strong woman and critical feminist; so much of my already-formed activism is possible because of how she has raised me and inspired me to be. I regret that it took me so long to view my ageism for what it is, but am so grateful for the fact that I can move forward now with a newfound respect and appreciation for my mother’s activism as well as collaborate with her when considering my own strides towards the liberation of women.

[1] For example: the Miss America demonstration where a crowd of women burned bras and crowned a sheep “Miss America.”  I asked my mom about this, and she responded: “Yeah, burning bras. Everyone talked about that, about women rebelling against what they were told they have to do. But that wasn’t the main issue. Birth control became more widely available and that was huge for women. They could determine how many children they could have and when. They could do things with their mind as well. [And] women taking control of their reproductive life [was also important]. Bra burning was a symbolic thing that to me was not the central component of women’s lib.” Oof. There went my assumption.

[2] Lorde, Audre. "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference." Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley, CA: Crossing, 2007. Print.


jschlosser's picture

Thank you for this revision, Abby.

Two themes appeared in this version that struck me. You speak of how your mother's commitment to "equality" inspired her activism. Then you also write that: 

"Her activism was not born in a vacuum and was connected to issues that affected people who did not fit into the white middle class category that she does."

Does your own feminism stem from similar sources? I wonder because it seems there's a way in which progressive politics always spur critique internal to them. Each movement takes equality to the limits of the thinkable but then a subsequent movement, usually one that comes from within the prior movement, pushes the thinkable yet farther, in turn igniting a new movement out of the ensuing critique. Does this aptly describe your own thinking?