-by Gabrielle Friesen, student staff
Last semester I had the privilege of attending the 2011 National Women and Gender Studies Conference in Atlanta, Georgia through the Women’s Resource Center where I work. One of the overarching themes was how to synthesize the academic aspect of Women and Gender Studies with the activism and social justice that should naturally go along with the study of gender and oppression, but hasn’t been incorporated within universities. A second theme that arose, albeit an unofficial one, was the involvement of young people in the feminist movement.
At two sessions I attended, women in the audience asked the panelists “how do we get more young people involved,” or “why do you think fewer young people are involved in social justice today?”
These questions were asked while I was in the room, and in one case I was sitting directly in front of the woman who asked the question. I am a young person involved in social justice and the feminist movement. Just a month before the conference, I, along with a handful of other people, had organized a fairly successful campus protest against the anti-reproductive rights group Justice For All’s presence on campus. I also work in the campus’ Women’s Resource Center. It’s incongruous to talk about young people as if they are not present in the room, and as if they are not participating in social justice work, especially when part of the reason they are attending the conference is in order to further that work. I myself am sometimes frustrated with some of my peers who have the ability- and ability is important here, as not everyone is able to engage in social justice work or feminist work – to engage but do not, but I also know many people around my age who have devoted tremendous portions of their time to social justice. The same could be true about older (relative to me) folks; some of them aren’t engaged in activism, but many others are. Additionally, some forms of activism have changed since the 70s and 80s. Mass marches aren’t as present, Occupy Movements and Slutwalk as the exceptions, but that doesn’t mean that groundwork isn’t still occurring. There is also a large amount of privilege in being able to attend such a conference- students would have to miss half a week of class to attend the whole conference, and the costs of travel and lodging are far to steep for many.
Thankfully, at a third session I was at, another woman mentioned that she believed the “age gap” between feminists – between the second wave and the third wave – was largely manufactured, and would not actually exist without both sides fueling the divide. I fully agree. On both sides of the supposed “age gap,” there is sometimes a failure to communicate, and a failure to acknowledged gains made by both sides. However these aren’t intrinsic failures, and can be overcome. One of the first steps would be acknowledging presence, that people of all ages are engaging in activism, and are attending discussions, and not talking about groups as if they are not there when they are.