The New Republic has just published a conversation between two feminists on their editorial staff with quite the provocative title: “Feminism Has Conquered the Culture. Now Comes the Hard Part.” The piece was chock-full of great anecdotes from feminist history.
For example, Rebecca Traister discusses the history of the popularization of women’s work outside of the home:
In the 1920s, the black writer Elise McDougald wrote about the liberating aspects of paid labor in new fields for black women in Harlem; a decade later, the black lawyer Sadie Alexander eloquently laid out the many benefits of female work outside the home. Yet it was 30 years later that Betty Friedan, a white middle-class woman addressing similar arguments to a white middle-class audience, was credited with kicking off feminism’s Second Wave.
Judith Shulevitz also presents the history of the Lanham Act, which Congress passed during WWII and paid for 3,102 daycare centers enrolling around 600,000 children. Indeed, I was heartened that Shulevitz concluded the dialectic with a cheer for “caregiverism” as the primary goal of feminism, because I have also felt–strongly–that childcare and the gendered division of labor in families is a key impediment to women’s liberation.
That said, despite the quality content, I was disappointed by the way the piece was framed. At the outset, the piece is marketed as “a debate” by its subtitle, a debate between an older feminist and a younger feminist. One who was championing the triumphs of Beyonce and the feminist internet. The other who was deeply skeptical that whether the “beautiful people” liked feminism meant anything at all. It didn’t help that the older feminist’s tone dripped with condescension (“Let me tell you a story,” she starts her last missive.)
I am tired of this. I am tired of the way in which feminist conversations are framed as generational wars. (Of course, nothing could top Harper’s cover article titled “American Electra–Feminism’s Ritual Matricide“). I am tired of feminist conversations being framed as Women of Color versus White feminists. (Shulevitz’s citation to The Nation‘s Twitter Wars article made me shudder). Can’t left-leaning publications discuss the difficult questions of the future of feminism without resorting to these sensationalist tropes of cat-fights and matricide?