In the time-honored tradition of one generation dogging on the one that follows, young women have gotten a bad rap. According to a seemingly endless stream of think pieces, we’re lazy and entitled. We’re too busy texting and tweeting to make real connections. And—what is most concerning—even leaders in the feminist and progressive movements think that young women are unengaged and “complacent”.
This is a conversation I’m tired of having. It hurts the movement, both because it’s simply not true and because it undermines the real, important work that young women are doing.
Yes, Virginia, there are young feminists
You know how in Peter Pan, every time a child says “I don’t believe in fairies,” a fairy somewhere falls down dead? Well, every time someone in the feminist movement says “young people don’t care about feminism,” a young feminist’s eyes roll so hard they risk getting permanently stuck.
Young feminists are not mythical creatures (although we are pretty magical). We are real. We are in the movement. And we are tired of being overlooked and dismissed.
Young women are already leaders
Young women are not only engaging in activism, they are leading the next wave of the movement. They are volunteering as clinic escorts and supporting local abortion funds. They are at the forefront of racial justice work, both on the ground and in digital organizing like #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName. They are fighting sexist dress codes in their schools. They’re leading efforts to combat campus sexual assault. And, while managing record levels of student debt and uncertain financial futures, they are volunteering, interning, and working as staff members on campaigns and at nonprofits whose values they share.
It’s not just “slacktivism;” social media and social justice
A major source of intergenerational misunderstanding of young women’s activism stems from a lack of understanding of the role of social media in organizing. To dismiss the power and potential of digital platforms for mobilizing people across the country is to be out of step with the nature of today’s grassroots activism and communication. While on-the-ground actions like rallies and protests remain important, social media is a critical tool to amplify and connect in-person organizing with digital conversations.
Social media and blogs are also much-needed platforms for lifting up voices that have historically been marginalized or erased in traditional media and for presenting alternate narratives. And because so many young people use social media, online campaigns can also serve as a source of cultural change by bringing up important discussions in a space that young people already occupy.
A feminist future
We have too much work ahead of us to waste any more time debating whether or not young women are engaged in feminist issues. Feminism looks different now than it did in previous generations—and that’s a good thing. Our generation is more diverse, and young feminists are increasingly holding the movement accountable to being intersectional and inclusive. Our activism happens on the ground and online. We are many things, but we are not complacent.
The question for the movement is not how to make young feminists conform to the movement that has preceded us—but instead how we connect the work that has been done with the work that is happening and that which is still to come. It’s time to bridge the generational gap and move together toward a feminism that empowers a new, diverse wave of leaders and uses all available tools to organize for—and win—real legislative and cultural change .