Guest post: Blaming the generations of women who fought before them

Originally a comment by tiggerthewing on The limits of internal self-perception as the sole arbiter of truth.

I agree that the the Baby Boomers as a demographic is a pretty useless classification – especially if they extend the label up to 1964.

I was born in 1957 – late enough that I never had to risk polio (the vaccine was already available) but early enough that I had to suffer most other so-called ‘childhood diseases’. Late enough that I was vaccinated against tuberculosis; and with a father young enough that his life was saved by antibiotics when he caught TB in his teens; but old enough that his mother died of TB a couple of years earlier. Early enough that my parents were heavily influenced by the propaganda to raise large families to replace those slaughtered in the two world wars; early enough to have grown up surrounded by a cohort of women with no men, having lost them to WWI. Early enough to have lived through women’s fight for access to work that they had been doing during WWII, until they were discarded in favour of demobilised returning men and debarred on account of their sex.

I’m old enough that I was thoroughly grown up and a parent several times over before it was finally, reluctantly, acknowledged that women don’t cede all rights to restrict someone else’s access to their own bodies on marriage. Old enough to remember all sexual orientations other than vanilla heterosexuality being regarded as mental illness.

And I’m old enough to remember the big fights during the seventies, and subsequent decades, between older women and younger women about what was/is important for feminists to fight for.

Bearing in mind that the following is my own perception, as a female-bodied person raised in and socialised to English cultural norms. Each generation builds on what the previous generation has achieved. For my grandmothers’ generation, when ordinary working women literally had nothing, then focus had to be on the major issues – suffrage, property rights, access to children after divorce, that sort of thing. I used to hear some of them complain that my mother’s generation didn’t know how lucky they were, that the older women had already won the big fights, why did the younger women need to waste their energy on frivolous stuff like the right to choose to stay in paid employment on marriage? Why did they need ‘equal pay’ when they had the option not to work? Weren’t they lucky, being able to stay at home and be looked after by a man? I think that many of the older women, having a sense of how fragile the status quo was, how easily gains which had been hard-won could be taken away if the people – men – in power got upset, were terrified that their daughters would ask for one thing too many and in retaliation all rights would be rescinded once more. How dare the younger women rock the boat by making further demands?!

Anyway, my mother’s generation, supported by enough of their elders, managed to build on the gains made, and (amongst other things) won the right to be employed even if they were married, won the right to have their earnings taken into account when negotiating a mortgage or a loan (but a woman still needed a male guarantor when taking out a loan, even when I was an adult), won the right of access to contraception even if they weren’t married, and won the right to end a pregnancy on their own terms.

My generation, supported by enough of the older women who didn’t think our demands frivolous compared to their own battles, won the right to say no to sex in marriage, the legal right to equal pay for equal work (even though employers still manage to exploit loopholes to avoid paying women what they deserve), legal access to previously forbidden careers, the removal of homosexual orientation from mental illness lists, etc. and raised daughters to adulthood who, for the first time, could assume as a matter of course that they were equal to their brothers and that any discrimination was morally, ethically and legally dubious.

However, in a way my grandmothers’ generation was right – women assuming equality by right seems to have been the ‘step too far’ that they envisioned; the backlash has been horrendous. A particular cohort of old men, it seems, were happy to feel themselves magnanimous in doling out favours to the ‘little women’; perhaps they did think that the ‘pretty young things’ would look more favourably upon them if they handed out a few concessions. But a whole generation who think that they are the equal of men? Wasn’t it bad enough fighting off competition from their sons and grandsons, whilst keeping just enough rights from their sisters that the latter weren’t a threat? How could they cope with an entire generation, instead of half, who were after the power they had wielded by right for so long?! So they started poisoning the minds of the younger generations of men, blaming competition from their sisters for the lack of access to the best education and careers, subtly ensuring that the true cause – a generation of men raised in an unequal world, hanging on to power with a death grip – would be ignored.

So we have the situation today, where young women are finding it particularly hard to build on the gains made by their feminist forbears, but instead of recognising the true cause of their woes – the intransigence of the hidden male establishment – they are blaming the generations of women who fought before them, for daring to ask “What is really important to fight for?” And, since older feminists can recognise that LGBT rights tend to coat-tail on those granted to women (because LGBT prejudice is an outgrowth of misogyny) and so don’t put them centre-front of their agenda, younger women have grabbed onto LGBT rights as a way of having their own cause. With marriage equality being the last bastion to fall for gay people, it seems that only trans issues remain.

Young feminists are fighting about trans issues because they want their own rallying-cry to distinguish them from their predecessors, and because they haven’t noticed what the real enemy are doing.

4 Responses to “Guest post: Blaming the generations of women who fought before them”