Does Feminism have an Ageism Problem?

I am 35 years old and it has occurred to me that I may be written off as a feminist worth listening to at some point in the not too distant future, because I won’t be considered ‘young’ and my views may not easily mesh anymore with those of people in their twenties and below. It does seem feminists get a lot less air space and much less, if any, attention paid to their issues after a certain age. As one member from my feminist community pointed out, these sad facts sound a lot like patriarchy at work rather than feminism.

Back when I first started following a lot of feminist groups online (this is within the last few years), I noticed that a lot of feminist sites do seem to be particularly geared towards women in or close to their twenties. Popstars are often used on these feminist sites as a way to engage this age group and I notice a lot of feminist analysis revolves around what popstars say and do. I started to feel alienated pretty quickly in these spaces. It’s not that I don’t see how popstars have relevance when it comes to feminism. I do pay attention to popstars to some degree. They obviously have a role and a lot of power when it comes to feminism, but the truth is after a certain age popstars are unlikely to be what women are spending most of their time thinking about. I get incredibly bored in feminist groups which focus heavily on the antics of popstars and that is, I would say, the majority of feminist groups. This is part of the reason I set up my own feminist community – so I could have a feminist space where discourse about popstars, and celebrities in general, was more marginalized and/ or critical.

I personally have a problem with celebrity culture and feel that it doesn’t fit well with feminism. Celebrity culture is primarily about nothing, if not the idea that some people are better than others. It’s one of the ultimate examples of a hierarchy of power, in that very famous people exist at the top of this hierarchy and are viewed as more beautiful, worthwhile and deserving of money and attention than everyone else in the world. It is an inherently problematic system, and that’s without even going into how the various –isms are played out within the celebrity industries or how different groups are exploited in the celebrity world in the name of capitalism. Is it even possible to be part of celebrity culture and not be fundamentally problematic? Although we can’t avoid some acknowledgement and analysis of celebrity culture I guess my feminism is more about wanting to get away from endorsing this power structure. This viewpoint hasn’t gone down well in young feminist groups. It does make some sense that there would be divisions between feminist groups because of interests and concerns, but this raises questions around how intersectional feminism really is and can be. If we go with the idea that niche groups are the way forward and older women may need to create their own spaces, then my question is where are all the feminist groups and resources for women over 35?

The fact that there have been several waves of feminism also complicates matters. You can read more about the waves here. I’ve noticed that women who have been active in earlier waves of feminism can frequently have their opinions dismissed now as outdated, if they dare to come forward and speak. Sometimes this happens in a fair way. Germaine Greer was justly criticized for her transphobic comments about Caitlyn Jenner receiving a Glamour Woman of the Year Award last year. Here Greer was indeed representing an earlier wave of feminism, in a very narrow-minded way, which didn’t take into account the experiences of transgender people. Sometimes however older feminists have their opinions unfairly trampled and this is connected back to their age in subtle ways. bell hooks has been routinely dismissed by feminists for her critiques of Beyonce and this has, in some cases, been put down to her being from a ‘different generation’ and therefore seen as not being able to understand the politics of modern feminism. Such comments are laughable considering hooks is well-known for her great intellect and are obviously ageist. While hooks may sound too harsh in some of her comments about Beyonce, younger feminists frequently sound completely uncritical of her and this isn’t helpful either. The truth is both older and younger perspectives are needed on everything otherwise we just don’t have the whole picture.

Marginalizing the opinions of older women whenever we don’t agree with them is, needless to say, downright oppressive. It is definitely not appropriate to tell older women their opinions are invalid because of their ‘generation’. This is the polite way of saying ‘you are just too old and you don’t matter’. It’s possible to point out faulty thinking without attributing it in anyway to age, which is inherently dismissive and anti-feminist behaviour. Older feminists often have had more experience dealing with feminist issues than younger women, and in some ways are likely to be more aware of feminist issues than us, not less. This doesn’t mean their opinions automatically matter more than those of young women, but it is worth bearing this in mind when evaluating their opinions, especially when considering dismissing them as outdated and irrelevant.

As I want to represent the whole picture myself it’s important to ask what support there is at the other end of the spectrum for younger generations. How do children and teens access feminism and how often are they considered within it? Arguably they and their specific issues are just as neglected as those of older generations. They are also likely to have their perspectives dismissed as invalid at times because of their age. I’ve just joined a teenage feminist community in the hopes of learning more about teenage feminism. I have seen quite a few things in the media about teenage feminism lately and this is heartening. I’m not sure what the solution is with regards to making sure small children are exposed to feminist ideas. This seems to be dependent on parent’s inclinations and child-rearing choices. I’ve seen some articles which focusing on parenting and feminism, but do we need more of them? I know that for me being exposed to feminism at a young age, whilst in school, was an important part of my development and I wish as a young child I had been exposed to much more feminism. No doubt it would have made life very different for me.

What are your thoughts on ageism in feminism? I’d love to hear your feedback.

 

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11 thoughts on “Does Feminism have an Ageism Problem?

  1. I’m 40 and I never went through the ‘post feminist’ phase. Well, I lived through it but I didn’t subscribe to it. I come from first and second wave feminists and I was pretty excited when feminism got a third wave.
    Not excited by the crappy socioeconomic conditions that prompted its resurgence but excited that people were talking again.
    For me, I find that I am taken more seriously because of my age. Maybe I’m kind of a neutral age for the two generations. I have some of the enthusiasm of the youngsters but a little of the cynicism that comes from living through a relatively ‘good patch’ – in terms of society’s imperfect treatment of women – and seeing a downturn.
    I would say that I have a little frustration at the theorising that we’re going through again. I know it’s necessary but I’vebeen living this since I was 18. I’m almost a zealot about action now. I’m sick of the sidelines. I don’t care about being angry any longer. In a way, my age stands me well. I look like a PTA mum but I’ve had enough. I have little patience and I don’t have time to take any injustice that’s handed to me.
    Now I have the middle aged confidence to call people out when they offend me.
    And I like it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m 45 and agree with much of what you’ve expressed. I am part of feminist communities on Twitter and Facebook, and they both skew towards the younger generation. I’d love to connect with other middle-aged feminists.
    @GoddessKerriLyn

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    1. Well, I’m 40 so maybe we should be second and a half wave feminists together?
      I was thinking about how I seem to get taken more seriously now I’m older and what a patriarchal notion it is that age equals wisdom.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Interesting point. Older people are so often dismissed I guess I thought of it as a positive to connect an increase in age and wisdom. It’s certainly not always true though and young children often show more wisdom than adults..

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      2. Well, hitting 40 was kind of a watershed for me – I’m human so I did get a bit worried – but I realised that the thing that nobody doubted was my intellect. My perceived authority seemed to have increased as well. I feel exactly the same but I get taken more seriously.
        I like working with people of all ages. It’s my job to be objective so different perspectives are wonderful. I need the wide eyed optimism sometimes and the insight of experience as well

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  3. I look younger than I am. I’m a counsellor and I’ve noticed when I’m counselling older people issues around age will come up. They will imply in some way I’m not competent and can’t help them because they think I’m in my twenties. I will look forward to 40 then! I may be viewed as more capable at that age! I definitely feel more confident and assertive than I ever did in my twenties.

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    1. Yes, I look young too. When I was younger I was dismissed at times. I work in ‘women’s lifestyle’. I love current affairs but I take all sorts of jobs.
      I’m taken seriously now but I’m starting to get reviews for ‘older’ product and asked to write about feminism from the point of view of a mother.
      Age is a poisoned chalice. I don’t particularly feel it when it comes to feminism but it’s possible that I’m considered part of a lostgeneration.

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      1. Reassuring but annoying that I have to worry about it. I have two kids to support. I need the work and I’d be pretty angry if I wasn’t seen as useful.
        I think there’s an interesting conversation around age groups and the different needs they have – in terms of advocacy – from feminism. If indeed, there are differences.

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  4. I’m a sixty year old feminist experiencing the ageism of society in general. I have noticed some element of ageism from younger feminists online but so far not in the ‘real’ world. It’s pretty bad to have gone through a lifetime of struggling against gender and class prejudice (I am from a very poor working class background) to find that I am still having to fight an ‘ism’ with far less energy than I used to have. I think it’s a reflection of society in general though, where elders seem to become invisible and that’s not a new thing, I was dismissive of older people when I was in my teens and twenties so maybe it’s something successive generations have to go through.

    To be honest, I am completely flummoxed by younger feminist interest in celebrities, but I suppose that’s because you have grown up with an all pervasive celebrity culture that was perhaps less important and relevant when I was a young woman and there’s no equivalent in my generation’s experience here and now. I would like to see more opportunity for inter generational feminist discussion but I find the aggressive behaviour, name calling and jargon used on some (and I emphasise some, not all) younger feminist sites I have visited intimidating and that’s even more acute for some of my septuagenarian and octogenarian feminist friends.

    I guess we are also divided by the issues we have to campaign on. Battling institutional sexism in the health service now centres around shockingly patronising elder care, rather than shockingly patronising pregnancy and menopause care. Protecting independence is a far more relevant concern for my age group when faced with services, social, mental health, police etc that write you off as a little old biddy, than the concerns facing twenty somethings or forty somethings. So I guess it’s inevitable that we should be divided in this way simply because of where we are in our life cycle. We all have something to learn from each other, but need a warm friendly space to foster it.

    Thanks for listening xxx

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