January 25, 2011

Youth, Waves, and Twitter: An “Age-Old” Debate About Age, and the Beginning of a Los Angeles Feminist Network

Guest post by co-organizer and co-moderator of Young Feminists Speak Out: LA, Miranda Petersen.

From left to right: 1. Myra Duran, Tani Ikeda, Jollene Levid, Brie Widaman, Miranda Petersen 2. Tani Ikeda, Jollene Levid, Brie Widaman

Last Thursday I served as Co-Moderator, along with Melanie Klein of Feminist Fatale, for the “Young Feminists Speak Out: Los Angeles” panel/mixer, which I helped organize along with Morgane Richardson, founder of Refuse The Silence, and Myra Duran.

The event was inspired in part by a recent piece in More Magazine that featured Morgane, along with other familiar feminist leaders such as Shelby Knox and Lena Chen. Our goal was to continue the conversation on what young feminism looks like today, while also calling attention to the often-overlooked work of feminists on the west coast, and providing a platform for young feminist activists to speak out in a forum where they would be shown respect and be taken seriously.

When considering potential speakers we aimed to capture the diverse, intersectional nature of LA-based feminist culture. The panelists included Myra Duran, Grassroots Community Organizer, Tani Ikeda, Founder and Co-director of ImMEDIAte Justice, Jollene Levid, National Chairperson for AF3IRM, and Brianne Widaman, Founder and President of Revolution of Real Women. Together, the panelists were able to speak to a broad range of issues—many of which are often left out of the mainstream feminist dialogue—including access to education/the DREAM Act, citizenship status and reproductive justice, anti-imperialism and anti-militarism, the fight against trafficking of women and girls, queer sexuality and sex education, body image and the media.

Our effort to include such a wide range of issues and individual styles led to an intense and empowering discussion on the need to address the underlying capitalist, patriarchal structure of our society, and the importance of re-framing the discussion in a way that is inclusive to everyone, especially those outside academia and the feminist blogoshpere. At the same time, having such a diverse group of panelists proved how challenging it can be to try and neatly encompass so many different approaches and ideologies within a traditional framework, such as a panel discussion. It is possible that trying to include so many different and unique experiences may have led to a less-cohesive dialogue than we anticipated, and it brings up the need to re-think our organizing methods and recognize our own assumptions of the “best” way to initiate a dialogue.

One issue that was about as predictably contentious as could be expected was the so-called “inter-generational divide.” The More panel had addressed the topic in relation to perceived differences in how “older” vs. “younger” feminists organize (e.g., social media), and we wanted to know how, and if, this divide was relevant to the tangible struggles young feminists face here in Los Angeles.

While the panelists mostly agreed that the divide was more “hype” than reality, they did comment on the ways in which older and younger generations had benefitted from the mutual sharing of knowledge and organizing techniques (e.g., women in their 60’s and 70’s had taught younger women the benefit of “boots-on-the-ground” organizing, and the younger activists had taught them how to use Twitter). Unfortunately, this remark was taken by some as an ageist slight and was somehow distorted to mean something along the lines of “feminists over forty can’t tweet.”

I was surprised and disheartened by the backlash this topic received by some of our more established peers who were present for the discussion. In fact, the majority of the online discourse surrounding our panel had effectively been boiled down to an outcry against ageism, which caught all of the organizers completely off-guard. Only after the event was over did I learn that several of the feminists we look up to and respect had spent the majority of the discussion posting antagonizing pictures of “middle-aged feminists, giving the bird to ageism.” To me, the behavior exhibited by our *somewhat* older comrades, many of whom are professors, bloggers, and professional feminists, confirmed the argument that the newest generation is NOT taken seriously by the rest of the feminist community. Not only were our critics quick to judge, but they chose not to engage in the discussion, instead reverting back to their own online forums, and left early without introducing themselves or voicing their concerns.

The reason we organized this panel was to provide a platform for young feminists to make their voices heard; we are not the professors, we don’t run the non-profit advocacy groups, and we aren’t published writers, but we still have passion and ideas that are worth sharing. The truth is age discrimination goes both ways. It’s funny; we addressed the topic of the “generational divide” to help break down some of those assumptions. Instead, we experienced first hand the lack of respect many young feminists are confronted with: either we are cast as ignorant or naive (e.g., “they’ve got so much to learn…”), or our integrity and motives are questioned (e.g., our justification for using “young feminists” in the title). There is certainly much learning to do on our part, and the distinction between age vs. ideological divides is worth some serious discussion. But how are we supposed to do better if we aren’t taken seriously to begin with?

Regardless of the criticism (and, let’s face it, what would a real feminist gathering be without at least one serious rift or disagreement?), the event was an resounding success. And to be fair, to say we were not given any credit would be indulgent and inaccurate: see Hugo Schwyzer’s blog post for gracious and balanced account of the evening.

The fact that so many people of all ages and backgrounds were willing to brave the daunting LA rush hour to participate demonstrates the need in our community to begin building a network, a place where we can hang out, discuss, debate, and learn. I hope that this is just one of many future events, and many future discussions.

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Photographs taken by Marley Poyo.


4 Comments »

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melanie Klein and Tani Ikeda, Miranda Petersen. Miranda Petersen said: An "Age-Old" Debate About Age: http://bit.ly/eEcspY @MyraGisselDuran @Morgane_R @msmagazine @feministfatale #FemLA [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Feminist Fatale » Youth, Waves, and Twitter: An “Age-Old” Debate About Age, and the Beginning of a Los Angeles Feminist Network -- Topsy.com — January 25, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  2. I wish I had known about this!

    Also, I’d like to know more about what made it a success despite the ageism issue.

    Comment by melanie — January 25, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

  3. Melanie,

    I think the event was a succeeded in bringing people together who may not have otherwise known about the rich feminist culture that exists in Los Angeles (probably due to how spread out we all our, and the lack of attention paid to the west coast in general). I also think the panelist did an outstanding job of representing the diversity that makes Los Angeles such an amazing place. As I said briefly in my post, our goal was to start a conversation, but in the interest of egalitarianism and inclusion we didn’t ever strive to reach any conclusions… instead we hoped to initiate a dialogue that everyone can contribute to. I think we accomplished just that. Additionally, the event was so much fun! We had an awesome band, The Sun Warshippers, drinks, and a really relaxed environment.

    For more on the success of the panel you should check out Morgane’s post: http://bit.ly/f6VFfy

    Hope to see you at the next one!

    Comment by Miranda Petersen — January 25, 2011 @ 10:55 pm

  4. *Please forgive the many grammatical errors in the comment above!

    Comment by Miranda Petersen — January 25, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

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