January 25, 2011

“A mea culpa” from Hugo Schwyzer

Filed under: Event — Tags: , , — Melanie @ 10:23 pm

Originally posted at Hugo Schwyzer by Hugo Schwyzer. Cross-posted with permission.

I wrote last week about Young Feminists Speak Out, an event I attended in Santa Monica. Though it was an important and interesting discussion, I noted that I was taken aback by what I interpreted as an ageist slight at “older feminists.” I mentioned posing for a Facebook photo with my colleague and friend Shira Tarrant, each of us with our middle fingers raised; the picture was captioned “middle-aged feminists flipping off ageism.” I posted it on Facebook within seconds, while the speakers were still speaking and the event was ongoing. Furthermore, while I tweeted my annoyance, I didn’t bring it up in the Q&A that followed, and I left the event early to have dinner with friends.

I’m fortunate to have thousands of Facebook friends, including a great many people in the feminist community and many, many former students. The photo ended up in everyone’s newsfeed on Facebook, and attracted many comments and much discussion. And the impression it left was that Shira and I, as “professional” feminists and professors in our forties, weren’t spending a lot of effort on connecting with the young people who were speaking. We had constricted around a couple of unfortunate remarks, and my choice to post the photo reinforced the notion that ageism had been the great theme of the event. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Writing at Feminist Fatale today, Miranda Petersen takes issue, rightly so, with how I interpreted the evening. Miranda writes:

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?

Emphasis in the original.

Miranda’s right. I take full responsibility for posting a photo that was inappropriate and got a tremendous amount of attention. For the record, the picture was taken with my camera and was my idea; it was an impulsive and frankly juvenile decision to post it. I chose to do at the workshop what I try never to do with my students, and indeed warn against — taking one inflammatory remark out of context and focusing on it to the exclusion of everything else. For someone who considers himself a role model as well as an advocate for egalitarianism and social justice, for someone who works with these young people day in and day out, that was disappointing and inappropriate and I am genuinely, publicly sorry. I was wrong.

Ageism is a real issue. It does go both ways. And the annoyance at being falsely characterized as technologically incompetent hardly justifies tuning out the excellent points made by the many wonderful young speakers at last Thursday’s event.

I look forward to participating with enthusiasm and sincerity (and my twittering thumbs) at another such event soon. I will be participating with my colleagues and friends, for that they are, regardless of age.

Related articles:

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.


We Exist! LA Feminists Speak Out

From left to right: Myra Duran, Tani Ikeda, Morgane Richardson, Miranda Petersen, Melanie Klein, Brie Widaman and Jollene Levid

Thursday night, feminists drove from all over L.A. to be at the Young Feminists Speak Out event in Santa Monica.  While the panel (click here for a list of all featured panelists and their bios) focused on the new generation of feminists, people of all ages were in attendance to talk and listen.  The event was put together by Morgane Richardson, a feminist originally hailing from the east coast, Myra Duran and Miranda Petersen.  Upon moving to Los Angeles and noticing a lack of feminist gatherings in Los Angeles, Morgane was inspired to organize a diverse panel of LA-area feminists  and connected with Myra and Miranda to make the vision a reality. They are already working on more feminist events for the Los Angeles area.  Melanie Klein and Miranda Petersen moderated, and asked questions which ranged from how each panelist “found” feminism, to whether there’s a need for a current mainstream icon for the feminist movement.

One of the questions asked was whether there is an “east-coast/west-coast divide” in terms of organization, issues, and focus in the movement.  I was surprised to hear panelists disagree that a divide exists.  Ever since changing my major to Women’s Studies, I’ve wanted to do work for a feminist-focused company, and while there are some in Los Angeles, or regional offices for larger organizations, a great majority exist in Washington D.C. and New York City.


January 21, 2011

Young — and not so — feminists speak out in Santa Monica

Written by Hugo Schwyzer. Originally posted at Hugo Schwyzer. Cross-posted with permission.

Last night, I went with some friends to the Young Feminists Speak Out event in Santa Monica, co-sponsored by Ms Magazine and other progressive organizations. I knew several of the organizers through Ms and the Feminist Majority (the offices of which are walking distance from my house).

The gathering was at a fun and funky clothing store. Boys with long hair were jamming on guitars when I walked in and made my way to the “bar” for a diet Coke in a plastic cup. I joked to my friend Monica that it was like going to progressive events in the Eighties: the same music, the same plastic cups, the same sorts of flyers on tables. I had a flashback to Berkeley, circa 1985: back then the flyers at feminist gatherings decried militarism and encouraged organizing to support the Sandinistas and divesting from South Africa; today, they decry militarism and demand withdrawal from Afghanistan and the closing of Guantanamo. It’s a mighty over-used cliché, but plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

But the speakers were terrific, including Melanie Klein (of Feminist Fatale and a fellow community college women’s studies prof); Morgane Richardson, Brie from Revolution of Real Women and Miranda Petersen and Myra Duran, both from Feminist Majority. (I’m sure I’m leaving someone out.) I got to meet some great folks whose work I admire, like Pia Guerrero, the founder of Adios Barbie. We had many of the heavy hitters of SoCal feminist activism all together, and that was wonderful.

Events like these, as several people pointed out, are less common in Los Angeles than they are in San Francisco or New York. Angelenos famously have a reputation for refusing to drive long distances for events on weeknights, though that’s more a stereotype than reality. I had students who came from the northern San Fernando Valley and from east of Pasadena, spending more than an hour on freeways to get to the event on Lincoln Avenue. Whatever the reason, gatherings like this are rarer than they probably ought to be.

The discussion got off to an awkward start, as the older folks in the room picked up on what we know was unintentional ageism. One panelist in her twenties said that an “older generation of feminists had fliers, we have Twitter.” My forty three year-old self looked at my dear friend and collaborator Shira Tarrant, who was standing with me in the back of the room. Shira and I are old enough to be the parents of most of the speakers – and we were the ones with our iPhones and Blackberrries in hand, tweeting live updates. (Check the hashtag #femla.) It was an innocent but annoying mistake that we hear a lot: the speaker had confused the kind of tools we used for organizing when we were their age with the kind of tools we use for organizing now. At least in my circle of activists, some of the most social-media savvy feminists (the ones with heavy Facebook, blogging, and Twitter presences) are old enough to remember Watergate. We don’t stop learning new tricks when we turn 40, people!