New essays and articles by Susan Faludi.
December 10, 2010
This article was originally published in the October 2010 issue of Harper's Magazine.
No one who has been engaged in feminist politics and thought for any length of time can be oblivious to an abiding aspect of the modern women’s movement in America—that so often, and despite its many victories, it seems to falter along a “mother-daughter” divide. A generational breakdown underlies so many of the pathologies that have long disturbed American feminism—its fleeting mobilizations followed by long hibernations; its bitter divisions over sex; and its reflexive renunciation of its prior incarnations, its progenitors, even its very name. The contemporary women’s movement seems fated to fight a war on two fronts: alongside the battle of the sexes rages the battle of the ages.
How many times have we heard women say, “No older woman helped me in my career—my mentors have all been men”? How many surveys report that young women don’t want, and distrust, female bosses? How often did we hear during the last presidential election that young women were recoiling from Hillary Clinton because she “reminds me of my mother”? Why does so much of “new” feminist activism and scholarship spurn the work and ideas of the generation that came before? As ungracious as these attitudes may seem, they are grounded in a sad reality: while American feminism has long, and productively, concentrated on getting men to give women some of the power they used to give only to their sons, it hasn’t figured out how to pass power down from woman to woman, to bequeath authority to its progeny. Its inability to conceive of a succession has crippled women’s progress not just within the women’s movement but in every venue of American public life. The women’s movement cycled through a long first “wave,” and, in increasingly shorter oscillations, a second and third wave, and some say we are now witnessing a fourth. With each go-round, women make gains, but the movement never seems able to establish an enduring birthright, a secure line of descent—to reproduce itself as a strong and sturdy force. At the core of America’s most fruitful political movement resides a perpetual barrenness.
August 2, 2008