(WOMENSENEWS)--"Sisterhood" bound women together during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s.
Fast-forward three decades, and it is time to start asking ourselves what happens when you try to stretch sisterhood across a generational divide and then push and pull it between the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Answer: serious stretch marks.
Yes, Clinton is attracting her share of Gen X and Y supporters as she wages an impressive political battle.
And plenty of older, self-described feminists support Obama. Take Sheila Goldmacher.
"I am a 74-year-old Jewish feminist lesbian and do not support Hillary and have disliked her for a long time as well as her husband Bill," she recently e-mailed Women's eNews. "They have helped to bring us the disaster we now have on our hands by the imposition of NAFTA, which she seems to been backtracking on; the so-called Welfare Reform Act, which has continued to make life miserable for countless numbers of women and children in this country. Stop trying to see this race as only men vs. women."
Goldmacher notwithstanding, plenty of second-wavers have turned the campaigns into a test of feminist credentials.
Robin Morgan's commentary, published by the Women's Media Center in February, is by now the most talked about example.
Far From Sororal
Morgan has published three books promoting "Sisterhood" but her attitude toward younger women supporting Obama is far from sororal.
"Goodbye to some young women eager to win male approval by showing they're not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo), who can't identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power, who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her. Goodbye to women of any age again feeling unworthy, sulking 'what if she's not electable?' or 'maybe it's post-feminism and whoooosh we're already free . . . '"
In the wake of the Morgan commentary we've seen some peace-pipe efforts by women anxious to keep the media from having too much fun with our little "catfight."
But I don't feel ready to drop the issue. This feels like an overdue "Mother-Daughter" power struggle that we need to examine. There is a great deal at stake here, as we face a future full of challenges that will require us to work across generational lines.
I agree with Feministing's Jessica Valenti, who pointed out that when Gloria Steinem recently convened a roundtable to try to heal the race-gender split, there was "nary a woman under 40 in sight" and that this meeting "represents the exact problem it purports to seek an end to: the narrowing of feminist viewpoints."
In the past year I have been invited to many gatherings of women's rights leaders and have been one of the only women under 40. There is a great deal of potential there, but we have to keep working at it.
We need to honor the idea that younger women can legitimately make different political choices, and it's not because we are fickle, ignorant or swept up in "Obama-mania." Even the eminently reasonable Ellen Goodman described the daughters as "having a lower boiling point or a lower consciousness" when they say "a woman in the White House is fine but not this woman."
Writers such as Linda Hirshman and Leslie Bennetts have characterized the current crop of mothers as unambitious, or uninvolved. But how well have they gotten to know women under 40 (outside of their own rebellious daughters, perhaps)?
In "The Feminine Mistake" Leslie Bennetts interviewed a woman who complained she hasn't seen the "young Gloria Steinems."
That is exactly the problem: baby-boomer women are busy looking for the leader they already know while ignoring women who are working for social justice in new ways. Bennetts, for one, makes it clear that she is aware of organizations like Mothers and More and MomsRising.org. But these grassroots activist movements fail to register on her radar, and Bennetts remains "shocked by the failure of the younger generations to understand that the majority of women . . . share common needs."
By raising this question, Bennetts also raises the unfinished business of the second-wavers. Women of color and low-income women have argued for years that their perspectives and needs took a back seat to the strategies of more privileged white women getting ahead in high-profile, male-dominated professions.
Now that dynamic is showing up between the generations. Ten years from now we could look back on the arguments about Clinton v. Obama as the wedge that emphasized a generational divide, to the detriment of all women.
The Mother-Daughter dynamic illuminates a power differential. In many ways the Mothers have the upper hand. They control the largest established organizations, the purse strings of foundation grants. By excluding younger women's definitions of feminism, however, the Mothers are short-circuiting their power.
The Mothers need to remember that they need the Daughters as well.
Gen-Xers such as myself are no longer children; we're reaching our 40s now. Not only do we represent the future, we are the bridge to the millennial generation who will clean up after all of us.
I am already having discussions with my 8-year-old daughter about the fact that she and her peers are going to have to cope with a post-oil world, face the effects of global warming in the second half of the 21st century, and deal with complex issues involving international relations.
I have asked her to think about how she would envision running cars without gasoline, and she has some really good ideas. I look at her and see an elder of the future. Why can't more boomers see that in women like me?
I am worried that modern feminism may go the way of "The Greatest Generation," something younger women honor as a historical legacy that does not directly involve us.
If we want to proceed together, rather than breaking into splinter movements, we are going to have to create a coalition that shares power and respects a wider variety of opinions.
Amy Tiemann, Ph.D., writes about mothers' leadership in her book, "Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family" and on her Web site, MojoMom.com
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For more information:
Women's Media Center, Robin Morgan, "Goodbye to All That (#2):
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