The XX Factor

Susan Faludi on Feminism’s Mother-Daughter Divide?

Like Amanda , I found Susan Faludi’s indictment of young feminists in Harper’s off-pitch and baffling. (The article isn’t online yet.) Faludi blames the daughters for the generational divide in organized feminism. But her main narrative is all about the mothers rejecting the daughters. Faludi describes last summer’s contest for the presidency of NOW between 33-year-old Latifa Lyles and 56-year-old Terry O’Neill, who jumped into the race after Lyles appeared to have it in the bag and “made a point of representing NOW’s older, more traditional constituency.” Lyles goes from NOW’s annointed to the loser of a closely divided vote. After O’Neill’s victory, Olga Vives, another NOW veteran who at first ran herself, then got sick and passed the baton to O’Neill, spews bile about Lyles and her peers. “We created these little monsters with all this ‘You can be anything that you want,’ ” she says. “That’s who we created and that’s who is now demanding control.”

Somehow, from this Faludi builds to the conclusion that today’s young feminists are flappers-heedless, hedonic, unserious. Their feminism is all about looking good and buying right. “It posits a world where pseudo-rebellions are mounted but never won nor desired to be won, where ‘liberation’ begins and ends with workplay and pop-culture pastiche and fishnet stockings.” Sorry, but what am I missing? Lyles embodies none of this. Her sin, if it is one, is to have doubled NOW’s Internet fundraising and “engaged the enthusiasm of a host of feminist bloggers.” I guess bloggers is code for shallow and callow? Have I mentioned that Lyles is black and O’Neill and Vives are white? It is really hard to see how the NOW election stands for third-wavers and their younger sisters kicking the second-wavers aside.

I’m sorry to hear about NOW’s generational split, even if I don’t get why Faludi is blaming the younger women for it. I’d care more, though, if I thought that NOW was central to the lives of American women or even to political feminism. But it’s not and hasn’t been for a long time. The vote Faludi sees so much siginficance in was 206 to 198. No zeroes. The generational relationships that matter as much, I think, are the ones I see playing out around me in a far happier way-older women editors taking extra time with younger women writers, law professors making sure that their female as well as male students apply for top clerkships and academic jobs, young women lawyers cheering when the president nominates their older peers to the bench. I don’t mean to pretend we’re all blissed out in mother-daughter Eden: I was part of Obama vs. Hillary debates between older and younger women that indeed turned into slugfests. But mostly, Faludi’s bitterness just seems weirdly unattached to her reporting.

Photograph of Susan Faludi by Jan Ainali for Wikimedia Commons.