Yes, fourth-wave feminism has a certain age group that is poised to lead the way—and our heroes might not be who you think. Let me explain.
Fourth-Wave Feminism’s Lost Generation
Soon after all hope was lost on election night, my only thought was, We’ve lost everything we fought for! My daughter, who is 30, called a few hours later to see how I was doing, and I had no consolation to offer her. But when I realized that her concern was for more than her distraught mother, I knew what to say. “Now, it’s up to you.”
I understood that in this crisis, my generation would have to put our trust in the generations coming along behind us. It’s not just my daughter’s generation that will be doing the heavy lifting in this fight: We’ve got a secret weapon.
I became aware of this lost generation of activists at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21. Large shows of force have defined important chapters in the women’s movement. In 1970, the Women’s Strike for Peace and Equality March down Fifth Avenue brought 50,000 women out of the side streets and office buildings in unexpected solidarity, confirming that women were ready to fight for change. Then, in 1977, 20,000 delegates gathered in Houston at the National Women’s Conference to set an agenda for equal rights.
As the editor of Ms. Magazine, I had a front row seat in the years that followed to the progress and setbacks to women’s rights that made news. This January, as I chanted my way through the Mall alongside my daughter, I felt the Women’s March on Washington signaled a reboot of our movement.
These women are in their late 40s and 50s and might not have discovered their voice at all without the blatant threat to everything they had taken for granted.
What I saw in Washington and what I’ve been hearing from friends and neighbors is that a cohort from the generation between mine and my daughter’s has been stepping up, galvanized into action by the Trump victory. These women are in their late 40s and 50s and might not have discovered their voice at all without the blatant threat to everything they had taken for granted.
Post-Feminist Era? I Don’t Think So
Coming of age in what some (inaccurately, as it became clear) called the “post-feminist” era, it was possible for women in their circumstances to assume that the big issues had been settled. They had spent their 20s, 30s, and 40s making the most of the breakthroughs their mothers marched for, but they hadn’t seen themselves as trouble-makers or maybe not even feminists. Until now.
Women over 50 today have more confidence, expertise, and wherewithal, including some with real power, to take on the system than we had at their age.
Not only have they awoken to the imminent danger we face, but they are at a point in their lives when they are ready and able to look up from their own concerns and refocus their considerable skills on what’s best for their daughters, their country, and their planet.
They may not have experience marching or protesting anything except their property taxes, but they have more confidence, expertise, and wherewithal, including some with real power, to take on the system than we had at their age.
What’s more, they have the rebellious attitudes that characterize their stage in life – the Fuck You Fifties. No longer devoted to pleasing and caring for others, their rallying cry is, “I don’t care what people think any more. I care what I think!”
“I’ve never done anything like this,” a 56-year-old friend told me, “but I had to do something. I’ve been radicalized!” When another woman was asked if she was afraid of trouble at the march, she said, “Listen, my kids are in college. Can you imagine how cool that would make me if I got arrested at a protest.”
Between the brave, smart, determined younger women who are building on the energy unleashed by the march and us old-timers, this middle group will be crucial in the years ahead for advancing and protecting women’s rights. It’s going to be a long, grueling fight and I’m relieved to know that on this go-round I’m part of a multi-generational force that will no longer take anything for granted.