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  • Debbie Dougherty

The Age of Feminism (or Should I Say "The Ageism of Feminism"?)


Pink frog with a wizard cap.
Wise Frog. Picture by Freya Clark

I went to visit my Grandmother last week. She told me that my new book, Sexual Harassment and Organizational Culture, reads like a novel and that she keeps it on her kitchen table so she can use it as a reference, especially when she is arguing with someone about gender and predatory sexual behavior. My Grandmother is 103 years old. She is an original feminist. She is awesome.


Ageism and Feminism Should not Mix

Ageism, in any form, troubles me, especially when it comes from people who struggle against marginalization. Feminists, in particular,

  • Should Know better.

  • Should Do better.

  • Should Be better.

Yet, throughout the various generations of feminism, ageism has been a resonant force for change. The most recent example comes from when Supermajority dropped the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, allegedly because it wanted to focus on young women. Pantsuit Nation had millions of active users, but apparently we were too old to be relevant.


Powerful Feminists

I have always been surrounded by older feminists who are a powerful force. I have leaned into their wisdom and they have commanded/demanded/inspired my respect.

  • My grandmother

  • My Mom

  • My church friends

  • My work colleagues

I have learned so much about life, feminism, resilience, power, grace from these people. They are imperfect for certain. They have their biases. Let’s just say I have learned how to argue for equity through my conversations with some of these people.


I have also been surrounded by younger feminists who are also a powerful force. I lean into their convictions that fundamental change is possible. They have commanded/demanded/inspired my hope.

  • My children

  • My students

  • My nieces

  • My church friends

  • My work colleagues

I feel renewed and hopeful from these feminists. They keep me steady and on track. Of course, I have also learned how to argue for equity through my conversations with younger feminists. Because younger people also have their biases. As do all of us.


"Those People are the Problem"

For whatever reason, we like to point our fingers at other people, proclaiming that they are the problem. I discussed this phenomenon in my blog on the Unique Person Syndrome.

  • We say, "look at those people being sexist/heterosexist/cissexist/racist/classist/ableist/whatever.

  • We say, “how could they have gotten it so wrong?”

  • We say, “the older feminists need to back off so the young (read stronger, smarter, better, whatever) feminists can fix all the things the older feminists broke.

Maybe "We People" are the Problem

We are so busy using our words to create “others” that we often fail to notice our own failings.

The absolute worst of feminist history comes from our tendency to set ourselves apart from other feminists. White feminists left behind Black, Indigenous, and Women of color. Middle class feminists exclude working class women. Heterosexual feminists dismiss co-sexuals. Cisgender feminists reject gender non-conforming people. And, of course, political feminists discount older feminists in favor of young feminists.


What is This Thing we Call Feminism

Feminism is not little. Feminism is not an idea or a thing. Feminism is a living organism that is created and recreated through our interactions. Through our communication. You might say that Communication Constitutes Feminism. Communication is constantly reconstructing feminism based on the current historical space and time where we live. Therefore, you might say that. . .

  • Feminism is an inheritance

  • Feminism is a cacophony

  • Feminism is a conversation

  • Feminism is an argument

Feminism is what we need it to be to address the politics of subjugation. It should not create subjugation. The only way to keep it on the right trajectory is to constantly talk it into existence.


Action Steps

I have a few recommendations. First, engage in the conversation. Second, please pause and listen. Really listen. As Robin Claire explained in her book Organizing Silence, silence communicates. Sometimes we need to be silent to think and to allow others to speak. Finally, and as always, ask more questions. It seems to me that we often jump to conclusions without fully understanding other people's perspectives and experiences.


I would like to hear your ideas. What do we need to do differently in order to do better?


Above all, remember, feminism needs all of us. That is all. That is enough.


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*If you are looking for an electronic version of the Sexual Harassment and Organizational Culture book, you can find one at Cognella publishing. We hope to make it available through retail outlets like Amazon and Barnes and Nobles in the near future.


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