Having grown up in the age of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, I couldn’t imagine casually or unironically using words like “chick” or calling adult women “girls.”
But I find that twentysomethings don’t seem to share that point of view.
I’m not going to sit here and make the argument that words don’t matter. I’m a writer, for chrissakes, of course they matter. More than that, though, intent matters. Tone matters. The messenger matters:
I remember a study done in the eighties about how children perceived the word “man”. They had one group of children drawing a picture of “man discovers how to use fire” – or something to that effect. They had another group of kids drawing “humans discover how to use fire”. The first group of kids drew men sitting around a fire. The second group of kids drew men and women sitting around the fire.
But then we get comments like this, which take the debate to a whole other place, an ugly place I’ve spent way too much time:
Part of what we fought for in the 60s and 70s was for younger women to be able to assume they had certain rights we never could assume we had.
Nice for them, except they don’t know who is responsible for the greater freedom in their lives, nor do they understand how tenuous that freedom is.
I don’t mean to pick on this commenter exactly, except as an indicator of a certain tone I’ve noticed lately as we suffer through the Hillary coverage, a sort of smug “See, see what you get when you don’t listen?” that hews awfully close, to me, to some kind of implication of fault. And maybe I’m making a leap there. Maybe I’m taking an innocent “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it backwards in heels” remark too personally, and getting defensive because whenever the True Feminism Olympics start up, I seem to be unable to come up with a medal. Maybe I just feel like we’re all taking this campaign out on each other and as much as I’ve tried to stay out of the mudfights, my back is up just as much as anybody’s and I don’t like seeing good people getting stepped on.
It’s because of the good people, good women, kickass chicks if you will, that I know working their asses off every day to live the lives they want to live, it’s because of them that I get really, really, really sick of being told my generation sucks and is doing it wrong. Not everybody’s as flat-out snide about it as one former acquaintance, who liked to regale me with tales of how her generation had the chance to change the world, and couldn’t make it happen, so feh, really, but you go be cute with your flyers if you want. Every time the topic of media obsession with the politics of the 60s comes up, somebody’s right there to chime in with how kids today (I mean, I’m thirty-fucking-two) don’t appreciate what their elders went through on their behalf. And it becomes one of those fights where somebody’s yelling at you something that is true, but is not in any way relevant to the point at hand, like screaming “Freedom isn’t free!” at Iraq war protesters; yeah, okay, AND?
I’m not saying this well. I think it’s because I’m so pissed off. How is it not demeaning to women to generalize that all of us out there who didn’t live through the 60s (which isn’t our fault, by the way, we didn’t skip town while the history was happening, we didn’t oversleep, most of us justweren’t born yet) just don’tknow, and therefore cannot be properly aware of the pitfalls of our own lives? And what is the purpose of that knowledge, that mindfulness? Is it to make my own generation better, or to venerate yours? Is it to make me feel strong or to make me feel guilty? To encourage my own desires or subtly move me to take some course of action of which you’d approve?
And I shouldn’t even have to say this, but: If the things that trip your wires don’t trip mine, that’s not a sign that I’m dumb, that’s not a sign I’m failing at feminism, that’s not a sign I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s not a sign that I’m a discredit to my generation and that’s not a sign I don’t think your work matters. It’s a sign that your work is your work, and mine is my own. Which reassurance has got fuck-all to do with what we started out talking about here, and frankly, fuck-all to do with the cause of making women’s lives better. Still an ongoing concern, to which snide infighting about whose “back in the day” wins the Authenticity Awards is not helpful AT ALL. As this commenter, who I’d like to marry, points out:
I think I’ll just continue as I am – and if my mother doesn’t mind, I think I’m fine – but thanks so much. I’ll just continue volunteering as an escort at my local Planned Parenthood, continue fighting my southern-based company’s management to get equal pays for both men and women, and continue calling girls “chicks” and guys “dudes,” because there are just more important things to be done in the fight for equal rights, equal treatment, equal respect, equal…(you get the idea) than to get all pissy about something so damned irrelevant.