Tattoos, Title IX, and Total Apathy

I spent the last two weeks reading Rebecca Traister’s book in preparation to meet with her last Friday, and one section of the book in particular caught my attention. While I appreciated her commentary on the 2008 election, this election was before my political awakening (and before I was old enough to vote) so it was more of a history lesson than illumination of phenomena I experienced.

Traister’s book includes a lot of discussion of the Obama girl and Hillary supporter stereotypes as well as the implications for cooperation among feminists, but I believe that these generational differences are more pronounced than just which candidate to support. For example, Traister’s argument that one of the most pronounced generational differences between young feminists and pre-Title IX (my formulation, not hers) feminists is their view of the importance of having a woman in the Oval Office. She argues that many pre-Title IX feminists want to get a woman in the White House, while young feminists view this as an inevitability and would rather wait and vote for a woman whose politics they prefer to Hillary’s. In reflecting on this formulation of pre and post Title IX feminists, I thought of the many differences that appear to drive a wedge between second and third wavers (or whatever I am) including tattoos and piercings, issues of intersecting identities and views of women in leadership roles.

Firstly, the stigma associated with tattoos and piercings is among the most simple of issues that separate second wave feminists and third wave feminists. These feature prominently among younger feminist activists, but are highly stigmatized by older feminists, like my Mom and her friends. I don’t think I have a very solid understanding of the big-name feminist views on piercings and the like, but I do know my mom advised me in high school to never get tattoos or excessive piercings because these, especially tattoos, are highly looked down upon by women of her generation and older.

Another potential wedge separating second wavers and young feminists are that many of the most active young women in the Women’s Movement are also queer. Many of these women-identified folk are tattooed and pierced, or at least accepting of tattoos and piercings. I think that the choice to get tattooed and pierced is related to a rejection of traditional roles for women, and occasionally as a queer middle finger to unsupportive parents. I wonder if the gap in experience between queer or non-gender conforming women and straight, married, second wavers are contributing factors to the gap between young feminists and women like my mother in the second wave. This is not to say that all queer folk have bad relationships with their parents at all, but I am proposing that this gap lies in the differences among life experiences including experiences of homophobia in the third wave and the pressures of marriage and family still overwhelming women during the second wave. Is it that young feminism is doing a better job of including the experiences of LGBTQ folk than second wave feminism did including women of color? Many of the conversations we have in Moxie have to do with the intersectionality of oppressions, but I don’t really know whether or not these are conversations that second wavers had/have. Maybe they are? I’d like to find out.

Lastly, I was born 10 years after Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court and almost 20 years after Title IX was passed. I take women’s sports and women in leadership roles for granted. This is a wonderful world to have grown up in, but this experience does not lend me to being particularly worried about the state of women leaders. Traister cites numerous second wave feminists bemoaning the lack of participation of younger women in the Women’s movement but I agree with her (and Gloria Steinem’s) conclusion that this is a product of the hard won rights that second wave feminists won for them. The portion of the book that most caught my attention was Traister’s narration of the conflict between second and third wave feminism as the conflict between mothers and daughters. This formulation really struck a chord with me in that I feel it reveals a lot about the conflicting ideas about feminism that often arise between my mother and I. I cannot reflect on whether this portion of the book would be as appealing for a “mother” or second wave feminist to read, but I plan to suggest my Mom reads the book to find out. Whether this lack of action stems from a rejection of our mothers’ ideas of feminism, generational differences or simply an inability to perceive threats to our rights, there is still work to be done and apathy is a privilege for times of peace.

All of this leaves me concerned: will we be able to bridge this myriad of differences to continue to fight for Women’s rights, or will we have to lose ground before these groups will be able to effectively work together?

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