Stop Saying Hillary Clinton Is Not Perfect

It’s time for an indefinite moratorium on Hillary’s supporters saying she is “not perfect.”

It’s quite obvious nobody is perfect. And yet there seems to be a bizarre — dare we say gendered — compulsion for many of her supporters to disavow her when they’re otherwise affirming her.

Why do we expect perfection of women? Why are we so insistent that women in the public eye do everything just so? When do we say that our political leaders who happen to be men are “not perfect”?

Don’t distort me here. I remain aggressively committed to doing whatever I need to do to ensure Hillary stands up for, prioritizes, and follows through on meaningful progressive policy change for women’s rights, reproductive justice, racial justice, economic justice, and LGBTQ equality.

I’m not afraid to call for changes in her platform. I have not been afraid to have public conversations about her commitment to reproductive rights, especially after Tim Kaine joined the ticket, even when fellow advocates I respect have winced and tried to shush me up (Note: Judging by her eventual swap of the stigmatizing “safe, legal, and rare” to becoming the first major candidate to call for repealing the Hyde Amendment, and Kaine’s improved performance at the vice presidential debate, pressure seems to work). If she becomes the first woman in the White House, I will be glad to criticize her when her actions call for criticism. But I’m also keenly aware that an orientation toward accountability has nothing to do with expecting perfection of a woman.

As this election cycle drags on in the worst ways, I am starting to believe that rejecting the calls for Hillary to be perfect is an act of self-love for women. None of us need be perfect. We need to do our best, and we need to understand that others may call on us to do our best. But expecting perfection of women is sexist, and toxic.

Phyllis Schlafly Is Dead, Her Legacy Remains Alive And Hell

Phyllis Schlafly died yesterday. Many of the obituary headlines referred to her as the ‘first lady of the conservative movement.’ These headlines were ironically, or perhaps perfectly, totally sexist in themselves, since she and not her husband sowed the seeds of the hate cult the Republican Party depends on to elect many of its candidates to office.

It was Mrs. Schlafly, as I have long called her, who worked with Paul Weyrich and others to develop the divisive strategy of preying on “moral issues” — abortion, and antipathy toward women and LGBTQ people, among other things — to secure a permanent religious right voting bloc for conservative candidates who would vote against corporate regulation and racial equality.  If you wanted to get your Jerry Falwell on, Mrs. Schlafly was your gal.

She is credited with killing the Equal Rights Amendment, a wildly popular measure to this day. Most people think women have constitutional equality and want women to have constitutional equality. Phyllis Schlafly killed that, in what amounts to one of the most dismal failures of the second wave women’s movement. She did this by organizing, and speaking, but also by enlisting the worst allies.

The auto insurance industry wanted to keep charging women more, because among other things, discrimination is a driver of the rich staying rich. She fomented unreasonable panic about the military and invented the hapless, sweet woman who would be attacked by the predator in the bathroom because of your equality law. Phyllis Schlafly invented gardens and cauldrons of evil that continue to toxify the environment in which we live — against women, and now transgender people, and probably at least one if not several of your neighbors.

She was an early supporter of Donald Trump this election cycle, at a time when many cultural conservatives couldn’t get behind the lying philanderer (Note: They seem to have no problem when it’s far-right Christians who go hiking away from their marriages on the Appalachian trail with their mistresses). It made a great deal of sense, as he was, in some ways, following the footsteps she laid.

Phyllis Schlafly knew instinctively that lying, that saying hateful, outrageous things not backed by data, was not the losing proposition self-smug, reasoned liberals make it out to be. She knew that attention is part of power. She bred people like Ann Coulter, and yes, Donald Trump.

Why am I writing this? On the occasion of her death, I began to receive a number of text messages, probably because I debated her when I was 24. Here is the story I posted to Facebook last night:

Phyllis Schlafly died today.

I debated her in 2004 at a Federalist Society event on feminist jurisprudence at the University of St. Thomas Law School. I had just left my first husband and was kind of a mess, at that time in my life.

And yet I studied for weeks amid the boxes and chaos of a temporary apartment. I bought her books and scribbled in the margins. I put on my only suit. I wore heels. I called her Mrs. Schlafly the whole time.

I stunned that lady speechless. (I agreed with her that Social Security discriminates against stay-at-home mothers and called on her to work together to fix it.)

After the debate was over, she turned to me and hissed. “I have debated hundreds of your NOW ladies over the years, and nobody has responded to me that way.” Her bouffant was so full of Aquanet that it did not move.

“Well, Mrs. Schlafly,” I said in an equally low voice. “I’m just one member of a young feminist task force and one of thousands of young women in this country who are not going to stop fighting until women are equal and it’s done.” She looked at me and turned her head back to the front.

We exchanged no more words.

I guess I have a little more to say. When I was preparing to debate her, one of my strategies was to paint her as a walking anachronism. I may have called her that, even. I was barely 24 and she was in her 80s, so it wasn’t hard.

It pains me to see so many people going the cheap, quick, and easy route in dismissing her death. Hateful quotes of hers are spotlighted, and we all reassure ourselves that outright sexism is in the past and bigoted leaders are gone. They couldn’t possibly win in the future. That is not true. In a practical, political sense, Phyllis Schlafly is as alive today as she was yesterday, and she will continue to live on.

People who hold the same contemptuous views about their fellow human beings that Phyllis Schlafly did hold the majority power in Congress.

Racist gerrymandering gave us the Republican supermajorities in the states who put guns on college campuses and probes up vaginas, and give private companies the power to literally poison the public water that runs through faucets in communities of color, but/and it was the voter outreach strategy that depends on decades of Mrs. Schlafly’s work that also helped to propel them there.

The Republican nominee for president is the most outright bigot you could put on the stage, and it’s the primary reason why he won the primary base of that party.

So to smirk to ourselves that Phyllis Schlafly is gone, when the enduring and hateful power that she built is not, is to embrace a lefty ignorance that will only lose us more elections.

Fundamentally, Phyllis Schlafly understood that to win, you need the votes. The game is about numbers. The game is not about being right. The game is about saying the things that will support the organizing that gives you the numbers you need.

Now, I am not advocating that progressives abdicate the moral high ground. Lying is not right. In fact it is despicable. Preying on the worst in people is not right. There is a way to love one another, to use facts, and to win. I believe this with all of my heart, or I wouldn’t be typing this in my free time when I have a kid and no time for hobbies. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that we need to do the work and get the votes to win.

It was pretty amazing that Phyllis Schlafly was willing to do the work and get the votes to win by crossing one of the most unthinkable barriers for women — by being willing to be disliked. I think modern feminists could learn a lot from that, actually. Whether heel or sneaker, power comes from putting your foot down, too — not just from making other people, including your political allies, smile.

The other thing we need to remember is that Phyllis Schlafly was the poster child for STOP ERA because she was a woman. We will never stop having conservative women lead the organizing charge for the reactionary movement. It is not an error — it is the strategy. Women are more effective at enforcing regressive social norms than men are, particularly now that Republican men are a bit sensitive about all the ‘war on women’ stuff they’ve earned nine times over.

We need to accept that women are spokespeople and strategists of the conservative movement. We need to accept that women do misogyny, and they do it very well. I predict the phenomenon of bigoted conservative women (mostly white women) will increase, not decrease, as the years go by. Phyllis Schlafly laid the framework. Now more conservative women are going to get it.

Finally, I am really over the second-wave women’s movement congratulating itself for being right. You probably were right with regards to Phyllis Schlafly’s unique blend of hatred and doe-eyed strategic idiocy, and you certainly were with regards to the Equal Rights Amendment, and it didn’t matter. She beat you because she out-organized you. The way to win for the future is not to dig into the trenches Betty Friedan built that didn’t work the first time.

Passion won’t solve this. ‘Awareness’ won’t solve this. Unhelpful pleas for doing right for ‘all women’ certainly won’t solve it. Conflating the Democratic Party’s electoral needs with the women’s movement won’t solve it, either.

Accept and spotlight the diversity of women’s experiences in all of their messiness. Do it because it’s beautiful, but also do it to get the goddamn leadership and votes to put an Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution.

Phyllis Schlafly

“I’m Not Really Friends With Girls”

“I’m not really friends with girls.”

At a certain age, me and many of my girlfriends used to say this. Of course we were the biggest liars, since we were friends. Or at least I would have been crushed if they didn’t consider me their friend, too.

Woman-hating can be both reflexive and substantive for women. If you were the kind of girl I was, who wanted to leave home and read big books and achieve great things (in the embarrassing abstract, the way ambitious young people and sadly too many older people do) — well, it didn’t seem like conquering the mall and doing the feminine things would get me to greatness. Of course by 18 I had spent years working in malls for Limited Too, The Gap, and Abercrombie & Fitch. The main point is that in rejecting femininity and especially the camaraderie of other young women, I was a hypocrite, a self-loathing hypocrite.

Because I am feminine. I have always been feminine in my own way. I’ve just been taught to hate the feminine, to look at it condescendingly, and simultaneously use it as a yardstick for telling myself I’m not pretty enough or considerate enough or frankly, enough.

The way me and many of my more brainy girlfriends used to go to great lengths to declare we weren’t really friends with girls, because maybe it felt more substantive to be friends with the boys (which is bullshit, because masculinity can be just as shallow as femininity, and at times much more so) has parallels at different points in the lifecycle. We are taught to judge women who put effort into their appearance to halt the visible signs of aging just as we are taught to judge women who “let themselves go.” Plastic Surgery Gone Wrong is a thing, but so is Kirstie Alley in the tabloids. We are told to change the way we talk to be taken seriously. It goes on.

I am troubled by efforts to reject womanhood and in particular, women, as a way for women to set ourselves apart from the second-class expectations sexism drapes on our pretty little collarbones.

I don’t want to imagine how much my life would suck without the friendship of women. It is not the feminine that is flawed, but the rejection of it.

Spice Girls

Video: May 2016 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary, and discussed Donald Trump and women, sexual assault at religious universities, and the evolution of feminism.

You can watch a video of the show here:

"Trump campaigns dirty, to the point you might almost say he's running for bigot-in-chief. And so, I"m just gonna observe that I'm not surprised that 3 out of 4 women are turned off by him."

 

Rekindling The Flame: How Bernie Can Refuel And Help To Heal The Dudebro-Dominated Progressive Movement

Math is real. Bernie Sanders is going to lose the Democratic nomination for president. Yes, he is staying in the race and still collecting protest votes, and part of that process means pretending like he can win. But he can’t, and he knows it. We all do.

There have been aspects of his candidacy that are just on fire: The crowds, the youth, the focus on income inequality, the critique on conservative tilts within the Democratic Party, the visible changes in the campaign’s approach to racial justice in response to heckling from Black Lives Matter activists at Netroots Nation last summer. His vision is bold and that rocks. He has made more people believe government can be a force for good, and that’s an admirable and necessary lift after decades of right-wing demonization of public infrastructure and services.

But there are things about his candidacy that are crazy-making! The snide subset of online supporters who will try to gaslight you out of every possible critique one could have of his platform and campaign — like a nightmarish neighborhood White Castle that never closes, they are always there to make you feel sick by informing you the messiah already did that, and your concerns aren’t valid.

The relentless focus on Wall Street is ridonkulous. I have been joking for months that I need to print up some panties that say “THIS IS NOT WALL STREET,” because the very real assault on reproductive rights and the humanitarian crisis that has ensued is but one strong example of how not every urgent problem facing our society can be blamed on a banker. And these issues of inequality that can’t be blamed on Gordon Gekko are not a ‘distraction.’

After admiring Bernie for some time, I transitioned to full-fledged #BernOut a few weeks ago. The wagging finger while Hillary speaks; the comments about her ‘ambition’ and ‘qualifications’ that working women know all too well; the lack of support and visibility for critical races down the ticket. He has not been visibly cultivating relationships with women’s organizations, more often picking fights with them. Bernie has a gender blindspot and it’s big enough that you can drive several semis full of pushy, underpaid, and undervalued women behind him.

It is for these reasons I vom in the back of my throat a little every time I hear the suggestion that Bernie is the figurehead for the future of the progressive movement. I am tired of having white people with dicks lead the thing that gets to be called progressive, while women and people of color who try to break into the top leadership roles are painted as ‘big money’ or ‘establishment’ or ‘under-qualified.’

I am tired of seeing so many supremely qualified women and people of color doing substantive work for the white people with dicks, but never getting promoted to the public seat when the boss retires. There is always another white man who steps in to the wild applause of the good old boys, and hardworking women waiting for the turn that will never come within the party infrastructure.

There is always a 100 percent pro-choice rating for the new guy to brag about and pivot (and by the way, when 100 percent pro-choice rating means someone who never apologies for abortion and refuses to vote for any bill or budget that bans abortion funding, you let me know, and I’ll decide those words mean something other than ‘garden-variety, weak-kneed Democrat.’). The newspapers will quote economic justice advocates, who are almost always white men, who suggest that EMILY’s List and other efforts to elect women into office aren’t really progressive and kind of a relic of the past.

It’s been a few years since I was invited to an event with “the candidates’ wives” but almost all the candidates who make it past my local primaries are still white men. I’m done.

Frankly I cared and still care more about the Democratic primary for the open Senate seat in Maryland than I do the presidential. Last night Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) lost to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). In her concession speech she said that Maryland is about to have “an all-male delegation in a so-called progressive state.” This is a problem all over the country.

And now that Bernie Sanders is going to lose, it’s time for him to look around and consider his second act. Howard Dean took his loss and gave us a Democratic majority at the federal level — and while that group was far from perfect, it enabled huge legislative accomplishments.

Bernie is not that guy. He is the guy that is about building not a majority, but a movement. (Which is no knock, it takes all kinds.) Once the electoral pressures subside it’s time for him to expand that movement.

Just imagine if Bernie continued going around the country after he drops out of the presidential race, this time embarking on a listening tour. If Bernie would take the time to listen to the lived experiences of people who suffer from identity-based discrimination, and bake it into his wonderfully feisty approach to income inequality — just imagine how much better the progressive movement could be.

I don’t just want Bernie to fight for the soul of the Democratic Party; I want him to fight for the soul of a progressive movement that continues to second-tier the concerns of women and people of color. Rightly or wrongly, he is a white man and he will be more listened to when he raises these concerns. After Bernie Sanders drops out he should take on identity-based discrimination with humility, listening tours, and his trademark passion.

How To Be A Better Writer

I get away with things because I write. An ability to write well is power — to lead social change, to challenge assumptions and disrupt the status quo, and to validate your own feelings when other people won’t.

Writing is important to the feminist project for several additional reasons. Historically, writing has provided an outlet for women and marginalized people who had talent but were not eligible for other public roles because discrimination — and to an extent that continues today.

Writing is a way to share experience and theory, imagine alternate realities, and learn from one another. I’ve been saying for years that I believe it’s a radical act each time a woman tells the truth about her own life. Often those radical acts feel more comfortable in written form.

Recently I attended a networking event where a young woman shared that she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after college. I asked about her interests and she said she liked to write. I encouraged her to keep pushing herself in her writing ability — it would serve her well no matter where life took her.

In that spirit, I’m offering my tips for how to be a better writer:

Read. Read books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, lyrics, Tweets, manuals. Read promiscuously. Read outside your ideology. Challenge yourself — I read Ulysses at the gym, sob — and enjoy your teen lit without shame. Buy women authors, because feminism. Just read.

Write. The way to be a writer is to write. If you say that you want to be a writer, you’re either procrastinating or speculating. Anybody who sits the fuck down and writes is a writer. The way to become a better writer is to keep writing.

Give yourself permission to be yourself. This is at least as much life hack as writing tip, but don’t try to be other people/writers! Do not worry that you do not have their perspective! You have your perspective. It matters and you deserve to share it.

Identify your narrative arc.  It can be helpful to crystallize in your mind what drives your writing. Over a decade ago I realized that one of my chief aims as a writer is to expose uncomfortable truth. I believe acknowledging things we’re not supposed to talk about takes power from oppressive systems and redistributes it to individuals. Plus honesty feels great and helps me sleep. Not all of my work fits in the uncomfortable truth category, but I do find it helpful to remind myself why I do this work. In a few words, why are you doing yours?

Do not try to sound smart. If you’re writing to be understood by smart people, you’re lost on the side of a bad road. Make it excruciatingly easy for people to understand what you’re writing. Save the fancy words for standardized tests. (You’re still taking those? I’m sorry.) Do not assume people know the basics of your topic. Organize. Clear, concise, thorough — you win.   

Most descriptive language should go away. Adjectives and adverbs mostly dilute meaning. For that matter, be ruthless in cutting words from your drafts. Say what you mean, and say it with fewer words.

Find your weaknesses. One year I resolved to stop using the word “just,” which was all over my speaking and writing. Are you awkward with commas? Identify your crutches and work on them. Which brings me to my next point:

Invent challenges for yourself. I’ve done so many fun things over the years to keep my writing fresh. Poem-A-Day competitions with friends, National Novel Writing Month. Trying to write a screenplay (holy fail). But the best challenges I invented to directly attacked my weaknesses. For instance, I recognized that in my fiction, my characters sucked. So I took a whole month where I forced myself to write a new character every day. Some days it took the form of a poem, an article, a press release, a speech, a flip book, or more often a short story.

Dabble in other kinds of writing. I’ve taken spoken word poetry classes, fiction writing classes, and workshops on placing columns. Getting out of your lane strengthens your voice in your primary writing arena. It shakes up your thinking and it’s fun. 

Find editors who hate you. Actually please don’t seek out anyone who hates you. But the good editors are the ones who will challenge you to make revisions that make you roll your eyes in irritation. I have learned the most about writing from people who redlined me to tears.

Laugh at your old writing, and celebrate your resilience. I have successfully completed one novel, and that’s the only successful thing about it. It’s so bad I want to present myself to the jail a few miles away to show I’m sorry. I read grandiose things I used to write and cringe. I’ll probably read this post next week and do the same. Life is growth. Keep moving. Thank goodness.

Keep at it, and encourage others to do the same. I was in love with someone who showed me his writing. It was so bad! (To be clear, I’ve loved folks who showed me writing that was intimidatingly good, so please give yourself the benefit of the doubt in the event you’re an ex-lover perusing the blogs I am now writing, at age 35, late on a Friday night.) Yet he was so vulnerable. I didn’t know what to do, so I encouraged him on the few good parts of what he was doing. He actually got a lot better.

We should be so gentle with ourselves. Treat yourself like someone you love — encourage the areas that really work, and turn off the critic that focuses on the shit surrounding it. Coax the good stuff out and rely on what you learn from people who edit you to prune the rest.

Keep writing and you will get better.

Video: February 2016 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary, and discussed young women in politics, women and the draft, and football and feminism.

You can watch a video of the show here:

12651134_10207583653123337_6632701394271928459_n

Let Snow Days Be Snow Days

Expecting workers to telecommute on snow days is discrimination against caregivers, pure and simple.

It’s not just offices that are closed on snow days. Schools are closed. Daycares are closed. Caregivers who come to the home either stay home themselves, or put themselves in danger. Parents and caregivers aren’t capable of pretending like it’s just another workday, but in our pajamas and from our kitchen tables. We have people depending on us.

From a sentimental/artistic/being a human standpoint, I believe everyone should get a snow day — caregiver or no. When nature dumps white to the point of municipal breakdown, we may as well look out the window and wonder, catch up on our reading or binge-watching, or have sex (just saying, the maternity wards are going to be crowded in D.C. in 9 months).

But those think pieces exist. What exists far less is an acknowledgement that when our basic institutions don’t open, parents and caregivers who work outside the home can’t just do our work inside the home like nothing ever happened. There are diapers to change, baths to give, meals to prepare, and they do and should take precedence. And yes, this primarily impacts women.

The same extends to students. My alma mater, Georgetown University, now has a concept called “instructional continuity” that means that when classes are cancelled, students are often on the hook for doing something for the class during the same time. What an assumption that professors and students don’t have people depending on them in their real lives!

I’ve always hated the “work/life” concept and thought it was a marketing gimmick to cover up for the fact that our society throws women and caregivers to the wolves, even makes us feel guilty for it and like we are somehow personally deficient. But that’s a book and not a blog post.

For now, for modernity’s sake, for humanity’s sake:

Let a snow day be a snow day.

So You Want A Feminist Job

I often get asked: I want your job; how do I do that? Here is a compilation of advice and reflection I’ve given over the years.

“Being a feminist” is not a job. Being a feminist ___ is. 
Pick a function or at least a set of skills that sound interesting. Maybe you like writing? Or fundraising? Or are interested in lobbying? If there are employers out there hiring feminists because they are feminists, I’ve yet to meet them (though they do sound lovely). You are going to be infinitely more employable if you say you’re interested in accounting, marketing, something — and yes, feminist organizations hire for all of these things.

You can still be a feminist and work anywhere, not just with a non-profit or an NGO.
I have worked in: Advertising agencies, consulting firms, investment research firms, writing companies, financial service firms, media organizations, and explicitly feminist non-profits. Working for a feminist employer is not what makes a ‘real’ feminist, it’s your values that count. This world needs more feminist bankers, doctors, and retail store managers. And let’s be honest — the pay in feminist organizations has a tendency to suck. It’s okay (and feminist) to want and seek more money than a movement job can provide.

Do not, under any circumstances, work for free.
Volunteering on your own schedule and for tasks you choose is fine, but unpaid internships are not your friend. You should not work as an de facto employee or member of a team of paid employees without getting paid. There are other internships and jobs out there that can be stepping stones toward the job you really want, even inside the organization offering you an unpaid internship, and you deserve to be paid.

Further, do not work for free. Do not offer to work for free as a trial, or delay paychecks if an organization you love is struggling financially. I drained my savings to work for an organization that didn’t pay me for months, and owed me back pay for years. It was horrible and I’m ashamed of myself for doing it; don’t make this mistake.

There isn’t a cause on Earth worth a toxic work environment.
Do not, under any circumstance, confuse an employer or a single organization with a movement. There are a million ways you can do feminist work. If someone is abusing you, harassing you, or otherwise treating you like crap, put yourself first and find a way to leave as quickly as you can. No regrets!

Seek out the smaller organizations.
Some of the most interesting work in the women’s movement is happening within smaller organizations you may not have heard of. Sure, request your informational interviews with the more obvious feminist organizations, but be sure to ask each person you talk to what other organizations they admire. They’re likely to name some folks you haven’t heard of; track those organizations down. They are likely to both be doing more ground-breaking work and offer more meaningful work for someone at the entry-level.

If your dream is leadership in a legacy organization, don’t move to Washington or New York.
In my personal experience, starting at the entry level and working your way up in the national office of a large, big-name feminist organization is exactly how to ensure you never ascend beyond middle management — in the best case scenario. These legacy organizations tend to be quite hierarchical, and entry-level employees at headquarters are often paid poorly, respected less, and spit out like cherry pits. If you want to build up leadership experience and have meaningful tasks, go work in a state affiliate. That’s where many of the most impactful fights are, anyway.

But still, your dream is to be the president of ____. Oh, boy.
Love me some ambition, but if you can’t articulate why you want to lead a specific organization and/or what new thing you would want to accomplish in such-and-such role, you’re just star-fucking.

Do not enter public feminism with the illusion that people will like you.
Feminists are generally treated like shit — by the outside world, and other feminists. Very few people will applaud you for doing the hard work it takes to advance equality and justice. Most will be mean, patronizing, or stare down your shirt instead. For that matter, I meet many people who believe that feminism is like a Xanadu where women are nice to each other and sit around saying, “great idea” while eating potato chips dipped in chocolate. Not so. Movement work is hotly contested, messy, and filled with rivalries and difficult personalities. And most everything you strive for will be shot down, in the broader world and the feminist world. It’s okay to be motivated by praise from others or visible progress — it’s totally human — but if that’s critical for you, there may be better fields.

But actually, it can be awesome.
I wouldn’t trade my life for the world. Every day I get to work on issues I care deeply about, and I do believe my efforts make a difference. There are hard-fought tangible political or institutional wins, yes — and those are the best. But the barely visible personal is at least as gratifying and exciting.

It literally makes my whole life when people I know from high school or an old job tell me I helped them see an issue differently, or someone who I helped with an informational interview comes back years later and tells me they are doing awesome work. I am moved to tears by women who seize their courage, stand up for themselves, and tell me about it. I am challenged and inspired every day by feminists who have it more figured out than I ever will.

01-women-working-poster-us-wwii

Being A Young Feminist Can Turn A Girl Old

A therapist told me to try a women’s studies class, so I did that first semester of my freshman year. I still remember exactly what I was wearing that September morning in 1998, not because it was a cute outfit but because I was obsessed with my legs. The therapist had been treating me for an eating disorder that nearly killed me a few months before.

In this context, going to college was a luxury; hell, living was a luxury. I enrolled in Women’s Studies 101 to check a box. Instead a new world opened. I don’t say this hyperbolically — feminism helped save my life. I was able through relapses and hospitalizations and treatment to stabilize and beat down the anorexia. But what truly saved my life was making the connection that eating disorders are just one manifestation of a deeply sexist world that denigrates and trivializes women, weaponizes our bodies against us, and then tells us it’s all our fucking fault anyway.

With its radical messages of dignity, equality, and honesty, my feminism made it impossible for me to go back to the dark side. How the light went on! I dove headfirst into all the women writers. Kate Chopin, Sylvia Plath, Alexandra Kollontai, Shulamith Firestone, Valerie Solanis. Judith Butler. I told myself I wanted to be a women’s studies professor someday. Until I realized that a lot of this postmodern stuff was hard to read, and I could have an obscure argument in an obscure language with about three other people who maybe understood me, or I could try to work for justice out in the real world.

So this is the ironic thing. I had a series of proto-feminist moments (making GOTV calls for the woman who could have been Minnesota’s first woman senator when I was 11, writing about gender discrimination in the SAT for the school newspaper, the obsession with the Indigo Girls) well before I started taking women’s studies courses in college. But it wasn’t until I left the classroom and went into the feminist non-profit world that I became a “young feminist.” Even if by that time I was 21. Not 18. Or 11.

I’m 35 and I still get called “young feminist” in those contexts on occasion today, although that says far more about those contexts than my age. If 35 is young, it’s only to reflect our societal fears of identifying as old, and our societal inability to give our young people career opportunities with growth potential rather than a pile of student debt that’s damn near impossible for so many to repay. The weird thing is that the term young feminist exists at all.

This label, like anything that impacts a person’s identity, is complicated for me. Sometimes I love the term — you know, it is true that people will have different views of what equality will look like as they grow up in different generations. If all goes well, after all, what a previous generation of feminists fought for should be appallingly conservative to the next generation.

And yet sometimes I think the concept of a young feminist is total horse shit.  I identified as a feminist a few years before feminist non-profits taught me to identify as a young feminist. Just what was the point of segregating us?

I bristle every single time I hear someone say that young women need to be educated so they don’t take the freedoms they’ve gained for granted. First because not every woman has gained the freedoms we’re told feminism has won. But also and especially because it’s so insulting. Talking down to young women is anti-feminist. Presuming young women are not capable of identifying and articulating and fighting for what they need to live as full human beings is anti-feminist. Treating young women as sidekicks in a women’s movement is anti-feminist, particularly in a legislative context where older white men are obsessed with controlling and restricting younger women’s bodies, and demonizing those who dare to have sex and live their lives anyway.

And yet it happens all the time. Today was the latest entry with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) expressing regret over the “complacency” of young women born after Roe v. Wade (1973, how young!). Blaming apathetic young women for the declining state of abortion access has been something of a cottage industry hovering over the pro-choice movement ever since I’ve been around, but in the last few years the situation has gotten markedly better, in large part due to those with less power having the ability to present alternative views on social media. To my knowledge there wasn’t a similar mechanism to democratize voices between activists and the leaders making the big bucks before then.

You know, we should push back every single time someone ‘on our side’ tells us young women are apathetic about feminism or abortion or any number of concerns that impact our lives. We should push back that young men are somehow not included in the group who should take equal responsibility to work toward progress. But frankly I’m getting old (a privilege for which I feel blessed, not shamed) and sometimes I wonder if we will ever find that moment where we won’t have to fight for the full recognition of young people in a women’s movement that has a tendency to treat them as helpmeets or hire them as unpaid interns.

There are approximately two gray hairs on my head now, and I swear, at least half of them came from a vocal minority of older feminists who have been patronizing or worse about my work.