6 Experiences Young Feminists Should Ask Older Feminists About

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Gloria Steinem (L) and actress Lena Dunham attend the 2016 Matrix Awards at The Waldorf Astoria on April 25, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
Source: Jemal Countess/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If you think about the last time you had a memorable discussion about feminism with your friends, you were probably surrounded by people from your demographic — same age, same stage in life, maybe the same background. While these conversations are both necessary and useful to developing your own beliefs, you might be missing out on a lot if this is the only crowd you chat to about feminism. Since the Second Wave of feminism began in the 1960s, feminism has changed in a lot of ways. Women have seized opportunities to express their feminism in unique ways that wouldn't have been accepted 30 years ago, LGBTQ rights are garnering more attention, and we're putting up a stronger fight for intersectionality than ever before.  

Naturally, that means that women who grew up during the Second Wave might not see eye to eye with us on everything — but that doesn't mean we should write each other off. In fact, it's only more reason for us to engage in meaningful conversation with one another. So the next time you find yourself chatting with a woman who is from an earlier generation than you, consider asking them a thing or two. It might help you make sense of your own feminism in the long run. 

Here are six experiences young feminists should ask older feminists about

1. What It Was Like To Be A Feminist When They Were Your Age 

Maybe you've read a few essays or books about what it was like to fight for gender equality in the 1970s, but listening to someone's personal narrative firsthand adds a layer of significance you may have never encountered before. Ask an older friend or family member about their young adult years. See if they've got any stories to share about what it was like to be a feminist when women had even less rights than they do now. If you don't know where to start, begin by asking about specific milestones in history, like Roe v. Wade in 1973. If they were around for such a momentous occasion, I'm sure they have plenty to say on the matter. 

I spoke to a professor at my graduate school once about how nervous she was to even admit she was a feminist in public when she was a teenager, because the social stigma around it was so strong that she probably would have been ridiculed. It gave me a new appreciation of the freedom we have in this day and age to talk about feminism, even if it isn't exactly the level of freedom we're eventually aiming for. 

2. Whether They Had Any Trouble Receiving Proper Reproductive Care When They Were Younger

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Many women today still don't have the reproductive care that they desperately need. That includes birth control prescription and medication, an OBGYN provider who can answer all their questions, and access to abortion. In the state of Alabama, for instance, 59 percent of women don't have an abortion provider at all. As bad as these statistics are, imagine how difficult it was for women a few decades ago to receive any help for contraception or pregnancy issues. It certainly helps to understand how far we've come, and how much more we still have to do in order to give all women the reproductive care they deserve

3. If Sexism Ever Came Between Them And Their Partner 

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If you look at advertisements and commercials in the 1970s and '80s, there are clear indicators that our society was much more comfortable with putting forth gendered narratives. Ads featured sexist messages about women who stay home, cook and clean, and simply wait for their husband to return home so they can pamper him. No doubt those expectations influenced relationships. 

It would be interesting to know about older women's past relationships, and whether they ever had to end a romance because their partner couldn't get on board with their feminist convictions. You never know; they could come forth with an inspiring story about how they were forced to call it quits with a person they genuinely loved because they didn't feel respected enough by them. Hearing this story might motivate you to get rid of someone in your life who doesn't quite grasp your feminist passion. 

4. If They Ever Had Trouble With Self-Confidence

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The oversexualization of women in the media affects us all, regardless of body type or sexual orientation. The images of tall, thin, busty, light-skinned women that cover magazines today secured their place at the forefront of advertisements a long time ago. In reality, those figures aren't at all representative of what everyday women look like, but we've been programmed to think there's only one kind of beautiful female body, and only one way to express it. 

Our mothers, friends, aunts, and grandmothers before us experienced very similar struggles, and you might be able to connect with them about it. Use this time to listen to each other's stories, build each other up, and find new ways to continuously celebrate all female bodies, shapes, and sizes. 

5. Whether They've Experienced Any Additional Sexism As They Age 

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This may sound like a wildly personal question, but if you're close enough with this person and you express a genuine interest in their narrative, they might be inclined to answer honestly. Whether you realize it or not, ageism is a feminist issue that generally goes unseen. Our society puts a high value on young, cisgender, attractive women — and sees older individuals as less worthwhile of their time. 

For example, Maggie Gyllenhaal, at just 37 years old, was told she was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man in an upcoming film. She said in an interview with The Wrap that it was a shock to essentially be told she was "over the hill." Outside of Hollywood, The National Bureau of Economic Research has proven that employers are less likely to offer job interviews to women who appear older on their resume. Older men, on the other hand, don't have to endure this same treatment, since they're probably considered wiser and thus more eligible for a new job. 

We have a lot to gain from learning about the intersection of age and gender, and how that plays out in everyday women's lives. Ask someone you trust about what it's been like to age during this time period. Have they encountered heightened levels of sexism? Do they feel like they're being treated differently? Listening to their answers will encourage us all fight for a more intersectional feminism. 

6. Whether They Ever Felt Pressured To Make Certain Choices 

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In 1945, 10 percent of mothers who had children under the age of six were working. Forty years later in 1985, half of these mothers were now holding a job. Between 1972 and 1985, the number of women in management positions grew from 20 to 36 percent. Find a woman today who was an adult during this time period, and I'm sure they've got a lot to say about what it was like to be in the midst of all that change. Women were starting to break out of preconceived gender roles that had been assigned to them by the patriarchy, gaining more confidence to propel themselves forward in the workforce. 

But the decision couldn't have been easy. There were women who still felt an enormous amount of pressure to stay home and take care of their kids when they actually wanted to start a career. There were feminists who wanted the opposite — a full-time job as homemaker for their family — yet felt embarrassed to admit it. It could be a tremendously eye-opening thing to hear from a woman who lived through all this and made her own tough decisions — and it might just inspire you to make some difficult choices in your own life. 

Images: Fotolia; Giphy (6)

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