The generational follow-up to millennials has been a long time coming, but only recently got a full-fledged definition —
Generation Z, according to the Pew Center, is officially anyone born after 1996. And while you could make the case that this is probably the most progressive generation, well, ever, there are a few things we millennials want Generation Z to know about one of the key issues of the times we live in now: feminism.
You could say Gen Z is practically rewriting the book on feminism these days:
Millennials have seen a lot happen when it comes to women's rights. From the problematic girl power ethos of S
ex & The City (heck, and Real Housewives, and KUWTK) to the invention of the term "intersectionality," by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw and its rise as a key tenet of feminism, we've been there for a lot of groundbreaking moments in the ongoing battle for women's equality. But Gen Z is paving its own path in activism, from the Parkland, Florida, shooting survivors creating a movement for gun control, to actors like Yara Shahidi, Rowan Blanchard, and Amandla Stenberg using their enormous platforms to promote equality.
While we millennials are hardly ready to give up fighting for women's equality (try stopping me), there's a lot we can pass on to the next generation. There's no set way on how to deal with misogynist trolls, and there are certain aspects of feminism, like the importance of reproductive rights, that we can assume Gen Z know already; but there are other aspects that y'all might need to hear. Listen up.
My generation went through this, as did the generation before them: hearing that "women are more equal than ever." The modern woman doesn't face exclusion from college, or voting, or jobs; hasn't feminism done what it's meant to do? Not by half. The #MeToo movement and its exposure of the huge issue of sexual assault and harassment for women across the world is one piece of a truth that's still startlingly real: women are still treated as lesser than in many ways, some explicit, many hidden deep inside cultural norms.
The conclusions of feminism may seem obvious to people who've grown up with it as fact (and, truthfully, they should be obvious), but that doesn't mean that there isn't work to be done — or that other members of your generation aren't going to perpetuate old attitudes that keep women down.
Do Not Date People Who Don't Believe In Feminism
"If you go home with somebody and they don't have books," said the famous director John Waters, "don't f*ck them." This excellent rule provides a template for another, similar one, and one that needs to be bolstered: if you're dating somebody who doesn't think that women are equal, doesn't understand why equal pay is a thing, pulls out misogynistic tropes or doesn't respect the women around them, don't make the mistake of giving them your time or attention. Seriously.
It's Got To Be Intersectional
This is a lesson that's been hard for feminists to learn over the decades, and it's one that Gen Z has to do better than we did. Feminism has to be intersectional; that is, it has to take into consideration the many different ways in which discrimination exists in the world, from racism to homophobia, and how they affect the experiences of women in different ways. It can't just privilege the voices of white, cis, straight women above all others; it has to make room for everybody. Things are much better than they were, but this is a trap with a lot of historical power and — crucially — you can't assume that it's gone forever. Intersectionality is more than just a buzzword; it's a practice.
Feminism doesn't just impact women seeking to become CEOs — domestic violence, sex trafficking, toxic masculinity, and more can all be mitigated through the spread of feminist ideals. These are separate issues united by violence against women and the perpetuation of patriarchal ideas. Women's status is interwoven with money, health, the environment, capitalism, technology and many other aspects of the modern world. This isn't reductionist; it's a crucial part of the picture that can be ignored if people don't shout enough. And while we're getting better at picking out the threads that link these issues together, as in recent discussions about
toxic masculinity as a form of terrorism, it's still a work in progress.
Interrogate Yourself & Your Beliefs
Patriarchy, as I'm sure you'll know, is everywhere; and that means it enters our lives every day, whether or not we're aware of it. We absorb the messages of culture, news, media, our families, our friends and other influences constantly, and as products of a context that isn't gender-equal at its core, they're going to bear some un-feminist baggage.
Here's one of the hard bits of being an activist: examining yourself, and your reactions, and your life, for behavior or ideas that don't fit with your ideals. Saying you believe in women's equality is one thing; acting like it can be another. Don't be complacent.
Every successive generation believes that it will automatically be more open-minded, more clear-headed, closer to a better world than the one before. It's one of the headiest feelings of youth, but unfortunately, it's not necessarily true. Just because conversations about intersectionality, gender, the wage gap and sexual assault are more fluent and prominent now doesn't mean the issues are solved, or that they won't encounter resistance and pushback.
Getting in formation is as important as it ever was. Millennials were raised on the rise of social media, but Gen Z are seeing its emergence as a political tool, and an entire generation of new kids are coming to understand their power. Activism may be more technological, but it's still about putting in the time, the words, the work, the feet on the ground.
Do It Better Than We Did
Millennials are young, and we've still f*cked up a lot. But if we're going to make the mistakes, it's crucial that Gen Z learn from them, and keep working. What was effective for us might not work for you; the challenges we faced may not exist by the time you come to them, but others will rise in their place. The goal is the same. The road will be different.
Listen to what we tell you, then go off and do your own thing. Take care of yourselves, and don't assume the next generation is going to pick up the slack if you don't want to do the work.