Buried Alive


Feminists who came before by pisaquaririse
February 28, 2008, 5:45 am
Filed under: Interconnected!, VENT!

Inspired by a quote via Deb’s I’m addressing something I’ve been meaning to for a while. I want to talk about ageism as it pertains to women and feminism.

 Fact: I’m young in the birthdays sense (nope, you’re not getting a number outta me!).  I have however, generally recognized, supported and promoted a very “second wave” feminism.  I don’t do so to deliberately pit myself against those in similar age or fancy myself *better* because I’ve aligned with an older crew—that would be ageist. (I do, in actuality, agree with 2nd wave feminism and have for quite some time). 

But what would also be ageist would be to ignore the women who came before *because* of their age, to feel their time has come and gone—that somehow my newer existence means my ideas and thoughts should be pushed ahead.  That I am more relevant.  

 I have encountered plenty of (too many) feminists online and off, as well as women of varying ages, who flat out don’t want to hear from older feminists/other older women.  And they aren’t alone.  “Old people” as they are called are ignored and mocked and, for general purposes, hated.  (I’m going to continue to use “old” from hear on out to address it more as a societal phenomenon than any particular way *I* label people). 

The young hate the old.   The old hate the old.   And if either had their druthers about who to get the latest scoop from on women’s condition it certainly wouldn’t be the old.   

The following portion of Deb’s quote especially moved me:

“What happened to the idea of respecting the elders. Didn’t we recognize the many ways patriarchy works in our culture and vow to disentangle ourselves?” 

It occurred to me in reading this (pisaquari can be slooooow) how disrespecting our elders works in a patriarchal society: it largely silences older women.  And more so, it silences feminists—for whom worse to learn the ways of the world than old, lonely deviates.  Sweet older order would not have it. 

If patriarchy can silence older women it can stop the flow of information, it can stagnate us.  When older women speak they are ignored or not believed—and this is only accounting for the times someone is there to listen. 

For feminism it creates a kind of perpetual motion, wherein we become hamsters on a wheel, regurgitating the same ole stuff and calling it new.   

And if there is one recurring theme I have found in reading and blogging and immersing myself in this movement it’s that:                                                                                              This stuff has been said before. 

What takes me months to figure out (if not, years) is in 8 different books already or has been said for hundreds of years and here I am just now connecting the dots (if I may utilize a patriarchal concept here: how inefficient!). 

 I find it sort of unimaginable to think about where women could be right now if our time was not so exhausted getting to these points—getting a fuller understanding of what’s already been done/said.  What would the world look like (or how would it operate wrt women) if this knowledge base were more readily available—if our herstory and experiences were a part of our everyday growing and understanding.   

The women who have come before are not so different, are not so foreign to us that we cannot share and learn and continue to grow together.  Who are we to say amongst the living whose time is up?  When we reestablish these divides we disservice ourselves, entire generations, and an entire movement.  (And I should mention, very seriously, that I signed up for movement). 

Feminists who came before, in many ways, are our revolution.

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21 Comments so far
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Wow, this is a fab post.

“If patriarchy can silence older women it can stop the flow of information, it can stagnate us.”

I never thought of it like that before, but that’s exactly how it works. Older women are Shut Up (by patriarchy and younger people), so they cannot pass on what they know to younger women, who then have to waste time reinventing the wheel, instead of actually progressing. We’re just going round in circles.

Thanks so much for writing this post, Pisaquari, it’s a really important message. x

Comment by Debs

To add on what you already said, on top of older women being actively silenced, young women who come up with something that sounds slightly old are silenced as well!!! There’s this attitude that dismisses everything older feminists have said by labeling them “dungaree wearers of yesteryear” and reducing their speech to “preaching”. That’s why I frown at the call that now “feminism is all sassy and cool!” *sigh*

Comment by Mary Tracy9

np Debs. “reinvent the wheel”–exactly! (thanks for the linkage, ps) 🙂

“feminism is all sassy and cool!”

Ohhh–this attitude unnerves me! Sassy and cool to get men’s/male identifying persons’ stamp of approval.
(Because that’s what we needed all along!)

Comment by pisaquaririse

Dale Spender wrote a book about this problem of silencing every generation of women. “Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them”. It will piss you right the hell off. Especially when you realize that the exact same methods are being used to this day.

Comment by thebewilderness

I’m gonna try and get a copy of that book, thanks bewilderness! x

Comment by Debs

“Dale Spender wrote a book about this problem of silencing every generation of women.”

My point exactly: “What takes me months to figure out (if not, years) is in …books already”

😉

AND it will piss me off?
Bonus.

Sounds like a great read. Thanks for the tip!

Comment by pisaquaririse

I’m 27, but I’m glad to know that radical feminists were the ones who came before the so-called “sex-pozzes”. And I hate when patriarchal socialization divides women into different groups! The male-supremacist system typically separates us from each other in order to try to stop us from creating a sisterhood which would lead to a feminist revolution.

Great post, Pisaquari. 🙂

Comment by Maggie Hays

You know, as a 22 year old feminist who is apparently supposed to align with Third Wave feminist mainstream ideology I definitely see how young feminists who take up second wave ideas are labeled as “outdated.” I think the term “outdated” in and of itself indicates a disrespect and hostility towards anything coming from older people, especially older women.
My family is from Egypt and I can tell you right now that there is a distinctive amount of ageism against older people in American culture. I think we need to go back to a culture that holds older women in the highest esteem and respect. It is then that we will be a happy and healthy society.
On a tangential note, I find that older women are more easy-going and easier to talk about all sorts of issues more than women my age are.

Comment by Lara

“On a tangential note, I find that older women are more easy-going and easier to talk about all sorts of issues more than women my age are.”

Me too, Lara. I have always got on much better with women older than me than with women my own age or younger. As you say, they just seem more relaxed and open-minded about everything, contrary to the “stuffy old woman” stereotype. And older women have so much to give, if we’d only give them the time and listen to them, we could learn a hell of a lot.

Comment by Debs

Welcome Lara (sorry late to this)! I agree with you (and Debs) about older women. Youth and the young are so sexualized and pitted against one another that it’s hard to find any peace.

And I’ve heard from many others ageism has a special niche in America. I hope it doesn’t cross seas like so many of our damn Western Beauty Ideals have.

And thanks Maggie! The groups frustrate me too. I wish feminists didn’t have so many groups but it has at least helped me find women with common ground. And I’ve needed that for a long time.

Comment by pisaquaririse

Thanks for this pisaquari.

I span the middle, born just a few years too late to be active in the 2nd wave, and way too old to be all ‘hip and cool choice feminism’ of the 3rd wave. Hence, I am more aligned with 2nd wave.

There was a time when I was getting disillusioned with the younger feminists, trying to re-invent the wheel, to make feminism ‘cool and hip’. Thankfully my faith has been restored by some very clued-up younger feminists, so all is not lost. (phew!)

In our group The Purple Resistance, we have feminists from 20 to 60, so it is nice to have the unbroken line.

Comment by stormy

We aren’t wiser or more calm just because
we’re older. Some of are sometime, whatever
our age, and some of us are *never*, no
matter what our age.

Jumping sex here I want to preach my favourite
preach at you, which I remind people around
me: the pedophile of 28 will probably still
be a pedophile at 66, and someone will be
annointing him with wisdom, getting up to give
him her seat on the bus. Eck.

Back to what we have learned but forgetten, but so soon! I was shocked that so many young women
did not know who Barbara Seaman was. I did
know, but had not read her most recent book.
The Greatest Experiment ever Performed on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth (2003). I can’t
give you any quotes right now, but I felt
absolutley ashamed that much of what she said
about what she and her feminist friends had said and done in 1974, I didn’t know, and thought
we in 1980 had invented.

Give the book a read. You’ll be amazed at
how it exemplifies your thesis here. Sadly.

The formatting for this little box is weird. I hope this is readable.

did not know who Barbara Seaman was. I knew, ubt had not read her major book, The Greatest
Experiment on Women

Comment by Sis

Sigh. See? I can’t, very well. One of the
getting old things.

Comment by Sis

(No worries about the formatting Sis and welcome! I figured it out. You should see me writing posts–wordpress and I have a thirty minute format debacle every time!)

“We aren’t wiser or more calm just because
we’re older. Some of are sometime, whatever
our age, and some of us are *never*, no
matter what our age.”

I think that’s a good point and I hope if I sent the message that older=wiser that I may clarify now.

I think the notion of older=wiser has tracings of *othering* to older/old women. It gives expectation with older women that they may not want. They may be at the same stage or behind or further wrt any part of their life and feminism. If we approach them as the wise ones and they feel they cannot produce those metrics of “wise” then I suspect they’d feel as if they’d failed. Which would be terrible.

I want women of any age to be able to enter feminism with no expectations of how/where they should be thinking.

From what I see right now, not even with feminism, but in life with friends and family is that older women have no voice. No one asks them questions, challenges them, pays them any mind besides small chat. Everything they are and expected to say is received as if it no longer matters.
(In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the women in my family think all they are good for is recipes).

Older women wrt to feminist/feminism I do think can provide some very important context and are an excellent resource to pass along the information about texts and events that get stifled by new generations of the most-important menz.

And yeah: the pedophile thing–*that* put it in perspective!

Comment by pisaquaririse

I think part of the reason why older women are ignored and ridiculed so much is because women often become more radical, and hence more dangerous to patriarchy, as they get older. And I mean, hell, who wouldn’t become more radical in that situation? Practically the only worth our society gives women is based on looks, and once you’re older and don’t have that “worth” anymore, that tenuous privilege-with-strings-attached, you begin to see that the idea of your equality was a sham all along, that the whole fucking idea of women having power through sex is a whole load of bullshit, because it’s only available to some women some of the time, and no older woman can participate in that imaginary power party, ever. I think aging is a real wake-up call for a lot of women as to the place of their gender in society, and it’s a shame that so many women my age would rather trade on that small privilege for a short period than join hands with older women and become an unstoppable force that would change the world forever.

Comment by mekhit

There’s a lot of axe, handle, forest among older women (too, I’m reminded it’s not only there).

Just last night I silenced a small group who responded with determined reassurances and knowing smiles when I said, rather softly because I knew what was coming; that I did not want any grandchildren.

Be grandmotherly or else.

Comment by Sis

Had to get my arthritis meds. Seriously…

So anyway, what I mean is; we are given a role when we are older, and being radical becomes even harder. Just even being some kind of ‘mean’ not much one way or the other, takes determination. Being radical when younger is kinda sexy, right? Hot. Look she’s smart, and such a fire-brand. I realize it’s a trap either way, but being radical when older, I’m not sure I have the energy anymore, most times. And of course what energy we do have is still expected to be subsumed to someone else’s needs. So saying I don’t want grandmotherhood, or will be radical, well there are few places to ‘take’ it. Even on the web, I am “lame” (true), get confused easily (so embarrassing), exhaust myself before we start so I have to concede, yes you’ll need to go on without me. For the most part. Saying “me” but meaning, old women. I can’t manage the march. Can’t see my way home in the dark. Have lost patience with fun feminists. Don’t want to be patronized, not even by the smartest and most radical of you, who I never expected it of. But it’s there. So I am just speaking of what I have observed, and agreeing with you pisaquaririse. This I have observed. Even my feminist sisters don’t quite know where to put me. (Me=old woman).

Comment by Sis

I think this is a great post. I think though it is also about learning to respect all women. As a a society, we divide women up into different categories (old, young, blonde, angry, etc, etc ad nauseum), which are then used as a marker of weakness and thus used to silence us. It’s a clever tactic of the patriarchy and one that we need to avoid repeating within the feminist movement.

Comment by Feminist Avatar

Thanks for writing a clear summary of a long standing patriarchal tactic — divide women and erase every generation of women’s accomplishments you can. Get women to collude in their own errasure and oppression– that is the very genius of patriarchy. So we shouldn’t be surprised at this new theme and variation on an old theme.

Did you know that the federal government funds volunteers who go out and interview male veterans of various battles before they die? Government funding of male history.

I have never really understood the incredible hostility of young feminists out there. It was so alien to how I felt about old and older women when I was 22. I loved older feminists, and I was so lucky to have met and worked with many pioneering lesbian feminists.

I am particulary indebted to Pat Bond, an early lesbian activist, who told me “Be sure you buy a house BEFORE you are 40!” Pat Bond lived in poverty near the end of her life, and had she not had veteran’s medical benefits, she would have been in big trouble.

Pat was so generous to me and my partner back in the 80s. We sponsored her to come play her famous one woman role of “Gertrude Stein.” Bond was probably in her 60s back then, and us young lesbians adored her. I feel that my house is a gift of her advice to me, because we listened and we bought property. She was so in our face about this, and we didn’t give her attitude or reject her, we listened.

One time they had a lesbian senior’s history class in the summer in San Francisco. I called up and asked if I could attend as well. I’ll never forget my awe at these women in the 60s, 70s, 80s, telling their stories — I met a Rosie the Riveter, I met a concentration camp survivor, I met WACS and poets and doctors and plummbers… I met a cultivated European artistocrat who personally knew Virginia Woolf. For four weeks we studied women’s history together, and as it was getting near the end of the class, I asked the teacher permission to invite all the women to my apartment for coffee and cake at the end of the last class. I brought invitations and directions, and to my delight, every last woman there came!

It was such an honor to get all the food ready, and the coffee and tea. I brought out my grandma’s old china, and spent an enchanted summer evening listening to all their stories. I doted on them and ran to get coffee and refill cups and serve more donuts… and all that time I noticed a beautiful thing about all my lesbian elders… they all LISTENED to each other. When a woman would speak, they all listened to her every word.

You could feel the love in the room, and I have never forgotten that evening! How lucky I was to have met them all, and they were so happy at the party. They loved me and I loved them!

Respect for the elders is something I treasure. I lived in Japan for a time, and elder feminists were revered in our movement. We all helped each other.

Then I came back to America. I’m no longer a young 20-something, I am now 50. But somehow,when I’ve volunteered to lead lesbian groups, I had to put up with such abuse and trash talk from the young. Aside from Heart’s place there is such a pornotopia all over “feminist” blog spaces, that it makes me wonder.

I don’t know why so many young women hate the older feminists. I don’t know why they have so little interest in their own herstory, the way I always did for my elder radical women.

It is a sad disappointment to me.

But perhaps, a lot of older women have been mean to the young as well. Their bad language and overly sexual aggressiveness can feel off putting or disrespectful. We are in a different economy now, and the young women are struggling to make ends meet. They also have more mental illnesses, and S & M and porn culture has really degraded the lesbian community.

The thing is, maybe they don’t have a chance to meet older women and hang out with them. I always had this chance when I was young. But now with advanced marketing, you can see generation segregation as a marketing technique. Now we haven’t even seen all the same T.V. shows.

I have knowledge and resources to share, but alas few younger women seem interested at all in my knowledge, experience, and expertise.

Now I have the house and greater wealth thanks to my elder’s wisdom and support, but young feminists have nothing but contempt for the world I built for myself. They aren’t interested in the great lesbian writers, are bored with conversation, are overly colonized by technology, and oddly they seem listless, impatient, but most often I see their boredom. Bored by life, angry at older feminists, not caring.

It is patriarchy that always tries to get young women to hate old women. Remember what happened after women got the vote? We had the age of jazz, and the young women just forgot about feminism. The same thing happened after the ERA was defeated.

Now young women have become Obama girls! The chance of Hillary winning bores them. I could save these women years of wasted time and money, and I’d be perfectly happy to mentor and encourage a new generation. But to tell you the truth, I’m tired of being dissed and ridiculed and mocked. I just don’t have time for it, and so my knowlege and wisdom will just remain within me.

I am blogging my ideas and putting them out there, so I am hopeful that some of my lesbian feminist self will be of value to any woman who wants this.

Comment by Satsuma

Satsuma,

I just wanted to reassure you that there are some of us younger folks out here that truly do want to hear your and others’ stories and advice. We do need the guidance from past generations and decades because without we have no foundation to stand on.

You mentioned the lack of interaction with older lesbians, and I can attest that for some of us it is difficult to make connections. Location definitely plays a part. In parts of the Midwest and Deep South (USA), it can be a real chore to reach out to anyone that considers themselves feminists, let alone older, activist lesbians.

So, I’ve turned the internet for information and a deeper understanding, but many of the forums and blogs are bogged down with arguments (and trolls).

A google search returned more sites opposing and speaking out against Radical Feminism than sites that actually supported the cause. It would be nice if those curious to further explore feminist theory didn’t have to sort through so much distracting and contradictory drivel and could instead quickly access useful resources and answers to common questions. But then again, the dig is part of the journey…

To everyone:

I’ve truly enjoyed reading this blog and the discussions on this thread. 😉

Comment by Abbey

Satsuma, your story about getting these older women into your home and listening to their stories and being their hostess sounds like a dream 🙂
While I am a hetero radical feminist I believe that older feminists, and specifically older lesbian feminists, are vital to the feminist cause.
I think that many young feminists are disillusioned and influenced greatly by our violent, sadistic, and pornified culture in mainstream media today. I think it drains them, it makes them calloused. I even find myself sometimes not getting as close to older feminists as I probably should (I am barely 23). I have just recently formed a group of feminists in my area and while most are in their 20s and early 30s, we do have a few older women. I hope that we can start to see the connections and bonds between all of us.
I am also starting to realize, more and more, that radical feminism, especially with its roots in hardcore 2nd wave, is actually very positive and reaffirming for women (contrary to the stereotype that radical feminism is negative and doesn’t help women).

Comment by Lara




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