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  • Feminism, generation and intersectionalityGenerational differences within feminism are also opportunities for dialogue
  • Alison Winch (bio)

‘What can we do about white feminists claiming black feminists’ work as their own?’ ‘Why are you hung up on women and their wombs -it’s so heteronormative!’ These were some of the questions asked at the ‘Sisterhoods and After’ conference held at the British Library in October 2013. Younger feminists were challenging, as well as seeking advice from, a platform of older second-wave feminists. The speakers included, among others, Beatrix Campbell, Lynne Segal, Gail Lewis, Jocelyn White and Catherine Hall. Issues of race, class, sexuality and ability were foregrounded, and dis-identifications as well as connections were articulated. People in the audience, which was comprised of a cross section of ages, often disagreed with the women on the stage, but they also sought support, perspectives on contemporary culture and clarification on the speakers’ political alliances. Feminism was not a carefully handled torch being passed from one generation to another, but neither was age a barrier to conversation. Nevertheless, the issue of generation was connected to history, time and organisational questions in a quite specific way. The aim of this piece is to explore these issues further.

We are witnessing a resurgence in feminist activism. This had already begun to happen before the economic crash of 2008, but since then it has been gathering further momentum, partly in response to the disproportionate effects of the government’s policies on women. More women than men have lost their jobs in the UK, especially in the public sector, and the subsequent cuts to family benefits [End Page 8] have severely affected the incomes of women. The slashing of the care system has primarily affected women, who do twice as much unpaid caring as men, and the gap in equal pay is widening as more jobs are lost. Single mothers’ income is set to fall by 8.5 per cent after tax by 2015.1 In addition, the withdrawal of public funding from charities affects vulnerable women; for example, women’s refuges have seen their funding drastically reduced and many have been forced to close.2

A further stimulus to increasing support for feminism has been the availability of an online platform for anti-neoliberal feminist voices which might otherwise have been ignored or ridiculed by the mainstream media. This means that many younger people have access to feminist ideas that could previously have eluded them. At the same time, the overt misogyny of the internet has made gender violence shockingly explicit. These factors, combined with other Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition policies, have remobilised and re-energised feminist collectives.

Generational mistrust and the new sexual contract

One problem facing intergenerational communication between feminists is what Ben Little describes as ‘the new class settlement’, in which class divisions are framed as generational;3 and this is also an issue picked up by Lynne Segal in her 2013 book, In Our Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Aging. Ben argues that generational difference is manipulated by governments in order to create divisions, destroy collectives and deploy blame. This has the added benefit of associating second-wave feminism with the apparently privileged and selfish postwar generation.

A culture of blaming the baby-boomers - as evidenced for example in books by David Willetts and Neil Boorman - seeks to divert attention from socioeconomic problems that are driven by neoliberal policies.4 Simultaneously, young people are witnessing the withdrawal of state aid in the form of higher tuition fees, the imposition of bedroom tax, decreased levels of housing benefit and the withdrawal of EMA; and at the same time they are caught up in circuits of debt and what David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’. Because young people tend not to vote and are alienated from the political process, governments can ignore them in terms of state aid and instead bribe the previous generation with pensions and fewer cuts.

Postwar social-democratic welfare provision was also divided along the lines of class, but, however imperfect its operations, it did redress prewar inequalities. And [End Page 9] in the current attack on this whole settlement and its baby-boom generation - who are seen as...


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