Open Letter to the Baby Feminists out there:

I have been working on this one for a little while; it's been sitting as a draft for I don't know how long, and I refuse to look at the date on my Word doc to know for sure. It has been hard to write lately, as I see so much ugliness following the Presidential election. I've been assessing my life, making sure my voice is heard even louder than before and making certain that my sisters and brothers out there know I stand with them, and will Resist the coming administration, and any unconstitutional laws that may come down. That's why this blog went on the back burner for a few weeks.

This open letter speaks to an earlier version of myself, as well as to all the Baby Feminists I know who are coming through their 20's in the 20-teens. Any comments are welcome, as long as they don't attack anyone. Disagree if you wish, just be respectful and let me know why you disagree. Personal attacks will be deleted.

Dear Baby Feminists:

Welcome, welcome! I truly wish we could assign every one of you a mentor. I wish I had had one myself when I was your age. It would have made so many things a bit easier. But alas, we're not that organized and no one really has time*.

Let me introduce myself, I’m a 39 year old, pansexual, queer, white woman who has been in the feminist movement for about 25 years (the time since I knew, and embraced the term and actively started to fight the patriarchy).  I’ve actively cultivated knowledge and information from a vast number of other women in the movement and actively work to include as many other feminists as I can—even those persons of any gender who might not embrace the label, but truly care for equality.

I know you’re going to ask what gives me the right, or authority, to write this open letter to all of you. After all, I didn’t ask our Mistress of Feminism, our Queen of Women Everywhere, the Grand Sorceress of the Mystique or the Empress of Ice Cream.** I didn't ask the Menstrual Goddess, and I have no signed permission slip or memo mandating this letter. Rather, I am taking liberties, and trying to share some of the wisdom I have, worked for, and been blessed to have bestowed upon me, to hopefully illuminate your way. Something amazing women have done for me, to get me this far, and something I hope you continue to do, as the chain of amazing women continues into the future.

You join millions of women, men, and persons who don't conform to the gender binary, past and present. Your discovery of “feminism” doesn’t mean that the ideals are new. You're just a new generation to realize that you are one. For this realization, I do welcome you, completely and with open arms! I want you to know that I’m thrilled to bits to know that I have new sisters who have joined the fight.

Baby feminist, we have been where you are. We were 14 to 25 once. We remember the fire in our bellies, the anger in our veins, and we had to learn to channel it—just as our grandmothers did when they were that age. Do remember, for our grandmothers those years were harder and uglier than you will ever have to face. They were on the front lines of a gender war that has stretched back to time immemorial; they bled and died for the right to vote, work, own property and control their money, and control their bodies. They died, in dark rooms, bleeding and alone, to stop pregnancies they didn’t want. They lived, scarred and sterile, after terminating those pregnancies. They lived lives with broken teeth, poorly set bones and prison records because they would not stop fighting for their franchise. They led the way, braving the worst that men and society at-large could throw at them. They were brave, and fierce. They were Goddesses amongst humans. 

We are all wise to emulate them. Let us see them as the heroes they are, and to try to make their memories proud.

These brave women warriors taught their daughters, secretly and openly, about the nature of this beast, the Beast they fought against… so that their daughters would continue the fight.

Those daughters  and granddaughters, taught us, the feminists who are 30-50, so think of us as your big sisters. Let us offer our wisdom, hard earned, to you, to make your way easier yet than ours was. So you can fight further than we have. So your daughters and little sisters can fight even further with the wisdom you can give them.

Every open letter starts out this way, celebrating the good stuff, being welcoming, trying to engage. But, now for the things you’re not really going to want to hear. Things none of us want to hear, but things we all needed to hear.

You're joining a movement made up of, primarily (and somewhat unfortunately) white women and female- identifying persons (although we try every day to expand our movement to include all persons, regardless of their gender identity). In fact, the words "Feminist Movement" is often shorthand for "feminists who are white, college/university educated, upper-middle to upper-class women living in heterosexual marriages, and live in white enclaves in liberal cities; women unable to see their own privileges or blindness, or those who assume (falsely) that they have no privilege because they are women". 

Feminism is so much more than that. We women need to be better educated than that, as well.

I’m writing as a white woman, to other white, women/female identifying persons. I can truly speak only to my experiences, and from a position of my own self; and I want you to remember that you, yourself, can only speak for yourself and your experiences. What we all must strive to do—especially we white women—is remember that we are not the final arbiters of what is, and what is not, the feminist experience.We have never been all that is feminism; we've just been the pretty face that newspapers liked to show, rather than the women of colour who fought and died while we protested daintily.

We need to remember, as white women, to spend more time silent, listening, than we do speaking. We need to remember to shut the fuck up, and to shush our little sisters, too. This is why I’m writing this open letter to you, my little sisters; for a moment, shut the fuck up, and listen.

Being forced to confront our privilege is important—we need to be reminded of how things have gone right for us, so far, through to effort of our own, and how we can use that privilege for good—the good of those who don’t benefit from it. The mere fact that your skin is considered white gives you a head start that is miles and miles ahead of women who's skin isn't considered white. You were lucky due to a fluke in genetics! Remember that.

Finding feminism was the start of your journey. Not the end.  Getting that fire in your heart, feeling your anger catch your veins on fire, feeling the shakes dance through you at injustices and the sickness in your guts at the hatred—that was the first part. Now you have these emotions—and you’re not really sure how to use them, so you’re on fire for feminism [Whoo! Girl Power!] and not much else.

You must remember, sisters of mine. Please remember! You're not utterly enlightened. You're not utterly oppressed. You're not utterly anything. You just are. We all are just ourselves; we’re neither more, nor less, just ourselves. Starting from this place of "self-ness" is wonderful; it means you're open to the self-ness of other people.

We older feminists are not your enemies just because we're older, poorer, or richer, a different race or colour, a different creed, have more or less education than you, or any other difference you can think of. We’re still your sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunties and cousins. We are mirrors that you can see yourself in—mirrors showing you your blind spot, perhaps; mirrors showing you how far your journey will take you; but never enemies.

Welcome to the truth of intersectionality. Sometimes it places us in spaces where we are not comfortable—but that’s the beauty of it! Intersectionality is a fancy word for “the different ways <a thing> connects to different lived experiences”; it’s “the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities.”*** Intersectionality means we, as feminists, together, embracing all of our differences and amazing lives, are so much more wonderful than the sum of our parts. And we need to work for this to keep going, to keep embracing our differences, and adding more diversity to our movement.

Women of colour need your allegiance. Not your rescue. They need your willingness to stand behind them-- to support them—not to try to lead them. Without giving your input or expecting to be consulted. There are issues that WoC face that we don't. We need to be there for our sisters. And to remember they have wisdom that we do not. You may believe that you know, because you’ve read this or that—but until you’re a woman of colour, you can’t know. Empathy is important and vital, but it can't replace a lived experience.

Queer women need your support. Not your pity, your protection. Don't tell us what our experiences are, or have been. Ask us. Know that our voices are authentic and you understand that fact. Let us know that we are safe with you. Listen to our wisdom, truly hear what it’s like to live outside the status quo of binary genders and of heteronormativity, to live in a body that isn’t wholly male, wholly female, that may be both or neither. Understand that loving a person of our own gender is valid as all love is valid and precious-- and in some places, can get us killed. Listen to our stories, and don’t appropriate our experiences as your own because you had "a phase" in school, or like to make out with girls for the amusement of your male SO. Know that we navigate the world differently than you, neither better nor worse, and that what we see as your hetero-privilege can cause so much damage to some of us. Embrace your trans* sisters, embrace your queer sisters, whatever our stripe, whether we’re lesbians, bisexual, androgynous, pansexual, Aces and a million more amazing identities!. Love us, protect us, work to ensure that we will always have safety, especially under the laws. Let us know that you will always speak the truth for us to those in power, helping pass legislation that gives us the same privileges you take for granted, most of all the privileges of being able to be your authentic self without fear of harm. Work to ensure that our voices are heard.

Women who live in poverty or who are of lower income brackets don't need your pity. They don't need your advice. They don't need you to compare yourself to them because you've realized you can't afford cable tv and had to "cut the cord"-- that doesn't mean you're poor, it means you're trying to be prudent with your cash flow. They need you to stand in support of the social safety net. To push for services your children will never need like free child care/after school programs and better schools. They need you to step outside your own bubble is white middle/upper class-ness and see that they are people, living their own lives. They need you to listen, not just to hear, what they have to say.

Women of who aren’t as highly educated as you are need your help, not your pity or derision. Know that your education is a gift, no matter how you attained it. Whether you were lucky enough to be born into a family where education is prized, and your parents were able to grant you the funding, or whether you were able to use loans and grants to attain your schooling doesn’t matter. What matters was that you have it, an education, and what you choose to do with it. How will you use your education to help those who don’t have as many school years as you? How will you use your own gifts to help others attain them? It’s very important to remember that helping others get to your educational level takes nothing from you—it enriches everyone.

Women from other backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, and even different parts of the country can be of benefit to you, as friends, mentors and even family members, if you’re so lucky. You can raise your voice for yourself, and accomplish a little more for white women of your privileged status, or you can step outside your experiences, stand behind and beside those different from you, and see how far you can push the barriers away for all women, and in pursuit of equality everywhere.

You can be supportive, you can lend them your voice, to add volume to their own; think of it as singing in harmony with another, rather than singing the lead by yourself. You can give yourself, and share your privilege.

Do this without expecting thanks. Without demanding a voice of your own; trust me when I say you already have a voice that the Powers That Be hear-- you're white. Do this with love and support, do this with the vision of a better future in your eyes, which your sisters from every background are giving you. Rejoice in that vision, and know that we women can do so much, as long as we support each other. Step outside your experiences, learn to see with the heart of another—and learn to sing a song that someone else can teach you.

I don’t say these things, Baby Feminist, to poke fun, to be mean or to make you feel less than your sisters who are in the minority. I say this as someone who has been where you are. Someone so on fire for social justice that I forgot how little I knew.

It’s easy to forget when you don’t know that you don’t know something. It’s easy to forget that no matter what we read, there is still so much more to know and learn. It’s easy to forget that our upbringing isn’t the standard—while it may be what we know best; it is our norm, it’s not the norm for everyone. 

Let me say that again: What is normal for you, is not normal for me, or anyone else.

Remembering this one small fact, will help you be the best ally, the best feminist you can possibly be! Knowing that the world is larger than you’ve experienced is a humbling feeling—but when we’re humbled, we can learn.

I’m not saying that you are stupid or ignorant. You’re merely young and unlearned. Being young can be cured only by living; being unlearned can be cured by learning. Being ignorant may be incurable, but I don’t think you’re ignorant.

I say this to remind you that it’s ok to be unlearned. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” I realize it’s scary to admit this—to say you don’t know something makes you feel vulnerable. So many adults have a hard time admitting that they don't know something. Let me share a secret with you, Baby Feminist: adulthood is pretending every day that we're more in control than we are, and hoping no one notices that we're making it up as we go!

Every day that you can admit you don’t know, is a day you can change that unknown into a known. Being open to advice from someone who knows more than you, doesn’t mean you know nothing… it means you accept that you’re still a student of life—and I don’t know if there’s a better place to be in life than an always-student!

I say these things to help you hold the mirror up to see your blind spots. To help shine a light on your darkness. To remind you that the fire in your veins won’t be extinguished if you stay silent and listen, actively, to the experiences or ideas or thoughts of another. To remind you that being defensive when you don’t know something, makes you look like a fool, not authoritative. To remind you that authority is something you gain with experience, bought and paid for with your years, and not when you magically attain the title and label of Feminist.

I saw these things to bring awareness of all of our shortcomings. Older women aren’t always good mentors, because we don’t always speak when we should. Sometimes we’re exhausted from educating everyone around us all the time and just cannot educate you. Sometimes we’re sick and tired of being talked over and so shrug and ignore you. Sometimes we are comfortable in our authority and in our knowledge, in our experiences, and just do not want to deal with someone who isn’t. So we let you feel better about yourself, let you remain ignorant of that blind spot, and shake our heads internally while you feel smug in your pretentiousness. For this inaction, I apologise—we should never let our little sisters look foolish, just as our older sisters should not let us look the same.

You can be assertive without being an asshole. You can be supportive without taking control. You can be loud in protest, without drowning out the voices of others. You can be ever-learning, without being wilfully ignorant or arrogant because of your knowledge. You can be audacious and boisterous in your actions, bringing the light to the darkness around you, without mistreating those who work more quietly than you. You can be your authentic self, while embracing the authentic selves of everyone around you. 

I have lived a different life than you; my experiences are different. I have lived on two continents, visited several countries, lived in hald a dozen states and visited almost all of the rest. I've seen much, and can't wait to see more. I am merely one feminist; imagine the knowledge we, collectively, can share with you, baby sister!

Please remember, Baby Feminist, I’m glad you’re here. You will live longer than I, and you will be able to teach a generation after I am gone. You will be able to push the boundaries that cage us even further than our grandmothers could have hoped—but only if you are willing to accept that you are still taking your first steps into the light.

Remember, you are amazing! You’re brave and you’re powerful. You’re also vulnerable, scared, angry and sick to your stomach over the injustices in the world we inhabit. You’re probably so very angry at the system, and want to lash out at anyone you think supports it in a feeble attempt to make headway in breaking it down.

Remember that lashing out at your sisters is the one thing you never want to do. We didn’t build the system, and we’re breaking it down one brick at a time. You need us to do this, just as we need you. You may not understand what we’re doing—but it won’t kill you to ask us, learn from us, and lend us your strength.

We’ve been there, where you are. You will be where we are today. We can help you, push you, pull you, and walk beside you—if you’re willing to hear us. Then you can take the boost we give you, and take your daughters that much further—further even than we dream right now.

Grow up fast, Baby Feminist! We need you! Your daughters and little sisters need you.
Now, more than ever.


Your Big Sister

*NB: It’s not that no one wants to be a mentor, it’s that no one can, in good conscience, organize that many people to do that many things outside of their own activist work. I highly recommend that you find a mentor on your own, someone you “click” with and seek their wisdom, on their terms. It will be helpful to you, and you’ll build life-long friendships this way.
**Hat Tip to the poem by Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”, one of my favourites, and I’ve always adored the mental image of an Emperor/Empress of Ice Cream  (Let’s call it “ poetic license on the part of the reader”).
*** See this awesome article about Intersectionality


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