Feminism | Posted by Julia Bluhm and Izzy Labbe on 09/9/2016
The Power Of Intergenerational Activism
We are former SPARK Movement activists and Hardy Girls Healthy Women Girls Advisory Board members. In 2012 we served key roles in SPARK’s Seventeen Magazine action that garnered over 86,000 petition signatures and pushed the magazine to revise its policies on digitally altering the appearances of its models. We’re writing this blog in celebration of Powered By Girl, an ~awesome~ new book by our good friend Lyn Mikel Brown. Lyn was the guiding force for our introduction to intergenerational feminist activism at the age of thirteen.
Julia: We became involved with activism when we joined SPARK Movement as bloggers on topics such as body image and sexualization in the media. We were thirteen years old then, but we were surrounded by bloggers and activists between the ages of 13 and 22, as well as adult coordinators.
Izzy: Many people were surprised that we were getting involved with these relatively mature issues at such a young age. Looking back, it does seem kind of wild that we were working to combat the sexualization of girls and women in the media before we even entered high school. But it’s important to consider that the issues we were targeting are intergenerational issues that require intergenerational activism.
Julia: Issues of sexualization and body image start affecting girls way before they turn thirteen, and by that age we were certainly aware of their influence on our everyday lives. Also, it’s important to remember that at thirteen you don’t feel young. We were the oldest we’d ever been. We had experiences, we understood the importance of feminism and activism in our lives, and we were inspired to do something ourselves.
Izzy: For many people of older generations, a feminist (and certainly an activist) is someone who has been able to acquire the necessary resources (such as a college education or perhaps even experience in the women’s liberation movement). But what those people don’t take into consideration is that we live in an age of digital learning, in which the history and tools of feminist activism are at the fingertips of younger audiences. Not only do we have new ways of learning about the history of feminist activism, but we also have ways to connect with girls and women all over the world and share experiences of sexism. At the same time, this legitimizes our reasons for speaking up and also introduces us to unique circumstances of women all over the globe.
Julia: Women of all different ages experience sexism in different ways, and you don’t need a degree in women’s studies to see it. Women in general are dismissed and discouraged more than men, but young women and girls are dismissed even more. Girls are stereotyped as being passive and insecure and not wanting to speak up, and that can be detrimental to their ability to believe in themselves and their power as activists.
Izzy: That being said, even if young girls have the tenacity and drive to become activists (much like Julia and I did in middle school), it can be nearly impossible to create big waves in the world of activism without a foundation of supportive adults who are willing to lend resources, knowledge, and confidence in the abilities of girl activists.
Julia: We were lucky enough be working alongside tons of inspiring adults who were able to provide us with resources and support. We were never alone; we were a part of a team of girls and women from all over the world, and this made our activism influential. In SPARK, we didn’t feel dismissed or passed-off as being silly thirteen-year-old girls. We were encouraged to realize our ability as change-makers from a young age, and that has definitely shaped our confidence and drive as eighteen-year-old women.
Izzy: While intergenerational activism has the ability to be massively productive and crucial in making change within communities, there are sometimes barriers that stand in the way of healthy and effective partnerships between activists of different generations.
Julia: While girls and young women can be really driven, enthusiastic change-makers with a unique perspective, they also haven’t lived as long, and therefore may not know everything that is known by a grown woman with years of experience in the movement. At the same time, though, girls are eager to learn! Adult activists should encourage them to ask questions and learn new things, because as a thirteen-year-old it can feel scary to ask questions in a space that doesn’t feel encouraging, leaving girls to feel stupid or ashamed for not knowing everything yet.
Izzy: At the same time, though, it’s counterproductive to be surprised when girls know a lot about the issues on the plate. Particular attention should be paid to being unwittingly patronizing by expecting girls to be completely unknowledgeable and being surprised when they aren’t. It’s important to consider that intergenerational activism is the opposite of the older generation teaching lessons to the younger generation, but rather a two-way symbiotic relationship in which younger girls learn from the experiences of the adults, and adults learn from the experiences of the younger girls. It is beneficial to all of us when we take the time to listen and learn from each other.
Julia: Intergenerational activism is an incredible tool for making change in any discipline, feminist or otherwise. By keeping an open mind and communicating with people of all generations, we are all given the opportunity to learn new things, gain new perspectives, and make change.
This fall, Julia is attending Butler University as a ballet performance major and Izzy is attending Wellesley College as an American Studies major.