This piece was cross-posted from The Huffington Post and co-authored by Stephenie Foster and Abigail Collazo
Last month, the award-winning actress, author and activist Marlo Thomas wrote a great piece on Huffington Post, “Passing the Torch… Who’s Going to Run With it?” Afterwards, Thomas was chided a bit by her friend Gloria Steinem who said that “‘passing the torch’ [is] a guy thing. In our women’s version, no one gives up her torch, we use it to light others.” Good point. Both of these icons, Thomas and Steinem, focus us on the question of what the world will look like for women in the future.
As I read Thomas’ piece, which sets out how many things have changed for women for the better since she began her career in 1966, I wondered what young women of this generation think about the issues raised by Thomas as they begin their careers and families. I also wondered who they would identify as leaders from their generation. So, I contacted (via email of course) my friend Abigail Collazo, the editor of a blog focused on young women, www.fem2pt0.com.
We decided to talk to group of young women via twitter, and scheduled an hour-long tweet chat. For those of you who don’t tweet — or haven’t participated in a tweet chat – it’s really quite amazing. Despite the limit of 140 characters per tweet, you can have a dynamic conversation via twitter and have it with a fairly large number of people at the same time. With the twitter hash tag #nxtgenfem, we had a fast paced and fascinating conversation with about 50 people.
Let’s cut to the chase: I was most interested in who they saw as taking the torch. My favorite answer was “we r the nxt leaders.” And indeed they are.
What else did we talk about? A recurring theme of the chat was the importance of getting women involved at an early age. As participants explored where the movement is heading, it seemed unanimously agreed upon that engaging women in everything from running for student government to sitting on corporate boards is going to be crucial if the next generation of feminism is going to achieve its numerous goals.
The chat focused also on the challenges faced by women (and men) in this generation — the need to balance work with having a “rest of your life,” but also an acknowledgement that discrimination still exists. The participants were clear that we need to protect gains that have been made for women across the board, but that there is still so much to do to ensure that both women and men have an equal chance to succeed at every level and in whatever they choose to do.
Most surprising to Abigail, who communicates with this community on a regular basis, was the reluctance to pick just one issue that was the most important to the future of feminism. There’s always the danger of diluting a message when your movement has too many diverse goals. But in this case, the women seemed comfortable asserting their desire to pursue more than one policy, or just one dream. They wanted reproductive freedom. They also wanted equal pay for equal work. And more women in the boardroom. And more child care assistance. And more mentorship opportunities. Apparently, the next generation of feminists sees no need to limit itself to just one pursuit.
I was surprised by that as well, and that the new leaders they identified were a broad and diverse group.
We talked a lot about the need for listening to each other, and to others we don’t always agree with, to learn lessons. The group was committed to encouraging each other, and other women. They were appalled by the decrease in women in elected office and the presence of only one woman on the congressional “super committee” — Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). We talked about research showing that a critical mass of women are necessary for there to be change in business and politics. We mused about whether the financial crisis would have been less severe with more women in decision-making positions.
All of this was right along Thomas’ thoughts:
“If there’s one thing we trailblazers figured out, it’s that you need to lift up many women, not just one woman. For women there’s safety in numbers. If you have only one woman at the table, she’s a pest. Two women? That’s a team. But three? Now that’s a coalition. Look at our Supreme Court: three women justices. Little girls are now growing up knowing they can sit on the highest court in the land, take a corner office at a company, or an Oval one in Washington. And they don’t have to give up being a wife and mother if that’s what they want as well.”
As someone who has been around for a while, it made me feel that our future is in some good hands. I look forward to more tweet chats with this smart and energetic new generation, and I am glad we’re having this conversation. More to come; stay tuned!