Gloria Steinem turned 80 today and is still killing it all over town. Gail Collins wrote a particularly excellent birthday card at the New York Times, but I also committed my thoughts on Gloria to paper (er…screen? We have got to get some new idioms) for Role/Reboot.
I was recently talking to my mom about how segmented the “movements” are these days. Where are the great thinkers? She said, Where are the great leaders pushing us forward to be better? The Martins? The Glorias? She’s right, I think, that there really aren’t singular “public faces” to movements anymore. Maybe Sheryl Sandberg comes the closest, but even her momentum and appeal is limited to certain demographic wedges. Individuals become flash points, like Sandra Fluke, or Trayvon Martin, but their influence doesn’t sustain over decades.
The way we consume media has become so fractured and specific that for one person to try to galvanize a large swath of the public is rarely feasible anymore. We’ll change the channel to one of the 900 others, or close the browser and open a new one. There are pockets now, specific strains of ism or anti-ism, that we choose subscribe to based on our politics and affiliations. When Tina Fey skewered Jezebel on 30 Rock, which side did you fall on? When Ta-Nehisi Coates berates the President, who do you think is right?
I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we have these sub-affiliations, I think it’s just an indication of how fucking complicated these issues are. I just finished Lynn Povich’s The Good Girls Revolt, about the 1970 sex discrimination lawsuit at Newsweek. In the recollections of some of the participants was a certain reluctance to admit that, actually, they hadn’t wanted the jobs they were suing for. Most of them certainly did (and they all deserved the opportunity to compete for them), but some felt that the movement was so all-encompassing that to opt-out or question any part of it was to undermine it. They didn’t want to jeopardize the group to protect themselves, even though their interests didn’t always line up 100%.
It was an interesting angle that I wasn’t expecting Povich to address. It’s not all rah-rah. One person or committee or caucus can never speak for everyone, so the goal has to be about creating options, not dictating how we utilize them.
Related Post: Raunch humor and feminism.