Is this website discriminating?

Is this website discriminating against older feminists?

Catherine Redfern, 16 December 2001

This debate is now closed although if you still want to comment you are welcome. The site has now changed from "young UK feminism" to "contemporary UK feminism". Please click on the link for an explanation.

This site is aimed at "young UK feminists." I originally envisaged it as a place for young feminists to connect, to share ideas, debate and comment on UK culture. In December I was emailed by a reader who was concerned that, in targeting young feminists, this website is discriminating against older feminists.

I would very much like to hear what other readers think about this issue and I would encourage you to send me your comments. Is targeting a particular group necessarily discriminating against another group? Is it valid to aim this website to young women or is it wrong to do so? Please contact me with your thoughts and next month I will add your comments here.

The text below is the reader's original email (in italic) and my comments are included as I replied to the email. The reader responded to an "advert" which I posted to a newsgroup to try to spread the word about this website.

To see the latest responses to this, click here.

Catherine,
My main reason for mailing is to ask you if you can define the word "young". Do you have a cut off point at which you won't accept articles and if so, how do you know what a person's age is? Are you sure that everyone that has contributed to your site is "young"?

Wow, very very good questions!

"Do you have a cut off point at which you won't accept articles?"

Er... good question! No I don't. I originally envisaged the site aimed for women aged in their 30s and below but I have never set a strict cut off point on that. I've always thought being flexible and taking each submission as it comes is a better way to do things. For example, an older woman responded to an article I wrote about ageing and her response was so interesting that I thought it would be good to publish. She was aged 45 and from the U.S.! So she fell down on two of my "criteria" and yet I thought what she said was so interesting that younger women would be interested in what she said. Her article is here.

"if so, how do you know what a person's age is?"

I don't! I've never asked any of my contributers or subscribers how old they are. I think I would just take it on trust. There's no way I could ever find out truthfully, even if I wanted to, because it would be impossible as you rightly point out! Same thing with whether they're from the UK or not - it's difficult to tell unless their email address says .uk on it!

Me and my partner are both feminists. She is 45. Is that too old to make a useful contribution to the F-Word? As a woman, she knows how discrimination feels, now that she is older she is beginning to experience age discrimination as well. I dread to think what it must be like for "older" non-"white" women!

If she would like to contribute something, please by all means she is welcome to email me and run it by me. I think once you've read what follows this will make sense.

BTW: I have looked at the F-Word and think it is an excellent site.

Thank you v. much! :-)

It's a pity you are excluding such a large group from being part of it. This does feel very much like discrimination. It seems to support the view that pigeon holes "older" feminists, believing they have nothing more to offer.

I am sorry that you feel that way and I suppose it was my own fault for the way I phrased my "advert". Please believe me when I say that I absolutely do not believe that older feminists have nothing to offer. I would be really sad if I thought that people saw my website as a rejection of older feminists. I do respect older feminists very much. If anything, I think I am slightly more likely to *defend* them against arguments by young women that (for example that they are boring, conservative, etc).

I guess it might help if I try to explain why my site is aimed at young feminists.

As a young woman from the UK I have been constantly told by the media and from other sources that young, UK women have rejected feminism, that they despise the word, that they are repulsed by it, that they think it's uncool and pathetic. As a young woman who does call myself a feminist, I feel alone in many ways because of this. Added to this, I do not come from an academic feminist background, I do not belong to a feminist circle and I personally don't know anyone who identifies as a feminist; it is literally just me reaching out to other people. for this reason, when I set up this site one of my main aims was to connect with my peers who felt the same way and say to them - hey, you are not alone!

I had also read a LOT of stuff from the U.S. about what young women over there have been doing:

  • in books like Manifesta, To Be Real, Listen Up, Young Wives Tales, Turbo Chicks(that last one is Canadian!)
  • in magazines like Bust, Bitch and other zines
  • in websites and ezines
  • and I have been really interested in the debates going on between young feminists and older feminists, the disagreements and discussions.

Yet when I looked over to my own home, the UK, there seemed to be so much lacking in comparison. The U.S. young women had forged a collective identity as young feminists - they even have a name for it: thirdwave! they had magazines, mailing lists, and websites by the dozen but over here I could see nothing. That's why I decided to set up my website.

Admittedly, there was little that was just plain *feminist* in the UK (whether young or old) so I could have decided to make a general feminist website. As far as I am aware there isn't anything out there like my site for young *or* old feminists in the UK so you could argue that I should have made it for all ages. However there were specific reasons why I wanted a space for young women:

  • To give young women a space where they can express their views
  • To enable young feminists to share ideas together - when this opportunity is usually so rare
  • To enable young women to find their voice, to encourage them to express themselves and develop if they have not had this chance before
  • To find out more about young women who are producing zines, who are involved with the riot grrrl movement, what's known as 'girlie' feminism, or 'thirdwave' feminists
  • To find out what other people my age are thinking and doing about feminism
  • To say to the world - we are young and feminist and we *exist*! In other words, to contradict the viewpoint that young women do not care about feminism!

In general I see my focus on young women as a *positive* thing, encouraging young women and enabling them to be able to identify as feminists together. Being young and feminist in the UK, you kind of feel like a freak and alone (!), so I thought that showing that there were others out there like me/you was a good thing to do. After all I suppose we will be the next feminist generation!

I suppose you could see it in a very negative way as discrimination or excluding and I am really sorry if some people see it that way. I guess it just depends on how you look at it.

It is for these reasons that I say the site is aimed at young women - but this is flexible and I rely on my judgement in each case. I think I should stay true to this though. For example if the site was flooded by contributions from older women or from men, it wouldn't be there for the reason I set it up. I take each contribution as it comes.

I have thought about these issues before as you can probably tell! You are probably right that I would get a lot more contributions if it was aimed at all ages - that's what is so frustrating! But I do think it is important for young women to encourage and support each other. I have to add a disclaimer and say that young women shouldn't dismiss older feminists as they have a lot to teach us, and vice-versa.

Maybe I could have an 'older feminist' issue in which older feminists can 'take over' The F-Word and all the contributions would be from them. That would be a really interesting idea although at the minute I don't think I'd have enough contributions to make it work! I am desperate for contributions as it is!

Perhaps I am going about this the wrong way, I don't know. I'll see how it goes though. I've always said it's flexible, like an experiment. I'll see where this website takes me and play it by ear.

I hope I have explained myself to you and I hope that you can understand my reasons a bit better! It's been very difficult trying to articulate my reasons and I've spent ages on this reply.

Your email has really made me think. I wonder whether it would be worth asking the readers of my website what they think as well. I could post up your email and my reply and ask for others to respond as well and say what they think. I would be interested to know if the readers agree with you, or if they have any other thoughts to add. What do you think?

Maybe I should add a FAQ on my site to address questions like this.

Let me know what you think.

Best wishes
Catherine Redfern

Thank you for your reply Catherine. I can see the points you are making and that you have thought this through very carefully. I still however, feel that you are discriminating in a negative way. I would much prefer to see an F-word web site aimed at *all* feminists. You can always include positive articles and marketing aimed at younger feminists that could help to resolve some of the issues you are raising. It just feels a bit like "them and us". I really hate any kind of discrimination (as you will have obviously noticed :-) from my e-mails).

Yes, I do think asking your readers and contributors would be a good idea. It would be helpful to know if I (and my partner) are just being too sensitive about our age. Although, she feels life really is beginning to pass her by as even people she felt she could relate to, i. e. feminists, appear to be discounting her.

Thanks,

BTW, you are also potentially missing out on an awful lot of stuff that only affects "older" women, in the feminist context, e.g. discrimination re. fertility treatment after a certain age, how men treat women going through the menopause, the affects of loss of hair on women's self esteem, etc. etc. All things that "young" feminists will have to face some time.

So, what do you think? Please contact me with your thoughts and I'll update this page next time.

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