Is this website discriminating? Responses

Is this website discriminating against older feminists?

Catherine Redfern, 16 March 2003

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 the link for an explanation.

Here are the latest comments I've received on the issue of whether this site is discriminating against older feminists:

To read the original argument which caused this debate, click here. Please add your comments too - I want to hear more views on this! I'll keep this debate running as long as people want to contribute.

From Louise

I have been pondering this age thing since I first came to the site. Its taken a while but I have eventually made my mind up. We need this site, not as something exclusionary but as something inclusionary. I say this because sometimes the feminist organisations I am involved in aren't inclusionary to younger women. The older, more established figures tend to see the younger women as lackeys, just learning the ropes and there to sit at the knee of the elders and learn. Needless to say that to me isn't feminism - and yet I continue to support and work for these organisations because I believe in their aims.

If there is any space which can challenge this, can encourage and acknowledge the diverse, exciting and challenging thought of young feminists then I'm in favour.

From Julian

This is a brilliant and refreshing site (sometimes horribly depressing too). It might be even better with longer contributions on various issues from some of the thoughtful people who have had something to say in this age debate. They must have ideas about serious issues as well, like why the structure of western society remains much the same as it was sixty years ago, when I was a boy. And it must be younger women (or even men) who are more likely to be aware of the problems affecting themselves, and the current possibilities for change. Older people may have constructive things to say about the same issues, and I don't have the impression that Catherine is about to censor them, but please don't feel discriminated against just because this site is not primarily designed for you or your particular interests.

From Kate

I've been reading with interest the debate on age - what's "young" and "old" with regard to feminism. At 38, I kind of find myself in the middle. I meet feminist who were raising their consciousness in the 1970's when I was too young! Now I meet younger women, in their early-mid 20's who find feminism a bit of a "dirty word". I often find I have to go my own sweet way... But I do relate to many of the issues raised by the F-word: I think a lot of these things transcend age.

Keep up the good work

From Donna Newman

I disagree that your focus on the "young, UK feminist" is discriminatory in any way. I've spoken with enough third-wave feminists to understand that they are coming at the issues affecting gender equality differently than I did as a second-wave feminist. I think it is critical that we all do what we can to reach out to the next generations of women, because even though many of us older feminists continue to be active, at some point the baton must pass fully to the new feminists, who then must eventually pass it to the generation that follows them, and so on.

That said, I also agree with those who recognize the contribution that older feminists like me can make to the struggle. I can't even imagine coming as far as I have in life were I not so fortunate in mothers--mine was a feminist in her thinking long before the term was even a catch-word. She's 72 now, and still one of the wisest (and strongest) women I've ever had the good fortune to know. It is mind-boggling to realize the heartaches I have avoided and the sense of self and purpose I have enjoyed because she exerted such a profound influence on me throughout my life.

In some ways, the struggles being fought by third-wave feminists are the same ones. But in other ways, they are different, since in many cases what they must fight is the backlash spawned by second-wave feminism. Just as my mother recognized that I had to make my own choices about my life, since I grew up in a time so different from hers and faced issues that she never had to, we older feminists recognize that third-wavers must, in many cases, define their own struggle.

My suggestion, therefore, is that while the focus of your site might be to reach out to young UK feminists, you make it a place for *all* feminists everywhere to feel welcome to put in their two cents. That old saying about those forgetting history being destined to repeat it is not an idle philosophy, and perhaps those of us from the second wave can provide a historical context that can sometimes be critical in understanding why particular issues are so important to the overall struggle. Our strength is in unity, and in doing what women have always done in order to survive, even if only informally--share our stories, teach each other what we ourselves have learned. Knowledge is power, and should never be squandered.

From Kathryn

I have really enjoyed this site, much to think about, much to relate to, and found the links really wonderful. While I can understand the need/reasons to give a focal point to "young feminists" I think these labels are really a bit arbitrary... I am 46.5 and the mother of a 5 year old... I'm an American living in Ireland (I've spent nearly as many years in Europe as in America) I had a full professional career for 20 years before starting my latest adventure/incarnation (which has involved going from the spotlight to being invisible/isolated and now emerging back into the spotlight...). My life is all mixed up depending upon which activity I'm participating in at any given time... I'm old enough to be my own child's granny and my friends include "young mothers", "empty nesters" and "child-free" professional women of all ages..... people are always guessing my age wrong - usually much younger - a toddler is a apparently a good accessory for confusing people, but really I think that age is something we carry in our heads as much, if not more than in our bodies. In many ways, I was much older in my 20s than I am now... so I think labels just aren't real or accurate, can't ever be really if we are to account for the amazing diversity of women, of humans, of the planet. So whatever you call it, whatever you "target" I think what I've seen offered includes the possibility of rising above the labels, has plenty to offer people who don't exactly fit the labels, and honors the complexity of women/feminists today - and that's what I think is most important...

From Michelle

Hi Catherine,
Have just read all the latest responses and realised i never told you what a great site this and i would like to thank you for all the hard work you obviously put into it. I hope you will keep your format as it is very good, and that us 'oldies' can visit. One of the problems is a lack of sites and publications, particularly uk based and dare i say it biased material. If i ever manage to get my dissertation written perhaps i will have time to look at something for those of us who are at least chronologically more mature.

From Daisy

Although I don't like the age debate, and don't believe Men's Rights groups would even dream of such a thing, it's happened. So:

I don't think it's at all necessarily discriminatory to target a 'younger' audience, as people tend to identify most readily with their peer groups. Nothing wrong with that. Plus this website is Catherine Redfern's own excellent creation and she therefore has a right to do what she pleases - if anyone's not happy they can always go off and start their own.

HOWEVER! This website is expanding and attracting more publicity now, so I think it would be good if it was aimed simply at everyone who wants to address the political, social, economic and legal inequalities that women still face. Within that broad framework people could find their own level, i.e share peer group experiences and perceptions, and also exchange views/perceptions with other groups if and when they please. This would make the website even more interesting, enriching and all-encompassing and should - in theory - make everyone very happy. There ya go. Sorted (?!).

From Lindsay

I just read your online debate about age discrimination and agree with what Catherine is saying. While I agree that young feminists have loads to learn from older feminists and should be aware of the history, I don't really see targeting young women as being ageist. Many women of colour have felt excluded from the feminist movement because alot of older women focus exclusively on gender as the ultimate form of discrimination. Many young women are much more aware of this exclusion and have actively worked to break down these barriers. Many young women also have relationships with men based more on equality and feel put off by the '70's feminist notion that all men are sexist. There is also the porn debate. Women porn directers and other women-centred porn have changed the way younger feminists approach this debate and I have experienced trying to talk to an older feminist who just wasn't having it. Her view was solidified that all porn was exploitative and sexist and she wasn't willing to listen. I would never say that all older feminists have these views but I think that some of these outdated attitudes are what put young women off describing themselves as feminists.

I absolutely agree that older women face discrimination but I would argue that young people as a whole experience discrimination everyday as well. I am a youth worker and have seen the positive benefits of having spaces that are exclusively for young people where they are not controlled by adults. I have recently moved to the UK from America and value this website as a place to feel included which is something that alot of other feminist websites that are dominated by older women have never done. We should still do everything to work together but that doesn't mean that we don't need our own spaces to sort through our thoughts.

From Jenna Williams

The web site should include women of all ages. us young uns will grow old and so the website should encourage both points of view to stand side by side. strength in unity. part of feminist anger is the way women are discarded or discounted at a certain age. images of young women are everywhere and older women are marginalised. this view of women has to be challenged as it effects the experiences of young and old alike. women fear ageing rather than embracing a new time in their life and enjoying the accumulation of their knowledge gained so far.

From Sandra (age 42 and a half)

The age debate is just a huge distraction from the important issues your site should be addressing. Time to bring it to a close I would suggest... It simply doesn't matter. Feminists have always allowed themselves to be diverted from their main aim: gender equality. I doubt the UK Men's Movement - and similar - devote any attention to such matters.

From Gwenno Dafydd Williams

Thank God the 'f word' is alive and kicking. As someone who grew up in the very middle of the second wave of feminism I was beginning to despair of young women - where the f*** was that fighting spirit which forced governments to change policies to ensure that women's contribution to society was not only limited to the kitchen sink. I would like to write reams and reams in support of this site but am afraid that running a home, caring for a family and trying to work as well as all the other myriad responsibilities I have stops me from doing so - who said the fight was won! Don't forget that there's an awful lot of experience out there in us 'old feminists' who are still interested in all those issues that younger feminists are dealing with - don't disregard us! In unity there is strength!

From Michelle

I am a mature student (45) at Sussex University in the third year of my degree, and have just joined a re-launched women's group, i have always considered myself a feminist but have never been active before (always too busy working and living). i must say until I came across this debate i hadn't realised the site was for young women specificially. I think women have enough problems to overcome in areas of discrimination without creating further divisions of our own, and many women do not think they are old just because they have lived a certain number of years. I would suggest you keep your format which is very good and welcome comments from women of all ages.

From Ruthe

At 66yrs I am so far out of your age range that I suppose I am beginning again- at least thats my excuse for sending this contribution to your debate. I was delighted to find your website for one very important reason - I am in my third year at university as a mature(!!)student and one of the most worrying aspects has been the number of 'young' women students who seem to believe that equality has been achieved. The 'f' word is something that they do not want to be associated with. Your website has given a grizzled 'old' feminist hope for the future and long may you continue to dedemonise(is there such a word?)the 'f'word to younger women.

From 'M'

Heard about this website on Women's Hour! I'm so glad feminism is on the agenda again, and it's thank you to young feminists for that. But I think some of the comments so far have been verging on the ageist - don't young feminists have a sense of history, and an interest in other feminists' stories? I'm 48 - is that ancient to you? Don't worry - I won't bore you with tales of Reclaim the Night and pro-abortion marches - not unless you ask me to! I know you want to carve out your own definition, and not get bogged down in the past, so go ahead. I don't think you're in danger of getting swamped by 'older' feminists. ( don't consider myself as old, by the way). The few of us that are out there are just glad to find the issues are still striking a chord in those born since the 70s and 80s (and 90s)! Let's have more discussion of issues and less argy-bargy about age, and more sharing of common experiences, like how we have to cope as women in a patriarchal society.

From Gandalf the Grey

I am depressed that this argument is still continuing. Having a site that promotes the views of young feminists does nothing to oppress the views of old feminists. If the older feminists out there can't be bothered to do the same as Ms Redfern and create a forum for their own ideas then they are simply suppressing themselves. This site does not actively seek to denigrate the views of men or older or indeed infantile feminists. Infact as has been seen it doesn't really care who contributes so long as its a good article and relevant to the f-word's perceived audience. I think its nothing short of rude and ignorant to attack a site set up to promote young feminism on the basis of ageism, I notice the same people are not attacking it for sexism.

From Jamie

Whilst those of an older generation (40 +) (not to be patronising anyone here) have as much of a valid and worthwhile contribution to make; having greater experience of discrimination, this site should continue to maintain its "young direction".

Within a 16-37 age range many of the same issues arise, such as career and societal bias towards men.Not that this doesn't affect women outside this narrow range, but their focus and agenda will have shifted slightly. I think your site serves multiple interests and though I can't say I agree with everything on it, I do find myself relating to most of what comes up for discussion.

I'd say keep it as it is, for the most part, but allow it to be understood that contributions from an older and wiser section of the population are more than welcome.

From Clare Bradley

Am I over-simplying the age debate by saying 'the more the merrier'? Being of the "correct" age for the site (which I too didn't realise had been stipulated!), I can't really comment on feelings of discrimination except to say that I hope this doesn't prevent any 'older' women from contributing. The more I settle into my adulthood, the more I seem to be appreciating the umm, wisdom, (sorry if that's clichéd) of the older women I come in contact with. But the same goes for younger women! Everyone's experience is different to everyone else's and we all have something to learn.

Keep it coming please!

And that, in itself, is why I must heartily praise your work Catherine. I'm part of the ThirdWWWave list (where I took heed of your blatant self-promotions of this site - thanks!) which is decidedly diverse, yet decidedly US-centric and though I love being part of this list, the US experience is very different from mine. So's the UK-experience too, but as the Australian offspring of ex-pat Londoners, I'm maybe a little more at home with the British POV! Having had little luck finding similar sites closer to home, I really appreciate your reasons for establishing the F-Word. So thank you Catherine, and I look forward to having more to do with the F-Word in the future!

From Kate

Well, if any kind of "focus" is to be seen as discrimination, then many, many feminist organisations discriminate against men. Yes, that's a cheap shot, but there is a point to it: younger feminists have issues and thoughts which they may have experience of not feeling "safe" sharing in an "all-feminists" environment. That's exactly parallel to the reasons why there are women-only and women-focussed feminist spaces, and, in fact, spaces focussed on the needs and interests of older feminists, Black feminists and lesbian feminists.

The logical end to the "it's discrimination" argument has to be that all spaces are open to everybody, and no publication has a right to have any focus at all.

As a young (well, 20-something) feminist, I enjoy engaging with feminists of all ages, but I particularly enjoy the chance to talk and read about the feminism that's being built by my generation.

From Lorraine

I have been looking around for feminist sites to read and write on. I have just tipped over the 30's into 40 unfortunately for me I neither look, think, feel or act like a typical 40yr old. I have been at Uni for 4yrs getting my BA and MA in social science and criminology. All my friends are in their 20's, and I find it slightly depressing to be categorised by chronological age. As long as older feminists don't force their established views on the younger feminists I really dont see why there should be an age barrier. Surely a forum is enriched by varience just like society I never fail to be amazed by the acute observations and pearls of wisdom that my very young daughters make who are only 4 and 7 and my Mother who is 62 listens with interest to my ramblings and is slowly become a new feminist herself. I dont care how old feminists are everyone has something to offer.

From Alice Constant

I don't think the site is intended to be discriminatory against older feminists. I do understand that there is currently a lack of sites, activism, etc around feminism in general, so people want to participate where they can, but at the same time, as a young feminist, who has spend time with much younger, often non-feminist or anti-feminist, women (11-18 years)I feel it is important that young women have places where their views will be heard, and which are targeted specifically to them. It is very easy to feel alienated from feminism as a young woman, feeling it is something that happened in the past & which is no longer relevant.

From Charlotte

...I am approaching the age limit of your target group (30 in August...), but I still feel there is a real need for this kind of resource.

n.b. Just to clarify, the site is currently aimed very generally at women in their thirties, twenties and younger. [- Catherine]

From Amber

I wonder how young a young feminist can be? As I am 16 am I being discriminated against as well as the 60 year olds? I would like to think not... having a site for a specific age group is interesting for the rest of us, because we can see what this 'specific age group' thinks... however, i think it would be more useful to have a website for all feminists because we can learn so much from each other.

[but]...feminism obviously doesn't start affecting you when you are 18, or even 16. so I think you need to include younger people in your features, because we are very much people, or have an article just for us... we're not all stupid, or all that stupid, and we're certainly very relevant. so what i think you need is an article about girls, before they reach 16, particularly in secondary school... basically about how their environments affect girls, and how this shapes their attitudes, selves, souls, bodies, etc., particularly towards feminism. particularly in the school, as that's were we all end up.

From Katherine

Hello how refreshing to find this website! (thankyou Catherine:). I was afraid that all modern women had dismissed the idea or feminism as unnecessary,uncool and unsexy as it does seem to be a dirty word, and i haven't met any teenage girls who are happy to call themselves feminists even though they benefit from the efforts of previous generations of feminists and may be aware of remaining inequality...

From Ann-Marie x

Hi Catherine,

It was extremely inspiring to know there is a site for 'young' feminists and I am currently following the debate over the age issue with great interest. I don't think it is 'discriminating' against older feminists to aim the site at 'youngers' - one of the key problems feminism has at the moment is the de-politicization of younger women, many of whom have lived through the political tooth-pulling of the Thatcher era - a site that encourages younger women to unite against sexism can only be a good thing, in this context.

However - I think the points that some commentators are making about experience and the nature of sexism are pretty crucial to the credibility of the site - older women are subject to a number of oppressive practices and attitudes that younger women may not be. One example of this would be the cultural and social treatment of older women, which is about both ageism and sexism - and this is something that younger women are going to be subject to in time, if they are not aware of it already. To leave this element of awareness out of a feminist site would be quite an ommission. Further, certain health and ageing issues, (the way that they are defined and treated), are experienced in a way by older women that provides important clues to how all women, younger women included, are seen.

Having said all of this, perhaps the ideal solution would be to have another site for feminists generally, which is interlinks during critical debates, and is there as and when youngerwomen wish to link in or draw upon the experience of their older sisters (without being patronized naturally!)?

And who better to set up such a site than a feminist who has been there, done it, and is still patching up the t-shirt decades on?

Catherine - you've done a good job, my hearty congratulations. Promoting solidarity between women in times like these is quite an achievement, and you deserve every credit for it.

Warm regards and appreciation

From Amanda

With reference to the *young* vs *old* issue I have to agree that having found the site I was disappointed that there was age discrimination on it, and I can see where the *older* feminists are coming from. The beliefs are the same and it seems to me older feminists had alot more to struggle against than those in their 30's and as such I think that it could give more perspective and depth to discussion and articles. On a more positive note I love the idea of something like this as a forum I think it is fab concept and badly needed.

From Louise

First of all - what a terrific website! Thank you! Secondly - I disagree that it is discriminatory to concentrate on young women. Since this is your particular interest & you are putting all the work in (unpaid, I presume?), you have the right to pitch your website to whomever you like. I think you make your reasons for concentrating on young women quite clear, and agree that it's a necessary project. On the other hand, since some older visitors are feeling excluded, perhaps you could offer a page of links to other feminist sites, including ones geared specifically to older women?

From Xana

I think that there is a need to target and some how attract younger women to feminism. It has become a word that generates anxiety and confusion. Younger women need to be reminded that they do have something to stand up for, and that calling yourself a feminist means joining a new communnity - which can be fun, confusing, nerve wracking, dangerous, exciting and so on. However it is also important to listen and learn from PEOPLE of all ages (and, dare I say, genders, specific or otherwise). So maybe zines can target Young Women as a sort of marketing tool, but ultimately keep the site open to readers of all ages. I am 25, and I call myself a feminist.

From Jo

I've been reading the comments on age and feminism with interest, as a 30 something mature student studying Fine Art I find that there is generally an embaressment among younger people when you talk about Feminism and its issues, it would appear to be an out dated expression and something of a point of riducle (especially by the male) I feel that although your website should be aimed at younger people who are interested in feminist issues, it shouldn't leave out anybody regardless of age, sex, or ethnicity.

From Adele Sheerman

I have just read the 'Young Feminists' debate, and I too had not noticed or thought about an age criteria when I first chanced upon the site. I would like to be philosophical & say young is a state of mind but in paying homage to Catherine & her original & creative concept I accept that in this case the term young does not apply to me either!!! However if Catherine had the time & the energy to create a website for the over 35's (there's still life in the old dogs yet!!)I for one would embrace it and contribute profusely!!

In the mean time I will continue to read the site & would like to thank Catherine for re-kindling the old feelings of unity & sisterhood.

From Niamh Devlin

This is a quote from Niamh Devlin's response to the article The Biological Clock - to read more click here.

...I'm writing now, not because of any of this motherhood stuff, (I wouldn't presume) but for the additional reason that I noticed you, too, are interested in the effect the word "young" in your magazine description may or may not have on your readership. One of your readers indicated in some feedback that she hadn't noticed the word "young" until she came upon your "discrimination" debate. Like most people, I suppose, I consider myself young, too. And for me, I hadn't really noticed your use of the word until I read your article on motherhood...

From A.N.

Hi Catherine,

When I first saw your site and contributed I was really excited. But then, after reading its terms of reference again, I realised that I didn't really fall into the group you were aiming at. That is, I'm too old. I'm 47.

I've recently seen the debate on the web site about "older feminists" and I must say, it struck a chord with me.... I would not like to see a web site aimed at "older feminists" but an all inclusive one would be nice I guess. I do respect the opinions and advice of many of my friends and colleagues, regardless of their age, status, etc. and I have many who are quite a bit younger than me.

Sorry to sound negative.

From Jennie

I'm 48 and don't count myself a true 'feminist' except that I am a woman and interested in what women have to say to and about each other. I'm married with young children (boys!) and enjoy and thrive in the company of other women - age immaterial.

I can learn from my 18 year old colleague as much as I can from my 30 or 60 year old colleagues.

I love the site.

From Kate Hart

...By the way you ask for us to say how we heard about the site, this kinda relates to the ageist debate as I am a 'young' feminist and heard about it from an 'older feminist'. Despite this I think its great that there is a site aimed at 'young' feminists or young women with feminist tendencies as I used to put it!

From Gandalf the Grey

About this discriminating against older feminists thing. I don't go along with that theory at all. Its like saying this site discriminates against men. You're not oppressing older feminists by creating a forum for young feminists views.

From Lorraine

I must say I hadn't even noticed that the site was intended for young feminists until I came across the "discrimination" debate! I do fall into the age group you stated the site was intended for; however, when I think about how excited I was to come across this site, a true rarity in the UK, I can understand the sort of lurching feeling that would come next upon finding out that you were considered outwith its age group.

I have encountered this sort of feeling when "coming out" at around age 26. I wanted desperately to find a group of people who were in the same boat, yet all social groups for people trying to "come out" are aimed at the under 25's. A friend of mine offered to sneak me into a group he was involved with, and encouraged me to lie about my age, but that seemed far too embarrassing and demeaning, so I struggled on alone!

Going back to feminism, although my introduction has been mostly through "third wave" materials, the more I find out, the more I gravitate towards "second wave" ideas and the more (unfortunately) all the battles of the seventies seem to have become relevant again.

I think part of the problem here (as you mentioned) is that there are so few feminist places in the UK right now, that maybe we are all looking to this site for more than we would be in a feminist utopia! I do feel that it's your site, and that you had the inspiration and the energy to start it, so I think it's valid for you to aim it at a particular group if you wish. What's probably needed is a few more sites. However, if you are open to evolving the principles/content of the site, I for one would welcome the chance to read about the experience and ideas of older women.

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