Women Connecting Across the Generational Divide: From Gloria Steinem to Courtney Martin

Consider these four

Helen Thomas - 89 years old, a
first-wave feminist who broke into the mens' club that was the Washington DC
press corps, and has since covered every President since JFK.

Gloria Steinem - 75 years
old, a prominent second-wave feminist, co-founded the National
Women's Political Caucus
in the early '70's, founded Ms. Magazine, and became a leading
feminist icon, campaigning vigorously for the Equal Rights

Dr. Ana Nogales - 58 years old, an
Argentine-born health and human rights activist who immigrated to the US in
1979, founded Casa de la Familia
to aid victims of abuses ranging from human trafficking to rape and domestic
violence, and is one of the most well-known and respected Latinas in the United

Courtney Martin - 29, author,
editor at Feministing (a blog with
over half a million unique readers a month), and a frequent speaker on feminism,
body image, and youth culture. She's a third-wave feminist and media darling,
with appearances ranging from Today to The O'Reilly Factor to
various NPR affiliates.

So what do these three women have to talk about? Are they on the same page or
at each other's throats? The cross-generational cartoon stereotype depicts a
60-something, white, man-hating, frizzy-haired feminist sneering at a spoiled,
bulimic, twenty-something slacker. And some pundits would have you believe
there's a vast generational divide, with not only divergent life experiences,
but rivers of misunderstanding and resentment flowing through it.

But Courtney Martin doesn't entirely agree, and points to the media spreading
common misconceptions about younger women including "the notion that my
generation, the younger generation, is entitled, and ungrateful, or out of touch
with what feminism means. That is something I hear bandied about a lot,
particularly in mainstream media spheres."

Thomas, who at 89 is a pillar of the mainstream media and still asking the
tough questions at the White House, sees that the biggest misconception younger
women have about older women is, "That they're old! That they are not attuned to
any new ideas, and that they think only about the past, rather than the future."

Dr. Ana Nogales notes that young Latina women rarely use the word feminist.
"They might use 'powerful woman' and lately 'wise Latina', as portrayed by Judge
Sotomayor. It is a linguistic issue that was tinted by negative connotations in
the past as: "women that do not want to be women".

Steinem, Thomas, Nogales and Martin, along with a host of other women, are
going to sort through it all, face-to-face, in real time, at a conference
convened by Omega Institute called "Women and Power: Connecting Across the
." In essence, the conference sets out to explore how to build
bridges across generations that inspire and empower women to change the world.

The conference, organized by Omega's Women's Institute
and scheduled for September 11-13 on Omega's beautiful Rhinebeck, NY campus,
also includes trailblazers like award-winning novelist Isabel Allende; Jessica
Mendoza, a gold and silver medalist with the US Olympic softball team; Charreah
Jackson, blogger and editorial assistant at Essence Magazine; Lateefah Simon, the
youngest woman to win a MacArthur fellowship; Alberta Nells, youth leader of the
Navajo Nation; and many other remarkable women.

Elizabeth Lesser - Omega founder, author, and Oprah Network host - sees
communication at the root of the generational disconnect. "Over the past few
years of organizing the women's conferences at Omega, we have come to understand
that new language needs to be found to express what women are feeling in the
world today. The feminist movement has changed as have opportunities and
challenges for women. What worked in the 20th century will not necessarily work
today in the 21st."

"Ask young women what they think about the feminist movement and many will
not even know what you are talking about. They take it for granted that women
are where they are today--at home, work, in society," says Lesser. "But look
around the rest of the world. So many strides that women have made have been
snatched away from women and girls, or have never been realized. We must
safeguard the work that has been done and that is best accomplished by making
history alive."

Dr. Nogales points out that different cultures pass along their wisdom in
different ways. "North American/white/privileged women, mothers and grandmothers
have different stories. Latinas have deep roots into their own different
cultures, many expressed through music, poems and story-telling. Searching for
women's family and cultural stories creates a new dimension of understanding
one's own identity that cannot be transferred from other races." She adds that
young Latinas may connect more easily with a family or cultural tradition:
"...in the Latino community, words such as comadres, sisters, or any other that
creates familism has been predominant and more accepted than feminist."

While Martin acknowledges that many young women are uncomfortable
indentifying with a "feminist" label that they associate with their moms, that
they see as rejecting men, or that originated primarily with women of a
privileged class and race, she also sees plenty of young women doing the work.
And not getting acknowledged for it by 1st and 2nd wave feminists.

"I know young women who are social workers, and teachers, and veterans who
are testifying in front of Congress about their sexual assault experiences, and
straight up protest activists who still believe in holding 24-hour vigils on the
White House lawn - I mean, there are a lot of young women really out there being
active," says Martin. "But for some reason it feels like it's very difficult for
a lot of older women to see them... they are really invisibilized by that idea
that all young women are just sitting around blogging about their sex lives."

And, Martin adds, "maybe older women aren't hearing how deeply grateful
younger women are for the work that their foremothers have done. And we need to
talk about how do we create spaces for that expression of gratitude, and in what
ways do we as younger women need to say it, so that older women really
hear it and internalize it?"

Gloria Steinem, who will be a keynote speaker at the Omega Conference, also
points out: "We have to realize that young women's activism won't look exactly
like ours because they've had different experiences - which is a good thing. One
example would be safe and legal abortion - though many also recognize the threat
to it, it's hard for them to imagine a world without it -- but they're mad as
hell that there's no comprehensive sex education, that the morning after pill is
in contention, that pharmacists can just on a personal whim refuse to fill their
prescriptions. They're angry about all of that. We all get radicalized by what
affects us." She adds, "Actually, younger women - just by the measure of public
opinions polls - are more likely to support feminist issues than older women

Martin agrees: "In fact there's this huge population, as you know,
of young feminists online. And our monthly traffic at Feministing, for example, and we're just
one blog of a bazillion of them, is as high as Ms. Magazine's subscription's list at
its highest."

"Unfortunately, particularly the way mainstream media covers interaction
between intergenerational women, it often gets sort of framed as this
antagonistic, incredibly judgmental conversation," Martin continues. "And I
think that there's some truth in that - there is some judgment between the
generations. And I think it stems exactly from the lack of spaces and the lack
of time to really create these kinds of dialogues that Omega is trying to
create. "

Lesser agrees that the conference is offered as a starting point that she
hopes will inspire more communication between the generations. "Birds of a
feather tend to flock together. That's understandable. So, it takes effort to
break out of habits and meet new people from different backgrounds and

Dr. Nogales also believes that when women bridge differences and learn from
each other, they become stronger. "I had to do my own search to come to the
realization of what it implies to be a woman in this world," says Dr. Nogales.
"And I learn more about myself each year I attend the Omega Women's Institute.
September became the month that I dedicate to myself in search of a meaning of
my own. I could not be what I am today if it were not for the women in the

Martin (who will be leading a workshop on blogging as well as liveblogging
from the conference at Feministing)
thinks younger women can teach older women about "the methods of how we are
having these conversations - the blogging and the social networking."

Lesser agrees. "Younger women have the energy to take the threads from the
past and weave them into the future. They speak the language of today and know
the landscape better."

Thomas, who broke through all sorts of barriers for women reporters and who
at 89 is still known for her boldness, derives her incredible energy and
inspiration from "outrage and injustice... And a strong belief in better people
and a better world."

Thomas advises all women: "Never give up, and always struggle against false
obstacles." She further encourages young women to, "Go for it! Follow your
dreams, and raise the bar for all people."

Lesser hopes that the conference will help women do just that, providing
"celebration, entertainment, electrifying speeches and panel discussions from
totally inspiring women from different backgrounds and generations." She adds,
"My top goal is for women to leave charged up to make a difference in their own
lives and homes and work. Each person coming to the conference has the power to
uplift her world--her kids, her mate, her colleagues, her community. A
conference is just a weekend; what matters is what the women do once they get
home. My hope is that women will be inspired by the speakers--all of whom have
done amazing things against a lot of odds--to let go of fear and inertia and to
listen to their own wisdom and become bolder."

For more on Omega's Women & Power conference, click here.

For extended interviews with Elizabeth
, Courtney
, Ana
, Gloria
, and Helen
, click on their names.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.