[I]t was the first time that I have seen that the way I view and act on my feminism, the way my friends see their feminism, and the way my generation does its feminism can actually affect the larger feminist movement as a whole.
About a month ago, I had the opportunity to attend the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. for the second time as a member of the Feminist Collective at USC, and for the second year in a row it was one of the most amazing experiences of my school year. While it was amazing for innumerable reasons, the main one I will discuss here is the fact that I got to see how my personal feminism can affect feminism on a larger scale.
The feminist movement is an extremely diverse collection of people and views on a hundred different topics and there is no one concrete version of feminism. With that said, the feminism that has been most commonly adopted by younger feminists is usually intersectional, which addresses the fact that just because people are women does not mean that they all have the same experiences or opinions on topics. Intersectionality examines every aspect of a person’s identity including race, sexuality, religion, and socioeconomic status. This plays a very key role in personal experiences and, as feminists, we need to recognize when we address problems: we need to look at issues in every way they affect people, not just in the way that they affect white women.
While last year’s conference was an incredible experience overall, it did have its problems and a lot of them stemmed from the fact that the event was not intersectional. In many instances, it was very heteronormative (focusing on straight problems and viewing straight relationships as the norm rather than just one possible relationship type), very white-focused and not very trans-inclusive. As younger feminists, we saw these problems and took to Twitter to voice our complaints and suggestions, such as adding a spot for preferred pronouns on our nametags and selecting younger panelists, which we left in lengthy comments on the post-conference evaluations.
Some of our older members who’d been to many of the conferences and said they’ve always had these problems didn’t think anything would change; but they did. When we got to conference this year and checked in early Saturday morning, we started going through our program materials and the first thing many of us noticed was that there under “name” and “school” on the nametags, there was a spot for preferred gender pronouns. While this may not seem important to many people, it is very important in creating a trans-inclusive environment because it helps prevent people from misgendering others or using incorrect pronouns for them.
And the changes kept happening. At the very beginning of the first full conference panel, organizers announced where the gender-neutral bathrooms could be found rather than having them hidden on a map in the middle of the 20-page program. The majority of the panelists throughout the weekend were younger people with personal feminism ideals more in line with any of ours, and many of them directly addressed the intersectional aspects of their topics. To top it off, Kimberlé Crenshaw, the academic known for coining the term “intersectionality”, spoke during one of the town hall sessions.
This change was incredible on two levels: on the immediate surface level, this conscious intersectionality and active addressing of different communities’ problems meant that everyone who attended the conference got to hear and think about the problems as they fully are rather than just one facet of the problem. The other reason this was so important to me is because it was the first time that I have seen that the way I view and act on my feminism, the way my friends see their feminism, and the way my generation does its feminism can actually affect the larger feminist movement as a whole. Older generations are always telling us that we are the next generation of whatever movement we’re in, but this was the first time I have ever actually seen that come to light and have older generations listen to us.