…Sure, there are only three….

Something thought-provoking happened in class the other day.  Like most of the French classes I have taken at the college level, this one is overwhelmingly female (I wonder if the guys in these classes have similar feeling to the female minority in engineering classes…hmmm, thoughts?).  This is not particularly strange to me – while there are certainly men at the graduate level, at the undergraduate level, they seem to be…diluted.  But I digress, since the real question is more generational in nature.  The make-up of the class, agewise, is:  Female professor (in her 40s), me (in my 30s) and everyone else (20-22).  And we’re discussing the work of a feminist author, and we are trying to parse what feminism might have meant then (the 70s) and now.  These are not direct quotes, and they were in French, so the intentions and/or nuances may have been different than what was actually said or understood.  This is just to give a taste of what I was so thought provoking

Professor:  Are there any aspects of culture where women are barred?

Me:  Not explicitly.  But there are some domains where, if women participate, they are held up and discussed solely for their gender.  In hip-hop, for example, there seems to be an exclusion of women.  You can have someone like Missy Elliot, but all people seem to feel comfortable talking about is how she’s a woman in a man’s world.

Professor:  I see your point.

Another classmate:  There aren’t any rules keeping a woman from being president, but I think a lot of people still feel uncomfortable with the idea.  When my friends and I talk about Hillary Clinton, we seem to think that people have a problem with her being a woman.

Professor:  Although that could be about her being Hillary Clinton.

Same student:  Sure, I guess.

Different student:  I think she [Cixous] makes a point of drawing a distinction between the sexes, so she can identify herself as a feminist writer.

This goes on.  During this discussion, I felt like there was a disjointedness, due to three very different generational perspectives on gender relationships.  And this would be a time where I was acutely aware of an age difference during class.  This is my theory, which might be full of crap, but regardless, this is how I saw it.  Women from the baby boomer generation, like my professor, still remember what it was like before – “a career?  what, you don’t want a husband?”, and that sort of thing.  I think they have a true appreciation about how far we’ve come in such a short period of time.   Women from my generation (and usually, I’m the only example of it in a class), vaguely remember the earlier days (Charlie’s Angels, you know, had to leave the Police Department to do real detective work), but we also realize some of the success we’ve had is ambiguous, at best (really, undercover work at the roller derby?  Two Charlie’s Angels movies?  Are you kidding me?).  And the young women in my class may or may not have an accurate idea on the debates that are still raging outside of their generation.  I think they get a lot less ambivalence from the guys in their generation than, say my professor and I would find in ours; still, I think it is telling that the student that made the comment about Hillary Clinton takes a lot of classes in a department that is a lot more evenly distributed in terms of gender than the French Department.  Politics, too, is notoriously risk-adverse; often, politics seems to find itself rushing to catch up with the rest of society (and I think that’s why you find a lot of reactionary politics – people tend to get nervous around too much change).  So yes, I think that notions of feminism are inseparable from where you are generationally.  I also think the response seems to be to say that any form of feminism that doesn’t line up exactly with what came before to be “not feminism.”

What’s the point?  I honestly don’t know, but I think that drawing attention to some of this stuff is the point.  I think we believe that societal influences are something we can “get over,” but I’m pretty sure that most of those influences are too subliminal for us.  I’m not saying people are powerless against their cultural influences, I just think that we should acknowledge that we are not nearly as powerful as we think we are.