I always thought that there were glaring, irreconcilable differences between my mother's feminism (second wave) and mine (third wave). She sits around a suburban living room with other 50-something-year-olds and discusses the difficulties of growing older. I ride the subway with my best friend and discuss the epidemic of eating disorders. My mom donates money to Emily's List, has a subscription to Ms. Magazine, married my dad at age 20. I give what little I can to the Third Wave Foundation, have a subscription to Bust, and think marriage, most often, is an oppressive institution.
My generation, I have always argued, is not post-feminist, but post-institutional. We are waging wars on the beauty industry, global corporatization, and polarized ideas about sexuality. We don't march in the streets. Instead we stage public art, write radical truths, live daring and independent lives in cities far from home.
In some ways, I was right: my friends and I are not post-feminist. In a fundamental way, I was wrong: our fight is not post-institutional. The March for Women's Lives last April woke me up to the fact that my mom and I—the second and the third waves of feminism—still share a mutual fight.
As I marched beside women of all kinds—a black teenage girl with a name plate necklace and Triple Five Soul t-shirt, a porcelain-skinned older woman with pearl earrings carrying a Gucci handbag, a hippie with braids and a Congo drum, an anarchist in all black and wearing fishnet stockings—I felt elated and necessary. I was stunned at the presence of diverse community, the coming together of like minds despite the contrast of appearances. It was a moment of profound unity among women (and men) with little other common ground. We were Muslims, Jews, Atheists and Catholics, lawyers, artists, investment bankers, and homemakers, black, white, Latina, and Asian. But we stood together on our shared conviction that all human beings deserve choice.
I have had many quintessential feminist experiences: sat in women's studies classes, written one-acts for a women's theater production, helped friends through teenage pregnancy and struggles with bulimia, heard Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Amy Richards, and Jennifer Baumgardner speak. But never before had I experienced feminism. Never before had I understood its capacity as a life force. As I marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, danced on the Capitol Mall lawn, and shouted my throat hoarse, I felt the power of being one voice in a chorus, one young member of the biggest family in the world—a family of enraged and impassioned women.
Courtney E. Martin is a writer, documentary artist, and teacher living in Brooklyn, New York.