Respect your elders, young ladies!

Two white women, one young and one old, on a fairground ride of some sort; the young woman is holding the rail in front of the seat. The old lady, who is wearing a colourful flowery scarf, has her head back and is smiling.There was an article on the Independent last week calling for younger feminists to concern themselves with the plight of the so-called WASPI women, the women born in the 50s who are being caught out by the rise in the state pension age from 60 to 65 for them and now to 67 for everyone (the term comes from their campaign group, Women Against State Pension Inequality). The feminist blogger and columnist Glosswitch accuses younger feminists of ignoring the needs of their elders because the campaign is unfashionable and reminds them of the old women they will become:

The voices raised in honour of smashing the patriarchy seem strangely muted when it comes to issues such as pensions poverty and the ongoing legacy of women having taken years out of the paid work. If we’re being honest, the WASPI campaign isn’t a very fashionable feminist campaign because it’s to do with the end stages of life, a narrowing rather than a broadening of perspectives. It’s not about sisters but mothers and grandmothers – women whom younger feminists might love, but don’t necessarily want to be. What’s more, there’s a degree to which younger women gain reassurance from deciding older women are at least partly responsible for the predicament they find themselves in.

There are a lot of assumptions being made here. I’m not one for “Boomer blaming” and as I’ve pointed out on this site in the past, a lot of the moderately well-off Baby Boomers (including the ‘sisters’ of the WASPI women) who are being blamed for “hoarding houses” that young people need actually provide free childcare for their grandchildren while also looking after elderly and/or disabled parents or other relatives. Similarly, some younger people who have done well in their careers are helping out their parents or grandparents who are ill or poor, and I’m guessing a lot of the women are doing the care tasks personally (and fitting it in alongside paid work) when the state will not pay people to do it. How many of them are feminists as such I couldn’t tell, but quite a few of those I know of are carers for someone or other, so the fact that they’re not actively campaigning on pensions doesn’t mean they don’t care.

She explains:

A woman born in 1951 will have been 15 when she left school to start work; 24 when the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Act came into force; 32 when the Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value Amendment was added; 43 when every working woman won the right to take maternity leave. She will have experienced direct and indirect sexism both at home and in the workplace – marital rape was legal until 1991 – and had little personal or state support in caring for dependants. If she was married, the unpaid labour she contributed in the home will have meant more money in her husband’s pocket, not hers.

This is fairly typical of certain habits I see a lot in feminists: generalising on a worst-case scenario for women and misrepresenting trade-offs as unilateral advantages or disadvantages. An awful lot of ‘coulds’ here are stated as ‘woulds’. People born in the 1950s had some aspects of life easier and some harder: they were more likely to have been free to play outside as children, the cost of living (especially housing) was lower, jobs were more plentiful when they left school which was why you could leave school at 15 until the early 70s; admittedly, some were forced to by their families who wanted the extra income, but not all girls born in 1951 left school at 15, and those who gained a place at university (a small minority then, admittedly) whose family income was low enough got a grant, while today’s students have to pay thousands of pounds in tuition fees and leave with five-figure debts, with many jobs that would have taken a school leaver in 1970 requiring a degree now.

For most of the post-war period, it was possible for a family to live quite adequately off one wage — for today’s mothers, being able to look after their children for more than a few weeks after giving birth is a luxury, and childcare is expensive if you don’t have relatives who are able and willing. The idea that this “unpaid labour” put money in their husbands’ pockets or anyone else’s (by saving him the cost of servants, which almost nobody had by then) did not occur to most people, especially if the family only just made ends meet or if the husband put money by to spend on things that benefited the whole family and not just himself. After all, she was probably not forced into an arranged marriage to a stranger but willingly married someone she loved, and may well have had the children because she wanted them. They were her children as well, and the job of looking after them needed to be done. Some of these marriages were miserable, some even violent; many were happy and people worked at making marriages work and last, which fewer people do now.

We all know that partner violence is just as much a problem now as it was in the 1970s or any other time. Rape in marriage may have been ruled illegal, but it still happens and the conviction rate is low. To give it as a reason why young women should be particularly concerned with sixtysomethings’ pensions when they face the same threat (and possibly worse given the prevalence of online pornography, revenge porn and other new ways to sexually exploit or violate someone) is ridiculous.

Regular Indepdendent readers may not know this, but the chiding tone she takes with young women is typical of the attitudes of many older feminists — certain feminist Twitter feeds, blogs etc feature complaints about “ageism in feminism” and about young women not listening to or appreciating the wisdom of their elders fairly regularly, often prompted by disagreements over such matters as the status of trans women, and it’s rather ironic that demands are made to today’s young women to respect their grandmothers when those older women just as vehemently rejected the attitudes of their own parents and grandparents on issues like homosexuality and couples living together before marriage. I don’t intend this as an attack on the WASPI campaign itself; we should be supporting women who no longer qualify for a pension but for reasons stemming from being a woman and doing what was expected of her or indeed necessary, has no money to support herself; but this does not justify an attack on young women who have enough challenges of their own including many not faced by the Baby Boomers.

Image source: Lora Leathco via Pixabay.

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