During college, I lived in a group home with ten other women. While my roommates were active in organizations like College Democrats and Students Against Sweatshops, when I asked them to come with me to the Women's Center with me they said, "Alison, we agree with all of your issues but the women's center is not our thing. We are just not feminists." I felt frustrated and confused. It was clear to me that my friends were actually feminists; in their own everyday activism they were fighting for things like economic justice for women and helping to get women elected to local offices. There was a disconnect. When had feminism and the women's movement become so unpopular among younger women?
In my current position as Program Assistant at the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO), I have founded the Younger Women's Task Force (YWTF), a coalition of women ages 19-40 working to define and develop the next generation of the women's movement. YWTF, a project of NCWO, is committed to reaching out to all progressive younger women including those who may not already feel a part of the women's movement.
To launch YWTF, over 100 women from 42 different states gathered in Washington, DC for a National MeetUp. While half the participants were younger women working in women's organizations, the other half of them came from a variety of backgrounds including banking, journalism and childcare workers. For example, the Task Force includes a woman running for state senate, a mother on welfare trying to start her own advocacy group, and an engineering student trying to break into the male dominated science world at her graduate school Many of these women had never before attended a women's conference. All participants had to express why they "cared about women's issues" yet many women unapologetically stated that they "are not feminists."
The central focus of the MeetUp was to draft a Younger Women's Issues Agenda. Through initial outreach, YWTF found that issues of concern to younger women often differ from those addressed by the mainstream women's movement. The Younger Women's Issues Agenda addressed many issues including economic justice, workplace fairness, the work and family conflict, empowerment, self-esteem and leadership development, media representations and body image, and access to educational opportunities.
In addition to drafting an agenda, the weekend included a series of intergenerational dinners where senior women leaders hosted YWTF MeetUp participants their homes. Hosts included Martha Burk, Chair of NCWO; Karen O'Connor, Director of the Women and Politics Institute; and Eleanor Clift, Writer. The dinners were a tremendous success. Both senior women and younger women felt like they learned much from their dinner conversations.
Finally, younger women broke into regional groups where they elected a regional director and discussed which issues from the Younger Women's Issues Agenda were most critical in their regions. In the coming months, regional chapters will organize around one or more of the issues on the agenda.
Whether all of the young women in YWTF will embrace the term feminism is unclear. Several women who attended the conference wrote on their applications that they are not feminists. One issue discussion group at the MeetUp that discussed power dynamics in feminist efforts wrote, "We recognize that use of language can alienate and exclude people. We call on the women's movement to be thoughtful and strategic about the language it uses.
"Do we need to turn these women into card-carrying activists? Yes. But do these women need to call themselves feminists? Not necessarily. Any word that describes women who want to be treated and thought of as equal to their brothers is just fine by us.
While I proudly call myself a feminist, the goal of YWTF is not about definition, but to organize younger women around the issues that affect their lives. I am a pragmatist. Throughout the MeetUp, when issues were broken down into their everyday application, women understood why they were women's issues. For example, one woman works in the financial sector and constantly sees her male bosses take younger men to networking events while excluding her. When she shared this frustration with the larger group, others had similar stories. It quickly became apparent that this is indeed a younger women's issue. In other words, the traditional feminist argument had to be reframed: the personal became political.
The Younger Women's Task Force is about instilling in every young woman, the confidence, optimism, and belief that she can and should work to create a world where women are truly equal--no matter what she may call herself.
Alison Stein is the Founder of the Younger Women's Task Force. A graduate of
the University of Pennsylvania, Alison has worked on women's issues in Ghana
and Tanzania and is a
Program Assistant at the National Council of Women's Organizations.
The Younger Women's Task Force (YWTF) is a coalition of progressive younger women, ages 19-39, from over forty states in this country. YWTF members are working to provide a stronger voice in the policymaking process for younger women; increase the impact of younger women activists through the articulation of, and collaboration on, a common agenda; and define and develop the next generation of the women's movement by reaching out to all progressive younger women including those who may not identify with the women's movement. To join YWTF, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Council of Women's Organizations is a nonpartisan, nonprofit umbrella organization of over 200 groups that collectively represent over ten million women across the United States. The only national coalition of its kind, NCWO has over twenty years’ experience uniting American women’s groups.