The Conspiracy

I was accosted by a Jewish Second-wave feminist… Awesome! [J Street 2012]

Just after the “Bringing Women to the Fore and Advancing Peace” session, an elderly woman approached me to respond to a question I had asked about intersectionality, a term used in modern feminist theory to describe how all forms of oppression are connected. The idea is that you can’t eradicate racism without getting rid of sexism, or homophobia. Thus, women’s rights activists should also fight for the rights of people of color, LGBTQ, immigrant workers, and similarly marginalized folks. (Forgive me, bell hooks, for the really crude oversimplification of the term.)


A participant asks a question during a panel at the 2012 J Street conference | photo by flickr user jstreetdotorg (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The woman introduced herself, did a quick run-through of her feminist resume, and then ripped into me. She said that I was wrong to assume that Second-wave feminists weren’t concerned with “those things.” She didn’t like the fact that I used the term intersectionality because it is too academic a term for this context. If I’m so concerned about these issues, I should call them “multiple voices or something to that effect.” It was great.

Maybe she had a point. Microsoft Word’s spell-checker has no spelling suggestions for “intersectionality.” Sorry Angela Davis, guess it’s not a word yet! Still, my initial instinct was to correct her. Intersectionality isn’t about “multiple voices.” It’s about moving beyond “men are equal to women” and into the territory of accountability, solidarity, and privilege. It’s about using our power to address really uncomfortable issues.

But I just blogged about the infuriatingly challenging task that is knowing when to discuss what. So I let it go. I waited for her to finish her rant, smiled, and thanked her for her advice. Pointing out her mischaracterization of the term would only have resulted in a screaming match between two really opinionated people who actually admire each other very much. I wasn’t about to change her mind on that issue. But I did hopefully convince her that my generation isn’t a bunch of Facebook addicts and twitter brats. Among other things, the incident illuminated a generational gap facing not only the feminist community, but also the Jewish community. And that’s awesome! It means we’re changing. If the older generation isn’t pissed off at the younger generation and vice versa, something’s wrong. You can measure the potency of a particular moment by the amount of tough love the older generation must show its offspring.

Hey, Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize “Facebook” either. Maybe there’s hope after all.


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3 Older Responses to “I was accosted by a Jewish Second-wave feminist… Awesome! [J Street 2012]”

  1. Zulma Aguiar
    March 29, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Thank you for this article. I can understand the feeling of feeling “overwhelmed” by new ideas of feminism and social networking, computers and technology. I guess some people after they finish their college careers decide to retreat into “normal family life” and fail to keep trying to stay up to date with trends, academic knowledge and technology. I have compassion for people more now because I learned about intersectionality in my graduate studies program. And I would still love to meet Angela Davis. 😀

  2. Yisrael Medad
    March 30, 2012 at 3:12 am #

    Can interactibility be applied beyond feminist semantics? To nationalism? If so, could it be said that Jews cannot fulfill their Zionism if the Arabs cannot realize their Palestinianism?

  3. Bob Lamm
    April 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    As a writer who may well be the same age as the elderly feminist discussed above, I’ve always tried to use the most accessible language in anything I write. Language that will be understood by EVERYONE. I completely agree with the politics you’re expressing here. I completely agree that it’s essential to look seriously at accountability, solidarity, and privilege. And at the interrelated aspects of different types of oppression. I only have a problem with use of a term (“intersectionality”) that too many people won’t understand. I agree with your critic that it’s too academic. In my view, WAY too academic.

    I’d like to add the following. The battles between second wave feminists and younger feminists, between different generations of radicals–all that to me is terribly sad. Whose generation was/is better? I find that question absurd, pointless, and completely destructive. I am opposed to generational nationalism just as I am opposed to any other form of nationalism. It’s just in-group/out-group b.s.

    I am a proud “child of the ’60s.” Of course I am identified with my own generation. I believe we accomplished a lot at our peak and many of us are still accomplishing a lot. But we children of the ’60s treated older radicals horribly, just as they treated us horribly. In 2012, none of us should repeat that terrible dynamic.

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