By Ann Braude for WOMEN = BOOKS

Posted on December 28, 2009

Am I too old to blog? 

WRB’s recent book-review request—and the subsequent assignment for this blog—raised all sorts of questions for me about where I fit in the transmission of feminism. What does it mean to be part of a “wave” or a “generation”?

My review in the November/December 2009 issue of WRB considers four religious feminists born in four different decades: Nancy Mairs (1940s), Susan Campbell (1950s), Leora Tannenbaum (1960s), and Danya Ruttenberg (1970s, I think).

Does the fact that I had to ask my techy husband “exactly what is a blog?” brand me as incompetent to comment on the oeuvre of a gen-X feminist? Ruttenberg, for example, seems to incorporate what, as my husband patiently explained, blogs aim for: comments on current issues or events through first-hand reports of personal experience.

I’m a bit of a generation-smasher myself. Born in the fifties, I just missed the crest of the second wave, so that I’ve always identified with younger women who wanted to chart their own feminist paths. My miraculously late-born children keep me in constant company with parents half my age, and my job as a college professor makes my most frequent interlocutors students born in the eighties or (don’t gasp) the nineties.

Friends beam at how my adorable children keep me young, while I yearn for more sleep and fewer potlucks sitting on chairs designed for toddlers. I don’t carry a cell phone, I don’t “twitter,” and I’m not on Facebook. But feminism is and needs to be, and I’m invigorated by the opportunity to join the blogosphere with this post.

Feminism has questioned so many binaries, why do we cling to our generational tags?

For no particular reason, the last of the books I read was by Nancy Mairs, a seasoned voice reporting a spiritual quest from the vantage of decades of social activism, illness, self-discovery, and creativity. I felt safe with Mairs, secure that the author was not experimenting with me or with herself, that her views had been well-tested over a long and fruitful life providing fairly arduous laboratory conditions.

I teach a course centered on a series of Native American guest speakers in which one of the most challenging issues for students is grasping what it means to seek wisdom by listening to elders rather than through the newest, freshest revelation.

Can feminists honor and respect the wisdom of experience and benefit from fresh voices that find new media so congenial?

In religious feminism, a decade or two can make a world of difference. My five-year-old barely knows that men can be rabbis. Enthusiastic visions of an inclusive Catholic church propounded by feminist nuns in the 1960s fade from view for a generation chastened by clergy sexual abuse.

Feminists who struggled to escape the straightjacket of gender roles in the fifties and sixties now need to understand the faith of younger generations who seek moral and religious structures to counteract a surfeit of confusing choices.

Tides shift. But if religious traditions can help feminists gain perspective on anything, perhaps it is that we are all in this together, across centuries and millennia, as well as waves and decades. And if the blogosphere can help us learn about each other, I’m on board.


Ann Braude documented the lives of religious feminists at a 2002 conference, where she asked leaders in the movement to explain how religion and feminism came to intersect in their lives and activism. Click here to see 25 prominent women tell their stories. These became the basis of Transforming the Faiths of Our Fathers (2004).  Braude is also author of Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in 19th-century America (1989) and Sisters and Saints: Women and Religion in America (2007). She directs the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School

Read Ann Braude's review "Religious Feminists" in the November/December 2009 issue of WRB .




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