Prof. Hill and Pogrebin ’59 discuss feminist generational disconnect

Prof. Hill and Pogrebin ’59 discuss feminist generational disconnect

September 11, 2015

Professor Anita Hill (HS) and author Letty Cottin Pogrebin ’59 held a discussion focused on the changing dynamics of feminism, Judaism and social justice over the course of generations. Both Hill and Pogrebin are prominent feminists in their fields, studying topics like race, gender and women in religion. Pogrebin’s newest book, “Single Jewish Male Seeking Soulmate,” published in 2015, served as the basis for the conversation between Hill and her. The discussion was attended by over 500 members of the Brandeis community.

Hill and Pogrebin discussed the disconnect that often exists between generations of social movements, and the desire of older generations to see their efforts and culture carried forth by the younger generations. In Pogrebin’s case, the gap is seen in terms of both Judaism and the feminist movement. They raised the question of whether these gaps can, or even should, be reconciled. The two expressed that while continuity is important, people should pay attention to what kind of continuity they value.

Pogrebin’s book follows a young, Jewish man who has just promised his dying mother, a Holocaust survivor, that he will marry a Jewish woman, and raise Jewish children. He instead falls in love with a woman who is not Jewish, but rather a radical African-American activist. The book explores the same questions about how values and identity change throughout generations.

She experienced a disconnect within her own values, and desire to preserve her family’s heritage when her daughter dated a Catholic man. Though she has always prided herself in her open-mindedness, and desire to be an intersectional feminist, she found herself upset at the idea of her daughter’s relationship. She felt concerned about preserving the religion that had meant so much to her family, questioning what the relationship “will mean in terms of my heritage, what will that mean for one third of both sides of my family who perished in the Holocaust.”

Hill argued that there is great value in maintaining the work that previous generations have done in civil rights and social justice movements. In order to preserve their struggles, Hill said that older generations should be able to share stories about their experiences. Telling stories about topics like abortion can help generations connect and feel less alone in their experiences.

It can be difficult to convince older generations to tell their stories, however, as many of them still feel the same fears of conflicts that younger generations may not understand. Creating dialogue between these generations may be able to help further social justice movements. She said that as a child about to graduate high school, she told her mother that she wanted to visit Europe. Her mother, being of the generation that experienced the Holocaust firsthand, saw Europe not as a romanticized vacation destination, saying “Why would you want to go to Europe? That’s where everyone was killed.”

Hill told similar stories about lynchings in America and having relatives that are still very afraid to tell their stories while their children no longer feel the same fear. “The fear and the terror was still with him. It transcended his generation,” Hill said. The fact that each generation has its own experience with injustice makes it even more important that there is intergenerational dialogue.

Adding to the disconnect between generations is the feeling of the older generation that it should be in some way thanked for its contribution. The experiences of each generation are often so different that, as Hill explained, it can be hard for a feminist of one generation to identify with the new generations that are leading the cause. The changes between generations is often necessary and beneficial, allowing movements to become more inclusive or effective. The civil rights movement for African-Americans, as Hill explained, was dominated by men and ignored issues like the sexual abuse of African-American women and homophobia. “I’m still not over the march on Washington where women were excluded and were drowned out and deliberately pushed aside,” Hill said. Along with the gratitude for the progress that older generations have allowed comes disagreements about how to be inclusive and what changes movements must experience to keep up with the changing world.

As their conversation continued, the focus shifted between the responsibility of the younger generations to carry on their parents’ traditions in order to not lose their cultural heritage, and the responsibility of older generations to share stories and convey the values that are important to them. “I started out the question of, ‘What do we owe our parents?’ but maybe the question needs to be ‘What do our parents owe us’ in terms of telling us why it is important to maintain our heritage to understand our stories,” Hill argued.

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