Photo: Olesya Kuznetsova/Shutterstock

Why Young Women and Old Women Need Each Other More Than Ever

by Mary Sojourner Dec 14, 2016

This late October, I road-tripped up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to hike with a friend who works there. I stopped for Navajo Beef and Fry Bread at the Cameron Trading Post, was taken to my table, ordered and headed to the bathroom to clean up. As I started to push open the swinging door, a teen girl slammed through it. The door and the girl knocked me back. “Hey,” I said, “you need to slow down.” She flipped me off and snarled, “You need to not stand so close to doors, stupid.”

I thought about following her and reading her the riot act on respect for elders and decided that beef and fry bread were more interesting. As I waited for my food, I thought about how often I was pissed-off at young people. I hated seeing them always staring down into their phones. I hated the way they’d be walking in a group and bump into me as they passed me without noticing, much less apologizing. I hated when I taught an undergraduate writing workshop at the local university and asked them if they knew who Keith Richards was (I was going to tell them about his transformative movie, Under the Influence and his take on creativity:…something that you thought you’d played wrong was the start of a whole different song)…“was” going to because nobody knew who Keith was. One young woman kind of knew who The Rolling Stones were — “Uh, like, because my dad maybe listens to them.”

The waiter brought my food. I looked up at the old Navajo rugs on the wall. Some of them had a Spirit Line, a mistake in the weaving that ran from the pattern out to the edge. Women deliberately wove the line so that their spirit could leave the weaving when they were finished and go on to the next rug. I needed a spirit line. It was time to move on. I suddenly remembered being an 18-year-old hippie who believed absolutely in how she lived — and the times I’d been insulted or mocked as I lived my values. I remembered older people thinking that The Rolling Stones’ music was nothing but barbaric noise. I remembered being refused service in a fast food restaurant because my husband had long hair and I wore sandals. And I knew that I had found my spirit line and needed to follow it across a generation gap that I had come to experience as an abyss.

A few months later, Trump was elected president. Kae Lani Kennedy, a millennial women I work with at Matador and I were Skyping about the protests following the election. We decided to write a cross-generational piece about protests in the Sixties and now. As we worked together, she turned me on to millennial activist social media and website resources I’d been blind to. I turned her on to the real history of the protest movement in America — with all its beauty and government infiltration-caused chaos. When our piece was published, a reader wrote to say, “Probably one of the most important articles Matador has published. I wish I could read it from the rooftops.”

These woman and I broke me free from my prejudiced world. I realized that sisterhood didn’t belong to just my generation of Feminists. I learned that I had a lot to learn — and teach. As I challenged women calling themselves “girls”, I heard from younger women who agreed — and younger women who said they were reclaiming the naming of women. When I wrote about fake hipsters for a brash millennial website, I learned I wasn’t the only old hipster irritated by who I believed were poseurs. I took my education about young women out into my daily life, talked with young women baristas and store clerks and “girls” laughing in a restaurant. Not one of them slammed a door in my face.

More than a few of my new sisters told me that they wanted to learn from older women. They needed elders. They needed to learn from the past so they wouldn’t repeat history. They wouldn’t watch their young idealism turned into advertisements for make-up and high heels. They wouldn’t be fooled by the new-comer in a women’s support group who started turning the members against each other. They needed support groups to fill a vacuum they hadn’t even realized existed, a group of sisters who would become their living spirit line. And, they needed older women to show them how. We stretch our spirit lines across the abyss and find that as we do, the generation gap narrows.

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