I had a rough Sunday morning last February—and not in a sexy hangover kind of way. I woke up to this upsetting story in which two of the most revered feminists in the US—Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright—minimized and mocked young women for not being feminist enough.
Gloria quickly apologized, but that doesn’t make it okay. And Madeleine repeated a line she’s said hundreds of times before: “We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done. It’s not done…There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
Here’s the thing about that ladder: Thanks for building it—a truly monumental feat—but it doesn’t mean we have to climb it. Going straight up into that "highest, hardest glass ceiling" that Hillary Clinton famously put "18 million cracks" in back in 2008 isn’t so appealing.This generation of women wants to build their own ladder. We want life with more twists and turns and nuances. A young woman’s life is broader and full of more possibilities than ever before…and that is thanks to women like Gloria and Madeleine.
But it’s unfair for them to give us the tools to build our own future and then decide that they don’t like how we’re using them. Madeleine’s “special place in hell” comment was born from a time where there was one seat at the table earmarked for a woman, and if you wanted to be heard too, you had to basically wait for that woman to get out of the way to get your shot. You can understand why women weren’t so keen on helping other women succeed under those circumstances and why Madeleine was so mad about it. But that’s not where we are now.
Young women want to help each other and they will host dinner parties, stage fundraisers, offer advice, share tips, reveal secrets, and trade tricks so that other women will rise up with them. Frankly, power is just more fun with girlfriends. Politics aside, if we want the world to recognize our might and to let us craft our future on our own terms, then we need to be loud about what we want and what we need. Call out pundits that don’t have your best interests at heart, argue with old-fashioned points of view that don’t represent you, scream at the TV/Facebook/Twitter until everyone is listening to you.
My mission is to make you recognize your power and realize your potential. But it’s also to make the world see how powerful you are.It’s not only that the world has changed since the old-school feminist days, it’s that you have changed it.
And so now is your chance to state clearly and unequivocally how you want the world to be shaped so you can have every drop of The Big Life. Politicans are certainly listening. But so are your sisters here.
What change do you want to see? What is in your way? Who can help? Name it. Claim it. The Big Life will be yours.
Ann Shoket, who was editor-in-chief of Seventeen from 2007-2014, is the author of the forthcoming book, The Big Life, about the ways millennial women are changing what it means to be powerful and successful in the world. This piece was adapted from her weekly newsletter. Sign up here.