Just to be clear. I am not a millennial. I was born in 1973 and so I am smack dab in the middle of Generation X.
I am a Gen Xer and a feminist and this distinction is important.
It is important because Gen X feminists (early Third Wave feminists) were the first generation to be routinely lectured and talked down to by white baby boomer feminists (later Second Wave feminists).
This is why I am so disturbed by Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem's comments last week. This is why I find Secretary Clinton's "even though young women don't support me, I support them" buzz line so frustratingly patronizing.
When I was in college and seminary in the 1990s, I sat at the knee of early Second Wave feminists, particularly those who were religion scholars. My bookcases are still full of their books--Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Reuther, Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Phyllis Trible, Sallie McFague, Letty Russell, etc. These scholars broke open the study of religion for me. Truth be told, they broke open my faith. Not only am I pastor because of their work, I am Christian. I am not sure I would be without them. It is not enough to say that they played a huge role in creating who I am and in informing what I do. Their work transformed me and I cherished them for that. Still do.
But in 2000, after I was ordained and called to my first church, I bounced out into my clergy colleague groups at the young age of 27 and eagerly looked for my feminist pastor mentors. I craved their wisdom and their guidance. I wanted to hear their stories. I needed their support and love. I thought, for sure, that since we were all women there would be a support network.
But I found little support among my white baby boomer feminist colleagues in local churches and in the wider church. It was incredibly disorienting for me.
Too often I found resistance and distance and competition and a whole lot of "you have it so easy." I got their stories too, but sometimes, these stories were told with an edge, with a finality. They were told like they were finished stories that couldn't include my story and the stories of women even younger than me. It felt like the purpose of the stories were to get my requisite "thank you for paving the way" at the end. I so wanted to celebrate that their hard work had created opportunities for me and other women, but instead, I mostly felt their resentment because I did, indeed, have it easier than them.
So as a young feminist pastor, my true mentors ended up being men.
Sometimes I am a bit heartbroken about this. I grieve the fact that women do this to one another. Sometimes I feel betrayed or deserted. But right now, I am mad. Because my microcosm experience is happening on the national level, and unlike my personal experience, there is a risk of great harm to women and to our movements.
Our young activists see one thing older progressives don't see. They see a long, long future ahead of them. And that future looks bleak. They see that future much more clearly than we do or ever will.
Just like the young activists of the 1960s and 1970s, millennials (and not just the white feminists) want to change that future. Just like the activists of the 1960s and 1970s, they are idealists. Just like the 1960s and 1970s, they are motivated by the Big Vision. Just like then, they want a revolution even if they aren't Bernie supporters. And they deserve one because we have made a pretty big mess of things.
What they don't want or need is to be belittled or blamed or patronized by people who should be their mentors and greatest supporters. They don't need a lecture or a history lesson. They don't need to hear resentment or anger because they aren't doing it our way. They don't need to stop their work to repeatedly acknowledge and thank their fore-mothers and fathers.
Let's stop that destructive pattern now.
They need us to listen and to trust them. They need us to stand with them. They need us to celebrate the progress that has brought them to this place and then they need us to recognize that they are deeply connected to the progress that is being made now and in the future.
See, Madam Secretaries Albright and Clinton and Ms. Gloria Steinem, there is a special place in hell for older activists who try to silence or disparage or scapegoat or ignore our millennial activists. For their work is God's work.