Why Feminists Need Intergenerational Friendships

by Dena Landon

“Can I see your ID?” the waitress asked.

I fished it out of my wallet and handed it over, trying not to laugh. I hadn’t been carded in at least five years.

When she scanned my date of birth she gave me a shocked look. No, the Botox isn’t that good. But I was ten years older than the friend sitting across from me. For some reason, people don’t expect a thirty-eight-year-old and a twenty-eight year old to be friends.

While drinking our beers and picking at nachos, celebrating her first job out of grad school, we talked about sexism in the workforce, how she’d had to quit her job during school after co-workers found out she’d had an abortion and started hassling her at work, and, yes, how much we love the new trend of floral prints in the fall. In the middle of scooping up a pile of black beans and cheese, I had a flashback.

Ten years prior to that night, another older woman took me out for drinks and offered career advice and commiseration. A fellow writer, we’d met at a networking event. When she’d been slightly offended that I didn’t remember the year her first book was published I’d pointed out I hadn’t been born yet. We’d laughed, spent four hours that afternoon talking literature and been friends ever since. I’ve benefitted greatly from her wisdom over the ten years we’ve known each other. And here I was, repeating the cycle. It struck me, when I insisted on picking up the check for nachos and beer, how important it is for feminists to have strong intergenerational friendships.

The ages in my friend group range from twenty to sixty-five. It was one of my friends in her fifties who told me, with tears in her eyes, about a friend of hers who’d died from a back alley abortion pre-Roe v. Wade. For my generation, abortion has always been legal. I’d honestly never really thought it before, or imagined a world without it. But as I struggled to find words to offer some comfort to her, in the middle of a party while people mingled around us, and she tried not to lose it, I realized that her story mattered a lot. It brought home to me the importance of reproductive rights in a way that a history book had never done.

That writer friend who took me out for drinks? When my ex contested ownership of our assets during the divorce and I couldn’t touch them, she lent me the money to pay for a good lawyer. She was one of the first to sit me down and tell me, “Your husband is abusing you, you need to leave.” When one night with him got particularly bad and I needed a safe place to stay I showed up on her doorstep, my son in tow, with only an hour’s warning. Women have been doing this for other women for generations.

We absorb that this is what we do when we watch our mom make up a bed for her friend who showed up unannounced with a black eye, too young to understand why she’s sleeping on the couch but offering her our doll to try and make her feel better. When we help our grandma load casseroles into the car to take to the woman who just lost a child. When an older female friend lends or buys us a suit so we can go on our first interview out of college.

It’s not that I think that women are biologically programmed to be caregivers. It’s that I think we have learned that when shit needs to get done we step forward and we take care of one another. Too many of us have learned the hard way to not rely on the men in our lives, and that in tough times our best resources are other women. I do think that men are just as capable of offering this solace and support to one another but I don’t think that they’ve been trained to recognize it and step in the way women have. And society’s constraints around toxic masculinity sideline and silence them when they might want to reach out.

As women, we have to share the stories of friends who died from a back alley abortion, of sexual harassment we’ve encountered in the workforce, of how we left our abusive partners. If we don’t, we face the stark reality that 53% percent of white women voted for Trump in the recent election. Women who’ve forgotten that they, or their friends, could die from lack of access to reproductive healthcare. Women who’ve forgotten that funding for domestic violence shelters touches all our lives, that laws about sexual harassment, as imperfect as they are, are still needed. We will lose the anger and determination that drives us forward and into the voting booths to make a difference.

It worries me when I look at the Instagram accounts of my friends’ daughters or professional colleagues in their twenties and see that they are only surrounded by friends in their age group. There is no evidence of the intergenerational friendships that have sustained and taught me so much. If we do not pass these stories on, if we do not honor the women who fought for our right to vote and our right to make our own decisions about our bodies, then I worry that we will lose so much of what they fought for.

I’m meeting a friend in her sixties for drinks next week. I already know the looks we’ll get as our waiter tries to parse our relationship. Is she an aunt, a family member? No. She’s my friend. And I’m very lucky to have her.

Published November 22, 2016

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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