If you’ve spent more than 45 minutes in my company, you have likely heard me say one of the following:

  • Muriel Duckworth told me that anything worth doing is worth doing badly, and she is a 97-year-old Nobel Peace Prize nominee. She didn’t wait until she felt she could do things perfectly before she did them.”
  • “Judy Rebick says that while hosting Face Off on CBC, no able-bodied white man ever turned down an invitation onto the show by saying he ‘didn’t know enough’ about the subject. But women did, all the time! Why do we think we don’t know enough?”
  • “Sometimes I feel like we young feminists have post-moderned ourselves into paralysis. We’re so invested in seeing every side of every issue, we can’t unequivocally say anything.”

Oh, how depressing. Two of the three things I always say are quotes from other people, and I’m fairly easily talked out of that last one. I guess that’s sort of my point.

I’m not doing this to be adorable; this is what it’s like in my brain. I have Feminist Insecurity. In fact, if I didn’t repeat those first two points to myself, I’d never have the guts to say the third. And it’s not just me. So many feminists in their 20s and 30s are like this. We apologize, we disclaim and, worst of all, we don’t reach out to other young feminists for fear of being called out as the frauds we feel we are.

One of the ways this isolation manifests itself is that we don’t organize in the ways of the generations of feminists before us. We don’t join. We’re not sure if we should, and we can’t seem to navigate the movement as it is. Some of us have tried to get involved with established groups, and it’s not gone well. We’ve almost always been the only “young” person present and have then either felt too much pressure to speak for Young Women Everywhere, or have been expected to be silent until we’ve somehow accrued enough credibility to be heard. So most of the young feminists I know don’t belong to a feminist organization.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a great deal of amazing energy and teamwork happening with younger women right now. We have Shameless magazine. We have independent women’s businesses like Venus Envy and Peach Berserk. We have menstrual experts like Blood Sisters. We have bands like Pony Da Look, Bontempi and the Maynards. We’ve got body-positive troupe Big Dance.

While our achievements are not the sort of feminism that older women hope to see, one thing that we’ve done well is dissect and influence culture. Third wavers might not have an abortion caravan, but we’ve got record labels. Maybe we don’t attend candidate’s school, but we’re running feminist businesses. We don’t hold consciousness-raising sessions, but we stitch and bitch.

However, we’re not joining feminist organizations. This means we’re not involved with the National Action Committee on the Status Of Women (NAC), a coalition of women’s groups fighting for equality, because if you’re not a member of a feminist organization, you’re not a part of NAC.

You see, women don’t join NAC; equality-seeking women’s organizations do. I once tried to join NAC so I could go to an annual general meeting (AGM) and was told to join another group first and then get them to send me. I’m not even sure about that last part because I stopped listening at “Join another group first.” I didn’t know any groups, so I didn’t go to that meeting. (They haven’t had an AGM since. I try not to blame myself.)

Background: For nearly 30 years, NAC was the largest and most influential feminist organization in the country. It was once made up of more than 700 member groups from all over Canada, representing sectors from labour to social justice to anti-racism to academia and research. Fantastic women worked hard at NAC, and young women have benefited from it.

Young women have not, however, been really engaged by the organization, or many of the member groups of which it is made up. To their credit, NAC did show some long-overdue initiative in supporting young women when they elected a 26-year-old, Denise Andrea Campbell, to the presidency in 2001. However, she was left holding the bag when they more or less folded shortly thereafter.

This fall, I was asked to be on an advisory council that would help determine the future of what was left of NAC. After quickly mumbling, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly” and “I totally know enough!” to myself, I agreed. As part of my involvement, I was asked to facilitate a discussion at a plenary session in Ottawa last November called “Engaging a Diversity of Equity-Seeking Women’s Constituencies: Younger Women.”

No. Really. It was called that.

Four of us were on the panel, and we felt conspicuous at the front of that room. The tone so far had been earnest and serious, and when my introduction of one of the panelists mentioned that she dabbled in tarot cards (as well as having organized the Canadian March of Women in 2000), I feared that we’d lost them.

I started the discussion with some thoughts on the disconnection between generations of feminists. I said the narrative had gotten lost, but it wasn’t because women of my age had rejected it, and that reading past NAC president Judy Rebick’s book, Ten Thousand Roses, had really filled in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge and been a huge inspiration. I then did the obvious and stressed the importance of mentorship. Everyone expected me to say, “Mentorship is crucial!” and I did, but then I paused, leaned into the microphone and finished my thought with “Because we’re really going to have to mentor you guys.”

The reaction in the room was mixed. Heck, my own reaction was mixed (see above re: Insecurity, Feminist). I felt like there must be a better or smarter or nicer feminist who could have been leading the discussion, or at least one with cleaner hair. But then I thought about all the great young women in the movement, and some of the ways we’re doing things a lot better than our predecessors. Kathleen Hanna told Bikini Kill fans to draw stars on their hands so they could find other Bikini Kill fans that would share their ideas, tastes and politics — and then they could work together on things — and that’s some fairly genius organizing right there.

So I talked about what I always talk about, which is the communications aspect of it all. I said that if we didn’t start telling actual young women (not 30-year-old-married-home-owner women like me) how great and capable they are in a way that will appeal to them, then a pre-fab-pop-starlet like Avril Lavigne will (and something’s sure to be lost in the translation then). I talked about how media is far better (Andrea Dorfman movies!) and far worse (The Swan!) than most of them know. I talked about some of the ways we can use television, film, magazines, radio, books and the web to draw in my generation, and the next.

And then Gilly talked about the challenges of running a youth shelter in Yellowknife. And then Stephanie talked about the pressure she sometimes felt to settle into a traditional domestic arrangement. And then Pam talked about how she’d been lying about her age for years to be taken seriously. We were great, and a handful of audience members made sure we knew that. That they took the time to do that meant the world. It also reinforced what we’d said while speaking: it wasn’t individual second wavers who we’d felt dismissed by. But once we were in a group of them, we felt we couldn’t communicate in the same way they did, and therefore couldn’t make ourselves heard.

Further reinforcing that feeling was a discussion the next day on The Future of NAC. Not a single woman under the age of 50 was invited to be on that panel.

There was a bit of kerfuffle here that I detailed in my This Magazine blog post (http://blog.thismagazine.ca), but the end result was my stating that perhaps if one was deciding where NAC was headed, one might want some people speaking to that who would have to take things over eventually. Our table of young women — and a handful of the older women — started clapping.

Later on, during the break, several of the applauding women approached us and asked why we weren’t running things. I smiled helplessly in what I hoped was an endearing fashion. One of the women shrugged and said, “Well if you don’t want toâe¦.”

But I do want to. I think we should all want to. There is a lot of history, and a lot of infrastructure, and a lot of knowledge invested in NAC already, and some fresh perspective and new tactics could really catapult it into prominence and relevance again. Even if NAC As We Know It ends up more or less staying kaput, something has to happen in this country, and young women need to play a leadership role in whatever that is.

Canada needs us. We’ve just taken a sharp turn to the patriarchal white right, and there is work to be done. We’ll be the ones to pass on Feminist Insight to our cousins and sisters and kids we used to babysit. Until then, we’ve got some big issues to tackle. Canada still hasn’t implemented pay equity and we’ve got no national daycare program, despite some telegenic promises we’ve received on both of those issues. University-educated immigrant women are earning $14K less a year than similarly qualified women who were born in Canada. Forty-three per cent of First Nations women are living below the poverty line. Hello!!!

Oh, I bet you are now all so excited to join and build NAC! But don’t forget, you can’t join NAC. After the last day of meetings wound down, I was whining to longtime feminist activist Lee Lakeman about this very thing: “So now I have to go win over some Nova Scotia women’s group if I can find it in order to get the right to come here and try to win NAC over?” Lee looked at me like I was perhaps a moron and said, “Why don’t you start your own group?”

As soon as she said “Why donâe(TM)t you start your own group?” I started to hear “!!!!!!!!” “!!!!!!!!” “!!!!!!!” in my head, because WHAT. A. GREAT. IDEA.

Here is the deal. You need 10 people and a feminist mandate. Make sure you formally exist six weeks before the AGM (which is happening in May). You also have to have a recommendation by an existing member group. But really, contact me, we’ll find a way.

The idea of starting a group is fairly terrifying, because if we’re going to start groups we have to go on the record with stances, and we have to collaborate and lead and follow. But we have those skills, I know we do. It’s just a question of applying them in a new way. What issue infuriates you the most? How do you think it can best be addressed? What have you been wishing someone else would do? Assemble a team and get on it.

Let’s go draw some stars on our hands. Feminists, we’re calling you.