Teen Activism is Ignored by Ageist Scholars, explained in “We Fight to Win”

Hava Rachel Gordon. We Fight to Win: Inequality and the Politics of Youth Activism. Rutgers University Press, 2010.

 

Hava Rachel Gordon did ethnographic and intersectional feminist studies of high school activist groups in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, who represented a variety of subcultures, including jocks, brains and freaks. She studied them as a social movement rather than as subcultures to highlight their political activism. She reviewed studies of adolescence, pointing out that the essentialist theories that emphasize developmental stages to adulthood were replaced by New Childhood Studies that view youth as autonomous “producers of culture in their own right.”[i] Adolescence is seen as socially constructed, not biological and universal. Part of the socialization is the subordination of youth as deficient adults simply because of their age. Yet Gordon found that even the studies of age inequality leave out young people’s voices and activism, viewing them as future citizens, as in the common expression that “children are our future,” but not important now. She reports, “There is a notable silence in the social science literatures on adolescence and political action,”[ii] assuming that social movement activists are adults. Scholars who studied youth agency expressed in youth subculture music and style debated about whether this resistance is political and “most have maintained a curious silence regarding young people’s overtly political resistance through social movement activism.”[iii] Gordon reports one reason for the neglect is that much teen activism occurs at school away from public notice as in the political action groups she studied.

Gordon found that limitations on girls’ freedom of movement interfered with their ability to attend meetings and demonstrations, what she refers to as “the key issue of spatial and civil mobility.”[iv] Parents placed more restrictions on girls than boys, causing girls to express more irritation with their parents’ opposition to their activism than boys. A high school girl named Zoe told Gordon that, “I’ve had to keep stuff secret from my parents though, actually. Like, I don’t tell them I am going to sit down in the streets.” Most girls left the Portland group because, as a girl named Alana stated, “SRU was started by white, middle-class boys and now it’s led by white, middle-class boys.”[v] The Oakland group stayed together because feminist young adult allies encouraged girl’s leadership, interrupted boys’ domination of discussions, and served as intermediaries with parents.

[i] Hava Rachel Gordon. We Fight to Win: Inequality and the Politics of Youth Activism. Rutgers University Press, 2010, pp. 6-7.

[ii] Gordon, p. 10.

[iii] Gordon, p. 12.

[iv] Hava Rachel Gordon. We Fight to Win: Inequality and the Politics of Youth Activism. Rutgers University Press, 2010, p. 178.

[v] Gordon, p. 192.

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