I was 25 and co-chairing a Young Feminist Task Force meeting in the Washington office of the National Organization for Women (NOW) when the news broke that Betty Friedan, our first president, had passed away. I remember leading a moment of silence, bowing my head and thinking to myself: "You are here right now for a reason."
Not quite four years later, I'm packing my boxes to leave Minneapolis for Washington, this time as a vice president-elect of NOW. It is an honor, a blistering load of work and the opportunity of a lifetime.
I did not come to feminism casually. I grew up in the age of Sally Ride. I remember hearing that all of us could be president someday. Reality has not proven so simple. Growing up in Edina, I gravitated toward progressive politics, though my parents tended to vote Republican. At 14, I phone-banked for Ann Wynia in her historic run for U.S. Senate. At 16, I skipped school to organize for Paul Wellstone.
At 17, I developed an eating disorder that nearly killed me. I spent my 18th and 19th birthdays in a hospital clinging to life, somehow managing to graduate from high school and enroll at Georgetown University.
I took a women's studies class and realized the only way to prevent anorexia in other girls was to end the systematic denigration and inequality of women.
Women remain shockingly, disturbingly not equal. I theorized the hell out of the intersectionality of sexism, racism, classism, ageism and homophobia, writing blue book upon blue book about the rhetoric of individualism and how it sold the greatest gains of the women's movement, the fear of a lesbian takeover of feminism (sometimes called "the lavender menace"), the seeming inability of second-wave '60s and '70s feminists to incorporate my generation's concerns into a modern movement demanding justice for all women regardless of ethnicity, employment status or midriff-baring tee.
After leaving college, I ditched the postmodern critique that nobody understood, and joined NOW.
There were real things happening in my community. I was quickly elected president of the Minnesota NOW at 23 --- the youngest NOW state president in the country at the time --- and realized how easy it can be to make change, so long as you dare to raise your voice.
Feminism often doesn't feel good or comfortable. Equality is radical in a world that consistently elevates some at the expense of others. We must acknowledge that head on, and press forward through actions that might not be admired for generations to come.
People often ask me whether feminism is dead for my generation. Where, they ask, are the young women?
The answer is simple: We're here, but we see things differently. We are concerned about more than access to work; we want justice that acknowledges and supports all the work we do -- including caregiving.
We want equal marriage right now, even if our wonderfully progressive president isn't ready. We aren't really interested in a feminism that takes the format of a few iconic leaders controlling the message from the top down.
As I head to Washington, I want to change that format. Feminism must empower all women. That's something we must reignite --- and share.
Erin Matson, an advertising copywriter and online strategist in Minneapolis, left late last week for her new job with NOW.