In Praise of Older Women: A Love Letter to My Big Sisters

A disturbing trend has been established over the last few years – implying that, as women within the feminist movement age, they become less relevant. It is not simply unrepentant misogynists airing this view – although they are responsible for starting it – but rather relatively young and often liberal women who openly describe themselves as feminists. Kaite Welsh of the Telegraph branded Germaine Greer a “dinosaur”, suggesting that she “face[s] a slow and painful extinction.” Similarly, Jessica Valenti used her Guardian column to lament when older feminists “lose their way“, the implication being that doddering old dears like Susan Brownmiller are no longer fully aware of the world around them.

I do not dispute Welsh’s right to critique Greer’s perspective on gender. Valenti’s objection to Brownmiller’s comments on sexual assault is, in my opinion, perfectly reasonable. That being said, these criticisms should not be couched in ageist language. As Lorde says, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In using ageism to reproach older women, younger feminists give tacit permission for men to do the same. There is nothing revolutionary or progressive about employing the same misogynistic tactics used to silence women.

Across Twitter, older radical feminists are slammed for being “anti-sex”, “fossils”, and “pearl-clutching prudes.” In addition to perpetuating ageist misogyny, these phrases are also symptomatic of intellectual laziness – challenge the ideas of our older sisters, not their right to participate in public discourse.

Susan Brownmiller quite literally wrote the book on rape culture. Without her contributions to feminist theory, ongoing discussions about male sexual violence and the patriarchal society that enables it simply wouldn’t have evolved to their present format. Irrespective of the controversy currently surrounding Greer, her writing and activism have proven hugely influential in critiquing social models built upon male dominance. She was a pioneer and deserves to be acknowledged as such. We know that trashing our fellow women gets us nowhere, let alone anywhere in the direction of liberation, so why do so many of us still fall into this trap? When women are pitted against women, we are fighting each other – not patriarchy – no matter how progressive we are told this in-fighting makes us.

Disagreement is not justifiable cause for demonising someone. Older women receive a disproportionate amount of flack in this respect, perhaps from women who haven’t yet realised that in twenty or thirty years time their youth will have faded and they will be in the same position. If we’re being honest, I used to oscillate between dreading middle-age and thinking I would, somehow, prove an exception to the invisibility of older women. Now, having spent time with and listened to so many amazing older women, I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to being bolder, wiser, and stronger than my 23 year-old self with the same enthusiasm I once anticipated evolving my Pokémon.

Taking off the blinkers and really looking at older women has filled my world with positive role models. With this in mind, here is a letter of love and gratitude addressed to my older sisters.

Dear Older Feminists,

                                           I am writing to thank you for the battles you fought before I had ever even heard of feminism, and for continuing to fight by my side to this very day. We have a long way to go, there is no doubt, but it all seems much less of an uphill struggle when we stand together. That sisterhood is a nourishing, sustaining force. Without it, I might easily have given up or stayed silent in favour of an ‘easy’ life. But, as Audre Lorde pointed out, our silence will not protect us. Every time my mentions are flooded by trolls suggesting I kill myself or “go back to Africa”, your fortitude and support are what inspire me to carry on with activism.

Even when we disagree, and it does happen (e.g. some of you are strongly pro-Hillary Clinton, and I am not), you acknowledge my stance and treat my voice as significant in itself. You have encouraged me to write, to speak out, to stand up for myself – even when the you are the people I’m disagreeing with. You have built the communities and spaces where I now flourish. You have taught me my own worth. By seeing my skills, knowledge, and creativity, you made it possible for me to see these things too. You have also given me plenty to aspire towards – keen cleverness, intellectual rigour, unerring kindness, awareness of others, steely determination, the strength of will to change the world.

All the traits I most admire are the traits I find in older women, older feminists. After years spent drinking the patriarchal Kool-Aid, and then trying to be the “right” sort of feminist, it was something of a revelation to find that both older and radical women are nothing short of [s]heroic. Your campaigns to support women, to end violence against women, to offer women the space to grow and learn, really have made this world a better place. How my life would have gone without your encouragement and enthusiasm doesn’t bear thinking about. It is thanks to you that I have purpose, determination, conviction, belief in myself – in short, all the tools I need to change the world as you have done, as you continue to do.

Yours in Sisterhood,



  1. Believe in Utopia · February 14, 2016

    I’ve been aware of the same sort of negativity around older women, and I love how you’ve articulated your support whilst acknowledging there can be significant chasms of difference in respective feminist opinions. I’m always so grateful for the work and thoughts that have gone before, and try to be mindful of its place in my own evolution as a feminist. Great read, thank-you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ybawife · February 15, 2016

    Thank you Clsire as an older RF I appreciate the words of thanks. It has been a hard struggle to get women’s real life experience on any agenda over the past 50 yrs of our liberation struggle.
    I donot expect thanks for the years of work my sisterhood and I have done but we do deserve respect and we still dtand the line for our daughters granddaughters and their daughters till mine and our dying day .
    When my sisters are insulted by those who claim feminism I feel deeply hurt and significantly betrayed we worked hard and still do for the cause of womons liberation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lolalucia · February 15, 2016

    A great read and one that articulated one of my biggest discomforts in feminist dialogue. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 4the4thwave · February 21, 2016

    When women “don’t know their place,” they are either too young or too old to have valid perspectives. I wish I could share this with all the older women whose wisdom and wit have been an inspiration and a much needed dose of reality. Older feminists changed and continue improving life for women. As many of them have pointed out, feminism has since lost its fangs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stacey Charlesworth · February 14, 2017

    Did I read that right, that you’re 23?? Wow.
    I have been following you for a while on Twitter (having come across you via the magnificent Magdalen Berns), really appreciate your take on things.
    Particularly amongst the nasty vicious tangles of trans activists activities. So important that we stick together, across generations, and resist the creeping influence of the trans cult and their attempts to trash and erase lesbian history, culture and current lives.
    Amongst all the other hideous stuff going on right now, there’s the people aiming to no platform and ban books, by women like Julie Bindel, Sheila Jeffries etc.
    I have to close Twitter way before going to sleep otherwise the boiling blood won’t let me rest sometimes…. As you so rightly point out, we can acknowledge differences of opinion/tone etc yet still pull together and respect other feminists up and down the age range.
    And resist.
    Sometimes it seems like an alternate universe we inhabited during the heady, hard but fabulous days of 2nd wave feminism – so, thank you for carrying on, and developing and changing feminism. And thanks for the love letter!
    In sisterhood
    Stacey Charlesworth (62 eek!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Isabel · September 8, 2017

    Thank you Clare for this and thank you too for yr courage.

    Liked by 1 person

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