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Aging into Feminism

WE ARE IN THE MIDST of a world-historical demographic transition. Within a few years, the number of people in the world over the age of sixty-five will surpass the number of those under five. This is a fundamental transformation in the human species, and it presents a problem. Our ethical and political categories were designed for a world of the young. From Plato onward, our philosophers have lavished attention on education while almost entirely neglecting end-of-life care. Over the centuries, we have obsessed over how to interpret and shape a social world that has now aged out of existence.

This is an opportunity for feminism, the intellectual and political tradition best suited for our graying world. After all, feminists have done the most to valorize the labor of caring for those who cannot fully care for themselves. That said, the tradition’s focus has mainly been on parenting, and on the many women faced with the double burden of social reproduction (motherhood) and economic production (labor). That task is noble and unfinished; however, it is not enough on its own. The emancipatory feminism of the future, if such a thing will exist, will teach us not only how to parent and how to work, but how to age well and justly.

The feminism of the twentieth century responded to the call of Swedish feminist Ellen Key, who in 1900 proclaimed the advent of the Century of the Child. She saw that the population was about to explode, and that the century would be dominated by questions about the education and citizenship of the millions of youth crowding new schools and militaries. Were Ellen Key to bestow a name upon our new age of plummeting birthrates and skyrocketing life expectancies, she might call it the Century of the Elderly. This is a century that requires a new style of thinking, and a new kind of feminism.

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About Boston Review

From the breast pump to egg freezing, new technologies have long promised to “liberate” mothers, but the results are often uneven, freeing some women while worsening the oppression of others. Once and Future Feminist considers how technology offers women both advances and setbacks in the realms of sex, career, and politics. In the age of Silicon Valley, these issues are more pressing than ever, and this collection pushes readers to consider not only whether emancipatory feminism is possible today, but what it might look like.