Before I engage with your excellent questions: your Billy Idol/90s Lolita mashup image is amazing. As for what got us here: I agree that feminist (or sometimes feminist-y) pop culture had a lot to do with it. I was a latch-key kid living in a small town and didn’t know anyone who called herself a feminist, but Sassy magazine assured me that cool feminist girls were out there. There were zines and riot grrrls and Tori Amos and Phoebe Gloeckner and Francesca Lia Block and Cyndi Lauper and….. I agree with you, too, that most young women don’t want to call themselves feminists–even if they lead feminist lives.
Maybe it’s because they don’t think of some of the things they are grappling with–sexual politics, body politics, even race and class–as feminist issues. Maybe their parents are a little younger, and so didn’t encounter the kind of sexism our moms did. Maybe they know that they are the leaders in high school and college, and so sexism doesn’t seem so oppressive. A lot of young women now might not encounter some of the most obvious manifestations of sexism until they are in the work world.
Like Katha, though, I have a real affinity for the word “feminist,” and it makes me sad that girls don’t identify with it. Part of this is because when I identify as a feminist I identify with all of these women I think are pretty amazing, even when I don’t agree with them: Ti-Grace Atkinson, who wore fur coats and wrote manifestos about how childbirth oppressed women; Hannah Wilke, who started the whole “cunt art” trend (they’re pretty!); Tracey Emin, whose sexy, vulnerable, autobiographic works might actually epitomize the ’90s woman. But I think I’m going off-track again? Because maybe it’s not yet clear how this has anything to do with politics.–Kara