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Making It Up

Intergenerational Activism and the Ethics of Empowering Girls

Emily Bent

Keywords: feminist research; girl (dis)empowerment; spectacular girls; United Nations

In this article I consider the ethical boundaries of intergenerational activism for the feminist researcher conducting research in pre-existing activist networks. Drawing on a decade of involvement with girl-activists at the United Nations, I revisit key moments that challenged me to re-think the ethical, discursive, and relational conditions of girls’ political empowerment. Intergenerational activism creates relational messiness between adults and girls since effectively partnering with girls requires disruptions of generational power with practitioner-scholars learning to make it up as they go along. This article illustrates the complex and contested ways in which girls and adults build activist partnerships in adult-centered and sometimes politically hostile settings. In exploring the environment within which North American girls experience political (dis)empowerment, I question the ethics of empowering girls under current spectacular discursive conditions.

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