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A majority of women identify as feminists! Now what?

26 Mar

Good news! A new study recently released shows that feminism is not dying, but instead is growing! Since 2008, the number of women who identify as feminists has increased by 9 points. A full 55% of female voters call themselves feminists. Now you might think that only a specific group of women identify as feminist, but that’s not true. 58% of women under 30 and 54% of women over 30 identify as feminists. 72% of Democratic women and even 38% of Republican women identify as feminists. Feminism is not just a fad or the interest of one group, but instead an issue every group finds important. And yes, I do mean every group–one in three men identifies as a feminist too!

Even more important, I think, is that there are more women of color who identify as feminist than white women. The world of media outside of the feminist sphere seems to assume that feminists are all white women. Large, mainstream feminist organizations are often led by white women, and those are the people most often asked to speak for the feminist movement. But beyond the mainstream groups is a large number of grassroots, feminist organizations run by and for women of color. Organizations such as SisterSong, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Black Women’s Health Imperative and SPARAK RJ NOW all involve women of color working on feminist ideals within their communities. It is my hope that this information will be used by the large organizations such as Planned Parenthood, NARAL and the Feminist Majority Foundation to create new hiring practices and new ways of listening. The groups most often asked to speak for our movement should be asking the reporters to speak with women from these other organizations, or finding new ways to connect with these grassroots activists. Hopefully this study wont just focus on how many people call themselves feminists, but who, why, and what they’re doing about it.

Of course, some people might wonder if people who label as feminist actually vote for feminist values. There have been a number of anti-abortion groups and other groups fighting against women’s rights that are trying to take up the feminist label. The study found that 64% of feminist-identified women voted for President Obama in the last election, as did 54% of feminist identified men. There could be more who voted third party as well. So yes, there is a strong correlation between the label feminist and voting for candidates who support women’s rights. There is power in having such a large, diversified group of people under one label. There are so many opportunities beyond electing a President- if we all stay in contact with our local Congresspeople, we can get so much more done.

An Open Letter to Nancy Keenan and the Boomers from the Abortion Gang Millenials

4 Sep

Dear Nancy,

Thank you for kindly reaching out to us and suggesting a more open-door policy for what you call the “prochoice” movement and which we generally refer to as the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements. We have often discussed here how difficult it is to be a young person in the movement. Much of the money and power is concentrated in big, mainstream organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, and many others. We grew up with, admire, and often look forward to working with these organizations. But many of us suffer a great deal of disillusionment. While our painfully cheap labor is welcome, our voices, ideas, and innovations often are not. We appreciate your recognizing this problem, and beginning to bring it to the attention of your peers and colleagues from your much higher platform.

Unfortunately, your essay serves to highlight some of the many cross-generation intra-movement issues we so often encounter as we undertake this vital work. Our profound generational differences go far beyond “Twitter and hashtags.”

First, there is the “prochoice” framework itself, which many of us find limiting. We use “reproductive justice” because our needs are so much greater than abortion, and because we recognize that choice is meaningless without access. The Hyde Amendment, and other restrictive policies, mean that abortion simply isn’t a choice for many women. In addition, people need access not just to abortion and family planning services, but also to support when they choose to become parents. This means help for young mothers with continuing their education and access for all parents to paid family leave, paid sick days, affordable child care, and high quality education for their children. It means treatment for infertility for everyone, not just families with means. These issues are as important to us as abortion access, yet we don’t see our values reflected in the work done in the past or present by the Boomer generation. And as access has become ever more restricted, mainstream orgs like NARAL, located largely on the coasts, have dug in their heels and insisted that because abortion is technically an option, the fight is still about choice. This is no longer the case.

Equally important to us is challenging the heterosexist and gender-normative framework of the language employed not only by our society but also within the pro-choice movement itself. Without meaning to, you continue to insist that this fight is about women. By women, for women. But we are a generation in which men get pregnant, in which many people in our movement do not identify as women, in which we believe that all people must fight together for us to be free. Male-identified individuals belong in this fight too. They should feel responsible, and when called for, be held responsible for making sure we have access and support.

The assumptions often made about “millenials” are not in keeping with our real, lived experiences. You assert that “Millenials have never known what it’s like to live in a country in which abortion is illegal.” This statement is based on a Boomer idealization of Roe v Wade as a vital line, a last battalion between women and the annihalation of our rights. Our generation has grown up to see Roe so stripped of significance that even though abortion is technically legal, there are now entire states where people cannot access it. Abortion has always been less accessible to those of us who are poor, young, and not white. While your generation is full of stories of women who died trying to get abortions, ours is full of those who sold all their possessions, dropped out of school, or fed their children nothing but beans for weeks to pay for their abortions, and of women who simply give up and watch their lives become even more difficult and their dreams grow ever more distant as they struggle to raise children before they are ready. Such stories are only growing more frequent in an economic downturn that has left 25% of college graduates unemployed and far greater numbers of unemployed among those without a college degree. This inter-generational disconnect leads the direction of the vast resources of the movement to issues that do not reflect the needs and realities of those of down on the ground.

You speak of “what our generations share,” but we must ask, how do you know? How many people age 35 and under sit on your board? How many hold leadership positions in your organization?

When you say we will “flock to the polls,” what makes you so sure? Many of us will be working our third job, desperately trying to make ends meet, too tired to even vote. Some of us will be denied the vote because of voter suppression laws. Many of us feel that you are no more supportive of us in many ways than people who wish to deliberately deprive us of our rights.The message you have, however unintentionally, sent with this piece, is, “We need to embrace young people and tell them what to do, and what they need to do is what we did: save all the women that count.”

We appreciate the gesture of inclusion – however tired and angry generally we may be, please, do not think we do not recognize your good intentions – but the “women’s movement” needn’t bother to bring us in from the cold, as though we have been outside the door, shivering, unsure, and in need of the warm embrace of your guidance. We are already here. We are already organizing, without you, because you have not made us welcome. We are changing the world, right before your eyes. And we think it may makeyou afraid and unsure; what is the world becoming without our rules? It is going to look very different when we are done with it. It is no longer time for you to lead us. If you want to win – if you want abortion access and birth control and choice for your daughters and granddaughters – you need to get behind us. Throw your weight and your organization and your money behind us and stop making us build this from scratch. Share the wisdom you’ve learned from the battles you’ve fought, but do so in a way that acknowledges that we live in a different world and we need a different movement. That is how you can save the movement. We say unto you all, with respect, love, and gratitude, what you said to those who came before you: “Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.” You can obstruct or you can help, but either way, ours is the vision leading the future.

Generational differences, inclusion, and looking toward the future

19 Jul

Being a young, unapologetic abortion activist and outspoken blogger, I tend to critique the mainstream, pro-choice movement for its lack of inclusivity, unwillingness to take the opinions of young people seriously, and constant criticism that not enough young people are in the movement or that no people in my generation care about reproductive rights.

We hear about this all the time. Two years before stepping down from her position at NARAL Pro-Choice America, Nancy Keenan voiced her concerns that there were no passionate young people to help carry the torch after the leaders in her generation retired. Others, such as Johnathan Allen, asks how groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NOW can “fire up” young women who have not known a time without legal abortion and nondiscrimination laws.

I don’t know what world they’ve been living in, but not only have there always been young people involved in the movement, but things haven’t been the greatest for abortion access in the US since the passing of Roe, and I don’t just mean in the last five years. Roe was groundbreaking, but Hyde was passed three years later and was followed by other bans, so when we talk about abortion access for everyone in the US post-Roe, we’re talking about people with the means to access abortion. If the media and those at the top of women’s organizations they think that there haven’t been people fighting since Hyde, they are only looking at the most privileged, most visible segment of the movement. That’s why the National Network of Abortion Funds exists, that’s why Sister Song exists, and that’s why we’ve abandoned the term pro-choice and started to think about reproductive justice. Those battles just haven’t been mainstream battles, and they haven’t been the battles that all leaders have engaged with.

As a young feminist and abortion rights activist, I am grateful to those people who fought for the freedoms I have today and who built the foundation for me to be able to do my work. But I am more grateful to those who fought before me and then embraced my views and participation in the movement.

No matter where we fit in the movement generationally, we’ve all had someone who has been a mentor or supporter, whether that person is close to us in age or generations above us, because we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere fighting these battles on our own. For me, personally, and I’m sure for many others, my mentors are the reason I am here in the movement. Without people who have supported me and genuinely cared about me, both personally and professionally, I would not have decided to work in abortion access.

I know that those who say that young people aren’t involved in the movement are looking in the wrong places, but I also wonder if they’re not embracing young people. I credit the first person I worked for with my decision to make reproductive justice a part of my life, and if leaders are concerned about the involvement of young people, they need to hire them and value them.

Right now we are fighting what sometimes feels like a losing battle, and we can’t afford to be protective or territorial. We need to embrace our differences, generational and otherwise. We need to stop ignoring those who have devoted their lives to working for reproductive justice in marginalized communities just because they are not working for mainstream organizations. And we need to acknowledge that young people care about abortion as an issue and if we want to continue to involve them we need to value their contributions and ideas.

This doesn’t just go for executive directors and people in positions of power. It goes for all of us, especially as young people who are moving up in the movement. We need to remember those who have supported us and pass it on, to value those just starting out, and support our peers and allies. If we all pledge to do that, then we shouldn’t have to worry about the future of the movement.