If you are a woman under 50, how many times have you heard these words, “I’m not a feminist, but…?” These words are almost inevitably spoken by a woman whose values are feminist; a woman who knows that a person is not more equal or less equal for having a penis or a womb, they are simply equal; a woman who is able to plan her life because of the reproductive freedoms that our mothers, aunts and older sisters fought for. These words are also almost inevitably spoken by a woman with her eyes averted. They are said with a tinge of shame; shame brought on by decades of women being called less than feminine for standing up for our rights; shame brought on by Rush Limbaugh and the word “feminazi,” with being told that feminism is for ugly women and lesbians, that no man would want a feminist.
Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL, is retiring this year and she is afraid that there aren’t enough women to carry the torch of feminism, and who can blame her?
From the Washington Post:
“There’s an opportunity for a new and younger leader,” Keenan said during a Wednesday interview in her downtown Washington office. “Roe v. Wade is 40 in January. It’s time for a new leader to come in and, basically, be the person for the next 40 years of protecting reproductive choice.”
“People give a lot of lip service to how we’re going to engage the next generation,” Keenan said, “but we can’t just assume it will happen on its own.”
The Republican war on women is, if nothing else, creating a new wave of interest if not activism. For the first time in decades, women are seeing rights be eroded away, state by state. Abortions and even birth control are becoming more difficult to obtain. Women’s privacy has taken a back seat to religious extremism, but, the “intensity gap,” as Keenan puts it, simply isn’t there.
NARAL’s research, however, suggests it has a ways to go: Young voters do not make abortion rights a priority at the polls. In 2010, the group’s poll of 700 young Americans showed a stark “intensity gap” on abortion. Most antiabortion voters under 30 (51 percent) considered it a “very important” voting issue. Among abortion-rights millennials, that number stood at 26 percent.
“There is an intensity gap between our side, being pro-choice, and the other side,” Keenan said.
It’s understandable. Fighting for abortion rights isn’t like fighting for the right to vote. For the vast majority of women, abortion is an excruciating but necessary decision. There is a reason that anti-choice activists use pictures of fetuses in their propaganda, they do tug at heart-strings. Virtually no one is pro-abortion, but one of the most basic human rights is the right to control our own bodies and until science figures out a way to painlessly extract a fetus and take it through gestation (and then raise it with the guarantee of food, shelter, safety and healthcare), that fetus falls under the domain of a woman’s body.
However, people are squeamish about the topic. Until more people know a woman who died or was rendered infertile from an illegal abortion clinic, we may never bridge the intensity gap.
But all is not lost. Women are not squeamish about birth control. Like it or not, teens have sex. It’s been proven time and again that forced abstinence simply doesn’t work. The most practical way of preventing teen pregnancy is birth control. Career-minded 20-somethings are not going to let religious politicians stand in the way of their dreams, of their freedom. 30-somethings want to be remain in charge of when and if they have children. Many still-fertile 40-somethings want to look forward to grand-motherhood, not a second wave of motherhood and of riskier pregnancies. Then there are the millions of women for whom hormonal birth control is a relief from debilitating pain. For some, it is literally a life-saver. There are men who want to take that basic right away from us and for that we are fighting back.
As Republicans are moving women to the forefront of the cultural debate, women are rebelling. The latest polling is showing women favoring President Obama over Mitt Romney by 54%-39%, however, by and large, women aren’t taking to the streets and it still remains to be seen whether women will be energized enough to show up at the polls.
The first step is to take back the word “feminism.” Strong, independent women are sexy and every man worth keeping knows it. Long beautiful hair and big beautiful dreams aren’t incompatible. Stay-at-home moms are as deserving of control over their own destiny as career women. No woman should live in fear of her husband or significant other. No woman should be blamed for violence or injustices that are forced upon her. No woman should be denied her rights as a full and equal citizen of our country. Feminism does defend the rights of LGBT people. It defends the rights of all humans, including children. Feminism is as much about the rights of men to live their lives, whether as stay at home fathers or as career men as it is about the lives of women. It is because of feminism that we are allowed to lead the lives that we lead.
On this Mother’s Day, thank our mothers of freedom. Thank a feminist. Embrace the fact that you, too, are a feminist.