Note to Older Feminists: WE EXIST!

19 Apr

I started this blog because of  the many articles about young women’s supposed disengagement with the feminist movment, specifically when it comes to abortion rights. Does it suprise me that Newsweek printed this piece with that very same thesis without talking to any real live young people? No. Does it still get me smoke-out-the-ears mad? Hell yes.

Let’s start out with a few gems from the piece.

“[Nancy] Keenan considers herself part of the ‘postmenopausal militia,’ a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.”

Hey NARAL, Planned Parenthood, NOW, et al: If you’re interested in supporting young women, hearing our voices, and incorporating us into the movement, how about letting us run your organizations?  If you want us to be professional feminists, give us jobs! How about giving up your seats of power and letting us take over for a while?

“And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation—at least, not among those on her side.”

Where has she been looking? We’re writing for this blog. We’re bowling for abortion access. We’re part of the Pro-Choice Education Project. We attended the CLPP 2010 conference on reproductive justice. We’re all over twitter, debating antis and demystifying abortion and reproductive health. Most of us don’t have the big bucks to donate to our favorite pro-choice organizations, but we’re out there volunteering for them. If that’s not passion, I don’t know what is.

I’m hesitant to tackle the NARAL research.  I want to know what kinds of questions NARAL asked, where they selected people from, and exact survey answers (not generalizations) to determine what attitude to take towards their findings. For now, I want to tackle this:

“Millennials are more likely than their boomer parents to see abortion as a moral issue.”

If this is true, I don’t think it’s a negative thing. It doesn’t mean that we don’t also see it as a personal, private, political, radical, or human rights issue. Young women started 45 million voices, a campaign for sharing abortion stories. We win grants to change the way our communities think about sexual health. We see abortion as nuanced, as part of a commitment to reproductive justice that includes a woman’s right to abortion and also the right to parent, to adoption, to education, to health care, to a job that doesn’t strand her in poverty.

As Jessica Valenti at points out, the pro-choice movement would fail without young women. Who else will take an unpaid summer internship stuffing envelopes for NARAL? Who else will stand outside Planned Parenthood, escorting patients into the clinic among hoards of anti-choice protestors? Who else answers the phones of the NAF hotline, assisting women in accessing safe, affordable abortions?

I don’t know how many times I have to yell to be heard by older feminists. Turn up your hearing aids! Are you listening? We’re here.

25 Responses to “Note to Older Feminists: WE EXIST!”

  1. Shayna April 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    Abortion is definitely a moral issue – to me it would be immoral to deny women access to abortion.

    I thought this line: “millennials surveyed didn’t view abortion as an imperiled right in need of defenders” was the scariest — I think we, young feminists, have the same problem as young Jews — as a Jew, I have always been accepted, I have never been ostracized, and that can lead to complacency — I have always had the option to have an abortion, I never experienced life before Roe V. Wade – and for many people it is possible that that has made them complacent where they should be vigilant instead.

    It’s up to us to grab the attenion of other “millenials” and wake them up!

  2. ProChoiceGal April 19, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Yes! Thank you for writing this! I love older feminists (I love ALL feminists) but I really can’t stand the assumption that us younger feminists just don’t exist, or that they’re not trying hard enough or that we’re apathetic. I have a passion for reproductive justice. Protecting reproductive rights is my calling. I feel like my heart is going to explode one day, because my love for this cause just keeps on growing and growing. 🙂

    a 20 year old pro-choice, feminist activist.

  3. NYCprochoiceMD April 19, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    I love our older feminists, but I think a lot of them saw Roe v Wade and figured they had choice so they were done. As Nicole points out in her post this week, choice in the absence of access is not choice at all. I haven’t seen a concerted effort to overturn Hyde. In fact, we are losing the abortion wars, and I think the older generation does not realize this and hasn’t figured out how to make it clear that we’re the moral ones, we’re the righteous ones, we’re the ones fighting for justice.

  4. Shelly April 19, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

    Yes, agree agree agree! I posted some thoughts about this as well:

    Let’s raise our voices, folks, and let me just say THANK YOU to all the repro justice activists out there!Including ya’ll at abortiongang!

  5. MN Choice Worker April 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

    NARAL Prochoice Minnesota started what at the time was the first and only canvass for Choice and abortion rights. It is very successful, and exists along with NARAL canvasses in other states started up by veteran MN canvassers. A phone bank came after the field canvass blazed the trail for fundraising and advocacy. Guess who works for extraordinarily small amounts of money going door to door statewide in Minnesota or calling every day of the week for abortion rights? Not people in their 50s. Nearly all young women and men who participate in this rare, difficult and important work are under thirty years old. I am proud to say that I worked there. I am proud of the dedication and commitment of the people still working there despite threats and unpleasant altercations that sometimes arise as a result of face-to-face interactions around the volatile topic of abortion rights. It is exhausting and sometimes frightening or infuriating work, but it is worth it. I don’t think many 50 year olds could pull off the level of intensity required to approach a strange house, or tens of strange houses, day after day, year after year and look a stranger in the eye on their doorstep as you ask them for money for abortion rights. We’re out here. We still are working on the ground to preserve what those before us fought hard to win. We DO EXIST.

  6. KushielsMoon April 19, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    I’ve seen many a blog post and tweet about this issue today.

    But are we reaching the target audience- older feminists and the news media?

    Is someone gathering all these blogs and articles and sending them in an email to Newsweek? Anyone writing personal emails to Nancy Keenan?

  7. S.L April 19, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    It has worried me how negatively so many young women my age regard feminsim.
    As for abortion, I had the experience of growing up in a country where it was illegal so I’m pretty passionate on the subject.

  8. Courtroom Mama April 19, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    I think it’s easier to pretend we’re not here than it is to actually acknowledge us and value our contributions… remember that song by Baz Luhrmann? “you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.”

    I think that there is a version of that among boomer progressives who just can’t quite grok the way we work, communicate, and care. I wish that they could acknowledge that lots of the major nonprofit repro health orgs are run on the backs of young, unpaid interns. Luckily, “milennials” don’t seem to need appreciation and adulation to keep caring!

    I agree that a lot of us millenials have lost sight of the fact that lack of access to abortion is a death sentence for poor women, but lay that at the feet of young anti-choices, not young feminists!

  9. Revolutionary Vagina April 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    Thank you for writing this Steph. I gotta say, I’m pretty annoyed that they’re trying to say young women don’t care about the movement. Tell that to the people in the movement I work with. I wouldn’t do this work if I didn’t care.

  10. pocochina April 20, 2010 at 4:56 am #

    I’ve been following you guys as an exciting reproductive justice blog, but in the interest of making this a space to discuss overlapping oppressions within the reproductive justice community, I have to share a little bit of discomfort with this kind of language:

    I don’t know how many times I have to yell to be heard by older feminists. Turn up your hearing aids! Are you listening? We’re here.

    This kind of language, which quite literally makes a punch line of folks with impaired hearing, might be othering to Deaf reproductive justice activists (young and old) and to women with disabilities, who are often closely allied with deaf and Deaf communities. It might be more respectful to find another way of expressing your annoyance.

    Best, P.

  11. Steph April 20, 2010 at 7:10 am #

    @Pocochina –
    Noted. Thank you for pointing that out. I’m definitely guilty of letting my frustration blind me from things I otherwise would’ve noticed. Sorry about that.

  12. Shannon Drury April 20, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    National NOW is run by a team of four national officers. The Action Vice President, Erin Matson, and Membership Vice President, Allendra Letsome, are both under thirty. Both were members of NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force, a national committee composed of young women in their teens and twenties.

    At 38, I have three terms as Minnesota NOW’s state chapter president under my belt. Not as young as Erin and Allendra, maybe, but hardly menopausal.

    Let it be known that NOW supports young feminists where it counts–as powerful leaders for the movement’s future!

  13. PattyJean April 20, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    I think the recent sentiment from the nearly retired older generation of feminists that has you angry is directed not at younger feminists but rather younger women. I read through the links you provided and what I got out of it wasn’t necessarily a criticism towards a lack of movement from younger feminists, but rather a lack of interest from women in general. At least, that’s what I’m choosing to get out of it. LOL But I’m a glass 1/2 full type chick 😉

  14. NARAL April 21, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    I’m Molly and I manage Blog for Choice for NARAL Pro-Choice America. Since our president, Nancy Keenan, is quoted in this story, and NARAL Pro-Choice America’s research on younger voters is referenced, Nancy posted a response to explain a bit more of the rationale behind this initiative. I hope you’ll take a moment to read what she has to say.

  15. MomTFH April 27, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    This reminds me of an article that was posted (online, natch) that pretty much told young feminists to stop blogging and to do “real activism” when it comes to reproductive rights. I wish I could remember where I read it, because it made me livid.

    I am a blogger, and I am a member of Medical Students for Choice. I don’t want to knock the envelope stuffers and the clinic escorts – every single person, from the individual who is pro-choice to the director of Planned Parenthood is important – but abortion providers are a major cornerstone of the future of reproductive rights. I see anywhere from dozens to more than a hundred possible future abortion providers at these meetings. Many do not go on to be abortion providers.

    I hear a lot of lamenting from the bastions of feminism about the dearth and graying of abortion providers, but I don’t see a lot more than lip service.

    Med Students for Choice just lost some of their funding. I would love to see more direct encouragement of the next generation of providers. How about a scholarship for active members of the group? Help with $$ to fly to interviews or do rotations at Ryan (abortion and family planning) residencies or family planning fellowships? How about paying for speakers to fly to medical schools to talk about what it was like before Roe v. Wade?

    When 87% of counties do not have an abortion provider, I don’t want to start blaming a generation of activists. I just want some more support.

  16. Ashley May 8, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    This really is a great post. I’m excited to see such outrage over the idea that young feminists aren’t “out there”. I’m 22 and proudly call myself a feminist, engulfing myself in as much information as I can about abortion laws, women in politics, new feminist blogs to read, etc. I’m extremely passionate about this movement, and I can’t believe that anyone would deny that we’re not only “out there”, but everywhere.


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