How effective is corporate feminism?

21 Nov

A guest post by ninersgal.

A recent article over at Daily Kos slammed mainstream feminist organizations, such as NOW and NARAL, for constantly asking their supporters for money. The author, Kaili Joy Gray, also criticized these groups for swooping in at the last minute and claiming victory for the defeat of Initiative 26 in Mississippi, when grassroots groups had been doing the mobilizing all along.

I agree with Gray’s critique, but I think she may have been a bit too kind with her criticism. There are several other big name feminist organizations that should have been called out in her post – and I think you know exactly who has the finger pointed at them when I say that.

I have been volunteering for Planned Parenthood for the past three years. At first I was a clinic escort, but that role has shifted over to their advocacy department since the clinic escort program has been eliminated in our state. I volunteer because I want to give back for the health care that I have received over the last ten years. I cannot afford to attend $85 luncheons, let alone write a $250 check. The core volunteer group that I work with has similar motivations – we love Planned Parenthood, but sometimes it feels like our contributions are completely overlooked, especially when we constantly get emails from PPFA asking for more and more money.

My problem doesn’t just reside with Planned Parenthood. Every nonprofit that I have ever worked for, either as a volunteer or a staff member, seems to discount the donor who can only afford to give $5 or $10. Volunteer hours are never calculated in terms of their economic value to the organization. And staff who already contribute to the organization by working long hours for very little pay are also disrespected when they are hit up for money by the development officers. When you’re only making $27,000 a year, how in the hell are you supposed to afford spending $250 a month in financial contributions to your employer?

Here’s the scoop: if PPFA didn’t spend so much money on fancy pink posters and snazzy T-shirts, they might not need to shake the money tree so often. How about asking for money to fund abortions, rather than political lobbying? Oh wait . . . that’s the job of your local abortion fund.

My tenure as a Planned Parenthood volunteer is rapidly coming to a close. I will be shifting my efforts over to my state’s abortion fund for many reasons. The main reason is that I want to know that my efforts are actually contributing to the ability of patients to access care. When the abortion fund asks for money, it’s very happy to accept those $5 and $10 donations – and I know that every penny of it is going directly towards patients’ health care costs. Every hour that I donate of my time goes towards the same goal.

So click on over to Gray’s article and see if you agree or disagree with her criticism of mainstream feminism. I’d love to get your take on the situation.

11 Responses to “How effective is corporate feminism?”

  1. Liza November 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    Ok, since you asked for our takes…

    Great reflection. I don’t agree, however, with your statement suggesting that Planned Parenthood should fundraise for abortion services INSTEAD of lobbying. Is it really either/or? No. Funding abortions, in and of itself, is just an act of charity if we don’t make it a radical political act by telling every elected official and every voter, and every non-voter, about every time we fund an abortion as a protest against the government’s refusal to provide abortion care to women. Money is needed to effect this fundamental, systems-level change in the way our world views and treats women (and trans-men) and our reproduction.

    Whether or not Planned Parenthood is doing a good job of making this connection is another question, but I don’t agree that their problem is they should be soliciting funds for abortion care for women INSTEAD of for lobbying- they do both.

    On the other hand, I don’t think Planned Parenthood is totally committed to the idea that the goal is to ensure that everyone that wants an abortion should be able to get one either free or with a small co-pay, on demand, without restriction. This would require that abortion be welcomed back to primary medical care training and services with open arms, as routinely easy to get as an antibiotics prescription. This vision might put them out of business.

    I think Planned Parenthood and abortion funds need to have a vision of a world in which our work isn’t necessary. What would that look like? How do we get there? With this in mind we must raise and spend money. That means recognizing the grueling hours of work put in by volunteers and paid staff, valuing and recognizing the 1$, 5$, and 10$ donors, as you importantly and astutely say; it also means taking care of the here and now (funding abortions) and clearly and deliberately tying that work into a reproductive justice view (universal health care with unrestricted abortion care). In this way, funding abortions should never be considered charity work, but radical acts of resistance to stigma and oppression, in which we demand that this current abortion care system become obsolete. I agree that mainstream feminist groups that you and Gray mention don’t have a handle on this, and likely, aren’t totally prepared to engage in their work from this perspective.

    I disagree with Gray in some respects; she says we don’t need to be challenged to discuss things like abortion with our friends and family because we are already doing it. But those words are not aimed at the feminist bloggers and seasoned activists that she is offended for. They are aimed at everyday people who care about these issues but whose careers are not in reproductive rights.

    People who are “pro-choice” but not wonks, bloggers, or already volunteers, need not just big, but medium and small ways to be part of a movement. We know stigma and sexism are still the drivers of laws that prevents women from loving the people we want to and having the families we want to. We know that abortion is stigmatized, and even “pro-choice” people have few spaces in which they can work out their discomforts about abortion, and their fears about supporting abortion work explicitly. Asking people to start to start a conversation is not thoughtless, because we are NOT already doing it.

  2. ninersgal November 21, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    Liza, thank you for your very nuanced response. I agree – this isn’t an issue of abortion vs. lobbying. I think advocacy work is very important – but I also think it doesn’t need to fit a slick, corporate model. The best people to advocate for changes in the laws restricting abortion are the patients themselves. Their life stories are far more persuasive that corporate talking points.

    I also agree that all of us need to be talking to folks – not just the bloggers and tweeters. The holidays are the perfect time to engage people, because we have predictable gatherings of family and friends. It’s not that abortion has to be your top priority, but when the conversation does come up, engage it.

    Your points about what a world without abortion funds would look like is totally on point. This is an issue of economic justice – it’s not just about abortion.

  3. Tenya November 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    I’m of two minds about it, yes I find annoying when the message seems to be “thanks for the money, now give us more! More! More!” I can only give so much, especially when multiple organizations with different goals also need money – state abortion fund, Planned Parenthood, Medical Students for Choice, and so forth. But then, I don’t believe there is greed or waste behind it – they need the money. Even lobbying, an effective lobbyist is extremely worthwhile if you want to see laws made or done away with. Planned Parenthood helped me lobby my lawmakers, and even preparing me to do that took money (for the materials, possibly for the person to prepare them and talk to me about it) and time, so I see where so much of the money goes.

    Does that mean there isn’t tone-deafness, or a lack of recognition of grassroots efforts, or belated responses to threats, or campaigns that are annoying? Nope.

    Also, finally, I think the sparking conversations is an important piece of advice (yes, late in terms of the Mississippi personhood amendment, but in general) because there are people who aren’t informed about what those laws would mean, who would just nod and go along with the idea because they might consider themselves kind of prolife, in that they think abortion is icky, and engaging people beyond the immediate close friends or online acquaintances is extremely important.

  4. Mara November 22, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    I am also of 2 minds. I run an all-volunteer grassroots abortion fund (we are members of the National Network of Abortion Funds in the US but are based in England and help women travelling over from Ireland and N Ireland). I first off want to say that we rely almost exclusively on small donors. In fact, we encourage donations of £2 (about $3.50) a month from our supporters, and have enough money coming in via those sorts of donations that we are usually able to eek by. In fact, we’ve only twice had donations of larger than $3,000. Long live the small donor!

    We are ONLY an abortion fund/practical support network and do no campaigning or advocacy. This is because there are many organisations (larger, funded organisations) doing advocacy and campaigning and no other groups on the record funding women’s abortions. It’s tough sometimes to be grassroots because at the end of the day, we are only a band aid solution that addresses the effects of the issue rather than the cause, and we can sometimes not be seen as “important” as the big name orgs. On the other hand, the bigger name orgs, with their resources are what will hopefully someday put us out of business, which is all anyone working for an abortion fund wants.

    Maybe we’d feel better about it if groups like Planned Parenthood didn’t seem to sell out abortion rights in favour of more politically palatable arguments?

  5. ninersgal November 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    Mara, I think you got to the root of my discomfort with Planned Parenthood. They minimize how much abortion is a part of their work – and seem very apologetic about providing abortion. Compare that to the abortion funds, who are totally out in the open that they only work on behalf of abortion patients.

    I’m not lobbying my criticisms in PPFA’s direction, or NOW or NARAL’s direction for that matter, because I hate these groups. Thank goodness for them. I just think that when you compare their very corporate operating model with the more radical model of abortion funds, there’s no comparison. But that’s just my own opinion.

    And Mara, I totally agree . . . it will be a wonderful day when we no longer need abortion funds because we have full coverage for all health care options available.

  6. Sweet Marmot November 23, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    “if PPFA didn’t spend so much money on fancy pink posters and snazzy T-shirts, they might not need to shake to money tree so often.” “When you’re only making $27,000 a year, how in the hell supposed to afford spending $250 a month in financial contributions to your employer?”

    Wake up and smell the coffee girls. Planned Parenthood is only in it for the bucks. As one PP district manager put it, “Non-profit is a tax status, not a business model.” PP is out to make as much money as possible, from any angle possible. They tell the IRS that they’re a non-profit, so they don’t have to pay taxes. That saves them money, plus helps them lure in donations. They put their hand out to the government for government grants, and to corporations and ordinary citizens for donations. Then they offer “services” that they charge people for. They push abortion very hard on women who are hesitant to have an abortion, because abortion is the most profitable service they offer. The more abortions they do, the more money they make. These people are making a killing (in more ways than one). They get over a billion dollars a year (or have in the past).
    Oh, and those fancy pink posters and snazzy T-shirts, I bet they sell those for a pretty penny too.

  7. freewomyn November 23, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    Wow, Sweet Marmot. You’ve really been memorizing the anti-choice talking points. Way to lump them all into 1 comment.

    Here’s a statistic for you: abortion constitutes 3% of the health care services provided by Planned Parenthood. The other 97% includes breast exams, STI testing, pregnancy testing, prenatal care, and STI treatment, just to name a few.

    If I go to the county health clinic, I still have to pay for the services I receive.

  8. Steph L November 24, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    And Sweet Marmot shows us all how much bullshit can be stuffed into one paragraph. Impressive indeed.

  9. Wick November 28, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    I’m always excited to read constructive or even knowledgable criticism of the non-profit model. Unfortunately that is not what this is. The lobbyists in my incredibly conservative area, at least, are some of the most empassioned defenders of women’s rights and literally risk their lives every day at their jobs. Before you write such a damaging critique please at least do some homework into what you’re talking about or at very least choose your wording more carefully/compassionately.

  10. Courtney December 3, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    I think ALL donors should be thanked but I can understand why the largest donors get the largest praise: it just makes sense.
    If you really don’t like PP, NARAL, etc. just donate to a local abortion fund.

  11. Michelle December 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    What donations SHOULD we be donating to?
    Is there a way to have an open forum to address this?

    I’d love to donate to a group that helps women obtain abortions and is helping to beat these constant legal restrictions the anti-choice crowd keeps putting up.

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