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PORTSIDE  December 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE December 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Feminists for the Win

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Feminists for the Win

 By Jessica Valenti

 November 14, 2012
 The Nation
 This article appeared in the December 3, 2012 edition of 
 The  Nation.

http://www.thenation.com/article/171279/feminists-win

 Something strange is happening to feminists. we're winning.
 The election gave us the re-election of a feminist-friendly
 president, a record number of women in Congress, the first
 openly gay US senator and wins for marriage equality in four
 states. There's energy and interest on feminist issues the
 likes of which we haven't seen in decades.

 This shift comes to us courtesy of the perfect storm of
 sexist Republican missteps, a vibrant online feminist
 movement and a nation of women unwilling to move backward.
 But with the election dust settling, we should examine why
 we're winning the culture wars and think about what to do
 next.

 We got a hint of the tide turning in our favor when
 SlutWalks went viral. What started as one march in Toronto
 in 2011 turned into hundreds of protests all over the world,
 all battling the myth that what a woman wears has some
 bearing on whether or not she'll be assaulted. Despite the
 tempting fodder -  pictures of young feminists subversively
 dressed in bras, miniskirts and heels -  the media largely
 got the message right. The marches also epitomized the
 emerging organizing strategy of young feminists: activism
 that's largely self-directed and loosely organized; fast-
 moving micro-movements built organically and without
 institutional leadership.

 The effectiveness of this approach was on display earlier
 this year during the Susan G. Komen for the Cure/Planned
 Parenthood debacle. Just days after Komen announced it would
 stop funding Planned Parenthood, an online furor forced the
 breast cancer foundation to reverse itself. Similar activism
 on a Virginia bill that would have mandated invasive
 transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions -
 feminists called it "state rape" on Twitter -  resulted in
 the legislation being lampooned on Saturday Night Live, The
 Daily Show and other media. The law was eventually amended.
 When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut," the
 backlash that ensued was also thanks to online action. The
 National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood
 didn't drive these campaigns; American women did.

 Perhaps more interesting than the wins themselves, though,
 was the widespread media attention and cultural acceptance
 of feminist outrage. All of a sudden, women's anger at the
 attempted defunding of Planned Parenthood or a male
 politician's comment about rape wasn't the mark of bitter
 "man haters"; it was an understandable reaction from smart,
 engaged women.

 The shift was so stark that the Obama campaign was able to
 make feminist issues a part of its electoral strategy. David
 Axelrod recently told Politco that, "from May on, we were
 running a track that was specifically targeting women on
 women's health issues, Planned Parenthood, contraception. It
 broadened out somewhat to economic issues, but primarily
 focused on those issues, and we maintained our support among
 women." No doubt, the Republican Party's sexist meltdown was
 also a tremendous motivator for American women. After all,
 there's only so many comments about rape and birth control a
 gal can take.

 On election day, the backlash against GOP extremism along
 with smart organizing by feminists culminated not only in
 women being the majority of the electorate but also in an 18
 percent gender gap -  the largest in reported history. The
 GOP underestimated how important issues like abortion, rape
 and birth control are to women -  consider how many have
 ended a pregnancy or been assaulted -  and reaped the
 whirlwind.

 As gratifying as it was to see misogyny thumped at the
 polls, it should be noted that most of the feminist efforts
 over the past year have been defensive. Feminists have been
 fighting the attempted rollbacks of our rights for so long,
 we haven't had the time, energy or resources to push for
 more progressive change. But now that we've averted a Romney
 administration, we have a chance to move from a defensive
 crouch to an active agenda. That shift starts with thinking
 critically about recent successes.

 The activism that has gained us so much ground and cultural
 good will is undoubtedly a good thing, but it also reveals
 key gaps. When Virginia removed the transvaginal mandate
 from its legislation, for example, the requirement to have a
 "noninvasive" ultrasound remained. This means that low-
 income women will not be able to have abortions because of
 the hundreds of dollars an ultrasound can add to an already
 expensive procedure. Rush Limbaugh has been attacking women
 for years -  notable women of color, especially -  but it
 was Sandra Fluke who became American women's "daughter."
 It's great that Richard Mourdock lost after calling
 pregnancy from rape something "God intended to happen," but
 his opponent, Democratic Senator-elect Joe Donnelly, has a
 similar anti- choice stance, and believes that "life begins
 at conception." Even the language of the "war on women" -
 while catchy and media-friendly -  is exclusionary toward
 transgender people.

 The successes that dominate the mainstream narrative on
 feminism largely center on the most privileged of American
 women, even when the consequences affect the most
 marginalized. And while symbolic successes -  like beating
 Mourdock -  are important, it's more crucial that feminist
 actions make a difference in real women's lives.

 It's the age-old feminist struggle of fighting for a
 politics that is progressive versus fighting for one that's
 popular. But if there ever was an argument for an
 intersectional approach to feminism, the election provided a
 great one. Despite the well-reported gender gap, it turns
 out that white women as a whole voted for Romney. It was
 women of color who brought it home for Democrats and
 President Obama. Mainstream feminist organizations would do
 well to consider this when planning their next moves -  not
 only because focusing on the most marginalized women is the
 right thing to do and the only way to build a comprehensive
 movement, but because it's the most effective and
 politically savvy way as well.

 Feminist organizations could also take a lesson from LGBT
 groups, which are preparing to push for marriage equality in
 more states. The Human Rights Campaign is even working to
 rank cities by their LGBT friendliness. A similar project on
 women could really make waves. We need to fight battles on
 our own terms, thinking about what big-picture successes
 might look like on rape, reproductive health and economic
 justice. And feminist funders should be strategizing ways to
 use online activism. Young feminists built the
 infrastructure that has given women the tools to turn their
 outrage into action, but they lack the financial and
 organizational resources to move forward on their own.

 Most important, we need to keep winning. A generation of
 women is experiencing the excitement and solidarity that
 comes with hard-won successes, and this momentum can be
 channeled into an active, progressive agenda. There will
 always be resistance - the "feminazi" days are not over by a
 long shot -  but we haven't had a better opportunity in
 decades. It's time to take it.

 [Jessica Valenti is the author of Why Have Kids?: A New Mom
 Explores the Truth about Parenting and Happiness. She has
 also written three other books on feminism, including The
 Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is
 Hurting Young Women, which was recently made into a
 documentary. She is editor of the award-winning anthology
 Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World
 Without Rape and the founder of Feministing.com, which
 Columbia Journalism Review calls "head and shoulders above
 almost any writing on women's issues in mainstream media."
 Jessica was the recipient of the 2011 Hillman Journalism
 Prize and was called one of the Top 100 Inspiring Women in
 the world by The Guardian.]

___________________________________________

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