July 13, 2006

Acknowledging the Battles That Made Our Rights Self-Evident

Salon has a great interview of Katha Pollit by feministing's Jessica Valenti. One of my favorite questions and responses is here;

Jessica It does seem like we spend a lot of time -- and I do this myself -- debunking myths about the death of feminism. So how do we change the conversation so that we're not just constantly defending ourselves?

Katha: Well I think that's related to the way that feminist victories become incorporated into society -- they lose the character of being considered feminist. For example, half of all medical students are women, but how many of those women in medical school think, "My presence in this seat is a victory for the women's movement"? How often when people write about this fact do they see that in terms of a social victory for women? People will maintain that this was part of the natural evolution of society, you didn't need a women's movement, that it would have happened anyway. None of which is true.

I think we need to reclaim the conversation in a number of areas. For example, when we talk about abortion, how often do we talk about it in terms of women's lives? As opposed to it being about a fetus being a person. The anti-choicers have so thoroughly switched the conversation over to the question of the personhood of the fertilized egg or fetus that now it's even a person before it's implanted in your uterus! So on the one hand you have that our victories aren't being acknowledged as real victories and that the problem areas are areas of enormous retreat. So I just think we need to start talking more about our own lives as being important. I think that we need to be much bolder.

Do read the rest.

Posted by Mary at July 13, 2006 07:49 AM | Women | Technorati links |

Pollit raises an excellent point, one which has been heard in the Civil Rights movement as well: the young people don't understand how they got some of the rights and decent treatment they enjoy now.

In the women's movement, this is doubly true, because sexism continues apace in the workplace and at home -- and probably always will unless challenged by each generation of women. Feminism has been at issue since the known beginnings of history. Think of Lysistrata. But it always disappears again unless forcefully reawakened, or else kept alive as an ongoing struggle.

The recent labeling of advocate for women's rights as "feminazis," while unusually nasty, is not, I think, uncommon throughout times and places. It has to be countered by large, confident organizations run by women, preferably of an international nature. Costa Rica, where women have achieved major and apparently robust legal victories, might be a good place to hold a conference.

Finally, although I detest the current Republican power structure as much as anyone, I suspect political neutrality outside the issue of feminism itself might be a valuable position for such organizations to take, at least publicly. The League of Women voters was successful in its own way by the use of that strategy.

Posted by: Ralph at July 14, 2006 08:31 AM