Why the Women’s Movement "Doesn’t Work?": Cause We’re Not Talking Enough About Women?

I just got a form letter from Naral Pro-Choice America (which I assume was forwarded to many feminist bloggers, and all of those at the aggregate I belong to) asking if I’d post about their Give Us Real Choices campaign against “Chastity Week,” a “campaign” launched by the Pennsylvania State Legislature promoting chastity as a means of curtailing the unintended pregnancies of women.

NARAL is great, and I applaud their work, but I found something off-putting about the idea of sending a letter to the legislature asking for a chastity belt as a form of protest (not that I think you shouldn’t go over there and sign it. Do. It’s all we’ve got right now). This mostly bugged me because I’ve gotten to the point where I could see that legislature budgeting in “requested chastity belts” as part of Chastity Awareness Week. Or, at least “Chastity Rings” that libido-less young women would wear in honor of their marriage to their hymen.

I can see them doing shit like this. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re dealing with people who have no sense of irony.

NARAL has done some great stuff, and I like that they’ve got up the Faces of Pro-Choice America up at their site. It’s really cool. But there’s something missing from this fight.

In Denver, while waiting for my cab, I saw Kate Michaelman, former President of NARAL, in a back-and-forth spot with the “news” anchor about how important it was to keep the Democratic party pro-choice. Kate’s contemporaries apparently told her they wanted to see her run for the DNC chair. She thought about it, but ultimately declined. Didn’t decline the post. Declined the idea of even being in the running for the post.

Now, I greatly respect this woman, I think she’s amazing, but when the pictures came up of the six men running for the post, the interviewer said, “Isn’t it odd that this is such a hotly contested issue as far as the chair is concerned, but not one of the people up for the DNC chair is a woman?”

Kate went on to explain her reasons for not pursuing the chair. She had good reasons. I respect her.

And yet… and yet…

If you don’t stand up, who will?

It’s something I realized while watching Kate. I wanted to like her. I wanted to get behind her and march to the steps of the Supreme Court. But in that hesitancy to step up, when so many women asked her to, I saw cowardice. Rational, logical, cowardice, but cowardice nonetheless. She was afraid.

She knew exactly what would become of her and her family if she did so.

The women’s movement does not have a voice, because it has no leader. There are no particular people to rally behind, nobody I would follow to the ends of the earth. There’s no talking head to pit against Ann Coulter who’s actually charistmatic – and, let’s be honest, this is America – and pretty enough to do it on CNN.

Because it would take an amazing fucking woman to be that leader. To be the Oprah of the women’s movement. Because she’d need to be charismatic, passionate, traditionally good-looking (it’s true, don’t pretend it’s not), and above all else (because we do have those women. Hillary can fake it, Barbara Boxer is a pistol), above all else, she would have to risk. She would risk not only her own life, but the lives of those she loved. Because being the head of a women’s movement would mean endless derision, endless tasteless cartoon strips, endless death threats from psychos throughout the country and likely around the world. Her sex life, her mental health, her weight, her clothes, the cut of her hair, the size of her shoes, would all be public topics of discussion. Nothing she had would be hers. She’d have to be one tough fucking cookie, because it’s possible for all that she was to be consumed by the media, by the women around her, by the courts.

What you’re talking about is finding somebody who would fight, and who possessed all of those media-lovin’-looks-and-graces that get them on television.

And that’s a tough woman to find. And I think there’s a lack of forward motion, of progress, in the movement because we really have no voice, no one person who says, “I’ve talked to women around the country. We want different things, but there are issues we’re not divided on. Especially the issue of personhood. We demand the right to be real people.”

And what I worry about, especially, is that “the women’s movement” and “women’s rights” are becoming so narrowly focused on abortion. Yes, I’ve already ranted about why that’s a core issue. But in all our talk about fetal rights, lack of rights, giving rights, the pro-choice women, too, are forgetting that we got into this because of the women.

We’re being forced into a debate at when “life” begins, instead of speaking about women who are alive. Women who want jobs. Who want to leave their abusive spouses. Who feel their desires crushed my family, by religion. Women who want decent childcare so they don’t bust their asses for pennies and come home to put in another 40 hours.

And with no one actually speaking for women, by not forcing the wackos to speak our language, we’ve started making concessions. We’ve gotten scared. We’ve backed down.

They have used violence to alter the debate. Used the language of “life” to erase “women,” and we have no one to put in front of them. Instead, we have this massive, howling hoard of pissed-off women with nowhere to vent their rage but in our wit and irony – irony increasingly lost on an increasingly conservative, backwards bunch of politicians who are so eager to please, so eager not to spark any controversy at all, that they will kow-tow to the first man who torches an abortion clinic, instead of charging him as a terrorist and hauling him off to Cuba.

I want to change the language. I want children created of a woman’s body, not in it. Forced labor is slavery. If they want outlandish, hard-hitting language, I will give it to them.

Sometimes, when the other side is screaming outrageous obsenities, you’ve got to frame your argument just as violently, as forcefully, as they do. And you have to frame it in your own terms. I don’t think we should talk in nice, cozy, “abortion is just terrible” terms anymore. I think we should reframe the debate.

I think we should talk about slavery, about filling vessels, about women as chattle.

I think that’s a language they’ll understand.

And I wish a woman would step up to do it.

And my sentiment on my own candidacy for the post (I knew some of you would go there) is likely that of Eleanor Roosevelt, who, when asked what her one regret in life was, replied:

“I wish I’d been prettier.”

Yet, how long can we bitch and moan and write letters and complain and scream before we have to step up? Before we have to be brave? Before we say, “I believe in this. I will fight for this” and do it no matter how pretty, no matter how uncharismatic, because so many women are so fearful of that public shame, of being the hated public woman, the voice of millions of women, speaking violently, passionately, about where the small steps lead us, about how we are treading water in a current rapidly pulling us out to sea?

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