I was thinking about how timid and deferential and also Beltway-oriented so much of organized feminism is now. It seems to revolve around electoral politics and abortion rights — those are the two big deals. Think about all the feminist bookstores that have closed and feminist magazines that have folded. I get much less sense of a vibrant culture of feminism with its own institutions and its own internal debates.
She’s right. Many of the mainstream feminist organizations are more interested in electoral politics than in the day to day isues of women’s lives. But I think perhaps she overlooks the kind of grassroots projects that are happening now, on college campuses and online. For a lot of women, blogs, message boards and listserves create online feminist communities, and make feminism more accessible. Is it the same as feminist bookstores and feminist magazines? No, but it’s still organizing in its own right.
She also goes after the people who would brand her as “strident,” and asks why this is such a bad thing:
I can’t think of another social movement where “strident” is a bad word.
Well, do black people, do Latinos, do workers go around saying, “Oh no! Our leaders are so strident! Someone just wrote a strident book defending my rights!” Even if they themselves are more moderate, they’re happy! So I think it’s sort of an odd combination.
And she has some great thoughts on choice feminism (bold is Jessica’s question):
You say in one of your essays that “women have learned to describe everything they do, no matter how apparently conformist, submissive, self-destructive or humiliating, as a personal choice that cannot be criticized because personal choice is what feminism is all about.” But in writing about abortion rights, you say that we need to acknowledge “women as moral agents” and trust them to decide what’s best for themselves. How do we negotiate those two things?
I think it’s like freedom of speech in that the government is not going to make decisions about what you can say publicly, but that doesn’t mean that everything that somebody says publicly is a hot idea. That doesn’t mean that they’re not going to say something and be really sorry later. The idea I find so strange is that because a woman might have an abortion and come later to think, “I wish I hadn’t done that” — that that’s a reason to make abortion a crime. That makes no sense at all. What that really says is that women are incapable of making a good decision, so we have to make the decision for them! Because there’s only one good decision, and that’s to have the baby.
The interesting thing is that you’re never going to get women who choose to have a baby to say, “Well, looking back, that was a terrible idea — that’s when my life really went off the rails.” And yet I’m sure we can all think of people where having a child with the wrong person, at the wrong time, under very discouraging circumstances really is a decision that maybe they might secretly wish they hadn’t made. So to me abortion rights is a very personal and intimate area of life that involves a lot of risk — having a baby involves a lot of risk: physical, emotional, social, psychological. And so each woman has to decide for herself because she’s responsible for herself.
Read the whole interview.
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