Dear Millennials: We are no good, very bad feminists
Women of my generation, we need to talk about something.
We are awful feminists.
What? I hear you say. No we’re not! Feminism is trending! We made feminism so mainstream even corporate America is into it!
In a way, you’re right. Feminism is kind of what the cool kids are doing these days.
As recently as 2012, CNN was asking “where are all the millennial feminists?” and remarking on how few young women will freely assign themselves to the label of “feminist.” When you compare that to a Guardian article this month which quoted the statistic that 63% of women 18–34 years old identified as “feminist” or “strongly feminist,” it’s hard to resist the temptation to congratulate ourselves for bringing feminism back.
In fact, feminism is now so cool that Jezebel is already worrying about what will happen when it becomes passé.
If this is feminism, we have a lot to celebrate. Target removed gender-based signs from the toy departments of their stores. They finally included Rey in the Star Wars monopoly game. Jessica Jones was a super badass.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not the problem. All of these are good things! I’m not here to say that we should have fewer female action heroes, or that boys don’t want to play with toys if they represent female characters, or that I didn’t watch the whole season of Jessica Jones in a day. Because we shouldn’t, they do, and I did.
The problem is that when these victories come, we pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that feminism is working. We are changing society! Things are getting better!
They aren’t. They’re getting worse.
Well that sounds a little dramatic, I hear you say. Like there’s a vast conspiracy at work trying to quietly strip me of my rights before I notice?
If you want to know what I’m talking about, you need look no further than our current presidential election. It’s one of the most important things that will happen in the United States this year — I’d have said it was the most important thing last week, before Antonin Scalia died and left a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.
While Democrats argue about whether Bernie or Hillary would be better for women or how mad we should be at Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, something else is happening on the Right.
Let’s take a look at the Republican candidates for President. What do they think of our feminism? Has it wowed them? Have they started to question their own assumptions and beliefs about the roles and rights of women? Have they seen the light?
Donald Trump: Actually, you know what, let’s not. This guy gets enough attention already. He sucks, we all know he sucks, let’s move on.
Ted Cruz: Ted Cruz voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act. That isn’t all that surprising, since the Senate Republicans have blocked the passage of the bill more than once. He’s called the Democratic support for pay equity an attempt at “political show votes.” He’s also said that President Obama’s executive order banning pay secrecy for federal contractors is a distraction from more important women’s issues. With that in mind, let’s talk about what Cruz has to say about some other “women’s issues.”
Ted Cruz does not want you get an abortion. He doesn’t care if you were raped, or if you were the victim of incest. By god, you are not going to have an abortion on Ted’s watch. Earlier this year, he threatened to shut down the government unless it defunded Planned Parenthood. When he was Solicitor General of Texas, he was the champion of an attempted legal requirement of doctors at abortion facilities to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. This practice, but the way, was just declared unconstitutional in Louisiana, the home state of fellow abortion-hater Governor Bobby Jindal, because it made it damn near impossible for a woman outside of a city to find a safe abortion.
If Ted Cruz had his way, the 14th Amendment would be altered to include unborn fetuses, removing the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade from the equation while taking your control over your own reproductive health back 100 years. While we’re on the topic of reproductive health, Ted Cruz also has a lot of feelings about birth control. He thinks that your employer should be able to decide whether or not your insurance covers your birth control. Even better, he thinks your employer should be allowed to fire you for using birth control. In fact, he thinks that emergency birth control and abortion are essentially the same thing, because not only does he hate women’s bodies, he apparently has no idea how they work.
This man has a lot of opinions about what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your body, and he’s rearing to make them happen. He’s already done a lot to make them happen. This man could be your next President.
Ok, wow, so that was bleak. Who’s next?
Marco Rubio: Rubio is okay with contraception, unless you want your insurance to cover it. One of the members of his new “religious liberty advisory board” claims to have coined the term “complementarianism,” which is a kind of evangelical anti-feminism which says that men and women are all great in god’s eyes, but that women really aren’t cut out for leadership roles. Don’t worry, ladies: god loves you! He just thinks you’re too dumb to contribute anything.
Speaking of your contributions, such a young, hip dude as Rubio surely must be on board with pay equity, right? Rubio has said that women and men should be paid the same as a principle. Hooray! He’s on our side!
Oh, wait. He meant “principle” in the political way: the way in which you get to say you believe in something, but then when faced with an opportunity to do something about it, you block it every step of the way. He’s voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act twice, and called it “a welfare plan for trial lawyers.” He’s also accused the Democrats of cheap political trickery with the Act; because nothing says political grandstanding like forcing sexist scumbags to uphold the rights of half our population.
Moving on, Marco Rubio also doesn’t want you to get an abortion. He also doesn’t care if you’re the victim of rape or incest. He’s flexible, though: he might support anti-abortion legislation that included exceptions in those cases, because he basically just wants to do whatever he can to prevent the greatest number of abortions. What a guy.
Jeb! Bush: Jeb! also would really rather you didn’t get an abortion. Sensing a pattern here? In fact, Jeb! is so worried that you’ll get an abortion that he’s willing to do his best to take away as many of your reproductive health resources as he can. In the August debate, he said
“Here’s my record: As governor of Florida I defunded Planned Parenthood. I created a culture of life in our state.”
What does this mean? According to Politifact, what it means is that Jeb! used his veto power (which was apparently his favourite of powers) to veto specific state payments made to two Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state. These payments made up about one-quarter of the yearly budget of those affiliates. This money was not being used for abortions; it was being used to provide family planning services to lower-income women, as well as pap smears, and STI screening. Jeb! is a huge fan of abstinence-only education, because it works so well.
When asked for his opinion on the Paycheck Fairness Act, Jeb! answered “What is the Paycheck Fairness Act?” So, I guess he isn’t actively working to ensure that you make less money than a man would in your job. He just doesn’t really care.
Sidebar: when I was doing some research into Jeb!, Google’s suggested searches kept pushing “who is Jeb Bush’s father?” Really, America?
Ben Carson: Ben Carson blames police shootings of unarmed black men on feminism. He’s also compared abortion to slavery. Is that enough? Can I stop now? This guy’s opinions are too depressing even for a political masochist like me. Hopefully he won’t be in the race too much longer and we can just forget this whole awkward mess.
John Kasich: Hooray, Kasich! The reasonable one! He’s the one who’s going to take his New Hampshire momentum and run with it, all the way to the nomination, to deliver us from Trump. After all, if he’s the anti-Trump, then that has to be a good thing, right?
I’m sorry, but it’s time to poop on your Kasich dreams. While his campaign has worked hard to portray him as a moderate alternative — less likely to shut down the government and more likely to reach across the aisle to get things done — it seems like women’s rights is one of the things on which Kasich least flexible.
Since John Kasich became Governor of Ohio in 2010, eight of that state’s 16 abortion clinics have closed. A further three of those remaining are in danger of closing soon. In his first year, he signed in a law declaring fetuses viable (meaning it could survive outside the womb) at 20 weeks and banning all abortions after that time, including in the case of rape and incest. This is a pretty blatant disregard for Roe v. Wade, which states that a fetus can only be declared “viable” after 24 weeks, not to mention science. A study released last year has created some controversy around this by claiming that some babies born at 23 and even 22 weeks could survive. Even if that’s the case, it’s still pretty far from 20 weeks.
If you are a woman in Ohio and you want to get an abortion in 2016, you might want to start taking notes, because you’ve got quite a few restrictions to work through. First, you need a licensed physician. If your fetus is viable — which, remember, in Ohio means 20 weeks in — and you manage to convince the state that you’re the victim of rape or incest or your own life is in danger, you also need a second licensed physician to be present, you know, as moral support to the first guy. You’ll also need to be admitted to a hospital. Even if you haven’t yet reached 20 weeks, procuring an abortion may be tricky because any practitioner in the state can refuse to perform your abortion. You’ll also need to go to counseling because, you know, women typically don’t think things through on their own, and then you’ll need to wait an additional 24 hours to keep on thinking. If you’re a minor, you’ll also need the consent of your parents. Even if your pregnancy is the result of incest perpetrated by that parent.
Oh, he’s also said that the pay gap can be easily explained once you take into account skills and experience. You silly ladies! You thought you were paid less for the same work as a man because of structural discrimination, subjugation, and the slow poisoning of our society by arbitrary patriarchal morality, when really you’re just not good enough.
Are you angry yet?
Once you start thinking about all of the ways that these guys are working or have succeeded to undermine or outright deny women rights — rights that were fought and won by women like Gloria Steinem, whom we now call “outdated” and “establishment,” — which we today take for granted, it’s hard not to be angry.
When I started writing, I really did not intend this to be a methodical condemnation of the Republican Party. The thing is, though, that once you ask yourself what the biggest dangers to women’s rights in the United States in 2016 are, you wind up with these guys.
More importantly, once you start looking into their beliefs on so-called “women’s issues” — beliefs which they’ve already declared they’ll do their very best to turn into law — you start to realise we’re in much, much greater danger than we’ve been led to believe.
If millennials want to be good feminists, we do need to ask ourselves whether our daughters’ toys reflect those values or not, and we do need to support girls and women in male-dominated sectors like tech, and we do need to celebrate how women’s sports teams “play like girls.”
But we can’t stop there.
We need to recognise that our more basic rights — access to health care, fair compensation for work, and control of our bodies — are up for grabs. And then we need to fight for those rights.