Monday, August 07, 2006

Happy Birthday, NOW!

Birthdays conjure up images of birthday cake, party hats, streamers, and happy memories. However, there is always that one kid crying in the corner because none of the other children at the party want to play the same game. Charlotte Hays, from the Independent Women’s Forum, was channeling that same petulant child in her op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on NOW’s 40th birthday celebration. While her op-ed raises some good points, the majority of her criticism is packaged in a way that is fundamentally damaging to women everywhere, not just those who consider themselves feminists.

For example, she opens her article with a jibe at the way that the women and men at the conference were dressed. Is it really necessary in this day and age to criticize women first and foremost on how they look? Furthermore, she also equated “radical” (in a negative sense) with the idea of being open to people of varying sexual orientations. She writes, “[e]very resolution was relentlessly hammered out until there was no possible way that LGBT people (LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) could feel excluded; there was an "equal marriage" pretend-wedding reception with punch and cake.” With the majority of the country favoring some form of equality for same-sex couples, equal marriage is hardly the bastion of radical liberal behavior for which it has been ostracized. On the contrary (and maybe this is just because I'm from Massachusetts), celebrating equal marriage with a reception seems like a fairly logical step in support of one of the main tenets of the organization.

Some of Hays' characterizations were simply inaccurate. She writes that “even the music hasn't changed” about the inclusion of folk singer Sally Repp (whom I admittedly have never heard of, but I bet my parents have.) She neglected to include Ani Difranco, a feminist force of the younger set.

Hays also argued that “[s]till, NOW felt just a bit . . . tired. Whatever you think of the feminist movement--and I happen to deplore most of it--the women who got it started were forces of nature, interesting people with strong personalities.” She thinks that the current leaders of NOW don’t have the same energy or spark necessary to fuel the movement. This is a subtle point. At first glance, I would actually tend to agree with her. But that doesn’t mean that the feminist movement has lost its leadership or its luster. Rather, the leadership and forces have multiplied so much that the media can’t pinpoint just one of them. For example, for me, my mother was that force of life that inspires me to be a feminist. So was my father. So was my sister. So was my best friend. Honestly, so was Xena. The leadership of the feminist movement cannot be reduced simply to the officers of NOW or other professional feminist organizations.

She criticized that “(past NOW) president Karen de Crow, with her leonine white mane--dancing to Ms. Rapp's chorus line, ‘We’re Marching With Molly Yard,’ was a caution for us all about growing old gracefully.” What’s the point of growing old gracefully when you can instead celebrate by dancing and eating cake? Hays' anti-older feminist bias, seen throughout her piece, is something that younger women should caution themselves against. While the movement should rightly be taken to task for not taking the issues of younger women seriously, younger women should look to learn from and work with older women. For example, even many of the issues that are considered to be near and dear to older women’s hearts (pay equity, the Equal Rights Ammendment, affordable child care) are all issues that younger women can learn and benefit from (even the ERA!). Likewise, the issues that are more important to younger women (dating violence, media justice, and student’s rights) are also important and relevant to older women. By learning from and combining the strengths of each generation, the women’s movement will ultimately be more successful.

Hays further wrote, “[b]ut some of the decline is simply that there is no new blood there.” It’s far more complicated than that. The decline facing the women’s movement is the lack of cohesion between the younger women leaders and the older generation. Also, the women’s movement is considered to be declining because younger women leaders simply don’t register as leaders. Hays simply wasn’t looking hard enough. The new blood is all around her, especially if you look around your most recent YWTF meeting.

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