How the GOP Brought Feminism Back to Life

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the movie Baby Boom, a woman is a business executive at the kind of firm where the conference tables are the size of stretch limos. She is the only female executive, and she is ruthless. A phone call in the night concerning a distant cousin’s will leaves her with an unexpected inheritance: a baby. Despite considerable efforts to balance work and child, she is invited to fewer meetings, asked for fewer reports, and her boss tries to replace her slowly before eventually demoting her to such a shameful level that she quits. She and the baby move to Vermont where she starts her own gourmet baby food company. Her business blossoms and her old firm offers to buy her out. She tells them to fuck off. Never mind that it’s a movie and she also tells them she fell in love with the local veterinarian, but let’s pretend the speech just ended with, “I built this business from scratch while being a good mom, on my own, so you can suck it.”

This movie was produced in 1987. And just so we’re all clear, 1987 is actually 25 years ago. It’s a quarter of a century ago. Diane Keaton was the lead. The baby in that movie is now approximately 26 years old, and I bet you when she watches that film, she thinks, “not a fucking thing has changed.”

The Women’s Rights movement has stagnated. Feminism was characterized as bullish and unnecessary. With women comprising 46.7% of the labor force in 2010, and more women than men attending college, it’s easy to see why feminism seems outdated. We’d made it, baby!

But wait a minute… men still outnumber women six to one in top corporate jobs. Women make up 16.8% of Congress, but more than 50% of the US population. Only 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and only three of nine Supreme Court Justices. According to the latest census statistics, in 2008 women earned 77 cents on the male dollar, with those numbers falling to 68 cents for African-American women and 58 cents for Latinas. Turns out, we have not made it.

The storyline of Baby Boom is still pertinent today. Women I have worked with have hidden their plans to get pregnant. I have seen several women have a child only to be “rearranged” when returning to the company. A high-level executive even told one of my coworkers to her face that she needed to pick career or family. If the social and political challenges of women in the ‘80s still exist today, why aren’t more women feminists?

Once a growing sisterhood, some women are now dog-eat-dog, trying to get to the top. That’s how guys do it, right? Wrong. It’s a boys’ club and many of them are eager to keep it that way. Gloria Steinem said there are two stages to fighting for equality. The first stage is the initial backlash to people breaking out against the norm. The second comes when you reach “critical mass” and the dominant group realizes they may be in jeopardy, causing them to react with an iron fist. According to Leslie Bennetts’ report for The Daily Beast, “Women and the Leadership Gap,” we’re now at that second stage.

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne million women might argue that we reached that second stage nearly ten years ago at the March for Women’s Lives held on the National Mall in Washington D.C. on April 25, 2004. The march was organized to protest the recent Partial- Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. I was a senior in high school and I was there. It is reported 1.15 million people marched for women’s rights that day making it the largest march in American history. Did you catch that? The largest march in American history and I guarantee most people reading this post didn’t even know it happened. But that is what you get when media giants are run by money and men, or more accurately, men with money. It is disheartening to see such a brave act of citizenry ignored, but we’re a puritan nation – that march was never going to be a headline. My mom, watching from Cleveland, said they mentioned it in passing.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of the largest march in our history, think about  it like this: it happened months before Facebook expanded past the Ivy League, it was a full year before the creation of YouTube and The Huffington Post, two years before Twitter and Google Talk and three years before Tumblr. It happened before we had a voice.

In early 2004, we were coming to election time. Bush was up for his second term. War was the topic of the day. It was only two years prior that the nation was turning into a comic book, chasing down the Axis of Evil. Who cared about women’s rights? We had jobs, we were going to college, and it seemed we were making strides. We didn’t need to ban together because we were racing to the top. Had the GOP’s main focus remained war and big business, it might have stayed that way.

During George W. Bush’s terms in office, the GOP started falling apart. Once a party led by fiscally conservative small government types, its recruitment plan of middle America led to the  party being represented by enthusiastic religious mouthpieces, gun nuts, and in some cases, both. The GOP’s first misstep was promoting women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. There are brilliant Republican women, none of whom were recruited to represent the GOP. The women selected to endorse that party embarrassed us. The second misstep was the direct attack on our reproductive rights. Now they were really pissing us off. What the draft is to war, contraception has become for women’s rights. Mandatory ultra- sounds, banning abortion, insurance companies refusing to pay for birth control, the attempted destruction of Planned Parenthood… these positions are not new to the GOP, but they now had to fight and defend them in the arena of social media.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hee voices representing women in the past decade were few and divisive. Everyone was either criticized for being a bitch, a ditz, or a madwoman. We couldn’t win. But now, our congresswomen are learning. They’re not begging for their male counterparts to hear them, they’re retaliating. Female lawmakers across the nation have stepped up with bills introducing policies countering the attack on women’s rights by introducing policies regulating Viagra, demanding that men see a sex therapist if seeking a prescription. Fight fire with fire. Women cannot naturally impregnate themselves – there is typically a second party involved, and female lawmakers are gunning for him. The rates at which social media users have been posting articles, sharing, reblogging, writing, recruiting, drafting petitions, and disseminating those petitions has been astounding. Third-wave Feminism allowed for the idea that a woman could wear a dress and heels, and still be a feminist. Feminism has always been about choice – about being able to choose your destiny so that you can fully realize your potential. This requires equal rights. Feminism on the Internet allows for every woman, and every man, to support those rights with the click of a button. People are speaking out, and this time, we don’t need the national news for our voices to be heard.

Many women my age have well-paying jobs and college educations, and when you’re young and without dependants, everything looks equal. It looks equal until a superior calls you princess, until office coworkers call you sexy, until another superior comments on your breasts. It looks equal until you’re told to your face that if you’re going to be realistic, you need to choose career or family. It looks pretty equal while you’re young, attractive, and unattached. But I’m worried about what it will look like in five years. I’m worried what it will look like when I lose access to birth control. I’m worried what it will look like when I need an abortion because I can’t afford to care for my child with a lower salary. I’m worried what it will look like when I ask for my job back after maternity leave. I’m worried what it will look like for my daughter when she’s entering the workplace. I’m worried for her because my mom thought I would have it so much better, and I don’t.

But let’s send a big ole thank you to Idaho State Senator Chuck Winder for suggesting women are using rape as an excuse for abortions. Another thank you to Sarah Palin for not encouraging the use of birth control. Another to Rush Limbaugh for asking to see videos of us having sex. A big thank you to all the states trying to make transvaginal ultrasounds mandatory for all women seeking to terminate their pregnancy. As the GOP’s continued ignorant and inhumane missteps get spread over the World Wide Web, it’s important to remind them that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For every F word they send to us, for every bill they propose that denies us control of our bodies and our lives, they are helping to bring to life the very movement they campaigned to dissolve, a movement that seeks to bring true equality to this nation and to this world, a more potent and powerful F word: Feminism.

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