WMC News & Features

Young Feminists Go Live to Protect Women's Reproductive Rights

Young feminists, whose presence in the current War on Women plays out largely online, plan to emerge from the virtual world with rallies in Nashville and other state capitals April 28.

In early March, with American women outraged at the passing of ultrasound bills and state-level funding cuts to women’s healthcare, a protest unfolded not in the streets nor on the Capitol steps, but in homes and workplaces across the nation.

The battle cry rang on pop-feminist Web site Jezebel, where angry commentators linked to the Facebook page of Governor Robert McDonnell of Virginia, where a bill requiring ultrasound for an abortion was labeled “mandated rape.” Throughout the evening “Jezzies” cluttered the Facebook pages of anti-choice legislators; they engaged in heated debates, scolded the politicians for shaming women and provided facetious “uterus updates.” One week later, Jezebel published an article claiming “trolling politicians’ Facebook pages” as the latest activist trend.

Welcome to the new wave of feminism, where, in the words of Gil Scott-Heron, the revolution will not be televised. Instead, it plays out through our fingertips.

While earlier feminist protesters brandished their placards or, more recently, sounded off in cut-and-paste zines, the millennials’ revolution is coalescing online. Aided by the social media phenomena’s Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, as well as the parallel rise of “ladyblogs,” the Internet has spawned a myriad of platforms for feminists to share unfiltered news, commentary and personal stories.

“People need feminism, and many have been waiting for a space to go to relate with others who need it, to freely enter into civic discourse about gender issues,” said Sarah Kendrick, a junior at Duke University and one of the 16 founders of the Who Needs Feminism? campaign. “[We] learn more about how feminism relates to issues we come across in our everyday lives—some of which have become so ingrained in societal norms that we never think about them.”

Debuting on Tumblr in early April, the intimate, submission-driven Who Needs Feminism? is the latest campaign to go viral. What first originated as a class project has produced nearly 1,000 stories from women and men—mostly high school and college students—sharing the everyday sexism they endure. Thanks to Tumblr’s sharing, the stories have been re-blogged thousands of times over.

Kendrick says the unexpected success of the campaign “showed there was a vacant space that needed to be filled.”

“We realized students are not apathetic about women’s issues, but are either misinformed or lack a space free from backlash,” Kendrick said.

In 2012 alone, social media has dismantled the reputation of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, organized a Texas-wide bus tour protesting funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, and canonized Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke as the patron feminist of birth control reform. But on Saturday, April 28, its strength will be tested at Unite Against the War on Women rallies in state capitals and major cities nationwide.

Co-founded by Michigan resident Karen Teegarden and New Yorker Desiree Jordan, the Unite Women campaign has been driven entirely through Facebook initiatives. In only two months, the Facebook group has recorded more than 22,000 “likes” and established volunteer-driven branches in 46 states and Washington D.C. 

Witnessing months of anti-women laws spreading through the country, millenials untested by earlier battles to save Roe v. Wade or over the Equal Rights Amendment have also had enough. “It is making those already attuned to these issues speak out, and those on the fence, get off fast,” said Jennifer Porter, a student at the University of Tennessee who is planning to attend the Nashville rally after hearing about it through a friend’s Facebook page. “The political environment in general is what I’m upset about,” said Porter, who is particularly concerned over Tennessee’s newly proposed “don’t say gay bill,” which would erase any language acknowledging homosexuality from sex education programs. “[It] shows what they’re are concerned about: setting things back decades.”

A similar sentiment arises in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where 23-year-old Amanda Valez said significant feminist issues are continually ignored, while gender stereotypes prevail. “No one wants to talk about these issues, and instances of domestic violence still tend to be referred to as private family matters,” she said.

Wheelchair bound due to spinal muscular atrophy, Valez fears the overbearing anti-choice laws—though none so far have moved past their subcommittees this year in her state—will eventually jeopardize her future family planning. “While I would love to be a mother someday, my situation would be rife with complex medical decisions and a great deal of risk, to both myself and a fetus. It scares me to think that the lawmakers in my state could deem me expendable,” Valez said.

It hardly helps that Planned Parenthood, once a safe haven for young women, has become ground zero for both federal and home-grown attacks. “Planned Parenthood [Knoxville] used to operate out of a shopping center in a middle class area, but about a year ago, the building pulled the lease out from under them due to negative pressure,” said Jennifer Porter.

Amanda Valez is disappointed by Facebook conversations that denounce feminism as “antiquated” or “stupid” rather than engaging in “a meaningful conversation about our differences.” Similarly, Who Needs Feminism? cofounder Kendrick hopes to counter any “negative stigma” associated with feminism that “diminishes the potential power and success of a movement addressing gender inequity.”

With this weekend’s Unite Against the War on Women rallies, young feminists believe the merging of social media with age-old street protests will propel this movement both on and off computer screens—and have a profound influence on mainstream society.

“Overall, the last few weeks have been very enjoyable as I’ve helped my friends plan the rally,” Valez said. “I’ve seen how many people want to attend or get involved with our event in a larger, more meaningful way.”

More articles by Category: Feminism, Health, Media, Politics
More articles by Tag: Reproductive rights



Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.