2012 was a whirlwind of a year for young feminists.
From the top, we had our work cut out for us as the Republican Party’s continued war on women led to a rash of regressive legislation. With the presidential election looming over us for much of 2012, we were concerned how the outcome could threaten the state of women’s rights in the immediate future, from fears of Supreme Court justice replacements that might overturn Roe v. Wade to the possibility of a Romney administration that gloated about defunding Planned Parenthood “from day one.”
While the continued relevance of restricted abortion access will likely remain a priority of feminist activism in the U.S. (round two of Paul Ryan’s fetal personhood bill comes to mind), millennial feminists took advantage of social media, memes, and GIFs to effectively communicate and “mainstream” these conversations with the public, many of whom don’t agree with the radical regressive politics that Tea Party Republicans have been trumpeting as their clarion call.
Moving forward, here are four things millennial feminists should continue to work on in 2013.
1. We must continue to reach out outside feminist communities even as we continue our work within our communities to make sure health care and abortion remain accessible to all women.
It is critical to get people outside those immersed in feminist movement to realize the consequences of regressive legislation and hold these extremists accountable for their actions, and, in turn, realize that there is recourse for flippant, ignorant statements. Planned Parenthood’s abandonment of the pro-choice label, seeking to complicate the conversations we have around abortion, seems to be a step in the right direction.
We should also continue to stress and break down the dividers between issues – in short, demonstrate how they bleed into one another. As feminists have continuously stressed during the 2012 election cycle, abortion is both an economic issue and a health care issue, not the black-and-white, emotionally-charged “killing innocent babies” narrative anti-abortion spokespeople have successfully messaged for the past twenty years. By giving the public new, nuanced lenses to consider abortion, we can shift the debate towards productive solutions and de-stigmatizing this outpatient procedure.
2. We must bring to our activism an understanding of intersectionality, viewing not only cultural but also systemic quality-of-life issues, with a framework that simultaneously acknowledges race, gender, and class as interlocking.
The controversy surrounding a piece that ran in New Statesman’s "Vagenda" section displayed the need for this lens. In the piece, the editors denounced intersectionality as “too theoretical,” championing Caitlin Moran’s tweets because she has at least made feminism “accessible” (to whom?), and failed to attribute a quote to Flavia Dzodan, a WOC feminist who writes for The Guardian and the feminist blog Tiger Beatdown. The authors’ ignorance illustrated the deleterious effects of mainstream feminism’s erasure of the continuing importance of linking race, class, and gender in their analysis of oppression.
Holding ourselves accountable for racism, classism and all the intersections lends all of us a better understanding of how oppression works and how we ourselves may be continuing to perpetuate its structures and logic.
3. As technology continues to dominate our lives, we need to continue to investigate both how technologies can be used to leverage social change and how oppression uniquely affects marginalized groups online.
The use of GIFs as a form of social activism and hashtags such as #legitimaterape helped to make these conversations priorities outside of activist circles and surface in mainstream consciousness. This has implications not only for Internet harassment online, which affects people in uniquely gendered and raced ways, but also for the priorities of websites in general, such as Facebook, where rape apologism is far and wide condoned by the site, but images of women breastfeeding are deemed too “offensive” to host on the site. We need to examine these imperatives with a critical eye and demand changes to shift what is deemed culturally acceptable and what logics underlie this.
4. Feminists must continue to call out rape culture in its infinite manifestations.
Whether it be advertising, agitating for rape survivors and changing and shifting narratives of blame, or calling out politicians who utter offensive remarks that betray their misunderstanding of how basic human anatomy works, remaining vigilant must continue to remain a priority for us (as well as using social media to leverage discussions and make mainstream sources take note.) We’ve been successful in pushing ad campaigns to alter their language in ways that don’t perpetuate rape culture, so continuing to speak out about our experiences remains vital.
Clearly, 2013 has already ushered in the urgency of these conversations, as feminist writers have detailed the pervasiveness of gang rape and a rape culture that makes these atrocities far too commonplace and acceptable, both in the U.S. and abroad.