Like many young feminists, I was more than a little appalled by Newsweek’s article on the lack of engagement on choice issues by young women. The most glaring offense was that no young women were interviewed for this article, despite the fact that not only are there many young women across the country doing great work on this issue, but many prominent young feminists — Shelby Knox and Jessica Valenti come to mind — are pretty easy to track down, given their amazing engagement online. In fact, the thriving feminist blogosphere — sites like Feministing, Feministe, Pandagon, and Jezebel – completely disprove the idea that young feminists, and in particular, young feminists who are active on abortion rights, are nowhere to be found.
But what also made me frustrated was the fact that the leaders of women’s groups interviewed for the piece seemed to be supporting this view of young women as uninformed and uninvolved. As Feministing pointed out, young women are quite involved at the local level (the article only cited national organizations in Washington, DC) and have taken more menial, unpaid-internship-type roles in the major feminist organizations for years. Much has been written about the "graying" of the leadership of NOW, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, and it bears repeating that these organizations need to do a much better job of actively seeking younger women to hand off the torch. If they did so, they would find no shortage of committed and passionate younger women who are more than qualified to start moving up the leadership ladder.
The one bright spot in this piece was NARAL President Nancy Keenan’s acknowledgement that NARAL and other women’s groups need to do a better job of framing the issue of abortion rights in a way that resonates with today’s generation. I could not agree more. We do not have to shy away from abortion as a moral argument; instead, we can effectively advocate for women being the best equipped to make those sorts of moral judgments. We can ask whether it is "moral" to legally compel a woman to continue a pregnancy she knows she is unprepared for. We can win on this ground.
And we can also connect choice to the lives of younger women. Millennials in particular are often hailed as being resourceful, more politically aware, and open-minded, eager to take advantage of opportunities and technology advances. Why aren’t we talking about abortion in this broader generational context? Choice means so much more than simply being able to choose a legal abortion. It means being able to choose jobs that will allow us flexibility, rather than leveling penalties, if and when we decide to raise families. It means being able to choose to further our educations so that we can better contribute to society. It means being able to choose when and under what circumstances we have sex, and protect ourselves accordingly. It means being able to choose many other things. Making this argument about more than just abortion is something that younger women are uniquely poised to do.
The organization heads interviewed by Newsweek are correct that a generational change is taking place that may change the landscape of the debate and its leadership. But what none of them seem to realize is that there is a new generation ready to take the reigns and change how we frame the conversation — for the better.
Want to take action? Sign the petition to for Newsweek to interview young women who support choice.