Greetings from the Yearly Kos, where I am sitting in a vast bed with an abundance of pillows 30 stories up on the edge of the lake. My son has been with his grandparents (who live in a corn field 2 hours west of Chicago) since Wednesday. This is the first time that he has been away from both parents. Leading up to this week, I fretted and pouted and imagined that awful things would befall him in my absence. I really and truly needed to “get over it.” And I have! Our reunion will be very sweet. He’s occupying my mind more and more every day.
I attended the MotherTalkers caucus yesterday, and it was nice to meet some of the women behind the screen names. I was bummed that the caucus was scheduled at the same time as the feminist caucus. I’m sure this was inadvertent, and yet it reinforced the fallacy that mother’s issues are not feminist issues. Yesterday I went to a panel discussion entitled “The Fourth Wave: How Feminist Action Online is Changing the Movement.”
It featured five panelists who introduced themselves by speaking about their projects. The charismatic Jessica Valenti of Feministing was the moderator. She related how tickled she was by her blog’s potential for “subversive outreach.” As an example, a gaggle of teenaged girls had googled “Jessica Simpson” and ended up on Feministe instead, where they were surprised by what they found. They assumed that feminists were boring old man-haters.
Another one of the panelists, Gwynn Cassidy, started a web project called the “Real Hot 100” in response to Maxim’s yearly list of 100 hottest women. They wanted an alternative list that celebrated women who “speak their mind and work for change.” Smart is Sexy is another one of their taglines. Gwynn’s site allows anyone to nominate a hottie, and she related a touching story about one of the early nominators. A guy found the site and nominated his wife who is a pastor at an Ohio church. He was so proud of her for injecting feminist themes into her church teachings.
Panelist Aimee Thorne-Thompsen runs a nonprofit called Pro-Choice Public Education Project. Its mission is “reproductive justice” –an amalgamation of social justice, reproductive health issues, education, leadership training, and more. They do a lot of research, finding out what young women think and feel so that they can better give them what they need. I appreciate this approach; it’s always easier to deliver what you think young women need than it is to do the hard and humbling work of asking them what they need.
Latifa Lyles from the National Organization of Women talked about how NOW is exploring the different ways that they can use the web to encourage activism and networking. They posted a survey for mothers this past Mother’s Day in order to gather information from moms who are trying to raise feminist, progressive children. They currently have posted the article that reports their findings. They anticipated that moms would most care about violence, but it turned out the topic of most concern was the sexualization of young girls. Hmm.
Joan Blades was the last of the panelists, and she was hyping Mom’s Rising. Her shtick is fact-filled and powerful (eg. the pay gap between men and women is minimal compared to the pay gap between men and mothers) and her agenda is tight. It’s a slam dunk for parents. However, she didn’t really make a strong case for why the child-free women in the room should give a shit. She was the only mother on the panel. I puzzle over this problem. Someday, the other women on the panel will probably become mothers (statistically, 82% of us will). Then this epiphany will hit them like a ton of bricks: mothering issues are feminist issues! And they will wonder why it didn’t occur to them before. But it just doesn’t.
On a similar note, a man from the back of the room asked what role men can play in the feminist movement. The answers varied, but I thought they were all pretty vague and lame. Aimee interestingly noted that she perceived a generational difference: that younger women were much more willing to bring men into their activism, whereas older feminists were more reticent and grumbling, having endured tougher eras where they had to fight for more basic rights.
I think that for feminism to gain more traction, it has to be more inclusive (think mothers and men) and validating (praising the men who believe and treat women as absolute equals). Feminism gets a bad rap because it’s associated with more stick and less carrot. The stick is very important-for battering Don Imus like a pinata, for example. But we need to think about upping the carrot quotient. How do we convey that “family-friendly” policies benefit everyone? How do we persuade men that enlightened and egalitarian relationships between men and women are win-win? How do we promote the idea that feminism in a man is an extremely desirable and valuable attribute?
I look forward to a food and farming panel this morning, and to hear the prez candidates speak! I wasn’t expecting it, but Howard Dean knocked my socks off Thursday night.