Feminism's Next Act: Inclusive and Flexible

To understand where feminism is headed, look to today's reproductive justice movement. Check out the Mother's Day cards celebrating nontraditional families that took the Internet by storm last year. Talk to the network of H.I.V.-positive women determined to shape the policies that affect them. Efforts like these are winning hearts and minds because they acknowledge what many of us have long known: An individual's ability to chart her own course is intimately tied to what's happening in her family and community.

Women of color birthed the reproductive justice movement two decades ago and remain at its helm. Many of them work tirelessly to protect access to contraception and abortion. But they also look beyond these issues to develop strategies that help all women live with dignity. This includes supporting poor and incarcerated mothers and those facing deportation, even when their "choice" is to maintain rights to their children, or give birth to additional children, despite difficult circumstances.

The movement's architects do push back as anti-abortion activists try to chip away at women's rights in state legislatures and Congress. But they're also focused on shifting culture, and they want to change how we talk about sexuality, gender and family. The theory is that as new conversations and perceptions crowd out old stereotypes and shame, people who have felt isolated and marginalized will realize they have power. They can then join forces with advocates and decide which policy battles are urgent for communities most at risk of having their rights trampled.

The next challenge reproductive justice activists will face is convincing converts in classrooms, hair salons, church pews and on front stoops that they should be more active in whatever way they can. From deep kitchen table conversations to lightning-fast online tools, every action, intimate or expansive, will be necessary to hold accountable the institutions and politicians who wish it were still 1963.

NOTE: This piece is part of a New York Times Room for Debate column on the fiftieth anniversary of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. Read the rest of the responses here

Tags: abortion, contraception, feminism, reproductive rights

    • Dani McClain
    • Dani McClain is an Oakland-based journalist covering reproductive rights and sexuality.

      She reported on education while on staff at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and covered breaking news for the Miami Herald's metro desk. Her writing has appeared in outlets including The Root, Loop21, AlterNet, On the Issues, and ...

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