July 7, 2013 in Opinion

Activists show feminism alive

Jamie TobiasNeely
 

Older feminists’ fears about the activism of younger generations may officially be put to rest.

Just over a week ago, young women (and men) wore orange, flooded the Texas Capitol and wrapped up state Sen. Wendy Davis’ 11-hour filibuster against a harshly restrictive abortion bill by drowning out the voting with their own voices.

Amanda Stevenson, a Washington native who grew up in Olympia and spent summers in Newport, has spent much of the last two weeks at the Texas state Capitol. She’s pursuing a doctorate in demography and sociology at the University of Texas, and she’s a graduate research associate for the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

Only five of Texas’ 42 abortion clinics currently meet the bill’s stricter requirements, and Stevenson has been sharing her group’s social science research with legislators. Their research shows that the bill would likely close abortion clinics in smaller cities and rural areas, stranding women far from the few remaining clinics in major cities. These women would be more likely to postpone abortions until later in pregnancy and even attempt self-induced abortions.

“I think it’s a commonly held misperception that young women don’t care about reproductive rights,” Stevenson said last week. “I don’t know why they say it.”

At a state hearing concerning the bill Monday evening, Stevenson waited in an overflow room outside the auditorium. “I felt a little old, and I’m 31,” she said. “But seriously, this room was full of young college students, who were like super hip. They were not just on point. They were eloquent.”

Many young women don’t identify themselves solely as feminists, Stevenson said. They’re anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-classist. They organize with the help of Twitter and Facebook. “For them, being a feminist is just one small part of their political identity. What they organize on depends on where the deepest need is.”

Davis, a 50-year-old triathlete, emerged as their superstar leader. She donned watermelon-pink tennis shoes to help her endure her grueling Texas-style filibuster.

Stevenson calls Davis “a sweetheart,” and says Davis appeals to voters because “she’s a Texas woman through and through. She’s got the Texas hair, she’s got the Texas accent, she’s got the Texas sweetness.

“She’s also,” Stevenson said, “a total badass.”

There were more than a few of them in the Senate chambers that night. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte stood up in the waning moments of the debate and asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

At her question, a roar erupted from the sea of orange protesters in the Senate gallery and in the capitol rotunda. Their voices stalled the vote for all those men in suits.

Opponents later criticized their lack of “decorum.” American women once were taught strict rules of decorous behavior: to walk with books on our heads, to sit with our feet tucked primly to one side, and to listen to nonsense with our mouths firmly shut.

As anyone who has watched “Mad Men,” or lived through the ’50s and ’60s would know, that cultural imperative never served women well.

Last week, the drama continued in Texas with another special session and a protest march of thousands of orange-shirted advocates. In North Carolina, state senators passed a last-minute amendment that included a similar batch of restrictions. Across the country, other states are taking up related legislation. (Another tennis-shoe lover, Sen. Patty Murray, recently called a strict abortion bill in the U.S. House “a charade designed to appeal to a dwindling base.”)

Conservative lawmakers would do well to factor into their calculations the presence of young female voters, Title IX-generation women who were raised to speak up, stand their ground and fight back.

They helped drive up Amazon sales on those pink Mizunos. “Guaranteed to outrun patriarchy on race day,” one reviewer wrote.

Wendy Davis did not yield.

Rest assured, elder feminists: Neither will this next generation of women.

Jamie Tobias Neely, a former member of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board, is an assistant professor of journalism at Eastern Washington University. Her email address is jamietobiasneely@comcast.net.

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