Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Observations from my first "March For Life"

                              BY: Jessica Greer, NWPC Political Planning & Action Intern

In this post, Jessica reflects on her experiences attending the "March For Life," an annual anti-choice rally held in the nation's capital on the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision.

 It felt very cold on one of the last Thursdays in January when I went to protest the March for Life. However, after talking with older women who have been coming to this rally for years, forty degrees was nothing. I was quickly given a sign and became a part of my first feminist protest. I have been to protests before, but never one for women’s rights. I felt more impassioned during this protest than others, and after hearing the pro-choice men, I realized how important it is to have other groups actively support you. I have met many men who support reproductive rights, but never ones who went out of their way to prove how important my rights were to them. It meant a lot to me. However, the good feelings did not last long, as pro-lifers starting trickling in bit by bit. At first they were passive, walking around with their signs, babies, and rosaries. There were also occasional prayers said for our souls, so nothing out of the ordinary.

       About an hour later, the hoard arrived and we blocked the road while chanting in unity. The police gave us the right to protest for a while, but eventually we had to clear the street in order to let them pass. A few young (and old) brave women refused and were arrested. All I can hope is that when I am old, I have the gusto that these women do. Watching the pro-lifers march past was an interesting experience. I went to a catholic school for 12 years, so I know what they can be like, but I never saw them in their full glory—and it was terrifying. Seeing all the younger children march past with confused faces was incredibly disheartening. I wouldn’t bring my children to a march for anything at that age. The babies were worse. These people shout about how much they care about babies, but they bring theirs in cold weather to an event with thousands of screaming people. Something else that disturbed me was how many men were marching. They were telling stories over loudspeakers about how their girlfriends had abortions and they felt as if they “lost their fatherhood.” They really brought themselves into a debate that they have no business being in. How can someone be so against something that doesn’t even affect them? The women in the march also barely had respect for their fellow females. Of course, abortion is a choice and you can always choose not to have one. Nonetheless, women should still respect other women who feel that they are unready for a child or simply do not want to be pregnant.

    Despite all this, there was one thing that gave me hope. Seeing all the kids around the junior high age, pressured to be there by their religion, was not as discouraging to me. I am certain that one day these children’s minds will lead them away from their religious bubble. After all my time in that bubble, I know that many kids will find their way out; I watched it happen. Against the pro-lifers loud and repetitive chant, I do not believe there will be an up and coming “pro-life generation.” 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feminism and Politics: A Rising Tide

BY: Ellie Grabowski, Senior at The Bryn Mawr School

           "I am an ambitious feminist." Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s words rang out in the auditorium. A split second later, the room filled with cheers and applause. Her words had electrified the audience of teenage girls, and I was caught up in the tide of confidence, inspiration, and awe. For a brief moment, despite all I knew about this unbelievably unjust world in which we live, I was invincible, sitting on the crest of this wave of idealism and determination.
             I attend The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland, an all-girls college preparatory school known for its philosophy of women's empowerment. This past November, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York visited and gave a talk followed by a question-and-answer session. She discussed how she entered politics, the struggles she faced and overcame along the way, and her views on issues like sexual assault in the military and paid maternity leave. She was confident. She was intelligent. She was immensely inspiring to the hundreds of teenage girls in her audience. But what struck me the most about her visit was her bold, unapologetic, determined declaration: “I am an ambitious feminist."  Me too.
     There aren’t many self-declared feminists in American culture, let alone American politics. 2014 saw a relative deluge of feminism in mainstream pop culture — ask anyone, and they’ll name Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, and Lena Dunham — but that doesn’t mean that mainstream pop culture is suddenly feminist. This, after all, is the culture that allowed domestic abuser Ray Rice to be reinstated to the NFL, the culture that tells high school girls that their bodies are distracting to their male classmates, and the culture that was documented by the ten hours’ worth of street harassment a woman recorded while simply walking down the streets of New York City. This is the culture that resulted in Time picking “feminist” as an option for its poll of words of 2014 to ban on November 12th this year. This is the culture in which that option received the most votes.
      And yet, time and time again, I’ve seen and heard people protesting that feminism is unnecessary. I’ve heard people decry the way it’s supposedly been shoved in their faces. I’ve heard people insist that women’s issues really aren’t as big a deal as they’re made out to be, and that those who pick up the label “feminist” only do so because it’s trendy. On the contrary, the very fact that those who call themselves feminists are accused of being shallow is proof that feminism is necessary. How can feminism be only a fashion statement if it is obvious that those who embrace it are relentlessly criticized? One need only look at the shocking amount of hatred and harassment thrown at Emma Watson after her (relatively mild) speech at the UN to see that we need feminism now more than ever.
         There are even fewer feminist politicians today than there are pop stars. Hillary Clinton is one; Senator Gillibrand, clearly, is another; and some people might be able to name Wendy Davis, but it’s hard to think of any more off the top of your head. This persistent absence of women who represent feminism and the realities of women’s lives from the political sphere is the reason why my classmates and I were so inspired by Senator Gillibrand when she visited our school. She is someone rare and necessary. We need more politicians and people like her, people who are not afraid of the word “feminist.”
            For me, it wasn’t hard to call myself either ambitious or feminist. It seemed obvious to me. I have big dreams, so I am ambitious; I believe in equal rights and opportunities for women, so I am a feminist. Senator Gillibrand, it is clear to me, feels the same way. As a politician, by definition, she works with people with whom she does not see eye-to-eye, but she has not let anyone else’s refusal to accept her opinions prevent her from working together with those people to come up with real solutions to real problems.
            According to the National Women’s Political Caucus, women currently make up less than 20% of Congress and less than 25% of state legislatorsThere are two women in President Obama’s Cabinet and three women on the U.S. Supreme Court. And yet, according to the United States Census Bureau, women make up 50.8% of America as of 2013. These numbers do not match. They do not make any sense.
       We need women in politics. That much is blatantly obvious, but it’s not where it ends. We need, more than anything, ambitious, feminist women in politics. We need them now. We cannot solve any problem, be it sexual assault or global warming, paid maternity leave or world hunger, if women are not represented in the government that makes decisions about our lives. We cannot solve any problem if half of the country cannot contribute to the solution.
         I am a teenager; I am a young woman; I am a student. I have a voice in this world, and I am determined to use it. The sense of invincibility that I felt during Senator Gillibrand’s visit in November does not have to fade away; the crest of that wave is not necessarily fated to come crashing down back to reality. We have the power to use our momentum to keep pushing higher and higher.
        I am not an aspiring politician, but Senator Gillibrand’s visit inspired me, as it did many of my classmates, to take a stand once again for issues that are important to me. I am an ambitious feminist. You can be, too.