Katha Pollitt, The Nation columnist and author of a new book of poetry, The Mind Body Problem asked a great question today on a media listserv we’re both on. She wanted to know what we thought were the places where women and/or feminism made advances, went backward, or were treading water.
How do you think women advanced during the last decade? (We can deal with the backward steps in another post…at the beginning of a new year and new decade, let’s start with a nod to the advances.)
Here are my two top-of-mind, unfiltered answers that I sent to Katha, mostly to the positive.
1. The rise of social media has given women the opportunity for a much bigger voice individually and collectively. The asynchronous, information-rich technology and the ability to create “rooms of one’s own” appeal to women who have for so long been overtalked by louder male voices. As a result women are over 50% of bloggers and 57% of the people on Facebook and Twitter. Social media offer a way to connect, share, find support systems, and organize. Women tend to isolate and think they have to solve their problems–often problems caused by systemic barriers–alone. But with social media, they can find answers to their questions and if they choose they can organize to solve problems whether in the private sector or politically. Having been recognized by advertisers as the purchasers of over 80% of all consumer goods, women could also use their online and social media presence to reshape the consumer economy.
The bad news is that this power remains largely in the potential category because women have not used it strategically to mass their voices. Power unused is power useless. This is the name of a chapter in the book I’m writing now and I am sad to say I have all too many examples.
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2. Reproductive health advanced despite George W. Bush. A few of my personal fave highlights:
a) Mifepristone, the early abortion pill, was approved by the FDA in 2000 just before Bush was sworn in. This was an important political victory as well as giving women an option for very early pregnancy termination without surgery. Ostensibly Mifepristone would make abortion access more widespread, and it probably has but it definitely has not been the panacea some people assumed it would be. For the most part, it is only administered by doctors who were already performing abortions because its medical protocol requires that surgical abortion be available as a backup in case of an incomplete abortion via Mifepristone. Of course, anti-choice harassment and intimidation of doctors has also played a part in limiting access.
b) Plan B emergency contraception was FDA approved for over-the-counter use for women 18 and over in 2006. Increasing public knowledge about EC and easier access to it have been instrumental in lowering the rate of unintended pregnancy and abortion. Restrictions on over-the-counter EC for teens 17 and under are unnecessary, according to medical experts including the FDA’s own scientific advisory committees.
c) there have been a number of additions to the variety of birth control methods available to women and tweaks to older methods aimed at making them more palatable or effective.
d) Following on initiatives started in 1998 to get insurance plans to cover contraception, during the early “oughties”, the number of states requiring such coverage rose to 27. With that, plus the requirement that Federal employees’ insurance plans cover contraception starting in 1998 and several successful lawsuits challenging exceptions to contraceptive coverage within large self-insured company plans, contraceptive coverage went from rare to routine.
OK, your turn. Let’s talk about what you think the advances have been.
GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”
As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.