National Organization for Women: A Sad Old Gal
Taylor McLamb |
If the 2012 annual conference I attended in Baltimore recently reflects its vitality and relevance, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is a sad old gal trapped in the past.
Entering the conference center, I was struck by the older age of attendees and by how overdressed I was for this soiree of feminists. If I had hoped to fit in, I’d already failed. Vendors lined the corridors selling jewelry and t-shirts emblazoned with I had an abortion, keep your laws off my vagina, or simply vagina. The central theme was ‘reproductive rights’ – the sugar-coated description for readily available birth control and on-demand abortion services that kill millions of babies each year and occasionally the women themselves (as happened to 24-year-old Tonya Reaves at a Chicago Planned Parenthood clinic this week).
The theme was reinforced by the speakers. Krystal Ball, of female-sexuality-as-the-next-glass-ceiling fame, gave a spiel about attacks on liberal women in government. Sandra Fluke received an award for her efforts in “standing up for women’s rights.” Ms. Fluke made headlines giving ‘testimony’ before a faux congressional committee in which she argued that all insurance plans, including those offered by Catholic and other religious institutions, should be obligated to provide free birth control.
The gathering was particularly responsive to Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues—a play she claims empowers women by having them discuss, on stage, their intimate anatomy and their sexual experience with men, women, and adolescents (one scene involves a sexual encounter between a 13-year-old girl and a 24-year-old woman).
Proponents consider Ensler’s play to be liberating and an outlet for oppressed women. Opponents find it ironic that the play, which contains rape and pornography, is marketed to colleges as a method of raising awareness about violence against women, while the proceeds from the play are used to fund Equality Now, Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender (GLBT) groups, Planned Parenthood, Feminist.com and similar organizations with agendas having nothing to do with reducing violence against women.
With their permission and on the record, I interviewed several attendees to learn why they were feminists and what they saw as the most important issue facing women today. Many answers were surprisingly vague and inarticulate. Some couldn’t explain, or admitted they weren’t sure, why they were feminists. One responded that she had been a member of NOW since 1973 and felt it was important to be a feminist so that we “can have sports [for women] and opportunities.” (The sports response puzzled me, since my grandmother played basketball for her high school … in the 1940s.)
The most important issue was easier for them. Abortion rights, better access to birth control, and equal pay were the most common responses. Interestingly, a majority of women did not feel comfortable discussing or giving an opinion about the Affordable Care Act, which had been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court the week before.
The conference was also campaign central for Democratic Party candidates and incumbents. In her closing speech, NOW President Terry O’Neill urged attendees to support and vote for Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Lois Frankel, and Barack Obama in upcoming elections.
I attended the conference expecting to find young women my own age, yet there were few attendees under age 40, and many were seniors. I left thinking that NOW and the feminist movement have burned out, leaving behind a handful of unhappy self-proclaimed victims in search of a cause.
Women achieved the right to vote nearly a century ago. Birth control is both cheap and easily accessible; and, although it’s become less culturally acceptable over time, abortion has been legal since 1973. Over the past decade we’ve seen a woman elevated to Speaker of the House, the third highest office in the land, and several women compete for the highest political offices. Today single women under 30 earn more on average than their male peers.
NOW and its conference goers seemed oblivious to these modern realities. Stuck somewhere in the last century, they seemed equally unaware of how irrelevant they are to my generation of women.
Taylor McLamb is a summer intern at the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute.