Friday, August 26, 2011

Coming out of the Pro-Choice Closet

Last weekend, Chelsea and I packed our purses full of Faith Aloud merchandise and excitedly headed to the 24th annual Equality Day Brunch at the Crown Plaza Hotel. There we munched and mingled with our fellow feminists while we heard rousing speeches from the incredible women who have worked tirelessly to protect our rights. We had the very special opportunity to hear an inspiring speech from Betty Dukes, the woman who sued Walmart, the largest private employer in the world, in the largest class action lawsuit in America's history. Dukes, like the 1.5 million female Walmart employees she is representing, had been denied raises and equal opportunity to promotions simply because she is a woman. Unfortunately, in a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court voted in favor of Walmart, but Betty reminded us that the fight is not over. Only someone like Betty can turn a loss into a source of drive and inspiration.

In a strike of fortune, we got the opportunity to talk to Betty Dukes herself. I felt humbled and awed at the prospect of meeting the woman who dared to take on Walmart. Betty is sweet, charming, and feisty (a winning personality trio I've noticed in many of the self-proclaimed feminists I work with). She grasped my hand affectionately and said, "It's so good to see some young people here." She looked around the room and laughed, "So where are all your friends? Where are all the rest of the young people?" She had a point; of the 200 people at the event, Chelsea and I were the youngest by at least 20 years. Although Betty's comment was only meant as a good-natured jab at the aging status of her cohorts, this simple question has been nagging me ever since. Seriously, where are all the young people? Hearing all those amazing women talk about fighting tooth and nail to get the privileges I take for granted made me wonder, what has happened to the women's movement? As I have learned from working at Faith Aloud, there is a wonderful network of pro-choice organizations that work their butts off. But where are the average, everyday pro-choice people?

NARAL's poll from 2010 reports that 59% of young people identify as pro-choice (8 points higher than the average for all ages). Yet why don't I feel like I'm part of the majority on this issue?

Pro-choicers tend to be quiet. Since we support a view that a woman should be trusted to make her own reproductive choices and do what is best for herself and her family, it makes sense that we'd take a laid back approach. We're not standing on street corners shouting at passersby or wielding signs that say, "Women better be able to exercise their reproductive freedom, or else!" ... But maybe we should be.

In the last ten years abortion has become one of the most controversial political issues in our country. And as a result, abortion has become a taboo topic amongst my generation, even for people who support reproductive rights. No one wants to talk about it openly because they don't want to invite the attacks of a very loud and very intimidating anti-choice opposition. Until I started working at Faith Aloud, I myself was largely silent about my feelings on the issue, mostly because I didn't want it to be something that unnecessarily divided me from my pro-life friends. I was also cautious about talking about abortion to people whose political stance I wasn't sure about, for fear that they may start quoting the Bible to me (yes, thank you, I've read it too, you don't need to tell me about it). I agree that it is much more comfortable to just be a quiet supporter of women's rights. However, with the constant barrage of anti-choice bills that keep ending up on the senate floor, and as the religious opposition gets louder and louder, our silence on the topic may end up costing us our freedoms. Therefore, I think it's about time we start coming out of the pro-choice closet, so to speak.

So today, on Equality Day and the 91st anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, I, Allison Pikaard, am ready to shout from the metaphorical rooftops of social media: