The pro-choice movement would fail without young women

Young pro-choice activists at the March for Women's Lives
Activists (ages 15-18) from Wisconsin, at the 2004 March for Women’s Lives.

Given how popular “young women don’t care about reproductive rights” articles are, you would think by now that I would be used to it. After all, it’s a media favorite. But no matter how many times I see this tired old theme, it never fails to really piss me off.

Take this latest article from Newsweek, “Remember Roe! How can the next generation defend abortion rights when they don’t think abortion rights need defending?” The gist of the piece is this: young women are clueless about abortion rights and the majority of work is being done by older women, what NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan calls the “postmenopausal militia.” There is so much bullshit to call on this article (and this sentiment), it’s hard to know where to begin.

Like this:

[Keenan is part of a] generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.

Um, perhaps these organizations are all run by older women because institutional feminism is not very good at passing the torch and/or sharing power. It is certainly not from a lack of young women trying to be in leadership positions! Because let’s be honest, young women are often kept from being visible in the feminist movement. Remember Shelby Knox’s recent response to generational apathy claims?

Yesterday at the National Day of Action, every speaker fell all over herself to thank young women for simply showing up. The stage behind the podium was carefully dotted with young faces sporting bright pink t-shirts and signs. Yet only one speaker was under the age of thirty – a white woman from a private college whose only role was to list the universities from which student activists had traveled.

And then there are quotes like this (from Newsweek again):

This past January, when Keenan’s train pulled into Washington’s Union Station, a few blocks from the Capitol, she was greeted by a swarm of anti-abortion-rights activists. It was the 37th annual March for Life, organized every year on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe. “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” Keenan recalled. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.” March for Life estimates it drew 400,000 activists to the Capitol this year. An anti-Stupak rally two months earlier had about 1,300 attendees.

Our power to successfully organize aside, a Planned Parenthood representative tells me that half of the anti-Stupak attendees were born after Roe. (Not to mention the fact that one-third of the people at the wildly successful March for Women’s Lives were under 25 years-old.)

It would be bad enough if this sentiment was only repeated by the media – but it’s one we’ve heard again and again from pro-choice leadership as well. That young women are apathetic, we take our rights “for granted,” that we don’t know how good we’ve got it. Well I’m sorry – but who do you think has been making your photocopies and volunteering and organizing for these big organizations all of these years?

The work of the mainstream pro-choice movement is built on younger women’s labor – unpaid and underpaid – who do the majority of the grunt work but who are rarely recognized. And I don’t know about you – but I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist.

Where would NARAL Pro-Choice America or NOW be without the work done by younger women?

Who would do their outreach? Who would volunteer? Who would take unpaid internships? Who would carry their action items on blogs and forward them by email, Facebook and Twitter? Who would Blog for Choice?

Seriously, what would happen if young women decided they had enough of being ignored and started simply decided to stop working for these organizations? Even if for a month young women boycotted the organizations that refuse to acknowledge their hard work – the movement would fall on its ass.

And maybe that’s something said movement should consider before they give another quote about our “apathetic” generation.

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