NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan to step down

Yesterday, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Nancy Keenan, announced that she will be stepping down at the end of the year. Sarah Kliff at the Washington Post reported:

The 60-year-old Keenan said she is leaving out of concern for the future of the pro-choice movement — and thinks she could be holding it back. In recent years, Keenan has worried about an “intensity gap” on abortion rights among millennials, which the group considers to be the generation of Americans born between 1980 and 1991. While most young, antiabortion voters see abortion as a crucial political issue, NARAL’s own internal research does not find similar passion among abortion-rights supporters. If the pro-choice movement is to successfully defend abortion rights, Keenan contends, it needs more young people in leadership roles, including hers.

So, here’s the thing. It’s true that we do need young people to step up into leadership positions in the reproductive justice movement. And Keenan is right: new leaders can’t step up until the current, older leaders step aside.

BUT, spare me on the “intensity gap.” Seriously, there is no intensity gap. The pro-choice movement, as Jessica wrote two years ago, would fail without the intensity – the enthusiasm, the passion, the commitment, and the unpaid or underpaid labour – of young people. As Jessica asked,

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?

One of the reasons Feministing began was because there wasn’t enough engagement, in traditional feminist organizations, of young people. The young feminists were wheeled out from time to time to show that they existed, but they weren’t given real power, or responsibility, or the chance to really make themselves heard. Or as Keenan put it,

“People give a lot of lip service to how we’re going to engage the next generation,” Keenan said, “but we can’t just assume it will happen on its own.”

It won’t. And it really won’t if you keep telling the next generation that they don’t care enough about reproductive rights. They care. They care enough to work their asses of for this movement. As Jessica said,

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.

Now, obviously, we don’t want the pro-choice movement to fall on its ass. We want it to triumph. And it damn well better, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the last year or so, shit has gone totally fucking haywire in this country. I apologise for that elegant phrasing, but you know it’s true: anti-choicers are gunning harder than ever right now to take away hard-won reproductive freedoms. And so, young people will continue to work, and volunteer, and donate money. So it would be really nice, please, if the outgoing leaders would stop talking about the “intensity gap.”

And here’s hoping that we get a great new young leader to step up to run NARAL, and hopefully, to bring with them the memory of what it feels like to be told that you aren’t adequately “intense,” or worse, that you don’t exist.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • Bethany

    I agree that we should all get sick of the line about there being “No young feminists” or “very few young feminists” because we don’t like anti-women’s rights politicians and pundits to have fuel to say feminism isn’t strong anymore. HOWEVER, as a millennial I can say there is a problem. I repeat, there is a problem. It is not as big as certain people try to argue it is but it’s still an issue and we can’t deny it.

    A lot of millennial women shy away from getting too intense because they don’t want to seem “crazy” as we all know how men to react to “crazy” angry women as opposed to men with real issues to discuss. The other day a student my age said in class, “Not to get all feminist or women’s studies but…” She thinks saying she’s feminist discredits what she’s saying. And this idea that feminist is too radical to be taken seriously, as mainstream and reasonable as many of its demands are, continues to be an issue. Until this recent slew of attacks on women’s rights a lot of women want to assume it’s over because we don’t want to be divisive.

  • natasha

    I was discussing the ‘intensity gap’ with some older feminists after hearing about this. I actually do agree that there is a lot of apathy among young women my age. However, I believe that the younger feminists that do exist, such as myself, and a lot of the readers and writers here, are not getting the credit we deserve. We do care, a lot. But some like to think that all young women are the same, that since there is apathy with some, there must be apathy with all of us, and that’s really unfair to those of us who are dedicating ourselves to feminism and trying to make a difference. I got a lot of this from the older feminists I was speaking to, they were very dismissive. I was honestly surprised that my statement: that a. apathy with women my age is a problem and b. I hate being told I’m apathetic because of it when I care so much and we’re not all the same was met with so much: if you want respect go out there and do something, get active within the movement, you don’t get a pat on the head for calling yourself a feminist, stop whining, etc.

    I honestly didn’t expect that reaction. I know the attitude exists, but being on the target end of it for the first time personally was really painful. It makes me so glad for sites like this, that were started due to these attitudes, and the fact that young women felt left out. We do care, and we are making a difference. Our activism doesn’t always look the same as the past waves, but using the internet to have a feminist community has taught me so much. I think of it as our own consciousness raising, myself. There are also plenty of examples of the communities of young feminists online mobilizing to make a difference, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.

  • Aubrey

    Yay! Thank you for this post, Chloe (and Jessica from the past). As a clinic escort for one of the state affiliates of NARAL, it’s super annoying when they pretend that I (and the other 20 and 30-something women who largely make up their volunteer team) do not exist. We’re here and we’re at clinics and protests and writing letters to our legislators. I’d love to see a future where large pro-choice orgs could stop talking down to me and all the other young women and men who do grunt work for reproductive rights.