Exploding Echo Chambers: Why there’s Still Hope for Feminism

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A SYTYCB entry

The United States seems to be faced with an unprecedented ideological regression. Outrage and surprise are shown over and over again in the feminist community. We still fear the repeal of Roe vs. Wade? We still can’t pass pay equity legislation? Wait… we may lose access to… birth control?! The situation feels bleak. Just this weekend, senate hopeful Todd Akin was actually allowed to say on TV that pregnancy never results from a “legitimate rape.” Legitimate rape? Our ovaries and other woman parts know when fertilization is non-consensual?

What the hell is going on?

In the face of recent policy changes (birth control mandate, etc…) and in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election, political “conversations” are unavoidable. Too often, these conversations—as Carol Hanisch would say—turn the personal into the political; in other words, we ladies are subject to dinner table debates that involve our genitals. GENITALS. Even those of us who live in the most open-minded of places (shout out to Portland, Oregon!) can name at least one anti-choice aggressor in our lives. They’re the person that can’t seem to wrap their head around reproductive liberty, variant sexual orientations, or overall female autonomy. They are so far right that they have fallen off the edge. They can’t be persuaded or changed.

They’re basically me — three years ago.  

I flash back now, feeling so overcome with yuckiness that unintelligible noises escape from my mouth. I’m 17 years old and working diligently on a project in my US Government class. Our teacher had asked us to split into political parties and create platforms so that we could participate in a mock election. Over half the class opted for the “democratic party,” but I struck out on my own with two other girls, convinced I could win over the class with my oratory and impressive moral arguments.

We brainstormed, forming our list of beliefs. There was a “republican” group in the class, but they decided to permit abortion — making an exception to the typical conservative platform. We had to be different from them. Our deal-breaker issue, as our teacher called it, centered on reproductive rights. In other words, we didn’t think anyone should have any.

When it was time to select a party name, we chose “Babes for Life.” It was clever; we were all girls (aka BABEZZZ….puke), we liked unborn babies a lot, and we also must have wanted to demonstrate the importance of remaining ‘hot’ throughout one’s life. It was an antifeminist shit show.

In my speech, I outlined the reasons why gay Americans should not have access to marriage and why no woman — regardless of whether she had been raped — should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy. My classmates voted… and I won. At the time, I celebrated this mini-victory, feeling competent and respected. Later that year, I would vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

When I was 20, everything changed. In a matter of days, my attitudes toward feminism and the rights of women were completely altered. The game-changer? I, finally and for once, decided to read a book that was outside of my political ideology. Maybe it was a Jessica Valenti book. Maybe I was drawn to its naked belly cover.  

From here, my feminism exploded. Everywhere. I found more books, started reading feminist blogs, and wanted desperately to share the good news with everyone I knew. The old me — the girl who was raised on Roman Catholicism with a side of birth control abhorrence — was suddenly far away. She was never coming back.

Perhaps my story isn’t all that crazy. After all, most of my feminist friends were my classmates at a Catholic university and had certainly had similar upbringings. But what I’m getting at here is a plan of action. I was the most ruthless anti-choice, anti-gay rights loudmouth and instantly ate my words as I stepped out of my conservative echo chamber. We don’t need more arguments; we just need more exposure. We need to show, not tell. We need to promote self-directed learning and an openness to new ideas because no modern American can argue against the merit of an open mind that weighs both sides.

While I still find pleasure in watching Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp and think George Bush would be a fun uncle, I have been forever changed by a simple introduction to feminist literature. My perspective has been enhanced, I have grown in compassion, and I have found a cause that I am truly proud of. Conversion is possible. Keep fighting the good fight.

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/pickle/ Deborah

    I enjoyed your story immensely because I think it mirrors a lot of the self-exploration and questioning that is so critical to personal growth, to effecting real social change, and to redefining political philosophies (whether you’re talking about declaring a non-monarchical government in the 1700s or modern women’s issues). You speak eloquently about the passions of youth.

    I was, however, a little saddened to see you apologize for yourself. I think you can be a feminist and still love unborn babies. Personally, I am strongly pro-choice and think that in no instance should a woman not have say-so over her own future (regardless of whether an unborn child’s future is involved). But I don’t think a feminist can’t support the idea that abortion might be the wrong choice – so long as said “feminist” isn’t saying that it can be made illegal/unobtainable through government action. There’s a difference between legislation and philosophy, and if someone believes “life” trumps “choice” I personally think there is room in the world for that perspective. A parent has the right to shape the values of his or her children, including letting them know if that if there is a pregnancy they would hope that kid would opt to bring the baby into the world. A community is nothing but a group of people with shared values, and if someone doesn’t share those values it is their prerogative to try to change them or leave that community. But ultimately I don’t think it’s the values that are particularly at issue – no one disputes that life is valuable and worthy. I think it’s the liberties people take with how they act on their values – particularly in regards to “community enforcement mechanisms” – that are the problem. Shaming, ostracizing, terrifying, manipulating, *legislating*… those are the kinds of behavior that create a no-win for the half of the population that bears the burden.

    I realize this may be an unpopular sentiment on a feminist site, but I think the truth of the matter is that if we are to escape the specter of stereotyping we have to accept that there will be variations among our own population in what we believe. I personally would prefer to support strong women who say they believe that unborn children should be allowed to live (as long as they don’t impose their value system on the bodies of others) than punish someone who ever believed that – if for no other reason than I respect strong women who act according to their beliefs. Being pro-woman is complicated and goes so much beyond reproductive issues (compelling and problematic as those are).

    With that said, don’t ever apologize for your past… it illuminates who you are now. And for sure, you don’t need to apologize about enjoying watching Bristol or thinking George Bush isn’t a total asshole. As a woman, you’re entitled to your opinions – even if they are different from mine!

    • http://feministing.com/members/kdoyle723/ Katie Doyle

      I agree with you. I certainly don’t think feminists should promote a malthusian (think Brave New World) reproductive culture wherein women with unplanned pregnancies should ALWAYS be discouraged from having their babies. I don’t think I was ashamed that I had strong affection for unborn babies–just ashamed that I regarded the whole situation as a non-choice.

      It’s a beautiful thing that a woman can choose to have her baby. More essentially, it’s great she has more than one choice at all. I think you’re right, though–there’s definitely a difference between being a traditional feminist (I cringe as I generalize, but I mean to say that feminists are generally pro-choice) and being pro-woman. When I was younger, I did not see my anti-choice words and actions as anti-woman; I very wholeheartedly believed that abolishing abortion was good for women. So now, it’s difficult to accept all opinions that come from women when many of them seek legislation that would limit options for ALL of us.

      In short, yes–it’s great for people to not be punished for their own decisions. Life can certainly be valued over choice, personal autonomy, etc… and that is okay. At the conservative time in my life, however, I was one of the pro-lifers that voted often and spoke very publically against any woman’s right to choose…and for that, I’m still ashamed.