The Feministing Five: Ilyse Hogue

Ilyse HogueWhen Ilyse Hogue was tapped as the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America last month, I think it’s safe to say most of the pro-choice movement was pretty excited. And it’s easy to see why. Hogue boasts an impressive background fighting for a range of progressive causes. She’s an expert in online activism and advocacy, and has worked for Media Matters for America,, and most recently was the co-director of the campaign finance reform initiative Friends of Democracy.

She seems ready to put her experience to good use at NARAL. After just a couple weeks on the job, she says her team is “very excited to go on offense.” In response to the anti-choice strategy of “death by a thousand cuts” that’s spawned increasingly ridiculous and extreme proposals, it’s time to be proactive. Hear hear.

Read on to hear Hogue’s thoughts on online activism, the role of young feminists in the movement, and the changing nature of reproductive health. She also has some great advice for dealing with all those news stories that make you want to scream (“I try to keep my screaming loud and fast and my strategic thinking focused and long.”) And–fun fact!–she shares a favorite fictional heroine with not one but two Feministing editors.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Ilyse Hogue!

A lot of people argue that the pro-choice movement isn’t open or willing to make way for young feminists. How do you plan on engaging young feminists as the new president of NARAL?

From my perspective, young feminists are engaged—and often on the front lines—on choice and the web of related issues affecting women and families. One only need to walk around the NARAL Pro-Choice America offices for proof of that fact. And the explosion over the last decade of feminist blogs, strong female writers, and new organizations like UltraViolet and Hollaback are evidence of the future of feminist organizing: while organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice America can always expand engagement with young feminists, our real opportunity is to build bridges from these legacy groups to the burgeoning women’s movement, and bringing to bear the value of our incredible history along with us.

What changes do you think we’ll be seeing in pro-choice messaging? How do you hope to shift the conversation around reproductive health and rights?

I think the full nature of reproductive health is changing. Clearly, maintaining and expanding the right to and access to safe and legal abortion remains as urgent as need as ever. Making sure that we extend access to contraception and health care to all women is key to our health and those challenges are front and center right now. And, changes in reproductive technology means that women are facing unprecedented opportunities to be active participants in their fertility choices not just when they don’t want a family but also when they do. We want to be leaders in this cultural conversation and help our society think through ways to proactively translate these changes into policy that will address the real reproductive needs of real women not just today but 20 and 30 years into the future. Reproductive freedom lies at the heart of women’s ability to define their own future, so NARAL Pro-Choice America does believe the personal is political. We aim to keep those decisions squarely in the hands of women who want to make them with their families, not elected officials playing politics with other people’s lives. 

What kind of proactive policy agenda will NARAL be pursuing? What will it look like?

I’ll be honest here and say that I think my second week on the job is probably premature to get into the specifics of a policy agenda, but the team here is very excited to go on offense. We are looking for opportunities at the state and federal level not to just beat back the restrictions that our opponents would place on us but to work with champions to define and fight for the rights we need and want to be enshrined into law. Our opponents want folks to believe that there are two kinds of women – those who have abortions and those who have families. We know this is false from our collective experiences, and families are more dynamic and exciting than ever before. So we’re asking questions about how we best use our platform to support those women at all points in their lives.

How will online feminism and activism play out in the coming policy battles?

How will it not? My experience is that the artificial walls between on-line and off- are thankfully crumbling. These are just different avenues for the same real people to make their voices heard at different times in diverse ways. We want to use the NARAL Pro-Choice America platform to amplify the voices for women’s freedom into a deafening chorus that our opponents cannot ignore and that emboldens our friends in the policy arena.

What recent news story made you want to scream?

Who can keep track these days? The strategy of the extreme forces out there is “death by a thousand cuts.” That’s why we’re seeing the flood of ridiculous bills introduced into state houses, even when they know they will not pass. Case in point: the New Mexico bill that would criminalize abortion in the case of rape and incest because it would be “tampering with evidence.” We’re running out of synonyms for “ridiculous.” Even though they walked that bill back, we have to be aware that the “completely crazy” makes the “kind of crazy” look sane by comparison. I try to keep my screaming loud and fast and my strategic thinking focused and long. But one thing we do know is that while organizing is an everyday endeavor, there are choices points that happen every two years at the ballot box. NARAL Pro-Choice America has always and will always work to translate this energy into political and electoral outcomes. Given how critical reproductive freedom is to every other aspiration that women have, choice can and should be an issue that decides elections.

What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

I think that the greatest challenge facing feminism today is that we haven’t really grappled with the forces simultaneously pulling us in different directions. On one hand, too many women face a situation where the hard-won rights of the last generation are still out of reach. This is especially true for poor women and women of color. On the other hand, we have a generation of women who expect to be wage earners and hold high professional aspirations. These expectations are having massive effects on how we think about marriage and family and households and marketplaces and communities. This group doesn’t think of their issues necessarily as women’s issues, versus say family issues or cultural issues. If we actually are able to find a way to open up the conversation so that all pro-choice people feel like they have a safe space to talk about the many different challenges we face and how we can collaborate to create resources together to address those challenges, we’ll be an unstoppable force.

Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

Favorite fictional heroines include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, any protagonist in an Octavia Butler novel, and of course, Batgirl. The roster of real life heroines expands every single day as I meet more and more women who are thinking of innovative ways to engineer a more just future for all of us.

You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?

I’m a Texas girl so I need my breakfast tacos, my Dr. Pepper, and my Molly Ivins.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation