Applied Feminism 101
March 1, 2012 6:23 PM   Subscribe

This political campaign season has brought it to my attention that sexism is alive and well in America. Instead of sitting around with my blood boiling, what can I do?

It's been years since I've taken much of an interest in politics, but the current US election season is really making me crazy. As a card-carrying member of the Liberal Elite I had sort of forgotten how rampant straight-up sexism and anti-woman sentiment is in this country. Although other political issues do have the potential to rile me up, this is the one that routinely leaves me furious and near tears. I'd like to put some of this negative emotional energy to good use.

So my question is, what are the most effective things I could do to help protect women's rights, broadly construed?

I live in such a blue city that I suspect volunteering with a campaign here wouldn't have much of an impact. I'm already a regular monthly Planned Parenthood donor. As a grad student I don't have huge amounts of free time or spare money on my hands, but I want to do something.
posted by ootandaboot to Law & Government (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mentor young girls, be a big sister.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:41 PM on March 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Join NOW and other women's groups as well, sign petitions regarding things like taking testimony about women's health while excluding women, call out sexism when you see it, thank your own blue Congresspeople for their pro women statements and actions, and continue generally to support feminists and their positions.

And, you know, this is not the majority view. A lot of establishment R's are trying to back away from this nonsense. Plus, there are plenty of us who are committed anti feminists and we vote. Just keep that in mind too.
posted by bearwife at 6:41 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I think one of the best things a random citizen can do is call out their friends/acquaintances on sexist stuff. This doesn't have to be super aggressive, you can just play dumb if someone makes any joke about rape, or trans women, or dumb blondes, or slut shaming, just look puzzled and say "I don't get it" or "what do you mean by that?" or "are you saying that women deserve to be raped/have to dress a certain way/ deserve to get paid less/etc?" And be OK with the fact that people might call you a prude or politically correct or whatever.

It sounds silly, but I think this micro stuff really makes a difference. You might not change their mind, but let the immediate people in your life know, in non-aggressive ways, that they don't say this stuff in a vacuum and that you will not let it pass without comment. I am trying to do this much more in my own life, and it's harder than you would think.

This quote is about racism, but I think it applies here too. Not that you are not already anti-sexist, but illustrating the importance of letting others SEE you:

"I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of White supremacy and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around, unwilling to go to the same destination as the White supremacists. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt--unless they are actively antiracist--they will find themselves carried along with the others."
-Beverly Daniel Tatum, "'Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?' And other Conversations about Race"
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:41 PM on March 1, 2012 [27 favorites]

Best answer: Where do you live? In Massachusetts mrs. alms has been very active in Mass NOW, which is the only multi-issue advocacy organization working on women's issues in the state. They work on a legislation, they have an active PAC which interviews and endorses candidates, they have a strong internship program for college students.

I don't know if NOW chapters in other states are as strong, but you could take a look.
posted by alms at 7:04 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think what will keep all of this at bay is support for the education of girls, both so that they know what rights they should have and what rights are at stake, and also so that power and money will gradually continue to be less and less concentrated in the hands of conservative old chauvinists.

The other thing is changing the culture. The quickest way to get angrily pitchforked out of a room of liberal men is to suggest that material promoting the degradation or harm of women should be harder for minors to get their hands on. But, there's that.

And the last really important thing that comes to my mind is to make sure you're not discouraged by this and nobody around you is either: As a grad student I don't have huge amounts of free time or spare money on my hands, but I want to do something.

Your drop in the bucket is important. If everyone just gave their own drop we'd be in a much better place.
posted by cairdeas at 7:12 PM on March 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm seriously considering recording the Rush Limbaugh show tomorrow so I can get a list of local sponsors to contact. I want to tell them that I don't do business with people who endorse the idea that I'm a prostitute who owes men a sex video of myself because my insurance pays for my birth control pills.

Are there any less-blue places with which you have significant relationships? That could be the place where you grew up, a place where you have a lot of family, a place where you used to live, or something like that. If so, you can pay attention to what's gong on there and maybe donate money strategically or talk to people you know who live there about significant upcoming races.

Finally, keep in mind that one of the reasons that the anti-woman stuff is getting so much play right now is that Democrats want to publicize it, because it's really good for them. It energizes their base and reminds moderates and independents of just how pathetic, extremist and out-of-touch the Republican big guns are. Nancy Pelosi is demanding apologies left and right for the Limbaugh crap because it really helps her if Limbaugh's vile comments make headlines for another news cycle.
posted by craichead at 7:59 PM on March 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Spend all your weekends in the closest swing district. You're in a blue city; have you looked at what the closest contested elections are? You can learn a lot about that here and here.
posted by slidell at 8:00 PM on March 1, 2012

Do keep in mind that most republicans who are conservative for reasons outside of religion find this debate about contraception and abortion right now really frustrating, demeaning to women and a loser on the national stage. In fact I would go so far as to say a very big chunk of the people who nominally vote republican think this is a private matter and women should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies. The hardcore evangelicals have taken over this issue, the press have discovered it brings eyeballs and are running with it. I have been around conservative people my whole life and most of them are opposed to the health care bill because they think it is honestly a bad bill, not because of inherent sexism. If you get in people's faces accusing them of unwarranted sexism without them actually being sexist you just made a lifelong anti-leftist convert from what was probably someone who was pretty moderate on social issues in general and don't think women are baby making machines that belong in the kitchen. And remember its best not to say 'your sexist' but rather 'what you just said was sexist and here is why' without being militant about it. It is exhausted, doesnt have much of an immediate payoff but it is the ONLY approach I have ever found to changing peoples outlook on this stuff. Remember they are just as earnest as you, probably are acting out of what they believe is honestly best and may have other motivations besides 'just being sexist'. The civil rights movement was won not by bashing heads, not by screaming but by relentlessly staying on messages, being reasonable is the face of unreasonableness, and pointing out why the status quo was hurting everyone.
posted by bartonlong at 8:46 PM on March 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Re: nakedmolerats - hells to the yes! Today was the first day of National Women's Month, and it started with a bang for me. A female engineering student acquaintance that I've worked with on mentoring elementary school kids posted as her facebook status, "Now we have National Women's History Month? What are we supposed to celebrate, sandwiches and vacuums?" I could possibly have just rolled my eyes and moved on ... but then the first comment was "Someone marry this woman," and it got three likes ... and suddenly I felt like I had to fight that fight.

So I did. And it was kinda hard, and I faced a lot of opposition at first. But then a female friend or two of hers liked my comments, and I had a good one-liner (So you'd say, "What are we supposed to celebrate about Black History month, cotton and fried chicken?). And she said, "Celebrate equality, where's men's history month or white history month?" And one of her guy friends said "january february march april may june july august september october november december," and I laughed, and things got a little better, and someone said "Silly girl, there was a time you couldn't vote because you had a vagina," and things got a little better, and someone else posted Morgan Freeman's hating on black history month (last lines - "How are we going to get rid of racism? Stop talking about it"), and that was a little depressing ... but here was my response.

Mm. Just because Morgan Freeman's black and has the most awesome voice in the history of voices ( doesn't mean he's right on this particular subject. Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away. If you were to NOT have a black history month, people wouldn't magically pay more attention to African-American contributions throughout history in school/life. So it is with women's history. Point is, it's sad that this is necessary now, but to pretend otherwise just exacerbates the problems. The only way to solve them is to do some tough work and soul-searching as a nation, and to actually talk about these things despite the fact that they make us uncomfortable, and to actually STOP making racist and anti-feminist jokes, because you know what? Inside every one of those is a true little kernel of privilege or prejudice that we oughta be bold enough to pull out of ourselves, examine, and tell to fuck off. People should watch Jay Smooth on YouTube, he puts this stuff WAY better than I ever could:

And I think I might've changed a mind or two, or at least provoked some thought. And sometimes, that's all you can hope for. I feel pretty good about that. And I haven't gotten any messages hatin' on me for being a man-hatin' feminazi, so ... there's that. Also, the acquaintance seems to want to make things up/is acting somewhat overly accepting of me on other posts in facebook, so I think she feels a little abashed.
posted by Devika at 9:21 PM on March 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Contact the volunteer coordinator at your local Planned Parenthood and find out what they need help with.

Become a girl scout leader.

Be a teacher to your friends and family. (nakedmolerats said this well.)
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 11:29 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You could certainly volunteer at planned parenthood, a women's shelter etc. Look around and find a place that fits your schedule. Try to start.
posted by bananafish at 11:30 PM on March 1, 2012

I like to reframe and purposefully misunderstand.

- Insurance paying for things their religion is against: "But if we work for a Jehovah's Witness, why should I be denied insurance coverage for blood transfusions? If we work for a Seventh Day Adventist, why shouldn't my insurance pay for my meal? If we work for Christian Scientists, would I have anything covered by my medical insurance at all?" See how this affects you, too?

- Insurance paying for contraception: "Why are they against the guys? That only means that men will have to chip in more for their half on the contraception every month! So unfair to them! And if they can't afford their half, then they have child support!" You are either helping with the expense or not having sex -- which is it? See how this affects you?

- Femi-nazis: "Do you think your wife should make less money, and be able to contribute less to the household budget? Do you think your mother and sister are somewhat less capable?" This isn't some mysterious Other, this is your family you're talking about. See how this affects you?

Also, seconding the National Organization for Women. If you consider volunteering with children, think about volunteering with both girls and boys -- we have to change the mindset of boys as much as we have to empower the girls.
posted by Houstonian at 5:27 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Volunteering for a campaign absolutely makes a difference no matter where you are. If you are in a blue city in a swing state, turnout out your fellow city voters will help overpower the rural voters that Republicans depend on.

If you don't live in a swing state, there's likely a competitive race somewhere on the ballot featuring a knuckle-dragging woman-hating conservative begging for you to crush them. Phone banks are also fungible, there's no reason why your efforts can't be effortlessly diverted into a critical area.

Door to door canvassing by far is the best way to turn out fellow liberal city voters who need more of a push than ever. Don't discount your impact because you live in a big city, a Democratic vote turned out is cheaper than a Republican convert.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 6:55 AM on March 2, 2012

I agree to call people out on sexist stuff, but the whole "pretending to not understand" thing is really awkward and patronising to the (sexist) person you're talking to and I don't think the awkwardness helps anyone. I'm a swearer admittedly but I prefer something more along the lines of "oh f*** off with that s***", which at least calls them on it directly and lets them respond rather than leaving this weird thing hanging in the air and you looking like you think you're better than them.
posted by Kirn at 10:20 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had sort of forgotten how rampant straight-up sexism and anti-woman sentiment is in this country.

I will say this as a mild counterpoint: I'm not really sure how ingrained this retrograde stuff is. It doesn't seem to have been part of the conversation until the Republican nomination contest began to falter and Obama's poll numbers inched up. My personal feeling is that this is a talking point stratagem that will quickly be forgotten next year, and is essentially a motivate-the-base thing that's caught some traction. A couple of years ago it was gay marriage, but that's less and less something that can be used because most of the states where it might work already have a DOMA ban in place.

In other words, I would think long term. Find ways to link up with other women and liberal political organizations in your community. If nothing else, it will provide you with some solidarity to offset the teeth-gnashing. In Wisconsin, we've found that the Scott Walker thing has gotten thousands of people politically involved and propelled people into running for office locally who would never have considered it just as recently as two years ago. It's a "be the change you want to see" approach.

But in a lot of ways my jaded political mind thinks this storm of feminist backlash crap is likely to blow past when the next target appears.
posted by dhartung at 2:23 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

To echo a few others, please try not to take this silliness to heart. I'm a staunch feminist, but I was also a political staffer for years and still work in the field. Here's what I think is happening: there has always been a minority of people who agree with the Santorums and the Rushes of the world. Yeah, it sucks, but it's actually a much smaller group than it used to be.

You know what else is smaller? The GOP. Their base is dwindling (this is partly due to demographics, partly due to the fact that the rising generation is one of the most progressive ever). I think that, for years, the "party elders" and smart strategists were able to keep this contingent in line, but as the party gets smaller (and as many of the smarter ones are sitting this election out because even a less-popular Obama is a really tough opponent to beat) the lunatic fringe is emboldened to be louder and nastier. It's not unlike the nastiness of segregationists in the 60s.

And then, of course, the sensationalistic media (especially the blogosphere) love to stir up this sort of controversy.

That's not to say you shouldn't get involved! IME, getting involved in some way is the absolute best way to feel better about the state of the world - not to mention a great way to meet cool people. Planned Parenthood always needs volunteers. NOW can be a bit of a fusty organization, but it varies by state. Also, you say you're in a blue city, but most blue cities are near swing districts. If you update with your city (or memail me), I can point you in the right direction.
posted by lunasol at 7:15 PM on March 3, 2012

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