Finding God

Twenty years ago, on Easter, I was losing my mind. I was basically dead. The worst picture that exists of me was taken that morning. You would cry if I shared it. I never will, because people with anorexia would use it to justify hurting themselves.

I rose each time we were supposed to in the Catholic Mass, blacking out a little bit each time. I had a real mental breakdown of sorts during the service; some of the ugliest thoughts of my life. And primarily because the calories in Communion freaked me out.

That Monday after Easter was a real come-to-Jesus moment; I had a several-hour medical assessment culminating in a doctor assembling my family together, and informing us that my pulse was 32 and I was probably going to have a heart attack that week.

When I set out to lose weight, I didn’t set out to do that.

My parents gave me the choice whether to go to the hospital or not. God bless them, that helped. They let me go home, they let me cry about it. They let me come to the awful realization on my own that I needed to go. The next morning I went into school early, and told my teachers what was happening. They wouldn’t see me again for awhile. I hoped I could get my work done and be able to graduate on time, but I didn’t know. It was a stressful moment for a straight-A student.

After telling my sad story one more time, I lingered in the door of the room where my math class would soon meet. “Mr. Talbot?” I said. “Yes?” He looked up at me. “I’m sorry I used to come late into class because I was outside smoking.” He smiled with such care. Men with beards can be harder to read, but those eyes communicated an encouragement by example to forgive myself. “I was never really that worried.”

Getting better was a bitch. I was able to graduate. I got better. I got worse. I went on a merry-go-round of recovery. Ultimately, I came out ahead by connecting the dots that my eating disorder was a personal, hellish manifestation of a society that oppresses women and girls. I found a way to fight what happened to me, which prevented me from going back into the darkness. In this way, feminism saved my life.

Over the years I have considered my relationship to God in light of what happened. As I described, I had a private breakdown in the Catholic Church when I was basically a walking corpse and, frankly, I don’t think that’s a total coincidence. As my consciousness grew, I connected the all-male Catholic hierarchy’s treatment of women to what happened to me, and the all-male Catholic hierarchy’s outsized role in the sexist systems that go unquestioned in both religious and secular settings.

It’s not acceptable that just a few years ago Pope Benedict said allowing women to be priests is a sin equivalent to pedophilia, particularly when the Catholic hierarchy was exposed to have suppressed the sexual abuse of children and adults by its own priests. As I grew older, I learned that the opposition to abortion and birth control that I heard through CCD classes is about controlling and shaming women’s sexuality. With more time I came to connect the dots that shame about sexuality and gender roles is about controlling people in order to ensure that white men retain the most power in society, period. At age 22, I saw the sex-abuse cover up stories and I snapped. I told my mother, “The Catholic Church is the embodiment of the patriarchy and I’m never going back.”

So I stopped going to church, which was something I barely did in the first place. I began to identify as an atheist. Of all the stigmatized identities I have occupied in my life, few get people as upset as saying “atheist.” How interesting that we are socially comfortable with people saying there is a God, or there are Gods, or there might be a God, but not saying, there is no God!

Recently, I have started attending an Episcopal Church on occasion. It gives me a certain level of ritual that I appreciate as someone raised in the Catholic Church, and I enjoy the community and find the frankness of explanation in the written materials refreshing. At this point, I am not going up for Communion, but I take the opportunity as it proceeds to get on my knees and pray. I pray for equality. I pray for girls who are struggling. I pray for Black women getting the recognition they deserve. I pray for people who have abortions to know that they are doing nothing wrong, and with gratitude for the safety of the compassionate people who serve them. I pray that the people who oppose women’s equality may gracefully find a way to join the community of people who respect women and our ability to make decisions about our own lives. I pray that I will find the grace to welcome people into my community working toward equality and justice — even people who have espoused views that harm women and girls — and lead by example to encourage welcoming in others.

Religion did not pull me out of the worst crises of my life; I pulled myself out, with love support from people who supported my agency and dignity as a human being. Here I am, twenty years later, improbably alive. Improbably, too, I am going to church. I brought my daughter this Easter Sunday, twenty years later. I am finding grace in song and stories, reclaiming prayer within my own life, and maybe even finding God. I am open to the journey.

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When Democratic Party Institutions Try To Fundraise Off Of You, You Tell Them To Stand Up For Abortion

Every fundraising letter, every telephone request for money is an action opportunity. For years I have been taking action with the fundraising letters sent by the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, state Democratic parties, and Democratic-aligned PACs that don’t take abortion rights seriously. The call to action is simple:

Don’t give them money. Tell them to stand up for abortion rights consistently and without hesitation, and then you’ll give them your money.

Many times the letters include a prepaid envelope for your convenience. And with a telemarketer, hey, you can chat. In other words, these actions are free and take just moments of your time.

Now, do it. Do it every time they ask you for money. And give the money that you might have donated to them to Democratic candidates who do unflinchingly stand up for the right to abortion, even as some out-of-touch national leaders suggest a “big tent” for candidates.

I mean, come on! Under the wrongful big tent theory of change I’ve written about extensively for Rewire, Democrats lose more seats because the base does not unite behind candidates (in fact, check out this recent poll that proves recruiting anti-abortion candidates is more of a liability for Democrats than a gain in terms of voters), Republicans have more supporters for anti-abortion policy in legislative bodies, and the poor, sadistic, complicit Vice President Mike Pence gets the additional anti-abortion Democrats he needs so that he doesn’t have to make the trek from the White House to the Capitol to cast tie-breaking votes to kick human rights for women and transgender people who become pregnant in the teeth.

Your instructions to Democratic Party organs to stand firmly for reproductive health, rights, and justice when they come to you looking for money are not symbolic. They matter. They are tallied.

Fundraising Letter with I will support you when you stand up for choice written over it!

Over the years, I have been pleased to hear that I have inspired many  friends and fellow activists who know me to send their letters back with instructions to national party leaders to stop crapping on abortion, which is what is inspiring me to write this down here. Please, start taking this action, pass this message on, and urge your friends to do the same.

Also, please do give generously of your time and money to those Democratic candidates who hold strong for abortion rights. In the past year I’ve been as loud as I’ve ever been about holding Democrats accountable, and I’ve also given as much as I ever have directly to candidates and PACs that share my values — 10 percent of my  income in the last year, to be exact. It’s not just money and volunteer time that talks. It’s the absence of giving money and support, too.

Together we do have power.

One of these days national Democrats may get it, and stop repeating the right wing talking points implanted within our midst to undermine our effectiveness. But with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) having the gall to suggest a big tent on abortion inside an event hosted by Planned Parenthood — for cripes sake, the insult! — just a few days ago, I’m not holding my breath. I’m just taking action with every opportunity that presents itself, including in my mailbox and on my telephone. You can do the same, quickly and easily.

Abortion “Big Tent” Sellout Theory Disproved in Virginia Democratic Sweep

Earlier this year, several national Democratic Party leaders appeared to collectively lose their minds by suggesting – with no supporting data – that the path to reclaiming power depended on welcoming anti-abortion candidates into the fold.

Helpfully, Virginia voters have stepped forward to provide the data they were missing. Voters are enthusiastic and motivated to elect candidates who act like Democrats, and that means candidates who stand up clearly and affirmatively for abortion rights just like the party platform does.

This spring, as Bernie Sanders stood on a stage with anti-abortion mayoral candidate Heath Mello in Omaha and Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez prepared to meet with the paper tiger advocacy group that calls itself “Democrats for Life,” national press focused on the philosophical cat fight. They largely overlooked the real ground zero of this debate: the Virginia elections.

One of the key differentiators in the primary between Ralph Northam and his challenger Tom Perriello was abortion. As a state senator, Northam had successfully led the fight to relax Virginia’s transvaginal ultrasound law and during the primary gave an unequivocal “no” to a reporter from Rewire who, no doubt referencing the debate taking place among national party officials, asked if there was a place in the Democratic Party for politicians who don’t support abortion.

Perriello had voted for the Stupak-Pitts abortion restriction to the Affordable Care Act during his term in Congress and he apologized for that vote in during the primary. Though he had been personally involved in advancing an anti-abortion agenda, unlike the national Democrats fomenting controversy by suggesting a “big tent” on abortion for candidates in order to win elections in the Trump era, Perriello was able to connect dots that out-of-touch national Democratic leaders have still failed to  – buddying up with the right wing and working in opposition to abortion rights won’t fly with the Democratic voters of today, even in swing states.

Ultimately Northam won the primary with a 12-point lead – and that election had the highest turnout of any Democratic primary in Virginia in a non-presidential year. In the general election, he doubled down on his commitment to abortion rights, saturating the Northern Virginia airwaves with commercials spotlighting Republican Ed Gillespie’s contention that he would like to see abortion be banned (disclosure: my daughter and I starred in that ad). That Northam ran a mild-mannered, genteel Southern gentleman’s campaign made his unflinching commitment to reproductive rights ever more notable.

Again, Northam won, this time with a nine-point lead – and winning more votes than any previous Virginia governor. But perhaps the biggest story of the night was the Virginia House of Delegates, where, pending recounts, Democrats picked up at least 15 seats previously occupied by Republican legislators. Women swept the overwhelming majority of those seats, including the poetic justice of Danica Roem, a transgender woman, sending the notoriously anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion Del. Bob Marshall to lick his wounds somewhere in the bowels of bigotry and shameful footnotes. Anti-abortion Democratic candidates were not a presence in the Virginia statehouse election, and all of the incoming new Democratic legislators are pro-choice.

It turns out that the path to Democratic victory in the age of Trump is not paved with anti-abortion candidates. Bernie Sanders, Tom Perez, and other leaders on the left in national spaces should lay off the conservative movement’s anti-abortion talking points and take a cue from Virginia voters who are getting resistance to Donald Trump done in the most spectacular and unanticipated ways. We take our cues from the millions of women who marched around the world the day after Trump’s inauguration. Those women were not confused about their bodies or their rights, and the Democratic men in the national spotlight who are should stop insulting us.

There is no such thing as a progressive opposed to abortion rights. The anti-abortion movement employs fake science, terrorist violence, and works in opposition to public health, equality, and justice. In fact, they have been fanning the flames of the big tent divide they dreamed for in hopes of having no functional opposition in policy arenas and lower Democratic voter turnout due to infighting they started. Virginia voters have proven that the answer is, no thanks.

Republicans don’t need Democrats to join them in voting to ban abortion and criminalize the women who have them, as is evidenced by the felony charges currently facing a woman named Michelle Roberts who allegedly gave herself an abortion in Virginia. Republicans are able to hang to dry with Donald Trump, and themselves.

I’m Not Waiting Until The Polls Close To Say It This Time: Virginia Democrats Have Got To Put More Women On The Ticket

 

So this puppy just landed on my doorstep:

I’m not waiting until November 2017 to say this:

One out of nine candidates as a woman is an insult to women. One out of nine candidates as a woman is a gigantic reveal of sexism. One of out of nine candidates as a woman four years after the choices were zero out of nine candidates as a woman shows you how entrenched this is.

Four years ago, I wrote I Waited Until The Polls Closed To Say This: It’s Insulting To Have Only Men Running On Women’s Issues, which was subsequently picked up by Talking Points Memo and run as It’s Insulting To Have Only Men Running On Women’s Issues in Virginia.

I wrote it on November 5, 2013, literally as I watched poll results come in. My hands were shaking and I wrote so fast. I was furious and had been balling it up for months. Not anymore.

I am working to elect Democrats in my community. I am knocking on your door, calling your cell phone, and asking for your money and vote. I am also openly mad about the failure of Democrats in my community to live our stated values, which is what’s happening when we have a woman problem.

So here’s the deal for you non-Virginians: Arlington prides itself as being the most progressive corner of the Commonwealth.

If the most progressive means putting men forward for nearly all of the elected positions, count me out. I want to be clear that I strongly support each of these leaders as individuals and will vote for them this year. They are wonderful people.

That said, it’s simply inexcusable that the choices are nearly all men. The “women won’t run” excuse is flimsier than a high-quality pantyhose. Our progressive pipeline in Virginia is brimming with talented, capable women who are ready and eager to lead, and Arlington is not an exception to this rule.

How are we to evaluate conversations within the Democratic Party about easing up on abortion rights and women’s rights at a time when women hold so few of the power-holding positions? Exactly as they appear: Dismissing the importance of abortion rights to a progressive agenda is part of a broader, stubborn problem of marginalizing women within the party that purports to be our party.

I write this as an ardent supporter of our Lieutenant Governor and candidate for governor, Ralph Northam. I have personally raised this issue with him. I’m pleased to say that not only has he always resolutely stood for women’s rights, he did not get defensive and say ‘well, I’ve always stood for women’s rights.’ He did not grab for the second-most frequent excuse you’ll usually hear, which is blaming women for not having the self-confidence to run (not the issue; there are women trying and the old boys — many of whom position themselves as the new boys — are coalescing behind other candidates). He listened, acknowledged the problem, and said he would make certain to appoint women into key positions. This is a step.

Some of the speed bumps on the road to hell are the shushings of Democratic Party operatives (even non-self identified Democrats) who dismiss women running for office as “the establishment.” Look at your freaking GOTV fliers. Denying that putting few women into the elected positions is an issue, much less a progressive one, means that you are part of the problem.

It’s 2017. Let women lead.

 

10 Ways To End This “Pro-Life Progressive” Nonsense

There is no such thing as a pro-life progressive. There is no such thing as economic justice without reproductive justice — the right to parent, the right not to parent, and the right to support our families in safe and healthy communities. And yet, my friends, it seems that as of late a number of our friends within the Democratic Party and the broader progressive movement are confused.

We must chase pro-life voters, they say. We must be less rigid about women’s basic human rights.

NOPE.

I can’t tell you how ridiculous it is that some leaders of the Democratic Party have forced this unnecessary, immoral, and losing debate in the middle of  a constitutional crisis. Instead of organizing to address what Donald Trump is doing with Russia, some leaders are focused on crapping on their base (us).

Rather than venting, let’s get productive, shall we? Here’s my 10-point plan for beating back this garbage:

1. Be proud to stick up for abortion rights. First and foremost, state your views like a winner. No need to whisper, no need to apologize. You believe in the right to abortion and you’re not buying excuses about why there is something wrong about that.

2. Get people out of their feelings: The approach of policymakers is about policyPeople with a variety of feelings about abortion vote to advance, respect, and uphold abortion rights. In the political realm, we are talking about putting people in positions of power to make decisions that impact other people’s lives. The only voting options are yes and no. There are no Blue Books about feelings voting on abortion bans, ultrasound requirements, and unconstitutional laws that force abortion clinics to close.

3. If people insist on wallowing in their feelings as an excuse to torpedo abortion rights, call them out. Why is a woman’s private life open for public debate, when other matters of public policy are not? Do they really believe there is not something a teensy-weensy bit sexist about that? Don’t get scared when someone claps back with “religion” — there are large constituencies who believe in reproductive health, rights, and justice because of faith, not in spite of or in absence of faith. “Religion” has been used as an excuse in many civil rights arenas — notably, as a means to stop advances toward racial justice and LGBTQ equality. At some point you just have to clap back. Sometime after that point, you win.

4. Correct the lie that chasing pro-life voters is going to magically produce the numbers Democrats need to win. Voters who are highly motivated by opposition to abortion are going to vote Republican. Putting in a Democratic candidate who agrees with the Republican is going to drive away more voters than it gains. If people are concerned about Democrats getting more votes, maybe they should tackle voter suppression because that would make a big, actual difference and actually reach toward advancing progressive values. 

5. Point out who stands to benefit from this whole mess: Pro-life conservatives. Gee, it must be a coincidence that the people with the most full-throated defense of this crap are pro-life conservatives who want no functional opposition. They don’t want Vice President Mike Pence to have to bother to cast tie-breaking votes. They want Democrats who will vote with them for 20-week bans, refusal clauses, and Trumpcare. Nope.

6. Hold the paper-tiger “pro-life Democrat” groups accountable for their sole agenda item: restricting abortion. Are these folks talking about saving maternity coverage, reducing maternal and infant mortality, expanding Medicaid, defeating Trumpcare, or basically anything else? Negative. These folks are posers with a teeny base and an outsized profile on The New York Times editorial pages, and they rarely act like Democrats in other senses of the term. They should leave Democrats alone and set up shop in Ivanka Trump’s office in the West Wing, where they belong. They’re made for each other.

7. Get Tom Perez to pull a Tim Kaine. DNC Chair Tom Perez has taken a number of bad actions, and he’s kind of all over the place. It’s a mess. At this point his best choice is to pull a Tim Kaine in the vice presidential debate — to turn the tables on the opposition. Stop talking about feelings and big tents, Tom, and ask the Republican Party why they don’t trust women, and why they are banning abortion and sending women to jail!

8. Demand accountability from Democratic politicians who are screwing up. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin met with David Daleiden last week, whose fraudulent videos against Planned Parenthood led to 15 felony charges and whose rallying cry was used by a terrorist who killed three people and injured nine others in Colorado Springs. Bernie Sanders, you are an independent vying for control of the Democratic Party and we see you and your ‘super progressive’ endorsements, too. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could give better interviews about this flap. Let them know you’re mad.

9. Don’t agonize, organize (part one)! Defeat “pro-life progressives” in your local elections. Think global, act local. Are one of these guys or gals (but let’s be real, it’s mainly guys) running in your area? Volunteer for other campaigns, recruit better candidates if there aren’t any, think about stepping up yourself to run. Talk to other voters. Be indefatigable. Keep persisting, it works.

10. Don’t agonize, organize (part two)! Let the Democratic Party know how you feel. Those national mailers from the DNC with postage-paid envelopes? Return them with messages, not checks. If you’re not already involved in your state and local party, start showing up. The world is run by people who show up.  

But also, these are my preliminary ideas. I’d love to hear yours — please share them in the comments! This moment is serious. ALL HANDS ON DECK.

 

Stop Saying Hillary Clinton Is Not Perfect

It’s time for an indefinite moratorium on Hillary’s supporters saying she is “not perfect.”

It’s quite obvious nobody is perfect. And yet there seems to be a bizarre — dare we say gendered — compulsion for many of her supporters to disavow her when they’re otherwise affirming her.

Why do we expect perfection of women? Why are we so insistent that women in the public eye do everything just so? When do we say that our political leaders who happen to be men are “not perfect”?

Don’t distort me here. I remain aggressively committed to doing whatever I need to do to ensure Hillary stands up for, prioritizes, and follows through on meaningful progressive policy change for women’s rights, reproductive justice, racial justice, economic justice, and LGBTQ equality.

I’m not afraid to call for changes in her platform. I have not been afraid to have public conversations about her commitment to reproductive rights, especially after Tim Kaine joined the ticket, even when fellow advocates I respect have winced and tried to shush me up (Note: Judging by her eventual swap of the stigmatizing “safe, legal, and rare” to becoming the first major candidate to call for repealing the Hyde Amendment, and Kaine’s improved performance at the vice presidential debate, pressure seems to work). If she becomes the first woman in the White House, I will be glad to criticize her when her actions call for criticism. But I’m also keenly aware that an orientation toward accountability has nothing to do with expecting perfection of a woman.

As this election cycle drags on in the worst ways, I am starting to believe that rejecting the calls for Hillary to be perfect is an act of self-love for women. None of us need be perfect. We need to do our best, and we need to understand that others may call on us to do our best. But expecting perfection of women is sexist, and toxic.

What Tim Kaine Should Say About Abortion At The Vice Presidential Debate

At the first presidential debate last night, Lester Holt couldn’t be bothered to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump about abortion. This despite the fact that abortion is one of the most explosive political issues of our time, Hillary Clinton has staked out progressive positions on abortion never before embraced by a Democratic nominee for president, and Donald Trump has been all over the place on abortion, including some extreme places like calling for punishing women who have abortions and recently accepting the endorsement of pro-life terrorist poster boy Troy Newman.

The abortion question is a real one, and there’s every reason to expect it’s coming. But my money is on the abortion question at long last appearing in the vice presidential debate, since vice presidents are often tasked with leading the charge on social issues, for better (Vice President Biden pushing President Obama to evolve on marriage equality) or worse (Vice President Quayle picking a fight with Murphy Brown).

Theoretically, this should have been a slam dunk. As a member of Congress, Trump’s running mate Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) invented the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. He is a vicious man whose willfully ignorant anti-abortion, anti-sexuality views have led him to claim condoms don’t work and driven thousands of protesters to the streets to protest his ‘religious freedom’ law designed to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. He’s into redefining rape so fewer people who want abortions can get them. It should be lost on no one that a woman in Indiana named Purvi Patel served over a year in prison for ending her own pregnancy before an appeals court set her free, and Gov. Pence presided over this blatant violation of her human rights and literal application of Donald Trump’s promise to punish women who have abortions.

Hillary Clinton would be a great person to answer these questions. But she hasn’t been asked. None of the Democratic primary debates asked about abortion. Which brings us to her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) who is … not a great person to ask about abortion.

Tim Kaine is, sigh, personally opposed to abortion, with all the irrelevant shaming and male privilege that brings to the discussion. As Governor of Virginia he signed a bill into law that created “Choose Life” license plates that divert state monies into unaccountable crisis pregnancy centers that exist to lie to women and make it harder for people who want abortions to get them. He supports the Hyde Amendment which bars federal funding for abortion. He supports it so much, he went around his boss who is a woman and coincidentally belongs to the gender most impacted by restrictions on abortion and clarified that, contrary to what her campaign said, he does not support her position of repealing the Hyde Amendment. (Please pause and think about the gender ramifications of that, because it sucks so much. Most powerful woman in the world gets to be second-guessed and disagreed with in public by her right-hand man on an issue that is deeply personal for women and indivisibly critical for their political, social, and legal equality?)

It’s clear Tim Kaine needs some help talking about abortion. Here is what he should say at the vice presidential debate:

I support the right to abortion, and I will follow the leadership of President Hillary Clinton to fight for the right to abortion.

But Senator Kaine, you’ve said you are personally opposed abortion and you do not support repealing the Hyde Amendment, contrary to Secretary Clinton’s platform and the Democratic Party platform. Will you do this work, or will you leave it to her?

As a man, I approach the possibility of serving under the first woman president with humility and awareness that I have a special role to play in teaching our country to respect a woman’s leadership. Hillary Clinton has clearly spoken about the need to repeal the discriminatory Hyde Amendment. I support her leadership. I understand that personal views about abortion should not drive a public policy discussion about a woman or pregnant person’s civil and human rights. We must end the Hyde Amendment.

But that’s not what you’ve said before.

I was wrong to disagree with Hillary publicly on an issue, particularly an issue as important to her as this one. It’s important and historically significant for men to support women’s leadership right now. Hillary has called upon me to serve her and our country, and I know the right way to serve our country is to follow her lead and ensure the right to abortion is accessible for everyone. That includes repealing the Hyde Amendment. It’s a shame you aren’t asking her about this. 

Expecting any less of Tim Kaine is, frankly, sexism. Abortion stigma and restrictions on abortion are rooted in sexism. Allowing a man to end-run the woman boss on a “women’s issue” is sexist. He’s got to get better.

If You Want To Win, Try To Win

Y’all, I am so inspired by Monday’s win for abortion rights at SCOTUS. While I welcome any opportunity to wake up, hop on the Metro, and dance party on the Supreme Court sidewalk with a few hundred of my feminist besties for hours, it is so much better when chased by Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Erin and Amy Hagstrom Miller
Me and Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, on the evening of her Supreme Court win. (My life is not usually this cool. If it were, I wouldn’t be sharing this picture so proudly.)

 

I’ve been reflecting on this decision and what it means to me, and it means many things. First, it feels great to win. Winning in a concrete, immediate, meaningful way happens rarely in the feminist space. Yes, we may be winning some long games, but those are gradual and not always perceptible at the moments they are being won. The concrete, immediate wins we are presented with are typically not substantive. The sad truth is these ‘wins’ are often losses disguised as compromises, engineered and subsequently celebrated by organizations with fundraising goals to meet this quarter.

A real win is the rare, best bird, and it feels good to feel good.

Also, in the decision itself: Lying is not a legal basis for restricting women’s rights and people’s rights. Facts matter, and people can’t just make shit up and expect to get away with it forever — even the pro-life movement, which has been doing it for decades.

But more than anything, my reflection comes in the bright light cast around this country by Whole Woman’s Health Founder and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller, who decided to press her case against the Texas abortion clinic closure law even when conventional wisdom suggested that taking a big abortion case to the Supreme Court probably wasn’t a good idea for abortion rights advocates. She did so fearlessly and without shame, and while centering women and what it means to treat them well. She has taught me this:

If we want to win, we have to try to win. Even when trying to win means risking a loss. If we want to win, we must hold our heads up, and fight, and believe. 

For decades many leaders in the abortion rights movement and the feminist movement have hunkered between our shoulders, trying to hide in plain sight, hoping it would all get better if we just tried to say the right, inoffensive, message-tested thing at the super-strategic time that, coincidentally, almost never comes (because too many of our political allies are using our issues for votes and campaign commercials, and can’t be bothered to stand up for us at inconvenient times after election day!).

This matters for activists and organizers inside the women’s movement, but it matters to activists and organizers in every sector. And also at the individual level for people in general and women specifically, who are too often taught to put ourselves last.

We must dare to try, to try to win, and to try to win big. We must become comfortable with the prospect of loss. We must not be cowed by opponents who fight dirty, or people on our side who feel the need to speak in whispers. We must speak clearly, convincingly, and with love in our hearts. We must try to win. Otherwise we are hoping on games of chance.

P.S. It comes as no surprise this lesson comes from an independent abortion care provider. People who provide care and listen without judgment or unsolicited solutions tend to know most of all.

Being A Young Feminist Can Turn A Girl Old

A therapist told me to try a women’s studies class, so I did that first semester of my freshman year. I still remember exactly what I was wearing that September morning in 1998, not because it was a cute outfit but because I was obsessed with my legs. The therapist had been treating me for an eating disorder that nearly killed me a few months before.

In this context, going to college was a luxury; hell, living was a luxury. I enrolled in Women’s Studies 101 to check a box. Instead a new world opened. I don’t say this hyperbolically — feminism helped save my life. I was able through relapses and hospitalizations and treatment to stabilize and beat down the anorexia. But what truly saved my life was making the connection that eating disorders are just one manifestation of a deeply sexist world that denigrates and trivializes women, weaponizes our bodies against us, and then tells us it’s all our fucking fault anyway.

With its radical messages of dignity, equality, and honesty, my feminism made it impossible for me to go back to the dark side. How the light went on! I dove headfirst into all the women writers. Kate Chopin, Sylvia Plath, Alexandra Kollontai, Shulamith Firestone, Valerie Solanis. Judith Butler. I told myself I wanted to be a women’s studies professor someday. Until I realized that a lot of this postmodern stuff was hard to read, and I could have an obscure argument in an obscure language with about three other people who maybe understood me, or I could try to work for justice out in the real world.

So this is the ironic thing. I had a series of proto-feminist moments (making GOTV calls for the woman who could have been Minnesota’s first woman senator when I was 11, writing about gender discrimination in the SAT for the school newspaper, the obsession with the Indigo Girls) well before I started taking women’s studies courses in college. But it wasn’t until I left the classroom and went into the feminist non-profit world that I became a “young feminist.” Even if by that time I was 21. Not 18. Or 11.

I’m 35 and I still get called “young feminist” in those contexts on occasion today, although that says far more about those contexts than my age. If 35 is young, it’s only to reflect our societal fears of identifying as old, and our societal inability to give our young people career opportunities with growth potential rather than a pile of student debt that’s damn near impossible for so many to repay. The weird thing is that the term young feminist exists at all.

This label, like anything that impacts a person’s identity, is complicated for me. Sometimes I love the term — you know, it is true that people will have different views of what equality will look like as they grow up in different generations. If all goes well, after all, what a previous generation of feminists fought for should be appallingly conservative to the next generation.

And yet sometimes I think the concept of a young feminist is total horse shit.  I identified as a feminist a few years before feminist non-profits taught me to identify as a young feminist. Just what was the point of segregating us?

I bristle every single time I hear someone say that young women need to be educated so they don’t take the freedoms they’ve gained for granted. First because not every woman has gained the freedoms we’re told feminism has won. But also and especially because it’s so insulting. Talking down to young women is anti-feminist. Presuming young women are not capable of identifying and articulating and fighting for what they need to live as full human beings is anti-feminist. Treating young women as sidekicks in a women’s movement is anti-feminist, particularly in a legislative context where older white men are obsessed with controlling and restricting younger women’s bodies, and demonizing those who dare to have sex and live their lives anyway.

And yet it happens all the time. Today was the latest entry with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) expressing regret over the “complacency” of young women born after Roe v. Wade (1973, how young!). Blaming apathetic young women for the declining state of abortion access has been something of a cottage industry hovering over the pro-choice movement ever since I’ve been around, but in the last few years the situation has gotten markedly better, in large part due to those with less power having the ability to present alternative views on social media. To my knowledge there wasn’t a similar mechanism to democratize voices between activists and the leaders making the big bucks before then.

You know, we should push back every single time someone ‘on our side’ tells us young women are apathetic about feminism or abortion or any number of concerns that impact our lives. We should push back that young men are somehow not included in the group who should take equal responsibility to work toward progress. But frankly I’m getting old (a privilege for which I feel blessed, not shamed) and sometimes I wonder if we will ever find that moment where we won’t have to fight for the full recognition of young people in a women’s movement that has a tendency to treat them as helpmeets or hire them as unpaid interns.

There are approximately two gray hairs on my head now, and I swear, at least half of them came from a vocal minority of older feminists who have been patronizing or worse about my work.