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The 3 biggest issues facing feminists this year—and how you can help
Want to fight online harassment and other problems? Here’s how.
If you’re a feminist, it’s important to stay engaged. Even the word “feminism” has been under some scrutiny recently—with some people arguing the word should be banned, some women claiming they don’t need it, and an equally impassioned, righteous backlash in its favor. In short, it’s clear that the value of the movement is in the public spotlight and subject to attack. And if you want to fight back, there are practical ways to do so—here are the three biggest issues feminists face this year, and how you can help.
They’re issues that demand engagement in distinctly different ways, whether it’s through financial support, getting involved in some political activism, or embracing and incorporating new ideas into your feminism. Because advancing the cause of feminism isn’t always directed outward. There’s the right-wing crusade against reproductive rights, sure, but sometimes there are situations that demand honest reflection from within, too.
Basically, these are some crucial areas that people concerned with the rights of women—and the health of the feminist coalition—should be aware of, because they’re pretty essential right now, and it’s worthwhile to examine how you can make the world a little better.
1) Reproductive rights
Anyone who stays informed about the political ramifications of feminism and patriarchy knows full well that reproductive rights have been a battlefield for a long time. But it’s gotten even more intense in 2015, by virtue of ongoing efforts in GOP-led states to pass restrictive new laws aimed at stifling abortion access.
These are often known as TRAP laws, which stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. They impose new requirements on clinics that are hugely difficult to meet, like requiring hospital admitting privileges for attending physicians, and ordering costly construction expansions.
As the Guttmacher Institute detailed, four new states have passed these kinds of regulations in 2015, in spite of the fact that a miniscule percentage of women suffer the kinds of complications that require hospitalization. Similar proposals were attempted (and failed) in the Maine state legislature last month. Reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America describes TRAP laws like this:
While some TRAP laws have been found legally unenforceable, many TRAP laws have gone into effect and caused clinic closures in several states, severely limiting access to safe and legal abortion care for millions of women. It is clear: the anti-choice movement’s goal is not to protect women’s health; it is to regulate abortion clinics out of existence.
If you’re looking to help alleviate the situation, you’ve got a few choices. For one, support candidates with strong records in favor of women’s reproductive rights. But also spread the word about the pernicious effects of TRAP laws, especially on the poorest and most marginalized women—like in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas—and consider making a donation to a relevant group like NARAL or the Guttmacher Institute.
As far as internal feminist issues go, this is pretty damn important. So what is intersectionality? In broad strokes, it refers to the recognition and understanding that “women” are not a single, monolithic group. Rather, there are differences in gender identity, race, sexual orientation, and class that cause that make outcomes for some women far worse than they are for others.
In simple terms, intersectional feminism demands that these groups of women and their unique tribulations be specifically named, recognized, and addressed. Otherwise, the people most hurt by the intersections of institutional oppression—like, say, a black trans woman, who faces sexist, racial, and transphobic discrimination all at the same time—are all too often left out of the conversation.
Sometimes, when marginalized voices speak out on behalf of intersectional feminism, there’s a backlash that occurs. It’s not uncommon for women of color to be told that they’re being divisive when they bring up intersectionality, or to be lectured about how they’re threatening the coalition and that everyone should be on the same team.
And while it’s undeniably important to keep the feminist coalition cohesive, lecturing marginalized communities to shut up and stay in line is not going to accomplish that. If you’re passionate about women’s rights, do yourself a favor and learn about intersectional feminism. It’s a really crucial conversation right now.
And if you’re looking to get even more involved, consider devoting some time and money to causes and groups that benefit people who live in those intersections—like the Trans Women of Color Collective, for example.
3) Terroristic online harassment
If you’re an outspoken woman on the Internet and you’ve got any kind of platform, there’s a fair chance you’ve experienced the unwelcome chiming-in of misogynist trolls. Some sort of gendered slur, perhaps, along with an unearned sense of authority about whatever you’re discussing. It’s depressingly normal—frankly, although I’m male and not subject to a lot of this stuff, I’m not a big fan of comment threads for this reason.
But for some women, the mistreatment goes far beyond even that level of antagonism. Some are inundated with violent threats aimed at flat-out terrorizing and silencing them. This has been particularly visible throughout the “Gamergate” fracas. You can read a slew of the tweets feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian has received if you dare, but be aware that they come with an obvious content warning.
If this is something you’ve experienced, or something you’d like to see end, you should make your feelings known to your political representatives. As it stands now, even though it’s illegal to make death threats, the opacity of digital culture makes it hard for these things to be understood and taken seriously by politicians and law enforcement. It’ll only get better if people keep pushing the issue.
One political figure who’s heeded the call is Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark, who has called on the FBI to ramp up scrutiny of threats and online harassment. In other words, it’s not impossible to get these issues heard.
More from Bustle:
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Chris Tognotti is a writer for Bustle.
Photo via Jørn Støylen/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman