What is an American Feminist Today?

Nov 29, 2008 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

While I've argued that it takes something other than biology to declare someone a feminist, the Palin effect has caused some female leaders to say that the Governor is what a feminist looks like and that she's a brainiac . I'm sure Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony are rolling over in their graves.

Is it enough to call yourself "a Title IX girl" because you were a high school athlete, not because you have a proven record of defending and protecting Title IX's progress?

Is it enough to claim you "stand for women's rights" while presiding over the state that has the highest rate of rape AND requiring victims to pay for their own rape kits?

Is it enough to say that you "support pay equity" while running with a candidate who does not support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

Not for me.

But a recent article claims to debunk myths about female voters as a bloc, suggesting that what women want is as all over the place a diagram of Governor Palin's sentences. Evidence of this claim is the current state of the American women's movement. For over 40 years, the National Organization for Women has led the movement for women with the advancement of a specific agenda, yet today the so-called New Agenda is using the female vice presidential candidate to advance an alternate platform, declaring that reproductive freedom is not necessarily a feminist tenet.

Which begs the question: Is it enough to declare oneself "feminist" but not adopt an agenda that ensures reproductive autonomy?

The New Agenda founders have been raised within the structures of NOW and the Feminist Majority and have identified as "pro-choice" for years. Today, they proudly challenge their organizations' expressed positions and values, endorsing an anti-choice, anti-woman vice presidential candidate. (Interestingly, they have not been removed from their established leadership roles, or even trumped by their respective National organizations, despite their open defiance of the recognized feminist agenda.)

Is possible to declare oneself "pro-choice" while adopting a New Agenda that does not protect Roe v. Wade or young women from the dangers of parental notification laws, an Agenda that endorses an anti-choice candidate?

NWPC seemed to have taken a leap by declaring itself "multi-partisan," opening up the definition of "feminist" to include non-Democrat women. However, the organization remains insistent that reproductive freedom is fundamental to feminist leadership in elected office, requiring that all endorsed candidates identify as pro-choice.

In my experience of American feminism, it has not been the movement that has defined solidarity, but instead the values you hold in solidarity that define your movement. To me, the greatest example of solidarity in the American women's movement has been the beloved leadership of the Second Wave who were very clear in the values they espoused and the positions they took publicly. You know where Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan stood on pay equity, on reproductive freedom, on violence against women, on the Equal Rights Amendment. Hence, you know the intended outcomes of their movement.

If your agenda does not include reproductive freedom, you do not value it. If those with whom you create your solidarity do not value reproductive freedom, neither does your movement. Your movement will not protect it and will thereby undo the advancements in women's healthcare and sex education that the recognized feminist agenda has afforded women today. You will abandon a commitment to biological autonomy, defining women not by their intellect or values but by their ability to conceive, bear, and mother children. To date, this has not been the intended outcome of the women's movement.

Feminism is full equality and balance among women and men. Feminist activism works to achieve this outcome. If your movement does not actively create this reality, your "feminism" is no longer feminist.