Category Archives: politics

Federal judge upholds most of restrictive abortion law in Texas

wendy

The biggest news in abortion access this week comes from Texas, where parts of one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation–part of the bill that the now legendary Wendy Davis filibustered against this summer–was blocked by a federal judge. This is good news for feminist activism, a social movement whose presence in Texas has been instrumental in bringing national attention to the restrictive laws in this state. However, it is important for supporters of abortion access to fully understand the content of this law and the ways in which this ruling is not fully a win.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel’s decision blocked an aspect of the law which required  admitting privileges for all physicians who perform abortions.  The judgement seems to be based off the precedent made by the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which upheld the constitutional right to abortion under the Fourteenth amendment’s right to privacy, and the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision, which established an undue burden clause, indicating that abortion restrictions which place an “undue burden” on those seeking abortion is unconstitutional.  Referencing today’s ruling in Texas, Judge Yeakel ruled that Texas’s law “places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus and is thus an undue burden to her [emphasis mine.]“

Despite the block against the restriction targeting admitting privileges, other extremely harmful aspects of the abortion law in Texas will go into affect over the next week. This include a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks, (even those performed to protect the life and health of the uterus-owner) as well as a provision stating that after October 2014, all abortions must take place in “surgical facilities”. Judge Yeakel also did not block a provision which requires that medication abortions be prescribed according to FDA protocol– a restriction that sounds “sensible,” but actually limits the ability for qualified physicians to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

The Texas fight against abortion restriction is drawing national attention, and it is important for supporters of abortion access to realize this fight for what it is. This is the new battleground for abortion access– bills which seek to challenge PP v. Casey and the “undue burden” clause, bills which blatantly disregard the right to privacy established under Roe vs. Wade, and the growing constant need to push back against restrictive legislative measures rather than fighting forwards for economic justice, abortion funding, and healthcare for everyone.

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Filed under abortion, feminism, gender, human rights, medical anthropology, politics, reproductive justice, reproductive rights, sexuality, social justice

What The Bible Really Says About “Illegal” Immigration

If you can take this:

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 19:22)

and turn it into this:

str8stupidity

westborostupid

(while ignoring all the other laws in The Bible which tell you its okay to have multiple wives or marry twelve year olds as long as they are virgins and commands you not to touch a menstruating woman and not to wear cotton-polyester blends…)

then how does this:

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

and this:

“…And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow…” (Jeremiah 22:3)

and this:

“You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice…” (Deuteronomy 24: 17)

and this:

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for your were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

turn into this?

moreillegalstupiity

Judy Schulz, Richard Schulz

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Fashionable Objectification? #NotBuyingIt!

A few nights ago I realized I was in desperate need of a pair of shorts to help me deal with the oncoming humidity of Northeastern summers. So, I rushed to my local H&M right before they closed. I had about ten minutes to search for cute shorts, find them in my size, and try them on before the store closed (which is quite a feat if you’re familiar with H&M’s mysterious sizing sorcery). Though I was literally running for the register while clutching my cute new floral patterned high-waisted shorts, I managed to snap these pictures of some ridiculous graphic tees I found in the “Men’s” section.

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There were more of these “graphic tees” featuring close-ups and odd angles that cut off women’s heads and focus solely on sexualized parts of their bodies. As I expected, a quick look around confirmed that there were no analogous women’s (or men’s) tees featuring men in spandex or close-ups of their sinewy muscles. Driving home, these shirts occupied my thoughts. I was trying to figure out what bothered me about them. There was the obvious implicit male gaze of the photographs, the objectification of a woman’s body, and the slicing up of that body into only its desirable parts. But there was something else that was bugging me about the photographs. It was their voyeuristic quality–the idea that they were literally taken without the knowledge of their subject from a vantage point of behind or below her. It reminded me of the “Creepshot” community on the popular website, Reddit, which featured “upskirt” photos and pictures of women taken without their consent. I wondered whether the model whose body was on display knew she would be reduced to her butt covered in a patriotic bikini on a tee-shirt for men? With the retail clothing industry’s history of stealing images without the knowledge of their rightful owner, this didn’t seem like a far reach. I also wondered who this tee-shirt was being marketed to–who was the man that would see this disembodied female body on a tee-shirt and think it would look really cool in their summer wardrobe?

hmman

 

H&M was recently celebrated in some zones of feminist media for their advertisement for “normal” clothing featuring a “plus-size” model. Though I was far from cheering at that excuse for progress, it reinforced for me the vigilance we must have as feminist consumers. Companies are not in the business of making a feminist revolution (obviously,) they are in the business of making profits (capitalism, people).  So, get on Twitter and tell H&M you are #NotBuyingIt!

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Representations of Poverty in “The Casual Vacancy”

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Though I stood in line for the midnight release of almost every Harry Potter book, I was a bit more hesitant about reading J.K. Rowling’s newest book.  The Casual Vacancy has been hailed as an “adult” book, something vastly different from the author’s previous series about wands and wizards. Set in a small British town called Pagford, The Casual Vacancy follows the town’s residents through intertwining narratives, all surrounding the political issues brought forward by the death that occurs in the book’s first chapter.

Most reviews of Rowling’s newest tome have been lukewarm at best–critics and readers were put off by her very realistic prose which features swearing, drug use, depictions of rape and abuse, explicit sexuality, and references to Facebook. In contrast to Harry Potter’s magical world, where nobody ever needs to pee and magical teenagers left mostly to their own devices never progress past snogging, Pagford seems shockingly realistic. Many reviewers have blamed this feeling on Rowling “trying too hard” to show her worth beyond children’s fantasy. However, I found that the disingenuous feeling of Rowling’s realism came from somewhere else: the extreme representations of poverty in The Casual Vacancy.

   (My discussion from here forward will contain spoilers from The Casual Vacancy.)

Though Rowling’s mess of characters share screen-time pretty equally, much of The Casual Vacancy centers on the character Krystal Weedon. Krystal is the character who represents “the Fields,” a contentious area of Pagford that borders the larger town of Yarvil and contains unkempt public council housing and the Bellchapel Addiction Clinic. The Weedons are the only of Rowling’s main characters who live in poverty– though her remaining characters suffer from abuse, self-harm, and mental illness, they are all characterized as solidly middle class. The characterization of the Weedon’s poverty sets them apart from the other residents of Pagford, as does the fact that they serve to represent the entire idea of “the Fields,” a subject that crosses the minds of the rest of Pagford’s residents due to its political impact in the central plot point of the parish council elections.

The Casual Vacancy, and along with it, the characterization of the Weedon family, suffers from the extreme situation of poverty that Rowling chose to describe. It isn’t that the Weedon’s situation is not realistic– of course, stereotypes of poverty are informed by real brushes with it. The problem is that by representing social issues like poverty in extremes, we often cannot recognize the problem in any of its other forms.

The argument against extremes was first articulated to me through a feminist lens in a 1989 bell hooks article, “Violence in Intimate Relationships: A Feminist Perspective”. Hooks argues that while feminists have had to focus on extremes to bring an issue to the attention of the public, this same focus can be harmful when addressing more common forms of the problem. In the essay, hooks uses the term “battered women” to illustrate her argument. “Battered woman” not only defines a victim of intimate partner violence by their injuries, but implies repeated, visible, and ongoing physical abuse. When the term “battered woman” is translated into a representative figure in books, television, or film, we get the typical image of a battered wife– visibly bruised, emotionally shaken, and marked with a token black eye. This image erases many other forms of intimate partner violence that occur, most notably, emotional abuse that does not leave such visible scars.

The argument against extremes has been brought up in many feminist issues. In 2011, feminist activists convinced the FBI to change its definition of rape, which had not been updated since 1920. The FBI’s old definition included the phrase, “forcibly and against her will,” which (despite the obvious gender pronoun issues) placed pressure on rape survivors and law enforcement to prove whether the rape was “forcible”. The FBI definition was influenced by larger myths that we have about rape in society: that rape is usually committed by an evil stranger in a dark alley who physically injures their resisting victim. As feminists, we know these myths are wrong, but society continues to focus on “extreme” versions of the crime, which is represented and then echoed through our media and laws.

The same problem of extremes exists in society’s treatment of poverty. I am speaking from an American perspective, which of course differs from the exact issues of poverty that are prominent in Britain, specifically regarding issues of race. But here are just a handful of ways society creates a specific idea of what “poor” is supposed to look like:

Poor folks are regularly ridiculed for using food stamps to buy basically anything (soda, “junk food,” or treats for children). Poor people who buy new shoes must not really be poor. Poor people should stop having children, but we don’t want to pay for their contraception either. If you are not homeless, you are not really poor. If you buy fast food, you aren’t really poor. If you have money to celebrate birthdays/holidays/etc, then you’re not really poor. And so on. 

In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep this past September, Rowling touched on her own experience with poverty in Britain and how it informed her writing of The Casual Vacancy. Rowling said: “It’s not my story, but it does address themes, subjects that are very important to me”.  She may have been better off writing something closer to her story. Rowling is well-known for her period of poverty while she was writing the first Harry Potter book as a single mother. This time in Rowling’s life is almost mythical in the media, which likes to toss around stories about her writing the novel on napkins because she couldn’t afford paper. The media has also written that Rowling’s habit of writing in cafes was directly related to her poverty– she was escaping her unheated flat. Rowling has denied such myths, complicating the portait of her time of poverty. Those myths, along with many others, feed our desires for a romantic and extreme form of poverty. But the reality of Rowling’s situation did not fit our poverty narratives. She was a poor single mother from a middle-class family, educated at the University of Exeter, divorced after an unsuccessful marriage in Portugal, and unemployed and on welfare benefits so that she could finish writing a book about a boy wizard. Rowling’s life does not fit into stereotypical poverty narratives, but it is an image of poverty nonetheless.

The Casual Vacancy is very much a book about politics and class wars, so Rowling may have intentionally created the Weedon family as a stereotype for poverty in the UK. If this was the intention, I believe she failed. Rowling herself articulates the problem that I find with her book in this quote: “One of the great problems for me is that the poor … are so often discussed just as this large, shapeless mass. You lose your individuality a huge amount when you have no money, and I certainly had that experience…”¹ .

It is unfortunate that the extreme and stereotyped description of the Weedon family represented the poor as something Rowling wished to avoid: a large, shapeless mass of stereotypes.

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Gender, Race, and the Wage Gap: Why Intersectionality Matters

We often talk about the wage gap solely in terms of gender. From the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to the argument over whether a wage gap exists at all, we are usually only talking about men vs. women. The wage disparities that many people face, however, have more to do with the intersection of gender and race. White women, the group of people who are most talked about and targeted in the discussions of the wage gap, actually make more money than everybody except white men. Black men make less than white women, and black women make less than black men. Hispanic men make less than black women. Finally, hispanic women are most disadvantaged by the wage gap, making only $0.60 to a white man’s dollar.

Before I continue on with this discussion, I’d like to address some of the confusion that arises when we talk about the wage gap. The wage gap exists and is affected both by race and gender. However, the statistics that are used in order to locate the wage gap vary enormously. Many people argue that choices, not racism or sexism, create the wage gap¹. They argue that men work more hours per week than women and that women tend to enter lower-paying career fields. These arguments have been debunked time and time again². No matter how many outside factors you control for, women make less money than men for doing the same work.

Women are not the only demographic affected  by the wage gap. Race weighs more heavily on wage disparities than gender. But the wage gap is still seen as merely a feminist issue. This is why feminism and other movements for equality need to look at this and many other issues with an intersectional lens. The wage gap affects working women, but it also affects men of color, single-parent families, and poverty levels. Media coverage of the wage gap needs to include these groups that are affected the most, not just focus on white women vs. white men. Feminism does not own the fight against the wage gap. This fight belongs to men and women of color, families in poverty, gay and transgender workers, as well as women everywhere.

For more information on the wage gap and intersectionality, see:

Infographic: The Gender Pay Gap– See What Inequity in Earnings Costs Women and Their Families Each Year and Over Their Lifetimes

Top 10 Facts About The Wage Gap 

Pay Equity and Single Mothers of Color: Eliminating Race-Based and Gender-Based Wage Gap Key to American Prosperity

The Gay and Transgender Wage Gap: Many Workers Receive Less Pay Due to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

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WTF is a Kyriarchy?

If you are familiar with feminism or other movements for justice and equality, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about intersectionality. Intersectionality is an idea in feminist discourse that highlights how forms of oppression do not operate independently of each other. Structures of power and privilege relating to race, gender, sexuality, age, class, and ethnicity all interact in different ways. By being aware of intersectionality in feminist discourse, feminists attempt to create a more inclusive movement for equality.

A more obscure vocabulary word for feminist discourse is kyriarchy. Kyriarchy is a word that is very closely related to intersectionality because it highlights privilege and power relations beyond our traditional dichotomies of oppression, i.e: men over women, white people over people of color. Here is a great definition of kyriarchy in contrast with the traditional “patriarchy”:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression. 
 
Patriarchy – Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms.  The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves). 
 - Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books   New York  2001
Kyriarchy explains why historically oppressed people can also become oppressors in the shifting social contexts of our increasingly intersectional world. Our understanding of social relationships within the kyriarchy does not place the blame for all oppression on rich, white, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual males, but rather holds everyone accountable for contributing to systems of domination and oppression in society. Kyriarchy is complicated because it forces us to confront our own role in the Master/Slave dichotomies that we create and does not define a single innocent victim. It implicates everyone in systems of oppression rather than just blaming the patriarchy, which is why it is the tool that the feminist movement needs to use more often.
As more people are abandoning hope in feminism and creating movements like Men’s Rights, humanism, egalitariansm, and masculinism to stake claims for their own issues of oppression, feminism needs to embrace and promote understandings of oppression through a kyriarchal, rather than patriarchal, lens. The feminist movement has just begun to realize that it will sink very soon without intersectionality. It now needs to spread this knowledge of oppression through intersectionality and kyriarchy in order to work effectively with all victims and perpetrators of oppression.

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Internet Threats Against Sarkeesian and Green Shut Down Debates

Misogyny against women on the internet has received increased attention in the past few months in response to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project “Tropes vs Women in Video Games“. Sarkeesian runs Feminist Frequency and makes videos about feminism and sexism in popular culture. She made a proposal for a video series about sexism in video games and used Kickstarter to raise the $6,000 to fund her project. Sarkeesian met her goal in no time, but she also met widespread threats of death and rape from members of the online gaming community. Sarkeesian writes about the image-based harrassment and visual misogyny that was created against her, from wikipedia vandalism to the creation of an online game whose objective is to beat up her likeness.

A controversy on Tumblr today is another example of threats against a woman on YouTube. Vlogger Laci Green, who runs the Sex+ channel, received threats of violence and death in response to certain opinions she expressed on her YouTube and Tumblr.

The controversy seems to have been started over the questions below, in which Green apologizes for an uninformed mistake she had made in the past.

Another aspect of the controversy was sparked by Green’s evangelical atheism and an opinion she expressed about Islam in a video about why she is no longer a Mormon. Green said that Mormonism is “probably one of the most sexist [religions] that I’ve come across, beside Islam.”

This is the question, and Laci’s answer, in regard to her comment on Islam.

“Q: Sorry if you already answered this, but I came across your other channel and just watched the video where you say Mormonism is “probably one of the most sexist [religions] that I’ve come across, beside Islam.” Since you are white and have never been Muslim, could you issue an apology, or update the video with an apology in the description? I am an atheist too, but there is horrible sexism in many religions, and in secular culture as well. It’s not right to single out Islam. It’s Islamophobic.

A: You’re right, it’s not right to single out Islam. Many religions and cultures are extremely sexist and I despise them all equally. This wasn’t the intent of my statement and I apologize if it came off that way.

The video (which is kinda old and came before I learned how to be fully “PC”) is about my experience, and in my life, Islam has perpetuated more gendered violence and sexism toward the women in my life and family than mormonism ever did. Both these religions have wounded me and my loved ones deeply, much of which was on the basis of sex and gender. Just writing about this makes my heart sink. No amount of screaming “Islamophobia” will change that, and it’s actually a wonderful example of how childish and ignorant religion makes people out to be. People get so wound up in defending anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-human, piece of trash organizations that they can’t hear criticism for what it is: a human experience that is real, that is valid, that is unjust.

Yes I am white and no I am not Muslim nor have I ever been. There are certain experiences I can never speak about, such as actually being Muslim or being a person of color. I can, however, speak about my own, and to argue that I must have dark skin or have been a practicing Muslim in order for me to do so is more of the same oppressive bullshit.

I grew up in a multicultural family. My dad’s side of the family immigrated from Iran 20 years ago. My dad himself immigrated to America when he was 16. My family is Muslim on my dad’s side and Mormon on my mother’s (although my dad eventually converted to mormonism). I grew up in a climate where these two religions dominated my life in a really painful way. 

I don’t owe ANYONE explanations of why I feel the way I do. I don’t need to rehash things that have hurt me and that I’ve moved on from. My feelings and experiences are perfectly valid on their own. If you want to call it “Islamophobia”, I’ll call you ignorant.This isn’t about quantifying pain, this is about my own experience with that pain. Calling that “Islamophobia” undermines what Islamophobia really is and how it operates. I fucking hate organized religion, including Islam, and all the pouting in the world won’t change that.”

Much of this controversy has been playing out on Tumblr and involving the community of social justice bloggers. I agree that Laci’s comments, especially those regarding Islam, were unnecessarily negative and probably emotionally-charged. I think the right thing for Laci to do would be to conduct her research on what her critics have been saying and make an informed apology for her comments. However, everything that Laci’s critics (and Anita Sarkeesian’s critics as well) are calling attention to can no longer be the main concern of these controversies. Nobody is going to listen to or engage in informed debate about the problematic aspects of Sarkeesians’s project or Laci Green’s comments once a threat has been made against their lives. This anger, while it may be well-meaning or deserved, is counter productive to informed discussion about identity, race, religion, gender, and sexuality. These are sensitive topics, but reacting with anger, stalking, and threats completely shuts down the important conversation that needs to be happening about such sensitive topics.

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Sex-Positive Feminism 101

Many of the misconceptions about feminism come from a misconception about the sex-positive philosophy that runs through much of the third wave; a philosophy that fights against slut-shaming (see above), oversexualization, and restrictions of reproductive rights.

Sex-positivity gets a bad rap through scare-tactic reporting about teenage sexting, risky sexual behavior, and sexual education in schools. People often believe that sex-positive education encourages young people to have sex. As part of a very lucky minority that received and greatly benefitted from sex-positive sex education as a young teen, I would like to dispel some of the myths about the sex-positive movement.

YouTuber Laci Green produces the most accesible, well-researched, and overall brilliant sources for sex-positive information on the internet. Below is a video by Laci which explains what sex-positive means.

 

Sex-positivity is quite simple. It holds that there is really no wrong way to do human sexuality as long as all parties involved give their consent. The sex-positive movement is closely intertwined with feminism because the oppression of sexualities which fall outside the normative (white, monogamous, and heterosexual) is a major tool of the patriarchy. Sex-positivity therefore celebrates the diverse ways in which people choose to express their sexuality– including the choice to not have sex!

There is so much more to say about the sex-positive movement, but I would like to open up the floor for specific questions. What topics relating to sex-positivity or sex-positive sex education would you like to see me address in my next post? 

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Why Men Need Feminism (Part 1)

There is a disturbing trend growing in the movements for gender equality. Most likely a response to the gendered etymology of the word ” feminism,” many people are creating new movements that address issues of gender. From men’s rights activism to egalitarianism to humanism, these movements attempt to call attention to the fact that men today are often just as disadvantaged by our strict gender binaries as women are.

I am a very big supporter of most of the ideals that these movements espouse, however, there are many aspects of these new movements that rub me the wrong way.

MRAs (men’s rights activists) do not work towards achieving equality, but rather work against the gains of feminism because they believe that feminism has diminished their rights. MRAs would benefit from allying with feminism, but instead they create their movement in opposition to it. One of the largest issues that MRAs support is the gender bias that has become part of divorce and custody cases. There is a bias towards giving child custody to the mother in most cases, even when there is no evidence that the father would make a less competent custodial parent. This is one of the biggest issues discussed by MRAs and it is a feminist issue. The problem is not anti-men, pro-women bias in courts. The problem is outdated beliefs about gender roles in marriage and parenting in society as a whole. One of the biggest issues of modern feminism is contesting gender roles and media representation of both men and women.

Another misguided way that people for gender equality are rebranding the movement is by being against feminism but for “egalitarianism” or “humanism”. The concept of egalitarianism is a wonderful one because it addresses not only gender inequalities, but inequalities on the intersectional level. However, many who identify as “egalitarian” create that movement’s label in opposition to feminism. It assumes that feminism means that women want to be privileged over men and that feminist are only concerned with issues that affect women. The label of feminism includes the root word femin- because it was originally begun to make women more equal with men, who were clearly more privileged in society. Today, our levels of privilege are much more complicated. Many claim that since women can vote and attend college, we don’t need feminism. Though earlier waves of feminism have succeeded in earning women rights, less obvious issues of privilege, representation, and gendering still need to be dealt with. Feminism is a movement that has evolved over time, and its current evolution needs to be understood. Feminism is not just for women, not just by women, and not just concerned with issues that affect women. Modern feminism is inclusive to all people and fights against the gender binaries, sexual mores, strict gender roles, racism, sexism, ableism, and heteronormativity that affect men just as much as they affect women. And while there are plenty of issues that affect men and their rights (see Reddit’s MRA group), women, people of color, and LGBTQ people still suffer the most from the patriarchal system of society.

While feminism might benefit from a name change, I don’t think that is the best way to convince people that the movement is more than just a bunch of angry misandrists. Feminism needs to communicate to people outside the feminist movement that it is not just for women. The Good Men Project  is a great venue that attempts to challenge notions about masculinity and men’s rights without being hostile towards feminism. I would also recommend checking out Hugo Schwyzer’s How Men’s Rights Activists Get Feminism Wrong, and Amanda Marcotte’s The Solution to MRA Problems? More Feminism.

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Action on X protests abortion laws in Ireland

Members of the Irish pro-choice group Action on X are outside the Irish parliament in Dublin today protesting the state’s strict abortion laws.

As I have previously mentioned, I am currently working on a long-term research project exploring the effects of Ireland’s strict abortion laws on the Irish women and on the Irish feminist movement. Action on X’s protest is an important demonstration of Irish feminists increasing dissatisfaction with the way their country treats abortion and reproductive health access. Abortion in not legal in Ireland even in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s life. Over 4,000 Irish women and girls travel to England every year to obtain abortions– a journey that requires money, time to travel, and typically, a level of secrecy.

Action on X and other Irish feminist groups like the Irish Family Planning Association, the Irish Feminist Network, and Cork Feminista (to name a few) are leading the Irish struggle to change its restrictive abortion laws. As American feminists, the increasingly virulent attacks on reproductive rights in our own nation can be frightening, but I urge my fellow feminists to look beyond our borders, not only to the global South, but also to the unique feminist struggles in Western nations like Ireland and Poland. Creating a global feminist fellowship between feminist networks in all geographic areas is crucial to supporting these struggles that occur across national borders.

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