Post-Women’s Movement: Are we moving backwards?


Today I had the absolute pleasure of attending a talk by Ms. Francis Fox Piven, a professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center, University of New York. She has combined academic work with political action for decades. She has contributed greatly to the scholarship on protests and mass mobilization as mechanisms for impacting change. She spoke today about the historical context of protests and movements and related them to the Occupy Movement that we all know. As a graduate student of social work, I have read several pieces by Piven and her late husband, Richard Cloward, so it was exciting to listen to her speak at the young age of 79, especially on International Women’s Day.
Following her talk, I proceeded to my final political processes class of the quarter. My professor was at the talk by Dr. Piven as well and we have read a few excerpts from Regulating the Poor and Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. One of the things Dr. Piven talked about was that all movements in history began to subside once they won something — they never end in ultimate triumph. But then, over time, the business and political elites start to take back what they gave to the movement through reform. An example of this would be how government decided to roll back welfare after the protests at the NWRO.  Today in class, the question was posed to brainstorm other examples of this cycle and regression. My professor noted that she had a counter-example, meaning she can think of a movement that has not yet regressed backward — the women’s movement. As she said this, I cringed a little in my chair. As a disclaimer, I often get frustrated with the fact that I attend an extremely well-known and top social work school yet topics of women’s issues very rarely come up, and when they do, they are either brushed aside or not given the attention or scholarship that they should. Read on.

A student raised her hand and said she’d like to disagree a little bit and specifically gave the example of “Rick Santorum’s attempts at having religious rights trump women’s rights.” I refrained from entering the conversation (which now I regret, thus I”m writing the post to voice my opinions), but it must be pointed out that this is not just Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum, who was elected into the House of Representatives in 1990 and then to the Senate in 1994 (Philadelphia) until he lost his re-election in 2006. Yes, Santorum holds these beliefs, and furthermore is against birth control all together. But it’s not just him and he is not in any position to make any decisions as of yet (and hopefully never). Just today, New Hampshire — my dear home state — sent the proposed legislation to the Senate after a 196-150 vote in the House to essentially appeal the mandate that was passed in 1999 that all insurers must cover contraception. They did not just appeal this mandate to say insurers don’t have to do that across the board — which would be debatable as there is a debate to be had about the pros and cons of employer based healthcare. But instead, the exemption is for employers who have religious objection to providing birth control. This same debate is happening in Congress as well. But the Obama administration believes that a woman’s health should be between her and her doctor, not her and her boss. Amen, Obama. But the fact that this debate is even happening and women’s healthcare is being compromised on behalf of religious institutions is absurd and in my opinion, somewhat of a step back. There are religious women who use birth control and they’re going to suffer just like the rest of the women who work for these institutions.

Secondly, a student raised her hand and mentioned the protests and attacks on Planned Parenthood lately. And I’ll take that one step further and throw in the absurdity going on in states regarding abortions. I talked about Texas in my last post. Now Kansas is trying to pass a bill that further regulates abortions in that any woman seeking an abortion will be taxed, including rape victims. Among other provisions in this proposed bill:

…measures allowing doctors to withhold from patients medical information that might encourage them to seek an abortion and prohibiting malpractice suits if the woman or the child suffers a health complication as a result of information being withheld. A wrongful death lawsuit could be filed if the mother dies. The bill also would require doctors to tell women that abortion causes breast cancer and would prohibit state employees from performing abortions on the job.

Though these amendments are unlikely to pass in the hearing committee, it should be concerning that they are even being brought up. Roe v. Wade was a decision to respect and support the woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy under her right to privacy. The laws that states are drafting intentionally and politically attempt to influence her decision based on a bias, not on rational, factual information. Between placing barriers on women getting birth control and now placing women in traumatizing situations and creating barriers to abortion, I’d say we are taking a step back.

My professor looked at these two things as just events, nothing pushing us back. Perhaps that is because they are still being decided upon. But after spending 1.5 years studying the political agenda and agenda setting, it is horrifying that these issues have even made it to the chopping block. We should be concerned. We should be offended. And we should be scared. I know I am.

With that, Happy International Women’s Day everyone!



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