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6 Things Every Feminist Should Support

by Claire Litton Cohn Mar 18, 2016

1. Paid family leave.

The United States is one of the only countries (along with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho) that doesn’t mandate paid maternal leave. In the US, 88% of working mothers do not get any paid leave at all. Women who go back to work too soon after giving birth are more likely to suffer postpartum depression or anxiety and have problems recovering from major surgery (like a C-section), and yet if they don’t go back to work, their families may suffer impossible financial hardship.

Only 50 countries currently offer paternal leave. New mothers are not the only caretakers for their offspring, nor the only ones who want to spend time with their babies; so do dads. So do two-dad families or adoptive parents, who may not get any leave at all to spend with their newborn. Rather than leaving women alone to manage the hardship of the postpartum period, parental leave allows babies and women to get much needed support and offers non-birth parents the chance to engage and bond effectively with their new child.

2. A right to choose…everything.

And not just in terms of reproductive health (although yes, of course, feminists should be supportive of women having control over their own bodies). I’m talking about a woman’s right to choose whether or not she wants to take her husband’s name after marriage, or wear a headscarf (or burqa), or be a stay-at-home mom. Feminists should support people who want to engage in traditional gender role dynamics just as much as people who want to smash the patriarchy and wear the pants (although, really, this is such an outdated expression given that something like 103% of women I see out in the world on a daily basis are wearing pants, because, let’s face it, skirts are really chilly in the winter).

3. Sex workers.

I understand why many feminists are anti-sex work — they equate sex work with exploitation or trafficking. But anti-prostitution laws aimed at reducing trafficking are often vaguely worded, which makes all sex workers into victims. This denies the agency of women who enter into sex work the same way they might enter into any other dull or unfulfilling customer service job. As Melissa Gira Grant says, “Not all people who do sex work are women, but women disproportionately suffer the stigma, discrimination, and violence against sex workers.” Sex work is not the same as sex trafficking, and the laws and campaigns against it mostly serve to make it harder for (usually) marginalized women to get jobs, benefits, and safety. Instead of attacking sex workers out of some misguided desire to “save” them, feminists would better help and support the people who need it by listening to the needs outlined by actual sex workers. New Zealand has completely decriminalized sex work — such that brothel workers have access to unemployment insurance and join unions, just like any other job — and 64% of workers found it easier to refuse clients, while 57% said the relationship with police officers had improved. These are positive outcomes! The last thing feminists should want is vulnerable people being made more vulnerable.

4. Intersectionality.

There is a lot of confusion about what, exactly intersectionality is. Ava Vidal succinctly says that the goal of intersectional feminism is “to point out that feminism which is overly white, middle class, cis-gendered and able-bodied represents just one type of view”, and this point of view ignores the multi-faceted experiences of women who don’t fit those categories. Flavia Dzodan mentions a sign held by a white participant at Slut Walk (an anti-slut-shaming protest) in New York that said “Woman is the n***** of the world”. This kind of thing sublimates any other problems (systemic racism, classism, ableism, you name it) as being less important than feminsim, and also assumes that all women face the same issues. When a white woman may be making 76 cents to a man’s dollar, a black woman earns 64 cents and Latinas make only 56 cents; women who have children make less than their childfree counterparts. This shouldn’t be acceptable to feminists. Feminism needs to include space for ALL women, no matter what their current experience or background, and ignoring minority issues is discriminatory. Let’s not be that minority group that ignores the needs of other, different minorities.

5. Trans women.

The idea that transwomen aren’t “real” women should have died with the second wave of feminism. All women are real women. Nobody should be gatekeeping access to someone else’s personal lives or gender expression. Also, transwomen should not need to be hyperfeminine to count as women. Ladies are ladies whether they wear dapper bowties and suspenders, or swirly dresses and lipstick.

6. Overhauling the criminal justice system.

Overwhelmingly, the prison industrial complex is skewed towards incarceration of minority groups…this goes for women, too. You may have heard of Cece McDonald, who spent 19 months in prison for defending herself against a racist/transphobic attacker. You may remember “Stop and Frisk”, where, in New York City, carrying a condom in your purse (and being non-white or trans or dressed “inappropriately”) could have gotten you arrested. You may never have heard of Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot over her abusive husband’s head when he threatened to kill her and was sentenced to 20 years in jail…in the same state where George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing teenager Trayvon Martin. These women are stuck in a system that will leave them unable to care for their families, place them in mortal danger (CeCe McDonald was housed in men’s prisons, twice), and make it impossible for them to find jobs or even vote. Feminism is here to help women who need it, and I can’t think of anyone who needs it more than people being jailed for crimes they didn’t commit or shouldn’t have been accused of.

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