Eighty-six years after winning the right to vote, thirty-eight years after ending sex-segregated job advertisements, and forty years after the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the organized feminist movement is running out of battles to fight. As a result, the feminist agenda has veered off course.
Last weekend I attended the 40th anniversary conference of the National Organization for Women in Albany, New York. I figured by spending three days in the belly of the beast of the feminism movement I would see what they are up to, what the future of feminism has in store for the world. Instead, I learned about lesbian rights and the importance of trans-inclusive language.
The first workshop I attended addressed a simple, yet crucial question: what is feminism? Conference attendees debated the definition is feminism about equal rights or equality, equal opportunity or equality of results? A young woman stood up in the back row. “I just want to remind everyone that we need to use trans-inclusive language when we talk about this definition,” she said. Huh? The discussion continued: Why is there a stigma around the word “feminism”? The answer: Homophobia. “People are either homophobic or unwilling to take on that fight,” a participant explained. Everyone nodded. I stayed silent, still confused over the trans-inclusive language comment?what did this have to do with feminism?
In a subsequent workshop, someone asked how NOW could attract more male members. The trans-inclusive language police would have none of it: “When we talk about gender, we can’t forget there are more than two genders. We don’t want to exclude transgender people.”
A male presenter admitted to applying to law school as “a radical lesbian feminist trapped in a man’s body,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Luckily, the law school had enough sense to reject his application. All this at a workshop, let alone a conference, designed to talk about feminism. This obsession with everything LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and however many more adjectives you want to lump on) would permeate the entire weekend, largely without purpose.
At least the equal marriage wedding reception and equal marriage “procession” to the New York state House had a point: to call for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Agree or disagree with NOW’s agenda, at least it was clear. Much of the LGBT talk simply left me shaking my head in disbelief.
I lost track of how many comments or questions began with, “As a dyke, I just want to say (insert inane comment here).” One particularly memorable rant began, “I like to go to dyke bars,” then proceeded to comment about a host of things from the meaning of feminism to high heel shoes, none of which had any connection to dykes or dyke bars. I felt like standing up to shout, “As a non-dyke, I just wanted to say that I expected your comments to have some relevance to your sexuality, since you felt the need to mention it.”
Concern with lesbians, transgenders, etc. found its way into every nook and cranny of the NOW conference. The last day of the conference was dedicated to passing resolutions statements to guide NOW’s agenda for the coming year. Each resolution was painstakingly debated to make sure the language of the “In-Store Access to Birth Control” or the “Call for Fair Immigration Reform Legislation” resolutions were inclusive of the LGBT crowd. Even a resolution calling for an independent investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks brought about a LGBT debate. NOW president Kim Gandy said NOW would look to join a coalition with other organizations on the matter, but would make sure those organizations were good on issues like lesbian rights.
The LGBT obsession is a huge paradigm shift from the early women’s rights movement. And while NOW has been involved in promoting lesbian rights since the early seventies, at least they had, at some point, other, more mainstream priorities.
Many of the NOW founders who are still alive addressed the conference, telling stories from the early days of modern feminism. They spoke of discrimination against stewardesses, who were fired for getting married or reaching the age of 32. They spoke of “help wanted male” and “help wanted female” advertisements in papers. In short, they spoke of largely legitimate issues. Now they are obsessed with trans-inclusive language.
Maybe the shift signals a victory for feminism that the big battles have already been fought and for the movement to continue they must pick obscure issues. But maybe the shift indicates something more grave for the ladies of NOW that they have lost the heart and soul of feminism.
Allison Kasic is director of campus programs at the Independent Women’s Forum.