In this image made from Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 video provided by C-SPAN, Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown University law student, testifies to Congress in Washington. (AP Photo/C-SPAN)
Komen. Sandra Fluke. Transvaginal. The reason these words are instantly recognizable—the reason the “war on women” is now part of the national conversation—is largely thanks to younger women and online organizing. Behind every recent battle against the onslaught of sexism has been the energy and activism of young people—on blogs, Twitter, Tumblr and Faebook. And in a long-overdue but welcome change of message, the mainstream feminist movement that once claimed young women didn’t care about feminism is finally catching on. Some are even walking the walk.
Last week, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan announced that she would be stepping down from her role to make way for younger activists. She told Sarah Kliff at the Washington Post, “There’s an opportunity for a new and younger leader.”
“People give a lot of lip service to how we’re going to engage the next generation, but we can’t just assume it will happen on its own.”
This comes just two years after Keenan gave an interview in a Newsweek piece that chided young women to “Remember Roe,” claiming that “the next generation…doesn’t think abortion rights need defending.” To young feminists, it was a particularly infuriating article—one that made invisible all of the hard (and mostly under- or unpaid) work they put into activism around reproductive justice. It was also incredibly misleading: as I reported here, it turns out that about 60 percent of NARAL Pro-Choice America employees at the time were people younger than 35 years old.
Keenan’s pro-active commitment to seeing young women at the helm is a mark of real leadership, one that others could learn from. In a Politico piece about Keenan’s departure and young feminists,* for example, former NOW president and current Feminist Majority Vice-President Kim Gandy seems skeptical that younger women have the chops to take on leadership roles at feminist organizations: “In addition to the ability to inspire and motivate and lead, you also need a certain amount of experience.”