Sen. Liz Krueger has long been an advocate for women’s rights in Albany, so she’s accustomed to fighting for laws that protect them. But even as a seasoned advocate, she’s especially concerned with the tenor and direction of those debates over the past several years, which is why she convened a panel to bring together people on the front lines of the battle.
Krueger was joined on April 24 at the CUNY Graduate Center by Amy Richards, writer and activist; Joe Rollins, executive officer of the Political Science Department at the CUNY Graduate Center; Shelby Knox, director of women’s rights at Change.org; and Jamia Wilson, vice president of programs at the Women’s Media Center. Each was invited to speak about what they feel are currently the biggest threats to women’s rights and how concerned citizens can combat them.
“We should take nothing for granted,” Krueger told the audience of over 100 people. “If we don’t make a stand, if we don’t push the envelope as far as we can back in the opposite direction, if we don’t continue our fight to make progress, then we could wake up another year and a half from now in this country going, ‘Oh my god, we thought 2012 was bad, who imagined this could happen here?’ But this can happen here.”
The panelists offered different viewpoints on and tactics for dealing with threats to women’s rights. Amy Richards emphasized the need to view men as equal to women and to challenge entrenched notions of traditional masculinity.
“As much as there’s a war on women, there’s a protection of men and a protection of masculinity,” Richards said. “There was this glimmer in 2008—Biden was crying, and Obama was saying he was going to go to his daughter’s soccer games, and Wall Street was failing and we realized those guys weren’t that smart anyway, and wars weren’t working, and I think we had to look inside ourselves and say, why have we overvalued these institutions and these things? Unfortunately the crack got repaired quickly and we were back to things as usual.”
She also pointed out that not everyone agrees that there is a “war on women,” and that dialogue has to include discussions of how men are viewed as much as how women are viewed in order to be productive—and that, she said, includes allowing men to fill roles like childcare and running a household that are traditionally filled by women.
Joe Rollins provided some legal perspective, pointing to recent legal cases that demonstrate established sexism even in the judicial system. One example was a case in which a Pennsylvania prosecutor charged teenage girls with possession of child pornography for possessing photos of themselves, in silly poses wearing only bras, on their cell phones; the photos were stolen by male classmates and distributed without the girls’ consent, and the boys were not charged with any crimes.
“What these cases illustrate are the ways that women are punished for exercising agency and taking control of their own bodies, and in the circulate representations thereof,” said Rollins. “The bigger problem here lies with the question of who gets to control the terms of that circulation.”
Jamia Wilson spoke about the need to change cultural views by having open discussions with those on the opposite political spectrum; while Shelby Knox, who has been involved in feminist causes since she was 14, pointed out that the movement is alive and strong, but it has moved from 1960s-style marches into other forums.
“Young women are not apathetic; in fact we’re pretty pissed off,” Knox said. “If you want to see young feminists, go online.”
All of the panelists agreed that the most effective way to challenge limits to women’s rights is for women as well as men to keep talking about women’s rights.
“We’re told, ‘Why are you bothering to do that, we don’t need 21st century law protecting reproductive rights in New York state. After all, we have Roe v. Wade, leave us alone,’ ” Krueger said of the culture in Albany. Resolutions that mention reproductive health are often categorized of “too controversial,” she said.
Krueger is currently sponsoring nine different bills related to women’s health and women’s rights, including pay equity, access to contraception, paid family leave, reasonable accommodation for pregnant women and the Reproductive Health Act.
“We need new tools,” said Krueger. “We need the next generation to be helping us understand how you wage this war in 2012, how you use the new forms of media and the new forms of communication to spread the word to get more and more people involved.”
Tags: activist, advocate, Amy Richards, Change Org, cultural views, CUNY Graduate Center, Jamia Wilson, Joe Rollins, judicial system, open discussions, Sen. Liz Krueger, sexism, Shelby Knox, Women's Media Center, women’s rights, writer
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