It is not uncommon that advocacy groups struggle to declare victory. The problem with crossing the finish line for such groups is that their leaders will lose power, influence, and face-time on the news, and rank and file members may lose jobs. Also, it is always possible to point to some instance where victory has not been secured, though these instances are often trivial compared to the original problem the groups were organized to fight.
Such seems to be the case with women's groups today. Their shift from women's issues advocacy to groups trying to maintain their political stature probably began in the Clinton administration, where most women's groups chose to support their political ally (Clinton) rather than their traditional issue (sexual harassment in the workplace).
This trend seems to be accelerating. Here are some other indicators:
- Increasingly, women's rights seem to have become a euphemism for abortion rights. I don't have any problem with people organizing to support abortion rights, but it strikes me that women have more rights than this. What happened to free speech and property and religion and bearing arms? Aren't those women's rights? But press most women today who say they are concerned with the erosion of women's rights, 95% of the time they will be talking narrowly about abortion rights. The majority of the articles on the NOW site are related to abortion and Roe v. Wade, not any other discernable consitutional rights.
- At the same time that the US Government was in the process of freeing millions of Afghan women, opening up to them for the first time the right to vote and go to school, womens groups in the US were mostly opposing these actions. In fact, their main focus at the time was instead on trying to get one female millionaire into a country club in Georgia. This contrast both points out the trivialization of the battles left to fight for women in this country who can mostly claim victory, as well as the loss of focus on the most fundamental of women's rights that are still denied to women all over the world. For many women in the world, women's rights aren't getting an abortion or joining a country club, they are not getting beaten with impunity by your husband, not getting stoned to death for minor offenses, being able to vote, or read, or be educated, or even to show some skin every once in a while. Women have far fewer rights in islamic nations than blacks had in aparteid South Africa. African-American groups in the US actively opposed apparteid in South Africa -- where are womens group's voices on islamic fascism?
- Women's groups have lost any consistent philosophical focus. With abortion, they were of one mind - our bodies are private, the government can't tell us what to do with them. Great, I'll buy that. But, along comes the breast implant scare, and suddenly women's groups are all for banning women from doing certain things to their body (mainly because women's leaders see breast implants as frivolous and not something real women should do). So, you can do whatever you want with your body as long as women's leaders agree with your decision- making. Don't believe me? Here is the spot on the NOW site urging women to complain about that the government is micro-managing their bodies by denying them certain medical items, and here is an article urging woment to complain that the government is not micro-managing their bodies enough by making certain medical items too available
And now comes this story on banning Walmarts and other big box retailers from certain parts of Maryland. I won't even get into the ridiculousness of this rank protectionism for unions and small retailers - other blogs have attacked it well enough, example here. I was struck by this line:
Officials of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, meanwhile, organized labor, education and women's rights advocates to testify with them in front of the council in October [in favor of the ban].
Huh? Women's groups are out campaigning to ban Costcos and Walmarts? Is it somehow hurting women to go to one place to do all of their shopping rather than 4 or 5 smaller stores? Is it a fundamental right of women not to be tempted by lower prices? Are women somehow genetically more susceptible to those large boxes of cereal? Yes, I know that women's groups are opposing some hiring and promotion practices at Walmarts, but is this really a valid reason to have the government ban construciton of all large retail establishments?
The fact is that womens groups have just become another generic liberal advocacy group, jumping in on whatever hot topic is out there to keep them in the press, but with little connection to the original issues that energized their formation.
If women's groups want some valid women's causes, here are some suggestions:
Support women in their transition from slave to citizen in Iraq and Afghanistan. You don't even have to sanction the war - just accept the situation as-is and help tens of millions of women who are trying to be free
Protest the UN's treatment of women, including widespread rape, in the Congo
If they want a cause closer to the US, support the women whose husbands are stationed overseas in war zones. Or, if you would rather support the troops than their wives, petition Congress for more budget to ensure women soldiers have the tools they need to survive and be victorious