Sometimes I hate social media. I have learned that serious and planned cyber sabbaticals keep me sane. I was on the verge of throwing it all out last week when I fell headlong into a serious debate on Facebook. It is easy to isolate ourselves in the cyber world, to cultivate a space of opinions and ideas that only confirm our own well considered prejudices. My first cyber space conflict tested my convictions and my compassion, but social media redeemed itself, at least for now.
She and I have always been political polar opposites. We could probably never agree on a church service or a meal time prayer. We listen to different newscasts, read different blogs, and will raise our boys to know different faiths. We are strong women and good friends. And I could not ignore her Facebook post about the end of the women’s movement because a long time ago I made feminism my armor. I have taught my grown brothers to announce – out loud and whenever possible – that they are feminists. My own young boys know feminists who are doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers, and stay at home parents. They have been taught that families make different choices and that feminism is about making sure women have the opportunity to make choices. So my friend’s short post about the “phony feminist fight” surrounding the economics of birth control brought me to my proverbial feminine knees.
I was upset. To me the debate reeks of sexism and misogyny. The objection to a mandate that requires insurance companies to cover birth control options is ludicrous. Not to mention that the objections come from politicians who simultaneously sexualize women and insist that our calls for access to birth control are some kind of promiscuous promise. But my girlfriend sees it differently. She worries that we are being played. She sees greedy politicians attempting to buy the female vote with feminist rhetoric and hollow promises. I worry that she might be right.
I will always be a feminist and I will hold on to the power of the women’s movement. To me this means hard work. It is diligent outreach to ensure that women have the occasion to make our own choices. Without access to birth control, we have few other choices. I will be loud, and at times angry, about wage gaps and sexual politics and the still intact glass ceiling. I feel obligated to alter the conversation, to suggest that we reconsider old habits, and to point out inadequacies in language and practice that still leave women feeling isolated and marginalized. We cannot afford to forget how much more we have to gain.
Something strange happened after I posted a snarky, not-so-subtle status update in response to my friend. The instant power of social media started a conversation. My friend sent me a private and apologetic message. She was first concerned with our longtime friendship. Then she worked hard to explain herself. She does think that the women’s movement is over, or at least irrevocably altered. She admits to being cynical and she is convinced that women will never be able to unite around a single, universal goal. But she also wants women to work at whatever they are “called to do” and she has made room for loud, convicted women like me. She pointed out that there will be “thousands upon thousands of women, both and young and old, waking up tomorrow with big ideas” and access to powerful tools like the internet.
With enough patience, it may be a space well suited for an honest conversation and debate.