This weekend, liberal activists converge on Washington, D.C., for an event they dub the “March for Women’s Lives.” Although abortion is its centerpiece, the march is also intended to send the message that the “women’s movement” is vast and powerful in general. Organizers are promising hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, a horde bearing fearful tidings to politicians: Oppose the feminist agenda at your peril.
It’s a pivotal event for leftist-feminist outfits like the National Organization for Women
. These groups have failed to keep in touch with the concerns of most American women, and are thus growing increasingly irrelevant to mainstream politics. Consider that the once-mighty National Council of Women’s Organizations managed to scrape together just 40 protestors against Augusta National’s men-only membership policy–despite more than 100 stories about the crusade in the New York Times
. And even the Times
recognized that the feminists’ endorsement of Carol Mosley Braun’s presidential campaign was “silly.” The upcoming campaign is no more promising, with “NASCAR dads” threatening to replace “soccer moms” as the hot demographic quarry. Meanwhile, fewer than one-quarter of young women today are willing to label themselves “feminists.”
Feminist groups and their supporters must see a march on Washington as a way for the movement to regain its former glory. And they’re pulling out all the stops to pull it off. The guest list includes both prominent policymakers and big-name entertainers like Jennifer Aniston and Janeane Garofalo.
Ultimately, though, star power isn’t going to do it. To bolster their rapidly eroding credibility, feminists must prove that their platform is about more than just abortion. And they need to craft an agenda that is not only far-reaching but that also speaks to the concerns of most American women. Unfortunately for their movement, that would require an openness to new ideas about what’s best for women today–a mindset feminist leaders seem incapable of embracing.
As it has for decades, the feminist movement continues to offer women only one “solution” for every conceivable hardship or problem: more government. It demands health care from Washington, federally funded child care, higher taxes, and greater regulation of private employers. Feminists oppose initiatives that give individuals more control, such as education policies that allow parents to choose their children’s schools and Social Security reforms that offer individuals options for how to save for retirement. “Choice” applies to reproduction alone; in all other areas, the modern feminist movement clamors for government to run women’s lives.
This is a sorry departure from feminism’s historical roots. Once upon a time, the movement was about true independence for women. It opposed the legal and social structures that limited women’s options in the workplace and civil society. It focused on freeing women to succeed or fail on their own abilities and efforts. Today the movement wants to free women not from discrimination, but from responsibility, and the consequences of voluntary choices. Instead of urging women who reject traditional bonds of marriage and family to stand on their own, they want Uncle Sam to serve as provider and safety net.
To promote this agenda of dependency, feminist groups often paint a picture of female vulnerability that rivals any fairy tale. This time, however, the distressed damsel pines not for a handsome knight, but instead for a federal bureaucrat offering free health care, day care, and paid maternity leave.
Most of the March for Women’s Lives supporters likely cannot explain how their prescription for ever-larger government equals freedom for women. Nor is the media likely to challenge NOW’s selective use of the rallying cry “pro-choice!” and ask why it doesn’t apply to issues like education and Social Security.
Yet most American women will see the feminists’ tired refrain of dependency and victimization for what it is. Regardless of how many marchers are bused to D.C., no matter how many actresses or comediennes-turned-failed-radio-hosts appear on stage, the feminist movement is destined to continue its long slide toward irrelevance so long as “more government!” is they only idea it can offer us.
–Carrie Lukas is the director for policy at the Independent Women’s Forum.