10 Defining Feminist Moments of 2009
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This year, I’m not keeping score of feminist victories and defeats. That strategy feels artificially black-and-white and imposes a false sense of closure on an ongoing process. Instead, I’m looking back on those times in 2009 when feminism felt strong and when feminists spoke out -- the times when feminists asserted ourselves and our belief in equality, often in the face of powerful opposition, and even when it seemed like no one was listening.
A feminist moment isn’t only when we’re dancing in the streets celebrating a victory, although that certainly counts. We also reaffirm our commitment as feminists when we continue to advocate for equality despite roadblocks, setbacks and challenges. A woman running for president of the United States is a defining feminist moment, and it is also one when she loses. At such turning points, we must reassess the state of our movement and rethink its direction. What follows is a list of some of my defining feminist moments for the year. They’re not all positive -- some, like the health care reform process, were mega-downers -- but they were the moments when I felt the most sisterhood.
1. Barack Obama’s inauguration
No, he is not the first woman president. He’s not even the first feminist president. But Obama’s progressive platform and his positions on the issues that Hillary Clinton and others brought to the campaign trail inspired me, and I celebrated with the rest of the nation when he was sworn in on January 8. This president was elected by women voters (pdf) -- he owes a debt in particular to blacks and Latinas, who turned out for him in record numbers -- and now we must continue to demand that he keep the promises he made before he moved to Washington. You can start by repealing the Hyde Amendment, Mr. President.
2. Rihanna and Chris Brown
When a feminist issue has a celebrity face, many of us respectfully try to use the incident as a "teachable moment" to start conversations about the struggles of everyday people. So when the news broke about a battering incident involving the singer Rihanna and her then-boyfriend, fellow entertainer Chris Brown on February 8, it was a sad opportunity to have a discussion about domestic abuse and partner violence -- which affects more than 60,000 Americans every day – in the hope that by raising awareness of the problem, others could be helped.
Instead, many feminists found a teachable moment in a Boston Public Health Commission Report survey revealing that 46 percent of the teenage girls questioned felt Rihanna was responsible for what had happened. As a ninth-grader told the New York Times, “She probably made him mad for him to react like that." This response is not new, of course, but it was surprising to see its durability, especially with the widespread distribution of a leaked photograph showing Rihanna’s injuries. When Rihanna briefly reconciled with Brown, it was a stark reminder of how many women return to their batterers and how complex it is to sever even the most dysfunctional ties. In the end Rihanna did end the relationship, telling Dianne Sawyer, “I will say that to any young girl who is going through domestic violence, don't react off of love. Eff love. Come out of the situation and look at it in the third person and for what it really is.”
Despite the extent of Rihanna’s injuries, Brown will serve no time. He was sentenced to a fairly light five years of probation, a year-long domestic violence program, and 180 hours of community work, prompting NOW President Kim Gandy to note that it’s not only teenage girls who might need some enlightenment: “I think the message that ought to be out there is that we need a whole lot more education of judges and that we need to put more money and energy into stopping the cycle of violence."