Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest Blog: When the Movement Disappoints

A warm welcome to Steph, a fellow blogger at Abortion Gang and the founder of I Am Dr. Tiller, a site for abortioneers to make their voice heard. Steph is guest blogging at Feministe this week and has graciously agreed to cross-post here because the topic is so important to me, and one we've discussed privately many times. Expect to see more on this in the near future. Steph can be reached at


When the Movement Disappoints

I moved to Brooklyn from Philadelphia almost a year ago. My partner got his dream job here, so I left my decent reproductive health gig to live in the feminist mecca. I had high hopes – almost every major feminist and/or reproductive health organization has a presence in NYC. Surely, I thought, it will take me no more than a few weeks to find a job that I love.

You can imagine my excitement when over the course of a few months, I landed interviews at many of the big pro-choice organizations here. I don’t have to name them. You know who they are. I interviewed for jobs at these places that fit my experience, jobs at which I could’ve kicked ass. But each interview ended with some version of this: “I’m sorry, but you are too radical/too much of an activist to work for us.”

At one particular organization, a senior executive looked me in the eye and said, “If you work here, you have no voice on reproductive rights.”

Another organization wanted me to delete my twitter account. Some wanted me to stop blogging. Others said that because I have a published opinion on later abortion, I would be a liability. One wanted me to resign from all my volunteer pro-choice activism, namely being on the board of the New York Abortion Access Fund.

These requests were not implied. They were said to me in no uncertain terms.

I have a few theories about why this happened. Each theory deserves its own blog post, but I’ll summarize them in three bullet points.

1. New media is still, somehow, an intimidating enigma to these organizations, and they have no clue how to deal with it and with people who know how to use it well.
2. The thought of new leadership coming in means the old leadership has to go somewhere, and, well, where would they go?
3. Fear of the anti-establishment approach and of hiring someone who could potentially offend your board/donors.

Or I just could’ve been wearing the wrong outfit.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many reasons I could’ve been rejected from these positions. I’m not on some kind of vengeful rampage against these organizations. What I AM on a rampage about is this: how can a pro-choice organization tell a job candidate that her dedication to pro-choice activism disqualifies her from a job? How can you STILL, in 2011, not understand the activist potential of new media? The necessity of using anti-establishment approaches every now and then?

I can’t tell you how profoundly disappointed I was in the movement-at-large every single time this happened. Not because I’m special and deserve to be hired, but because I can’t be the only one having this experience. There is something perverse about not wanting to hire people who are so committed to the movement that they work in it in their spare time.

How many other young activists are being cast aside because we are “too radical”? How many people who do great work on their own are disqualified for being “too established?” How is a young, fired up activist supposed to pay her rent in this town without selling out?

It breaks my heart that so many of the organizations I admire mirror the corporate world: they are just as hierarchical and scared of the power of young people. We should not have to apologize for our experience or our passions. I ultimately got lucky and found a job at a place that does great work AND doesn’t force me to compromise my extracurricular activism. I remain furious that young people are treated this way, this profoundly un-feminist way, in our own movement. If your organization isn’t going to treat young, committed activists with respect and dignity, it has no future in the feminist movement.


  1. Wow, this completely describes my current experience as I seek jobs in NYC and DC in reproductive rights. Something is definitely wrong with this anti-radical bit, when the only way to really make progress is to BE radical.

    Maybe we should just all get together and start our own radical repro rights/anti-establishment org...

  2. I'm sorry that you're having a negative experience finding a job. I know an animal rights activist who is having a similar dilemma (that is, being flat-out called "too radical" for the jobs she is applying to). I honestly feel that reproductive health rights advocates and supporters need to be more "radical."

  3. A bazillion thank yous, Steph. I though of Virginia Woolfe's lament: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman."

    Do we take the world by storm nameless for good reason...

    Let's find the wily rich folk who's gonna care enough to fund a pro-abortion non-profit and make love to them.

  4. What a great post! Sadly, I have had some of these same experiences working for reproductive justice non-profits. When is our movement going to realize we can use the some old power structures and expect different results? We need to empower young leaders, and value the spirit of activism and the involvement they bring, not be afraid of it. Sigh...

  5. As a 52 year old radical feminist, I am in complete agreement. I've watched us lose SO much over the past few years and it amazes me that our leading feminists aren't getting it. I believe we have lost ground BECAUSE we haven't been radical enough. Instead, we've been the good little woman who has quietly asked permission, made concessions, and sat down when told...

    Of course, I was the person in your #3 scenario of whom the board was afraid and consequently got fired, so obviously I have a different view of this than others. :-)

    I'll be moving to NYC in the Fall to start my Master's program at Columbia and look forward to connecting with feminists - radical and otherwise. (Although I'm sure the "otherwise" will cause me my share of frustration.)


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