Abortion Rights & Protection from Rape: What Young Feminists Want

iStock_000023348509XSmallI recently attended the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference (NYFLC), hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.

One of the great things about feminism is that it encompasses such a broad range of issues. Health care, politics, economics and gun control are all feminist issues, and were all discussed at NYFLC. In light of all of the anti-woman rhetoric in the news recently, it was refreshing to listen to hundreds of strong young feminists from across the country speak from a progressive point of view.

But there were two main issues that came up more than others. Often these topics invoked emotion and passion from the young women who were speaking about them from a personal perspective. Their voices came through loud and clear:

Stop trying to take away my legal right to an abortion and start protecting me from the rape epidemic in America.

These young feminists want to be protected from violence, but also want to be free to make their own choices. Is this a conundrum with an internal inconsistency? All this got me thinking about the conservative mantra and ideology in America. Political conservatives often argue that the purpose of American government is first and foremost to protect its citizens, and then to steer relatively clear of their personal choices.

Well, that’s what young feminists want. We want our government to invest in educational programs that teach young people about safe sex and about what consent really means. We need to do something to protect women from rape, other than arming them with guns. We need to teach young men not to treat women like objects and not to take advantage of them.  We need to teach them that consent means hearing the word “yes” and that “yes” is not the absence of the word “no.” College women need protection from the reality that one in four of them will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. This is not something that can be or should be solved by telling women that it’s just up to them to protect themselves, and good luck with that.

If you think there’s nothing the government can do, think again. The Vancouver police department partnered with a variety of organizations to create and launch the “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign, which was a marketing initiative that discouraged men from taking advantage of drunk women. Six months after the campaign launched, Vancouver Deputy Chief Doug LePard announced that sexual offenses in Vancouver were down 10 percent.

Imagine what would happen if consent was discussed in health class in public secondary schools. Imagine if students attending state universities were required to learn about sexual assault. Lauren Redding, a college senior, is currently trying to convince the University of Maryland, College Park senate to pass legislation that would require every incoming student to learn about sexual assault.

But it shouldn’t be up to her. The fact that one in four college women are sexually assaulted should be enough for government officials to take the initiative. It is time for the federal, state and local government officials to do their job: protect their citizens from the rape epidemic in this country.

To then follow the conservative ideology further, stop intervening in citizens’ personal choices. Yes, it is legal for a woman to have an abortion in this country. Does that do any good when abortion clinics are being forced to close because state lawmakers are imposing needless standards on them? No it doesn’t. Because if women don’t have access to a safe abortion, they will go to the back alleys again, whether it is technically legal or not.

Women deserve to be safe, and women deserve to make decisions about their own bodies. These are very basic rights, which is why young feminists are so angry. Even after decades of the women’s movement, we still aren’t safe and we still have to fight to make decisions about our own bodies. This is unacceptable, and if the government doesn’t step up, they are going to have to deal with my generation of feminists. And judging from what I saw this past weekend; they are going to have no idea what hit them.

Contributor Leigh Ann Renzulli is a senior journalism major and women’s studies minor at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a feminist with a blog (youshouldbeafeminist.com) and is on Twitter @lerenzulli.

Image via iStockphoto

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