Erin Matson is the Action Vice President for the National Organization for Women, where she oversees the grassroots organizing efforts and national action campaigns for the organization, while also spearheading the use of new technologies within the feminist activist arena. Read on for her thoughts on recent successes and setbacks for women, how to get involved in the feminist movement and more!
Q: As the Action Vice President for the National Organization of Women (NOW), your hands must be very full! Since the start of 2012, what, in your opinion, have been the biggest success(es) and the biggest defeat(s) for women in this country?
EM: I see the Affordable Care Act as the greatest piece of progressive legislation in my lifetime. It represents incredible advancement for women. Not just coverage of contraception (which is huge!), but ending what had been an epidemic of discrimination against women in the private insurance industry. The Supreme Court upholding it is the feminist story of 2012. A majority of the majority were women – Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. And as the first woman Speaker of the House (at the time it was passed), Rep. Nancy Pelosi made it happen.
It’s over-the-moon exciting to see so many younger women rising online and in the streets. It’s audacious, it is creative, it is producing results. Susan G. Komen partially backtracking after cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell partially backtracking from an invasive ultrasound requirement for women seeking abortion care are two examples of the results. SlutWalks the year before were a sneak preview — I see 2012 as the year that younger women are indisputably seen by the media and the progressive community as holding the reins of the modern women’s movement.
Defeats, retch. Where to begin? Since the 2010 election cycle we have seen a record volume of attacks on reproductive rights at the federal and state levels. Ultrasound requirements, closing down clinics with unnecessary regulations, reopening contraception as a point of controversy for the first time in decades, relentless attacks on Planned Parenthood and family planning services for low-income women, abortion funding restrictions, race- and sex- selection bills targeting women of color, the Michigan representative barred from speaking after saying the word “vagina” in reference to a bill restrictive to a woman’s health, the list goes on and on. Then you have things like what happened with the Paycheck Fairness Act, with every Republican standing on the Senate floor voting to block debate – just debate, gang –of the bill when the vast majority in this country support the idea of a new law to ensure equal pay. And then you have the 18-year bipartisan tradition of supporting the Violence Against Women Act thrown into controversy for the first time, with radical right-wing ideologues leading a drive to actually roll back portions of the law that have saved the lives of countless women and children. There is a War on Women in the United States this year. It is real. It must end. The elections this fall are critical.
Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for feminist activists right now?
EM: The Internet is changing the dynamics of power in a really, really positive way. Hierarchies are flattening. It’s now possible for individuals to link up with a global movement and make it hyper-local without passing through gatekeepers. It’s possible for a small group of teenagers to improve a publication that has been promoting unrealistic beauty ideals for decades. This is an exciting, creative time for the feminist movement and specifically for the activists within it.
If President Obama is re-elected, which I know many fellow feminists are working with me to do, I think we’ll have opportunities to push for more progress. I’d love to see a push to get CEDAW, the United Nation women’s treaty, ratified by the end of a second Obama term. We are the only industrialized country yet to ratify, and come on, President Carter signed it and it has been waiting for Senate ratification since a time before I was born!
Q: Thankfully, there are many organizations dedicated to women’s rights activism. What separates NOW from the pack?
EM: The National Organization for Women covers all the issues that effects women’s lives, and we have a huge, independent chapter network around the country that is doing wonderful work every day.
Q: It’s very easy to read about issues and become incensed, but sometimes it seems daunting to actually move from “armchair” activism to active participation. For those interested in becoming more active in women’s rights issues, but don’t quite know where to start, what advice would you give them?
EM: Give yourself permission to try multiple ways into the movement, and see what works best. Sure, attend a NOW meeting, but also try linking up with other feminists online through some of the major blogs, like Feministing. Get on Twitter! Hook up with other local groups in your community. Check out a variety of ways to get involved. Sooner or later something will feel like the right place for you.
Q: Who are your feminist role models?
EM: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a model of grace, perseverance and possibility. And the next generation of outspoken, unapologetic feminist activists lights my fire!