Monday, March 31, 2008

Wam 2008 Wrap Up

Well I’m back from my weekend adventures in Boston (which went swimmingly until I left my bag on the shuttle to long-term parking in Baltimore resulting in an hour and 45-minute roundtrip drive to retrieve it. Ah well.) I've learned that if I want to blog and travel I'm probably going to have to buy a laptop sometime this year...

First off let me say the Center for New Words, and Jaclyn Friedman rocks. This was my first time attending the Women, Action & the Media Conference (official name of WAM! 2008) and apparently it’s doubled in sized since 2007. Roughly 600 attendees came this year and yet somehow Jaclyn made putting on a conference look easy. I have no idea how she did it, but I was impressed how smoothly everything ran. Plus they fed us at every turn and you can’t help but appreciate it.

Going to a conference like this can be totally energizing, and also really helpful to see the good that my organization, American Forum and the National Women’s Editorial Forum, does. (Here you can see women talking to my coworker Sui Lang after our panel discussion "You in the Commentary Continuum: Crafting an Op-Ed." Great smile Sui Lang!)

I ran into so many women who have written for us and I talked to a lot of great women who are also eager to write op-eds. I encouraged a lot of people to consider applying for our May media training session in Washington, DC. (Anyone interested in learning how to get their messages out in the media, print/TV/radio, should think about applying. We’re looking for candidates from across the country and there are scholarships available to offset travel costs.)

I also grabbed some neat “conference swag” from Planned Parenthood. This is an array of flavored lubes including mint, watermelon, strawberry-kiwi, bubble gum (?!) and pina colada. Ahh, I love freebies like these.

As for the panels, one of the best ones I attended was “Breaking the Frame: Revitalizing and Redefining Reproductive Rights Media Coverage” with Emily Douglas from RH Reality Check, Aimee Thorn-Thomsen, executive director of Pro-Choice Public Education Project, Cristina Page, author (and columnist who’s written for American Forum) and Amada Marcotte, host of RealityCast and blogger on Pandagon.

One thing I noticed as a bit of theme for the weekend was how frequently progressive media is not entirely supportive of women. It’s a trend I’ve noticed from backdoor stories about how some liberal organizations still seem to think that women’s issues are secondary, or “fluffy” or that having one woman author amongst a sea of white men is somehow progressive. Its sad to think we have to continue these discussions with what should be already supportive partners. It's hard to continue these conversations with both mainstream publications and alternative voices.

In any case, I prefence that to bring up the fact that during the panel Cristina Page mentioned that Jon Stewart’s booker told her “Jon’s never going to do an episode on abortion, it’s just not funny.” Which Page rightly pointed out that what is naturally “funny” about Iraq? Moreover, if the issue is just to “avoid” talking about controversial topics, Stewart had no problem bringing on Ramesh Ponnuru to talk about his book “Party of Death” which is about the Democratic Party’s commitment to keeping abortion legal. So it’s apparently not controversial to bring on anti-abortion authors, but pro-choice...phweett! “Not funny.”

Amanda Marcotte brought up what I thought was an interesting point that talking about abortion also means talking about sex. I think Americans, if we’re not prudish exactly, are happily judgmental about other people’s sex lives. I mentioned to the panel an op-ed column in the Washington Post a couple years ago by a well-to-do 42-year-old woman who found out it was hard to get emergency contraception and then ended up getting an abortion because she became pregnant. A lot of the commentary and the live chat that followed her column chastised for not living her life perfectly (and for having the abortion) proof that the public can always figure out how someone else could have run their lives.

It’s sad because I sometimes thing we need to talk more about personal abortion stories. Ms Magazine had the “We Had Abortions” issue but it was just a list of names, not stories. As Cristina Page pointed out on the panel “We have statistics, and [anti-choicers] have heart-breaking stories.” It’s not that I think we should engage in tit-for-tat narratives -- because part of being pro-CHOICE means that I don’t have to endorse your choice -- I just have to allow you the agency to make that choice yourself about whether to become a parent. (Frankly sometimes I think a lot of people shouldn’t have become parents...)

But, because it's extremely difficult to talk about later-term abortions (where the anti-choicers have shifted all the rhetoric) and the reasons why they may be performed, I think our side does need to present some personal stories to help explain why abortion is a personal story for every woman.


Katie said...

Aw, damn! Well, hopefully we can catch up next time.

I really liked that panel on reproductive justice. I did feel, though, like that session, and most of the stuff I was seeing and hearing, had a really exclusive U.S. focus. Did you get that sense? I mean, I didn't expect WAM to be the World Social Forum or anything, but at least acknowledging the uniquely dominant position of the U.S. and putting some of the women-and-media insights in the context of American imperialism would have added a great dimension, I think.

NewsCat said...

I agree with you the discussion was American-centric, but I was actually okay with that. I recognized that US-policy, specifically with how international AIDS relief funding is applied by Congress with strings attached is something that the US can effect.

I actually think it might have been a good panel (and maybe it was discussed elsewhere) what American Feminists can and should do about women's issues overseas, ie the plight of women in Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. Because "U.S. feminists don't care about execution of women in Afghanistan" is a crudgel used by conservatives to beat over the head of groups like NOW, but I think there's a good question there how can we talk about the plight of women (especially those in less war-torn countries like Iran) without taking over their own agency in their countries to affect change themselves. (This is aside from horrible trade issues that effect not only women but men in many countries.)

A friend of mine was found of quoting saying that a lot of colonialism was about white men saving brown women from brown men. And I myself struggle with what to do with the information that women in many countries do not have agency (or much agency) to affect change.

habladora said...

Hey, thanks for the report and for the introduction to so many amazing organizations. It might take me awhile to really browse through all the links, but hopefully I'll find some way to become involved.