Women's issues have been all over the media lately, and not for all the right reasons. Birth control, abortion rights, the Rush Limbaugh Sandra Fluke 'slut' comment controversy, Hilary Rosen's comments on Ann Romney never working a day in her life -- it's really enough to make your head spin. (At least we have one more woman on Forbes' list of billionaires, thanks to Spanx inventor Sara Blakely, which had The Story Exchange staff cheering.)
I overheard some young women talking about these issues on the train the other day and that got me thinking... Is there an upside to the so-called "war on women"? Could it be mobilizing a new generation of women leaders? I decided to contact some prominent women representing the interests of other women to find out. Here's what they told me.
Katherine Spillar, Executive Editor, Ms. Magazine
"This has energized and reinvigorated women to take up the fight for women's rights. You see it on college campuses and in women's organizations nationwide. A few weeks ago at our annual National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, we had over 550 students attend representing 146 colleges across the country. It was the biggest conference yet.
Young women are strategizing and organizing for women's equality... There is anger and outrage that in 2012 we are fighting for birth control access and abortion rights, and campuses across the country are on fire about these issues. Any time these issues hit the front pages it reminds women of all ages that we have still not reached full equality, whether in the work place or in politics. And women can see that it's overwhelmingly men in state legislatures and Congress who are proposing laws that will restrict women's rights.
At the conference, a number of young feminist leaders have said that they are now inspired to run for office after graduation. Women make up only 17% of the U.S. Congress, but according to The Center for American Women and Politics, a record number of women have registered to run for Congress this year."
Gina Robison-Billups, Founder and CEO, National Association for Moms in Business
"I have not seen a real upside to the 'war on women' and Hilary Rosen's unfortunate choice of words describing Ann Romney has reignited the so-called mommy wars. That is a shame, because what is really needed is a new conversation that shows women they need to be treated fairly.
The bias against women in the workplace isn't as upfront as it was years ago. It is more hidden, so women don't feel it. We are earning more, getting more college degrees and life is comparatively easier today. Still, there's definitely a mommy bias in the work place. Many think that if you're a mom, you're not as dedicated to your career, so they're not going to invest in you.
If you look at women entrepreneurs today, many started at the kitchen table with their children at their feet. Most successful mom entrepreneurs can attest to sleeping three or four hours a night. We are trying to cram two full time jobs into one. If mom business owners had better access to funding, then their jobs wouldn't be so hard. Women need more relevant support from government organizations and non-profits."
Caroline Ghosn, Founder & CEO, The Levo League
"The one and only upside of the current situation is that it's catalyzing discussions within Generation Y and fostering a sense of urgency for young women to become more actively involved in politics -- across party lines. In that way it's a blessing in disguise...
If you think about it, Gen Y are just in their first years as members of the work force. We're learning what types of adults we want to be, and how to balance our family and work life. The benefit for us of the current climate, given that we're at an earlier point on the learning curve in our lives, is that we realize the importance of action in politics, and in other areas as well.
This has spillover effects into other issues, such as the professional life of women. Last week, April 17th, was Equal Pay Day. We worked with several groups to promote awareness of the wage gap and informed women on how to better negotiate a raise. There's an increasing appetite for discussing these issues in our generation, and that's what we want to foster."
Julie Weeks, President and CEO, Womenable
"The first reaction to this most recent 'war on women' is one of disappointment and heaving a deep sigh. But on the upside, it can be a galvanizing point. It should certainly drive home the point that, in politics, there is no such thing as a "war to end all wars" -- politics is ever-changing and requires constant vigilance.
And there are many fronts to this war. Right now the House of Representatives Small Business Committee has proposed to eliminate funding for the SBA's Women Business Center program, arguing that it is duplicative of other business assistance efforts.
But we who are advocates for women entrepreneurship know that research has clearly shown the unique value of the WBC program and that its relational style of delivering services makes it quite unique when compared with Small Business Development Centers and SCORE."
Kathryn Kolbert, Director of Barnard College's Athena Center for Leadership Studies, Columbia University
"With the recent attacks on women's rights, the right has re-emerged with its most draconian agenda since 1992, the last time we saw sustained policy attacks on women. The fact that we are having to refight many of the battles we have won in the past is disturbing.
The fact that the right has enough power in Congress and state legislatures to eliminate contraceptive programs for women is depressing. Even in the days when we fought attacks on abortion rights, we had enough votes to defeat attacks on contraception.
I think the upside of the recent attacks is that young women who were born in the 1980s and 1990s are becoming more interested politically. There is a lot of debate and discussion going on right now in the feminist blogs, you can't miss it. Young women are angry, and anger leads to action."
What happens when a woman is fed up with being denigrated? Watch Rose's story.