Washington, D.C. has no shortage of self-important politicos with big egos and little influence. But none of them were at the Lady Parts Justice (LPJ) gathering last Thursday, where 15 young women convened on a rooftop patio with Lizz Winstead to plot, scheme and change the laws disintegrating women's reproductive health.
"I'm old enough to have aborted all of you!" joked Lizz, co-creator of The Daily Show and LPJ founder.
Together, we discussed expanding LPJ to D.C. through the organization's V to Shining V grassroots advocacy campaign. The goal of the campaign is to "raise awareness and get people to the polls to vote out politicians who keep sneaking harmful anti-abortion legislation into law in the dead of night."
Politicians like Rick Santorum who, according to Lizz, "hates birth control so much, he won't even pull out of the [presidential] race."
There's no question that the gathering was political in its essence. But that's about as "D.C." as the evening got.
No nametags, namedropping, relentless live-tweeting, cellphone glaring, political posturing or botoxed escorts. Just a friend's rooftop, wine in red solo cups, paper-plate cheese platters and women. All women. Some of us came from work in dresses and heels, while Lizz and others sported tanks emblazoned with "Notorious R.B.G." -- an homage to feminist icon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Obviously.
Lizz dubbed us the "D.C. Feminist Sleeper Cell" -- a name that we have since embraced, and one that speaks volumes about modern day feminism.
Since the 1960s, feminism has had a PR problem, with many equating "feminist" to "radical, militant man-hater with hairy armpits and a heaping pile of burned bras." This persistent stereotype helps to explain why only 20 percent of Americans identify as feminists, even though the vast majority (82 percent) believe that "men and women should be social, political, and economic equals." Some explain away these stats by claiming that the movement is no longer relevant to young women, as it has achieved its essential goals and is thus receding. But our "Feminist Sleeper Cell" moniker proves the opposite.
Feminists haven't won. Long regarded as the fringe, feminists have been forced into a metaphorical underground network. Isolated but unified. Dormant but willing. And now, 15 young women who span the political spectrum are rallying around the "feminist" identity, demanding access to reproductive health care, equal pay, employment security, equal representation in Congress and in executive board rooms... the list goes on.
Some in the group had met Lizz a few weeks earlier at Speakout Laughout, a standup show featuring comedians and storytellers who shared their personal abortion stories. One of the 15, Lucy Samuel, performed.
"I'm Jewish and my dad is here... this is going to get awkward on many levels," began Lucy's monologue. "I'm going to talk about the moment you realize you're pregnant when you don't want to be. It's obviously horrifying. My brain did these two really different things at the exact same time. On one hand, I was like, Oh fuck. I'm an adult. My body can do this. Alright, I'm grown. And at the exact time, my brain is also going, I can't be pregnant. I'm eight years old. I still have to Google 'When is Thanksgiving?' every year."
Good stuff. Lizz thought so too. Flash forward a month later, and we're on the rooftop patio talking about sex, birth control, abortions, relationships, work/family balance, child care and the multitude of other topics that together comprise "women's issues" (quite the narrow term when you consider just how much these so-called issues equally involve and interest men...).
Unlike a lot of successful people who become role models for young women, Lizz didn't treat us like she had something to teach us. Instead, she wanted our thoughts on how we could raise LPJ awareness among our 20-something peers. She polled our opinions on LPJ's upcoming social media campaign and carnival. And when we asked her questions -- professional, political and personal -- she didn't give us some scripted response, but an honest, off-the-cuff answer. Most unusual, though, was her genuine relatability.
When several of us raised our hands in admission to -- at one time or another -- having slept with a guy we weren't really interested in because we "felt bad" for "leading him on," she raised her hand too.
"I've been there," she nodded. "It SUCKS that we, women, feel like we owe something to men, and then feel guilty when we take control of our bodies. We need to stop feeling like it's our fault in bed, at home, in the workplace -- just stop apologizing!"
Nearly a century after the government declared that women would not be "denied or abridged [rights] on account of sex," modern feminist movements like Lady Parts Justice are redefining and reforming feminism, empowering young women to fight for control of their bodies, access to reproductive health care and other basic, expected rights.
Visit the Lady Parts Justice website to get involved and find a V to Shining V event closest to you. National events and headliners will be announced beginning in mid-July, so stay tuned! Can't make an event? Sign up to host a party here.