The Magazine

Little Womyn

A new generation of feminists learns to fear the radical right

Apr 17, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 30 • By JESSICA GAVORA
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Enter a president "more committed to women's rights than any other in history" -- Bill Clinton. But as the viewers braced themselves for a depiction of the vast right-wing conspiracy that had turned Clinton's middle-aged peccadilloes into an impeachable offense, the film instead took a dizzying detour. Carefully avoiding any grainy images of Ken Starr, any muffled cries of "sexual McCarthyism!" or uncomfortable explanations of the feminist movement's complicity in the president's defense, the film zeroed in on the reigning right-wing threat to women in America: Promise Keepers. "Self-denigration has been raised to a new level," it droned over shots of the women who support this religious movement calling on men to live up to their duties as husbands and fathers.

By the time the lights came up, there wasn't an unclenched fist in the house. A thunderous standing ovation greeted Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Don't let the religious rhetoric fool you, the Reverend Lynn exhorted the audience. The pieties of the right are not expressions of religious faith but a call to arms in the culture war. Religious rhetoric, Lynn implied, is responsible for the fact that "one-in-five abortion clinics suffered some kind of terrorism" in 1999. "When there is violence against Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena, the right cannot say they don't have blood on their hands," said Lynn, referring to the gay man killed in Wyoming last year and the transsexual depicted in the Oscar-winning film Boys Don't Cry.

By the time it ended on Sunday, feminists could justifiably declare Expo 2000 a success. Press coverage in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post had been fawning. Attendance had nearly doubled from the 4,000 who came to the first Feminist Expo in 1996.

Most of all, as the aging foremothers of the women's movement watched their nubile acolytes boarding vans and buses back to Harvard, Yale, and Portland Community College, they knew that a new generation of feminists was at hand, raised under the blanket of liberty that they themselves had woven, and scared to death of the Bradley, Olin, and Scaife Foundations. Mission accomplished.

Jessica Gavora is a writer living in Washington, D.C.