Updated: October 17, 2012 6:18AM
One day a younger male colleague asked if there were things I hadn’t been able to do because I was female.
Before I could answer, a female co-worker his age jumped into the conversation. “What a stupid question,” she snapped, before adding that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.
While I appreciated her confidence in my abilities, I had to set her straight. Actually, I told them, there were a lot of things I couldn’t do. Couldn’t be an altar boy. Couldn’t be a paper boy. Almost couldn’t be the editor of my high school paper (I put up enough of a fuss that the school backed down from insisting I have a boy as co-editor). Couldn’t work nights (when news was happening) at an internship because the editor worried about having a female out late at night. Lost out on a job right out of college because that editor was concerned about what a single female would do in her off hours in his small town.
And those were just the things I wanted to do.
My young female colleague was stunned all this happened to a woman just one generation older than herself. She had faced none of those obstacles, so it never occurred to her that women she knew — not long dead ones — had.
Something similar is fueling what I see as a lackadaisical attitude from the younger generation about female reproductive rights. Until I saw Sandra Fluke so articulately address the Democratic convention, I hadn’t witnessed another young woman talking about birth control and rights since the last time she’d been in the news.
Lots of women — and men — my age are up in arms about what we see as an assault on women’s reproductive freedom. But the younger generation? Not so much.
Some snipe that it’s because this is the Kardashian crowd. No, I think what we’re seeing is the girl power generation.
From the time they were born — and often given unisex names to avoid being hindered by a “feminine” label — these young females have heard they can do anything they want to do. “You go girl” they’ve been told — by parents, teachers, movies, songs — and they have. They’ve conquered academics, sports, soon the work world.
The idea that their gender — via their reproductive organs — could hold them back must seem so foreign, impossible. All that “feminist” stuff was so long ago. Wasn’t it?
Not at all.
I understand that feeling that recent historical moments are remote when you’re young. The Korean War seemed far away to me growing up, when actually it was not. I think young women today feel a similar distance to advances for women and court rulings — the most important, Roe v. Wade — that brought new independence and protection to American females.
But this is relatively newfound liberation. Things could go backward — and already have, if you ask me. Reproductive rights already are being chipped away in different states — laws allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill certain birth control prescriptives, others requiring parental OKs for abortion.
All that tells me that women’s reproductive freedom stands on fragile ground.
So I want young women, the ones whom this will impact most, to realize that. And if those “girls’’ are going to go anywhere, it better be to a voting booth in November. Because in the end, that’s where real girl power is.