By Cynthia L Cooper
When I was a little girl in the mid to late 1980s, I thought hippies were the coolest thing. Peace, love, ending war, fighting for civil rights these all seemed like ideas I could get behind. My father, who refused to cut his hair or wear a suit, is the one who taught me about illegal abortion and why it was important to be pro-choice. He also taught me to educate myself, love everybody, and question authority. I consider myself lucky to have been raised with ideals of making the world a better place. It’s part of what led me to make The Coat Hanger Project and to become an activist.
It’s funny how times change. I always thought that younger generations were supposed to be more liberal than their parents. While polls show that those born roughly between 1982 and 1995, or “Generation Y/Millennials,” are politically more liberal than previous generations, when it comes to abortion, they tend to be more anti-choice than their parents.
There are many reasons this could be: cultural trends towards conservatism, the well-funded and well-organized anti-choice movement, the reign of the Bush years, fetal propaganda, anti-feminist backlash, or the popularity of movies such as Juno. Also perhaps time itself has played a role, removing from the collective conscious of people born after 1973 the first-hand memories of illegal abortion.
Regardless, the result is that there are many young people entering college these days who don’t understand the significance of the coat hanger. Even some younger-generation feminists have distanced themselves from the pro-choice movement, erroneously seeing it as a privileged, reductive, white, middle-class and “second wave” issue.
In this sociopolitical climate, teaching about abortion rights is essential. However, teaching this subject to a notably more conservative (and liberal) generation can be a challenge. One way to do this is by introducing Reproductive Justice as a new theoretical framework for understanding abortion rights.
Reproductive justice, as defined by Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives. In other words, it includes not only the right to control reproduction through access to contraception and abortion, but it also includes the right to parent and have the resources necessary to do so when and how one chooses. Reproductive justice offers an opportunity to see abortion rights as an issue interconnected with racial equality, class, women’s rights, LGBTQQIA (Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgendered/Queer/Questioning/Intersexed/Ally) rights, environmental justice and human rights overall.
Loretta Ross, a founding member of the Reproductive Justice movement, says in my documentary, The Coat Hanger Project, “although [Reproductive Justice] born of the experiences of color, it applies to everybody.” Through the framework of Reproductive Justice, we can reach across the barriers of difference to build bridges between this movement and other human rights-based movements.
In addition to being more diverse than ever, the millennial generation lives in a time where laptops have become extensions of the body, almost to the point of hybrid corporeality. They live in the wake of a new media revolution and juggle their attention for class with Facebook and chatting and blogs and a new,unprecedented world of virtual interconnectivity.
Arguably, this technological megaboom has also resulted in a change in the way Generation Y consumes education. This generation has become accustomed to the transfer of information through podcasts, YouTube and viral videos. Using video media and documentary film to teach about concepts like reproductive justice is a relevant and accessible educational tool for the next generation.
Since finishing The Coat Hanger Projectin 2008, I have traveled across the United States, Canada and Europe doing screenings and talking with audiences about abortion rights and reproductive justice. One thing I have discovered is that through the medium of film, students can not only learn about the history of abortion rights and reproductive justice, but they can also experience catharsis. I have found seemingly disparate audiences able to engage in the subject matter of reproductive justice through the film. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee I even participated in a screening that was organized by the campus pro-choice and anti-choice groups together and resulted in one of the best and most respectful discussions about abortion that I have ever experienced.
We are living through times of unprecedented change, where the technologies of the future are merging with consciousness of today. The millennial generation is poised to be a powerful force for good if we can only reach them and inspire within them a rebel consciousness fierce enough to tackle the magnitude of challenges they face. Through the lens of reproductive justice and media such as documentary film, we can help to give the next generation the tools they need to pick up the reins of progressive feminist change and move forward into a more positive futureone that would make even the hippies proud.