Feministing's Jessica Valenti on Accessible Medical Care And Not Resting On Your Laurels

JessicaValenti.jpg
Jessica Valenti
Feministing founder Jessica Valenti will have a lot to talk about Monday when she speaks at the annual Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Roe v. Wade Luncheon. There's the fortieth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case, plus the news this week that the Pentagon has removed the ban on women serving in military combat.

But Valenti says women can barely take a breath after these successes when right around the corner is another challenge to women's rights. In case you've already forgotten the pre-election words of "Team Rape" (most of whom lost in November), here are some fresher examples. On Wednesday a female state lawmaker in New Mexico introduced a bill that would deem abortion after a rape "evidence tampering" and a crime. Not to mention our own dear Governor's comments on the Roe anniversary.

"It just goes to show you how sidelined women are in this debate," Valenti said. "So much of the modern feminist movement is about throwing our hands up in the air in exasperation. There's no space to even think about what the next cause might be because we're so busy trying to make sure our current rights aren't taken away."

Valenti could be considered one of the leaders of third-wave feminism, a movement that started in the underground punk scene in the 1990s but has became full-fledged mainstream thanks to the Internet. (The Suffragettes were the first-wave, the second wave happened in the middle of the 20th century.) In 2004, Valenti, then in her mid-20s, started a blog called Feministing to help rally younger feminists who may have felt alienated by older activists.

"It used to be, if you wanted to be a feminist, you had to have a feminist organization in your town," she said.

Valenti now writes for magazines such as The Nation and has appeared on numerous national news shows. She's written five books, and she also travels the country giving keynotes like the one she's expected to give on Monday (though she told me she's still not completely sure what her speech will be about). She said most of her appearances are in the South and Midwest, places where a woman's right to quality health care is constantly under threat.

Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country. And that's an issue Valenti has taken a new interest in.

Two years ago, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter who was born when Valenti was only 29 weeks pregnant. She has written about how the experience gave her a new perspective on the importance of quality and informed medical care.

"You get pregnant and kind of think everything is going to be balloons and flowers. When something like happens, a lot of parents go bankrupt," she said. "Had it happened earlier I would have been faced with the decision to have an abortion to save my life. I can't imagine having to make that decision without support."

"You have to think 'This is likely someone's worst moment.' Why would [the government] want to make it worse?"

While she was pregnant, Valenti was in the midst of writing her most recent book, Why Have Kids?.

"The thesis of the book dramatically changed when I got sick," she said. And now that she has a daughter, her priorities have changed too.

"It's given me a sense of immediacy. In 10 years she's going to be 12. It just lights a fire under my ass."

Another of Valenti's books, The Purity Myth was made into a documentary in 2011. Check out the trailer below -- it's sure to light a fire under your ass.

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