“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world,” writes the nonprofit TED of its conferences, lecture series, and sub-organizations TEDActive, TEDGlobal, TEDYouth, TEDx, TEDIndia, and of course, TEDWomen. Unlike so many open thought conferences, TED has millions of viewers and fans. Given TED’s inclusion of popular feminist thinkers like Sheryl Sandberg, one would expect TED talks to include discussions on abortion rights; their mission for showcasing “ideas worth spreading” must certainly apply to one of the major global political topics of the last years. But as reported by The Nation’s Jessica Valenti, TED has prohibited talks addressing the issue.
When approached by The Nation, Kelly Stoetzel, the content director for TED and co-host for TEDWomen, stated, “Abortion is more of a topical issue we wouldn’t take a position on, any more than we’d take a position on a state tax bill.” TED’s conviction that abortion rights do not figure into TED’s conversations on “wider issues of justice, inequality, and human rights” is discouraging, and Valenti suggests that it’s indicative of a new kind of feminist branding.
As the movement becomes more popular, major news and thought outlets want to identify with a sort of uncontroversial feminism. This appealing and easily digestible version of feminism ultimately excludes less privileged women and minority women, explains RH Reality Check’s senior legal analyst Imani Gandy; for this reason, Valenti convincingly suggests that TED can’t justifiably associate itself with feminism while actively refusing to acknowledge abortion rights. She writes, “Instead of the messy, nuanced reality, we [are getting] a carefully curated package of what powerful people think feminism should be—or, at least, which feminism would be most appealing.”
In the past year alone, women’s reproductive rights have taken numerous hits; it’s magnificent to see mainstream culture embrace feminism, but it’s important that we remember some of the more controversial discussions upon which the movement was founded as we continue to press forward.
And we hope TED will join us. As stated by NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse G. Hogue, “It is precisely because an honest conversation about reproductive freedom and access to all methods of family planning explores core issues of autonomy, self-determination and sovereignty that we feel it fits squarely within TED's mission of spreading ideas with the power to change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world.” To learn more, please read Hogue’s letter to TED Conferences Curator Chris Anderson here.
Image via TED