How Will Chicago Women Fare in a post-Oprah World?

Well she’s gone. After a long and star-studded good-bye, Chicago is Oprah-less.

For feminists, Oprah was a double-edged sword. At times she wielded her power to shed much needed light on domestic violence and the need to educate our girls here and around the globe. Yet at the same time she taught a whole generation how to pine for “Favorite Things” and gave a platform for some anti-medical foolishness. But for women on the whole, Oprah validated their lives and opinions by giving voice to them. I know some women felt safe believing that Oprah was on the case, that she was essentially in the wings waiting to pounce on injustice in the world. How many times did an event or issue provoke someone in Chicago to say, “Let’s get Oprah!” Instead of a knight in shining armor, women had Oprah to look to for saving, informing and organizing us to action.

In a post-Oprah world, we must do it for ourselves. And there is plenty to do ladies.

Next door Indiana is ground zero in the war against Planned Parenthood. Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill into law prohibiting tax money to be used by Planned Parenthood because it offers abortion as a service. The law exempts hospitals – where women with insurance or enough money – can go to get their abortions. The prohibition against Planned Parenthood is not just an attach against abortion, but an attack on poor women. “Planned Parenthood of Indiana provided services last year to 85,000 patients. Most received contraceptives or preventive health screenings, but 5,580 received abortions.”

Sunday marked 30 years since the CDC issued its first report on HIV/AIDS. And despite all we know of the disease, people are still being infected. Shockingly, “heterosexual contact accounts for nearly 75% of all HIV infection diagnoses among females for all race/ethnicity groups” [pdf] in Chicago.

And as much as those of us in Chicago like to think we live in a progressive city with progressive people, we still live in a state where passing a law to bring truthful sex education into schools seems like we are trying to solve world peace. According to the Illinois ACLU, “Illinois public schools are NOT currently required to teach medically accurate, age appropriate sexual health education – and many don’t.” There is no way we can decrease our rate of unintended pregnancies, abortion or the rate of HIV infection in our young people without educating them about sex and how to protect themselves.

We won’t be talking about the Oprah episode that deals with these issues, because the show is no more. Instead of waiting for Oprah to educate us and move us to talk to our girlfriends about it, let’s be Oprah. Read up on these issues, call up your girlfriends and create your own audience. Grab your camera and make a video about your feelings and send it around. Oprah’s power came from connecting with people and sharing her thoughts on issues. We may not become a media mogul from Tweeting and Facebooking, but we will become more informed and perhaps, just maybe, we will change our worlds. Yours and mine. Our daughters, our nieces. And that should be a worthy legacy for Ms. Winfrey.


Veronica I. Arreola is a professional feminist, a mom and a writer. She blogs about the intersection of feminism and motherhood at Veronica lives on the north side of Chicago with her husband, their spunky daughter and doxie named Piper. You can connect with Veronica at Facebook or Twitter.

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