In late April, she found her woman. She wasn’t a high-profile professional, but rather a fresh-faced newcomer to politicking for Utah women’s rights, Westminster College graduate student, Eva Rinaldi.
“I’m not sure what I got myself into,” laughs Rinaldi, who says she’s “over 35.” She’s currently operations director for the Park City-based arts nonprofit Sundance Institute during the day and pursues a master of arts in community leadership at Westminster at night, encompassing a two-year women’s studies program.
A former City Weekly contributor, Moore-Emmett’s experiences may well be a salutary introduction. “In Utah, feminism is the other f-word,” she says.
When she took over NOW in January 2004, it had disintegrated. All that was left, she recalls, “was a rain-soaked cardboard box with checks that hadn’t been deposited and had expired.”
Moore-Emmett learned a Utah NOW chapter president is “a lightning rod.” That’s because, she says, Utah “is behind enough in its mentality of men and women’s roles and their equality that feminism is seen as destructive to the roles that [conservatives believe] women are supposed to have—in the kitchen, mainly.”
She kept a folder of hate mail, which included a letter from one man telling her, “You are the leader of the most diabolical organization in the world.” The NOW phone rang 24 hours a day, mostly calls from women dealing with sexual abuse or harassment at work.
“There’s not a lot you can do to make change in Utah, but you can be in their face,” she says. She and her 14-member board increased NOW’s visibility by campaigning for reproductive rights, gay rights and Walmart employment issues, among others.
In the years following Moore-Emmett stepping down from NOW’s leadership in January 2006 to move to California, NOW, which claims half a million membership nationally, eventually saw its Utah arm languish into inactivity. Even their Website has not been updated since 2007, despite a promise of a new home page soon.
Her quest for a new Utah chapter head proved trying. The Utah feminists that Moore-Emmett approached in recent months to front NOW, she says, complained of exhaustion and burnout. “They asked, ‘where are the younger women, the new generation?’” she says. “It’s their turn.”
NOW National Vice President Erin Matson says media trend stories about young women ignoring NOW are inaccurate. “A shift is taking place in feminism right now, a transition to including more young women in the movement,” she says. While the core fight for equality hasn’t changed, the tools have. She identified online activism by “women engaged to protect women’s health” as a growing movement.
Nationally, she added, NOW is focusing on expanding abortion access, work-life balance, fair pay for women and NOW’s “Love Your Body” campaign. Former ACLU Executive Director and Westminster College lecturer Dani Eyer suggested Rinaldi, one of her students, as a potential NOW chapter leader to a frustrated Moore-Emmett. After so many “nos,” a “yes,” even from someone relatively unschooled in the demanding art of women’s-rights advocacy in Utah, proved welcome to Moore-Emmett.
Rinaldi, who acknowledges, “NOW is looking to revitalize here,” is initially focusing on assembling a board. She hopes the board, in conjunction with other women’s groups, will help shape an agenda for her chapter.
She credits her single mother with having raised her as an independent spirit. “[She taught] me to speak for myself.” She will perhaps bring a different approach than Moore-Emmett’s more confrontational style. “I don’t want to be antagonistic,” Rinaldi says. “I don’t think it helps.”
When Moore-Emmett left NOW, it had 300 due-paying members. A NOW spokeswoman declined to release the current number of members. Rinaldi, who agreed to take on the two-year position at the end of April, is keen to cultivate new members.
“I hope there are women out there looking for someone to represent their voice,” she says, regardless of religious belief, whether they are homemakers or professionals. “I don’t want to be a judge. I recognize women are equal to men, whatever form that takes.”