This whole debate over the limits of identifying as feminist has been really healthy for feminism. I love seeing serious discussion of feminism as a philosophical movement in the media instead of endless puff pieces written by non-feminists about what all those feminists think, even though the author isn’t a feminist and doesn’t bother to read any feminism, and besides, their next article is going to be about how feminism is dead.
(There is something else about this debate that appeals to me and that is the way in which it is calling ‘choice feminism’ into proper question for a wider audience. I know this puts me at odds with some feminists, some whom I greatly respect, but I remain highly dubious of ‘choice feminism’, that is, the notion that simply making a choice makes any act feminist for a woman and that all choices are equally feminist. Yes, this makes feminism personally confronting at times – it should be. We live in a patriarchy, feminism challenges that, and removing all the splinters of patriarchy from our brain should be a difficult exercise, it should be one where we have to stop and think and re-examine ourselves and wonder and struggle. Being raised in a system of thinking that oppresses you and then trying to identify all the reaches of that oppression? That’s hard work. And because it isn’t a system that oppresses us all equally, some are disadvantaged many times over (eg. racism, poverty, ableism, homophobia etc.), and because many of us are also advantaged by others’ disadvantage the work of identifying oppression is actually incredibly difficult).
Now, back to the topic of this post, here are two fantastic pieces about why pro-life is anti-feminist, you should really read them in their entirety but here’s excerpts anyway.
From Anne Summers in The Age:
So what is a feminist? Can you be a political conservative and a feminist? I would say, Yes. Can you be (that heavily loaded oxymoron) ”pro-life” and a feminist. I say an emphatic, No.
Let me elaborate. Feminism might be blandly defined as the support for women’s political, economic and social equality, and a feminist as someone who advocates such equality, but these general principles need practical elaboration and application. What does economic equality actually mean? How can women in practice achieve social equality? As far as I am concerned, feminism boils down to one fundamental principle and that is women’s ability to be independent.
There are two fundamental preconditions to such independence: ability to support oneself financially and the right to control one’s fertility. To achieve the first, women need the education and training to be able to undertake work that pays well. To guarantee the second, women need safe and effective contraception and the back-up of safe and affordable abortion.
Feminism has taken on all sorts of issues over the decades, from the need for childcare to criminalising domestic violence to the rights of sex workers. Feminism has undertaken campaigns for everything from equal pay to paid maternity leave to the need for more women in parliament. There have been debates with, for example, some supporting women in the military, others claiming women are inherently pacifist.
But whatever the differences and however the issues have evolved over the years, with new ones (like sexual harassment) emerging as we develop greater understanding of women’s experiences as new barriers are broken, the fundamentals have not and will not change.
From Tedra Osell in Crooked Timber:
The bottom line about abortion is this. Do you trust women to make their own moral judgments? If you are anti-abortion, then no. You do not. You have an absolute moral position that you don’t trust anyone to question, and therefore you think that abortion should be illegal. But the second you start making exceptions for rape or incest, you are indicating that your moral position is not absolute. That moral judgment is involved. And that right there is where I start to get angry and frustrated, because unless you have an absolute position that all human life (arguably, all life period, but that isn’t the argument I’m engaging with right now) are equally valuable (in which case, no exceptions for the death penalty, and I expect you to agonize over women who die trying to abort, and I also expect you to work your ass off making this a more just world in which women don’t have to choose abortions, but this is also not the argument I’m engaging right now), then there is no ground whatsoever for saying that there should be laws or limitations on abortion other than that you do not trust women. I am completely serious about this.
Finally, for good measure and because it is also relevant you could read Margaret Atwood’s current piece for The Guardian reflecting upon her brilliant novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which was first printed way back in 1985:
I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behaviour. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents, and many were to be found not in other cultures and religions, but within western society, and within the “Christian” tradition, itself. (I enclose “Christian” in quotation marks, since I believe that much of the church’s behaviour and doctrine during its two-millennia-long existence as a social and political organisation would have been abhorrent to the person after whom it is named.)
The Handmaid’s Tale has often been called a “feminist dystopia”, but that term is not strictly accurate. In a feminist dystopia pure and simple, all of the men would have greater rights than all of the women. It would be two-layered in structure: top layer men, bottom layer women. But Gilead is the usual kind of dictatorship: shaped like a pyramid, with the powerful of both sexes at the apex, the men generally outranking the women at the same level; then descending levels of power and status with men and women in each, all the way down to the bottom, where the unmarried men must serve in the ranks before being awarded an Econowife.