NY Times Columnist Unsure Why 'The Feminist Movement' Has To Be So Feminist About Everything
If there is anything the New York Times loves, it is a good op-ed about how the Democratic Party or the left in general would do well to abandon causes and issues that matter to them, in hopes of becoming more palatable to Republicans who are never going to vote for them anyway. They also love a bad op-ed on this particular subject, as is traditionally the case.
This weekend, we were gifted a meandering essay from columnist Tish Harrison Warren titled "Why The Feminist Movement Needs Pro-Life People," which, rudely, was not subtitled "Like A Hole In The Head." Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, which is far more conservative than the Episcopal Church and which, notably, opposes same-sex marriage.
The gist of it is simple: feminists should stop making reproductive rights and bodily autonomy such an issue, so that we can include people who think they are feminists despite their desire to force us to give birth against our will.
Warren starts off the op-ed by talking about how she herself has been a feminist since college.
When I was a freshman in college, a professor asked our class to define the term “feminist.” We fell silent. I attended a broad-minded liberal arts school, so I assumed our professor was a feminist, but the word carried enough ambiguity and ideological baggage that I was uncertain what to say, and I was not sure if I was one. I am from a fairly conservative background, and my impression of feminism at the time was vague and conflicted.
“A feminist,” she said, “is someone who thinks women have been oppressed and continue to be oppressed, and that that is wrong.”
From that day on, I’ve identified as a feminist. I’ve held on to this definition for decades now. It has the elegance and persuasiveness of simplicity. Unfortunately, the feminist movement in America hasn’t always embraced such a clear and expansive definition. In recent years, I’ve watched in dismay as American feminism has often defined itself by its commitment to legalized abortion on demand, excluding pro-life women like me.
Curious, I decided to look into Warren's feminist credentials, expecting to be very impressed by how much she devoted herself to feminist issues outside of abortion. Sadly, I could not find too much on that. I did, however, find one essay about how she found it personally annoying that people thought her becoming an Anglican priest was a feminist statement of any kind, and how she really didn't want anything to do with the debate over whether or not women should be ordained in the church. I found another about how she believes that "complementarianism," the religious doctrine that men should be in charge both in the home and church, is not necessarily more sexist than "egalitarianism," the belief that women can share power without God getting all upset and turning everyone into pillars of salt or any other condiment. She also shared, in that particular essay, that she and her husband had a complementarian marriage before they had an egalitarian marriage, which seems like an unusual choice for a person who thinks the oppression of women is wrong.
Back in the Times op-ed, Warren goes through a typical argument we've heard before, one that can be pretty much summed up as "there were pro-life feminists before Roe v. Wade and then they were pushed out onto the street by the mean pro-choice feminists who wanted to make feminism all about abortion." Of course, there is a massive difference between the illegal and dangerous abortions that were happening at that time and the safe and legal abortions we have today.
Anyway, this includes some real bad history lessons.
The history of pro-life feminism is long and complex. Pro-life feminists assert that “without known exception,” the feminist foremothers, including Susan B. Anthony, opposed abortion, though critics say this claim is overly speculative. Fissures between pro-life and pro-choice feminists formed shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Still, pro-life groups (like Feminists for Life) and pro-choice groups (like the National Organization for Women) banded together to support legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment.
That actually did not happen. The official website for Feminists for Life, which was founded in 1972, says the group opposes the Equal Rights Amendment "as rewritten in 1972" and claims that Alice Paul, who wrote the original amendment, was upset about this alleged rewrite.
The ERA as rewritten in 1972 denies the right to life of the next generation and does nothing to advance the unmet needs of women at highest risk of abortion, including the poorest among us, women of color, women working to achieve their post-secondary degrees, and working women.
Furthermore, the ERA would enshrine abortion in our Constitution for all nine months — even during the birth of a child — and could force taxpayers, including Feminists for Life, to pay for abortions.
This is somewhat confusing, as Section One of the 1972 ERA is Paul's exact text from the last time she revised the Amendment in 1943.
Warren goes on about the ways "pro-life feminists" have been kept out of the feminist movement, noting that New Wave Feminists were booted out of sponsoring the 2017 Women's March, and that feminists were upset about Amy Coney Barrett becoming a Supreme Court justice due to the likelihood of her taking their reproductive rights away, instead of just being super jazzed about a woman becoming a Supreme Court justice.
Last year, Amy Coney Barrett was denounced as “notafeminist” by other women primarily because she is conservative, a devout Catholic, a mother of seven children and pro-life. “Feminists support upholding Roe v. Wade. Amy Coney Barrett does not,” Jennifer Lawless, a politics professor at the University of Virginia, told HuffPost at the time. She continued, “Opposing a female nominee who is antithetical to feminist principles reflects a commitment to the cause.”
I understand if people disagree with Amy Coney Barrett’s views. I disagree with some of her views myself. Still, a woman — a wife and a mother — being appointed to our nation’s highest court was an impossible dream for much of its history.
Oh sure. Let's stop caring about the rights and bodily autonomy of all women in order to cheer for one specific woman who made it onto the Supreme Court. Sounds great.
Warren appears to have no idea what the fuck feminism even is, beyond a general Spice Girls "Girl Power" ethos.
We need to broaden the tent of feminism. If, in order to be a feminist, one cannot simply be against the oppression of women but also must affirm abortion or other left-of-center causes, then feminism does not actually exist as a movement. It is merely pro-choice progressivism marketed for ladies.
Yes, let's just broaden it until it means absolutely nothing whatsoever. Warren seems to believe that by focusing on not wanting to be forced to give birth against our will, feminists are losing out on the support we could get from anti-choice women who might be okay with some other feminist issues.
Pro-life women need to be included within the feminist movement precisely because there is still much that needs to be improved for women. The United States is the only wealthy country in the world (and only one of six in total) that does not have some form of national paid leave for new parents. The gender pay gap has not improved in the last 15 years. Globally, women are far more likely to experience poverty and hunger, as well as domestic violence and homicide, and one in three women in the world experience physical or sexual abuse. The vast majority of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Around 140 million girls are “missing” as a result of sex-selective abortion. Women have less access to education than men and make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population.
The fact is, many of these issues Warren brings up would be exacerbated by lack of access to safe, legal abortions — poverty and domestic violence in particular. Pregnancy and giving birth are outlandishly expensive in the United States, even if one decides to give up their child for adoption, so that doesn't help poverty too much. Additionally, forcing women and girls to have the children of their abusers will tie them to those people for life and make it even more difficult for them to get out of a bad situation. In order to have control over our lives, we must be able to have control over whether or not we give birth and have children. Without that, everything else falls apart.
One would think that if they really cared about these issues, we'd see these "pro-life feminist" organizations advocating for literally anything other than taking our reproductive rights away. Which we don't. If people who oppose abortion want to fight for issues outside of opposing abortion, they should go and do. They do not need permission or hand-holding from me or anyone else to do that. If someone cannot advocate for women's literacy if I don't stop fighting for my reproductive rights, I honestly don't know how to help them.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse