Monday, March 30, 2009

Is There Such a Thing as a Pro-Life Feminist?

I didn't realize how intense the debate over whether pro-life women are allowed to call themselves feminists was until I went to WAM! this weekend. Lisa Stone, founder of BlogHer, a pro-women blogging coalition, put forth the argument that feminists need to be less restrictive about how they apply the label and asked if there was a "check box" for calling oneself a feminist.

Today, Jessica Valenti posted this video from Feminists for Life, saying that a fairly common question she's gotten when speaking at college campuses lately is if pro-life women are allowed to call themselves feminists. The debate, it seems, is peaking up all over the place.

What I find so interesting about this argument is that it doesn't ask if women can call themselves feminists if they don't support work/life balance policies, or if they don't support equality in the workplace. It seems obvious if these women don't support such things that they aren't feminists. But this debate reveals that everything is ultimately about the reproductive rights debate. The question about who is allowed to call herself a feminist is ultimately about choice.

The video that Jessica posted is a speech given by Karen Shablin, member of Feminists for Life, talks about her conversion. But some of the key parts of her speech are the most subtle ones. She says that she believes life begins at conception, something put forth by the personhood movement. It is also something that, if codified into law, would prevent women from accessing not just abortion but also birth control, Plan B, and subject miscarriages to investigation. These are the details that pro-life groups leave out when they advocate for their version of "feminism."

I tend to agree with Jessica -- what this is about is actually a legal question. Once groups decide that they want to legally restrict the rights of other women to have an abortion, the result is not just that they don't necessarily deserve to call themselves feminists, but it becomes much more serious. They're attempting to co-opt the word feminism.

This shows how powerful the feminist movement is becoming. Despite the fact that NOW members are bemoaning the fact that young women today "won't use the word" but if the word feminism were declining in popularity, it's unlikely that pro-lifers wouldn't even bother with it. It is precicely because feminism is gaining so much popularity and momentum that anti-choice women want to co-opt the word to make it mean something different. The tactics of groups like Feminists for Life might be different than those used in the past, but it's the same old stragegy of trying to deminish the work of legitimate feminists out there.

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