Yes, There is Such a Thing As a Pro-Life Feminist

Catherine wants to “[create] a society in which women are not solely responsible for a child's care, in which women have the resources to carry and/or raise a child without being punished by society financially and otherwise...” Emma believes “in human dignity, in fluid gender, in an individual's right to pursue his or her desires and aspirations.”

But according to some, neither woman can be a “feminist” because as we all learned from Jezebel last week, “There is No Such Thing as a Pro-Life Feminist.”

The feminist movement, if there is a cohesive movement at all, has a lot of problems. Feminism is consistently perceived as a white, wealthy, cisgender women’s movement. We’re told that we’re hostile to religion. We are told we’re ruining masculinity. Even if these things aren’t true (and they might be, but that’s its own treatise), this has become more than a PR problem. These perceptions are changing the very fabric of feminism, keeping people who want to eliminate gender essentialism from participating in discussion or activism that we proudly label “feminist.”

The easiest and most important improvement we can make is to stop actively keeping people away. Which is why I was so horrified while reading this Jezebel piece.

Tracie Egan Morrissey — whose writing I generally love — goes on a tear about pro-life political action groups who may use “the F-word” in their marketing. In particular, Morrissey is particularly upset by Emily Buchanan at the Susan B. Anthony List, who wrote a piece entitled "Pro-Life and Feminism Aren't Mutually Exclusive.” Morrissey insists that the only reason to identify as a pro-life feminist is that the original suffragists were also against abortion.

But the pro-life feminists I talked to weren’t so pleased with this. Emma said of SBA List, “their definition of feminism is radically different from the majority of feminists.” Catherine emphasized that she doesn’t care “what a bunch of privileged white cisgender American women from the 19th and 20th have to say about the global situation of women in the 21st,” and that “the SBA List endorsed Rick Santorum in the 2012 presidential election ... a guy who supports gun rights and bombing Iranians is not interested in preserving life.”

Morrissey unfairly positions SBA List as the beacon of pro-life feminism, and in doing so, is eliminating the opportunity for women like Catherine and Emma to tell their stories. Both believe that life begins before birth and extends to natural death. Do we shun them as a result?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.” Because beyond the Jezebel piece, both women tell me that the people around them are very uncomfortable with the use of both labels. Catherine finds she is “too feminist for most people in the pro-life movement and too pro-life for most people in the feminist movement.” Emma says that “in most conversations ... I end up justifying my position instead of talking about anything else.”

I am pro-choice, and proudly so. But I am also a woman opposed to gender essentialism and the terrible ways women are treated around the world. For feminism to effectively make the changes we get so fired up about, we have to cast a wider net and include the people who agree with us on most issues. And Emma, Catherine, and I agree on much more than Morrissey might suspect.

Emma “[desires] a global community that celebrates the nuances of sex and gender, where rights are not ensured on the basis of anatomical construction, that endows each person with the same rights to education, religious expression, political involvement, and personal fulfillment.” Catherine thinks we should be “closing the wage gap for women of all races, improving our adoption systems, increasing access to healthcare, and making sure women are not left to deal with a pregnancy alone.” It is hard to believe that I’m supposed to close off discussion with these women simply because I disagree with them on only one of so many important issues.

Jezebel makes no claims to be a forum for intellectual discussion or feminist education, and yes, we all need a place to rant a engage a bit of righteous anger. I’ve been reading the blog for years and will continue to do so. But articles like Morrissey’s are incredibly damaging to the feminist community and our goals.

If everyone in the movement must have identical concepts about every relevant issue, we aren’t going to be moving forward at all. Rather, we’re going to alienate people who have skills and ideas that could help us make changes. We’re not always going to think the same things are best for women and for the world — but when we do, Emma pointed out, “we should be rallying together, not forming warring factions.”