I’m more than a little annoyed when women opposed to abortion rights (like Sarah Palin and her Mama Grizzlies) claim to be feminists. But I get really depressed when women who are themselves pro-choice start buying into this saying things like: “Who are we to police the boundaries of feminism? Let’s be open to all women who want to identify as feminists.” Groups like Feminists for Life have been making these arguments for years. But hearing this from members of the pro-choice community is something new.
On one level, I am happy to hear that so many women want to claim the feminist label, but not at this price. Feminists differ over priorities/strategies. We have our race/class /generational faultlines. But even if abortion rights may not be a feminist’s top priority issue, it’s got to be on the list of non-negotiables! Let’s not buy into the notion that insistence on support for abortion rights makes one a narrow-minded feminist.
The recent series at Slate By DoubleX Staff, “Who Gets To Be a Feminist? That's the Wrong Question brought home to me the extent to which this “big tent feminism” has taken hold.
The comments from avowed conservatives were no surprise:
From Christine Rosen:
Americans have often underestimated the political power of conservative women. (Remember Phyllis Schlafly?) But feminists shouldn't underestimate the appeal of a feminist message that emphasizes equity and opportunity, not gender grievances. After decades of the feminist establishment owning the term, perhaps the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. The feminism of women like Palin isn't the feminism of the past. But it might be the feminism of the future.
From Christina Hoff Sommers:
If conservative women wish to describe themselves as feminists, and if they offer a new model of women's empowerment that large numbers of American women find inspiring, even determined feminist bouncers like Traister and Holmes won't be able to keep them from the party.
Much more disturbing were the comments from pro-choice feminists. From frequent critic of the feminist movement but definitely pro choice, Katie Roiphe:
I think the question of whether or not Sarah Palin should be "allowed" to be a feminist is a bit beside the point. What is interesting is the question behind the question: Who is it that does this "allowing"? What does it mean to be "not allowed"? I don't like Sarah Palin any more than the next registered Democrat, but I think the idea that she should somehow be cast out of feminism is revealing of the narrower vision of the movement and its uglier, more cliquish instincts.
Or this from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick:
I am not prepared to announce a categorical rule for who gets to be called a feminist. It sounds too much like the rules about who gets to be called a good mother or a real woman, and such rules always obscure more than they clarify. I am also not prepared to rope out whole categories of women who happen to oppose abortion as bad feminists.
Or this from Amy Bloom:
If she[Palin] understands that she is a product of feminism and is prepared to pursue its goals, I can give her a pass on abortion because there are, apparently, honest-to-God feminists who believe that abortion is murder and even though I think that that's not true, I have to respect that (I guess.)
Thank you, Rebecca Traister and Katha Pollitt, for challenging this, and most of all Nora, who cuts right to the chase:
From Nora Ephron:
I know that I'm supposed to write 500 words on this subject, but it seems much simpler: You can't call yourself a feminist if you don't believe in the right to abortion.
For years, I’ve been depressed that we still need to defend abortion rights. When the Roe v. Wade decision came down in 1973, I never thought that I would still be working to defend abortion rights in 2010!
Women have made incredible progress in so many areas; it’s hard to believe that we are still fighting for the right to have control of our own bodies. In our tax phobic society, it’s not surprising that we haven’t achieved some of the feminist goals which would cost real money—-e.g. high quality affordable child care provided by well-paid professionals. But settling the issue of abortion rights is not an issue of economic redistribution but rather of basic human rights. Sadly, so many people who claim to want government off their backs support government intrusion into this most private decision.
It’s bad enough we’re still struggling to secure abortion rights, but to have pro-choice feminists backing away from a definition of feminism which includes abortion rights, well, that is really hard to take.