Recently, one of our fellow writers authored an article on the inclusion of conservative values within the feminist movement. While we attempt to understand this perspective, we also disagree that particular views ― even when they are held by women ― warrant inclusion. While it is true that all women should be represented in feminism, that does not mean that all viewpoints deserve representation. This article addresses explicit statements made by the author and her interviewee regarding feminism, the abortion debate, and the meaning of intersectionality.
“In order to reach equality we don't need more division between women, we need women to come together as a whole no matter who or what they represent to fight for equal representation. I also think if women aren't together on this and continue to be divided we’re never going to be taken seriously by men either.”
The idea that feminism is for “all women’s views” is just simply historically inaccurate. First-wave feminism took place during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At this time, activist women were working hard toward gaining the right to vote. However, there were also plenty of women who banded together as “anti-suffragettes,” and therefore against women gaining the right to vote. According to NPR History Dept., these anti-suffragettes saw women voting as “a threat to femininity ... to the protection of the value of domestic life.” The fact that there were women who worked actively against women gaining the right to vote showcases how all viewpoints held by women were not historically a part of feminism. Does the fact that some women’s views were against the right to vote mean that they should be a part of the feminist movement? Does this mean that their viewpoint should be openly accepted in the movement? No ― this would work against the equality of the sexes and the fundamental goals of feminism itself. Obviously undermining women’s right to vote is inherently anti-feminist. Clearly, suffragettes and anti-suffragettes had opposite goals, and it does not make any sense for them to be considered part of the same movement. So, feminism is simply not about breaking down divisions between women based on political beliefs. Similarly, it is unreasonable to presume that women who believe that there should be legislation controlling other women’s bodily autonomy should have a place in the feminist movement today. The right to make decisions over our own bodies is a fundamental part of feminism today, and the inclusion of anti-choice viewpoints from people (even when these people are women) who are actively working against these rights similarly works against the fundamental goals of feminism itself.
There’s no denying that previous waves of feminism disproportionately — or completely — advocated for the rights of particular women (namely, white women and women of higher economic standing). Previous waves made the mistake of incorporating classist and racist values — ultimately to the detriment of the movement as a whole. If contemporary feminism incorporates conservative views that undermine women’s bodily autonomy, then feminism cannot be successful. The third wave of feminism intends to correct the mistakes previous feminists made — and this must be one of them.
“Personally, I think one of the big issues that the women's movement faces today is that conservative feminist do not feeling accepted and included within what is supposed to be our mutual narrative as women.”
“How can we account for more intersectional feminism within these women organizations— and I say intersectional feminism in regard to being a feminist and having conservative values like pro-life.”
The third wave of feminism has become focused on addressing how people’s different identities intersect to fully capture and explain the multiple levels of oppression people face. Intersectionality is not about political values, nor is intersectionality about the inclusion of views that incorporate oppressive ideas, but rather an acknowledgment of the ways various oppressions function to subjugate individuals. Common identities of analysis include gender, race and class. Opinions and viewpoints are temporary ― the identities ascribed to us are not. Intersectionality is not an exercise in establishing our “mutual narrative as women,” because there is no such thing. Rather, the third wave of feminism intends to “place women in a matrix of oppression and privilege,” as explained by Krishna Menon, a professor of political science. It is in this wave that feminism aims to address the specific experiences faced by women in both the Global North and Global South, by analyzing their positionality as a product of the intersections of gender, race and class in a postcolonial world. The only “mutual narrative” women have is a narrative of oppression, but intersectional feminism acknowledges that all women are not oppressed in identical ways. Acknowledgment of these differences is not only a building block of contemporary feminism, but essential to the attainment of gender equality on a global scale. Feminism does not need to cater to conservative values which reflect patriarchal constructions of womanhood, in order to make certain women feel included in a movement that their values derail.
Additionally, labeling “intersectional feminism” as including conservative women not only completely disregards the oppression women of color and LGBTQ+ people face because of their identities, but it also denies the fact that much of conservatism actively tries to oppress people because of these identities. Whether or not you support or agree with him, Donald Trump is the face of conservatism as the President of the United States and therefore leader of the Republican party. This is a focus for another article, but his racism is well-documented, and has included his real-estate companies avoiding “renting apartments to African-Americans,” and describing Mexican people as rapists. Additionally, there is no denying that discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is a platform of the Republican party, exemplified by rejections of marriage equality and excluding transgender people from the military. Feminism today is about fighting oppression of all women, including women of color, immigrant women, and LGBTQ+ people. This is not to say that liberal people or Democrats do not have room for improvement as well, but conservatism does not appear to support intersectional feminism.
“I would say that there are many abortions that happen because babies are viewed as being an inconvenience. Or women and men just don't feel ready in their lives to have a baby.”
While in certain cases this might be true, the majority of women who have abortions are women who already are parents. In fact, the Guttmacher Institute found that 59% of women who obtain abortions in the United States have already had at least one child. This disputes the proposition that women simply get abortions because they “don’t feel ready” to have a baby, as the majority of these women have actually already had a child. Additionally, in a study from 2004, they found that 74% of participants cited that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents. 73% of women cited the inability to afford a baby right now. Nearly 4 in 10 women said they had completed their childbearing. Anti-choice advocates tend to skew these reasons, translating them into “women who get abortions think babies are an inconvenience.” Underlying such a claim is the implicit view that 1) babies are not an inconvenience, 2) it is wrong to view babies as an inconvenience, and 3) resources are always available to make childbearing and childrearing possible. Anti-choicers effectively gloss over the circumstances of individual women in pursuit of imposing their own morals. Why is it wrong for women to assess their lives and their finances and make the decision that a baby would strain those resources and the opportunities of women? Why is it wrong to be finished having children? Why should those decisions belong to anyone but the pregnant woman and/or the pregnant woman and her partner? Why is it wrong to acknowledge that babies are a massive commitment and tremendously expensive — and not everyone can or wants to shoulder such a burden? Why is a woman’s decision to access a medical procedure any of our business at all?
The focus that anti-choicers place on women’s reasons for obtaining an abortion serves to deflect from the fact that those reasons are not actually our business whatsoever. Anti-choicers make the mistake of assuming that they have the right to insert themselves into this private space between women and their doctors. Instead of defending that view, they shift the focus towards judging women’s medical decisions. The general claim that “many abortions happen because babies are viewed as being an inconvenience” fails to account for, and undervalues, the impact social and demographic characteristics have on the decision to obtain an abortion. It treats the importance of legal, financial and personal constraints as arbitrary. Not only is all of this problematic, but in no way can it ever be considered part of the feminist cause. Feminism today considers the relationships between identities and advocates for women’s autonomy. Thus, moralizing about women’s reasons for obtaining medical procedures, and attempting to strip them of the ability to seek these procedures, is inherently anti-feminist.
“I would never vote for abortion to be legal — if anything I’d happily celebrate if it was illegal.”
A claim such as this blatantly disregards and disrespects the multitude of women who require an abortion. The criminalization of abortion has the effect of compelling women to endanger their lives by resorting to unsafe, unsanitary abortions. Making abortion illegal does not save lives, nor does it stop abortions. Currently, the World Health Organization estimates that 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year. Unsafe abortions can have fatal consequences — and this fact only becomes more frustrating when we consider that abortions, when performed in safe and sanitary conditions by medical professionals, are one of the safest medical procedures by far. For example, the rate of major complications resulting from first-trimester abortions are lower than 0.5%. It is heightened regulations on abortion that actually interfere with safe abortions — regulations that often masquerade as “protecting women” when they actually have no basis in improving medical care. The deaths of women that result from unsafe abortions, solely due to criminalization brought on by misinformation campaigns and anti-choice advocacy, are entirely preventable. The deprivation of women’s opportunities, as well as the preventable deaths of women as a result of the criminalization of abortion, are never cause for celebration.
“Do I agree with pro-choice being the dominant account of feminist ideology? No. But I definitely do not think women being pro-choice makes them any less of a feminist than me. There are so many other subsections that make someone a feminist besides being just pro-choice or pro-life. To me, we are talking about life and death, this is bigger than just being a feminist.”
Believe it or not, having control over our own bodies is actually a pretty important thing to many women (and transgender men), and similarly is an incredibly important part of being a feminist. Bodily autonomy is not a “subsection” of feminism. Declaring that women should have the right to control what happens to our own bodies is actually an integral part of what feminism stands for. According to Vox, second-wave feminism focused on abortion rights, increasing access to contraception, ending forced sterilization, criminalizing marital rape, and bringing awareness to domestic violence, along with the fight for equal pay, ending workplace discrimination, and political equality. Second-wavers would argue that “problems that seemed to be individual and petty — about sex, and relationships, and access to abortions, and domestic labor — were in fact systemic and political, and fundamental to the fight for women’s equality.” Essentially, second-wave feminists understood that in order for women to achieve feminist goals that even anti-choicers might agree with, such as equal pay and ending sexual harassment, women also need to be in control of their lives at home, and therefore in charge of their own bodies. It is incredibly difficult for women to be equal in the public sphere if they are unable to control when or if they reproduce. Today, feminism continues to fight for these rights, notably through the #MeToo movement and the awareness that is being brought to sexual harassment and assault. All of these issues are inherently about women having the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Both historically and today, there is no separating any of these issues from the others— you can’t “subsection” bodily autonomy from the rest of feminism. It is integral to feminism.
“....there are plenty of women who could consider me not a feminist, which really is just letting petty politics get in the way of what matters. Specifically, abortion rights being politicized just hurts more than it helps.”
So, fun fact: you don’t get to be anti-choice and a feminist. If you advocate for the diminishment of women’s opportunities and the elimination of women’s bodily autonomy, then you are fundamentally not a feminist. Partisanship aside, bodily autonomy is not petty politics — recognition of bodily autonomy is a prerequisite to treating women as equal members of society. Feminism cannot achieve its aims of equality if women are unable to make decisions about their own health and bodies. More importantly, feminism does not need to water down its goals in order to make all women feel comfortable. To do so would be a detriment to women everywhere and a direct contradiction to the equality feminism promotes.
We don’t care if you have conservative views. Obviously, we disagree with them. But, you don’t get to call yourself a feminist if you are in favor of legislation that attempts to control what women can or cannot do with their own bodies. Feminism is not required to make space for you and your views if those views are contrary to what feminism stands for. To demand space in a movement that your views undermine is misinformed — and frankly, anti-feminist.