In a culture that rejects nuance, you can’t be partisan without foregoing your right to think critically. What should be open for debate becomes party dogma, what is, in fact, misinformed assumption can become truism. Such “truisms” go something like this: to be a feminist is to believe that everybody in society is a victim except for white males. Or like this: to be a feminist is to be pro-choice.
Feminists are pro-choice. But what truth there is in stereotype is seldom intrinsic, let alone logical. Not all feminists are pro-choice. I am a feminist. I am pro-life. And to be a pro-life feminist is not an oxymoron.
The claim that all feminists are pro-choice is an exclusive one—that to be “pro” something (say, feminism), one must support it to the exclusion of all else (say, life). “The ultimate goal [by making women subservient to the fetuses they carry] is, and always has been, to reinforce and maintain women’s lesser status,” writes Marcia Ann Gillespie in a 1997 Ms. Editorial.
Moreover, many women (and I’m one of them), feminist or otherwise, still feel their “equality” (or “equal status”) is tenuous and are still subject to catcalls from men. It’s difficult not to be defensive in response. Yet the us vs. them rhetoric of Gillespie’s statement (women as “subservient to [their] fetuses”?) is staggering, really. Her diatribe denies the inherent dignity and equality of all persons—regardless of sex, race, age, or stage of development—and and imposes, instead, a system of contingent dignity and equality: You’re equal and of worth if you’re as big as I am; you’re equal and of worth if you don’t depend on me to live.
Those sentiments could apply to a lot of people. And it strikes me that it is exactly this tenor of intolerance and overbearing control that feminists have been fighting against since the very beginning—after all, either one (size or dependence) could have been (and were) invoked by men in order to keep women in their place.
Further, the rhetoric of “non-personhood” is alarming. Whether men claim control and dominance over women—who were legally considered “non-persons” not too long ago (in 1928 the Supreme Court of Canada declared that although women were human they were not strictly “persons” under the law)—or society-at-large gives women control and dominance over unborn children, the definition is unjust. Women are persons. While, at the very least, defining unborn children as “non-persons” is problematic.
Even Gillespie knows it: “Time and again pro-choicers have said that we want and work for the day when abortions will be rare.” She goes on to explain that alternative solutions, the “programs and policies that would truly help” (though she declines to specify), are “routinely sabotaged and denied.”
Gillespie’s implicit suggestion is twofold: One, that abortion does not cut to the heart of the matter and two, that abortion is not so good, anyway (if it were good, she surely would not suggest that pro-choicers “want and work
for the day when abortions will be rare”).
And she’s right. Abortion is not good (it kills people). And abortion does not cut to the heart of the matter, either. Too often when we talk about it, we circumnavigate the really important (and feminist) issues. These problems are, of course, more difficult to identify, let alone to deal with. And yet these problems remain exactly because we don’t deal with them: the stubborn focus of some pro-lifers on motherhood, rather than parenthood, for example. Or the rampant poverty experienced by single mothers. Or, tragically, the mistaken “solution” of pro-choice advocates: that the ability to choose abortion somehow rights such injustice.
In matter of fact, such a choice—if it allows us to think in terms of “progress”—only serves as camouflage. Make-up doesn’t disappear a blemish, zit or bruise; neither has abortion re-oriented our society to respect motherhood, to redress those who are poor, to make certain rapists are punished or even kept off the streets. How is abortion—and by extension, pro-choice—emancipating for women when the more fundamental problems remain?
Gillespie seems to be saying that maybe abortion—a particularly hideous symptom—will someday be unnecessary. One can only presume she means once the disease is cured. But if, as feminists, we continue to invest so much energy on that nasty cough, and ignore the pneumonia, I don’t see an end in sight. In limiting feminism to pro-choice, we tend to think only in terms of abortion and how to secure its accessibility. How then is there time to consider—or even to conceive of—alternatives? Not question abortion? What a cop-out!