By Samantha Field
One of the reasons why I write is to attempt to convince people that feminism isn’t the movement a lot of people think that it is — we’re not a bunch of bitter, vengeful hags. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to hate men, or burn your bra, or that you can’t shave your legs, or that you’ll never be able to wear makeup again. There’re a lot of stereotypes out there, stereotypes intentionally created by those who fought (and fight) against gender equality.
I read a lot of feminist writers who are trying to do the same thing; we consider ourselves advocates and educators, and we put ourselves into that position of being the person willing to explain the obvious over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...and something that we end up saying, ad nauseum, is:
“The definition of feminism is 'a) the belief that all genders should be politically, economically, and socially equal, and b) the organized movement to bring this about.’”
Some of us have argued that this is all you need to be a feminist, that there’s nothing more to it than that. If you believe that men and women should be equal, than wham-bam-thank-you- ma’am, you’re a feminist.
I’m not one of those people. I think there’s a whole lot more to feminism than that, and I think it’s far too easy for someone to claim that they believe in gender equality on paper and then be a patriarchal misogynist in real life. And, while I hope that someday we’ll live in a world where everyone believes in the ideals of feminism, that world is a long way away, and in the mean time, there are a lot of people walking around calling themselves a feminist who are not and they’re able to do it because they/we think the above definition is all there is to it.
And, it’s not as though feminism is a monolithic movement and every feminist thinks and believes and wants the same things. I identify as an intersectional feminist because it seems obvious to me that every person can be both oppressed and privileged based on different parts of our identity. But there’s also trans-exclusionary radical feminism (as much as I’d prefer that they’d stop calling themselves feminists, I’m not going to start shouting “No True Scotsman!”); there’s also the problem of white feminism (which is one of the reasons why I don’t push the feminist label on those who don’t want to claim it. Feminists have a history of being racist as fuck, people); and then there’s all sorts of other disagreements — can porn be feminist? Can you be a sex worker and be feminist? Is lipstick feminism a thing?
But, probably one of the more divisive issues is reproductive rights.
Do you have to be pro-choice to be a feminist? I’ve explained, at length, why I am pro-choice. However, becoming pro-choice took me years, and I don’t think it’s a position that a lot of people can adopt. So, do I want to put an insurmountable roadblock in place for those who can’t accept the pro-choice position? Can you be a pro-life feminist?
Well, in my opinion…yes and no.
It all depends on how you define pro-life.
If you want to make all abortion illegal (like it is in Ireland and some Latin American nations), then no. Absolutely not. If you think that “partial-birth abortion” is a medical term and want to ban any abortion after 20 weeks, then no. If you want to make it impossible for international aid organizations to offer women in developing nations hormonal contraception, then no. If you think that a company has the right to dictate to their employees what medicine they are allowed to use, then no. If you think that legalizing rape by use of a medical instrument in the context of a doctor’s office is okay, then no. If you think that women who don’t want to keep their babies should just give them up for adoption but you aren’t ever going to adopt a baby, then no. If you think that women who have abortions are just lazy sluts who have been brainwashed by money-hungry doctors, then no.
However, if you have personal moral and/or spiritual reservations about the life of the unborn and you don’t think you’d ever get an abortion no matter how desperate you were, but you are aware that all making abortion illegal does is kill women, then yes. If you believe that life is a beautiful, sacred mystery and deserves to be valued, but you also acknowledge that women are people, too, then yes. If you want to do all you can to reduce the abortion rate through responsible education, through access to effective contraception, through pursuing policies that will help working mothers keep their jobs (like subsidized day care, either through employers or government-sponsored programs), if you believe that life outside of the womb is just as important as life inside of it, then hell yes.
In short, if you believe that abortion should be illegal: I’m sorry, but no. I don’t think you should consider yourself a feminist. Keep on fighting for gender equality in whatever circumstances your find yourself in, absolutely, but I don’t think that it’s possible to pursue policies that would endanger the lives of countless women and be a feminist.
But, if you don’t want to make abortion illegal, but you’d like to see it become scarce (through pursuing realistic and proven-to-be-effective methods) and you’d never have an abortion yourself, then yes. I think you could be a feminist.