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The term ‘feminism’ has too much baggage for pro-lifers to reclaim it as their own

We need an inventive genius to think of a new one

By on Wednesday, 14 March 2012

At the Fifth International Youth Pro-Life Conference, held in Rotherham at the beginning of March, Fiorella Nash, a researcher, writer and political assistant for SPUC, gave a spirited talk on “pro-life feminism”. Among her many excellent points were that modern, radical feminism is opposed to the pro-life movement, even though the original feminists never supported abortion; that there is a “right-to-choose” dogma and women who oppose this ideology are bullied; that feminists are largely silent about “gendercide”; and that abortion providers see themselves as acting in the name of women generally.

She said with rightful indignation: “How dare the pro-abortion lobby speak in my name or in women’s name!”

A similar point was made by Colleen Carroll Campbell, who writes for the St Louis website, and who was quoted recently on Sheila Liaugminas’s blog. Liaugminas said: “The casual observer would get the impression that the [US] bishops are over here and women are over there. And the feminist establishment is the abortion establishment. But there’s a chorus of women across the nation groaning when they hear that. There’s a trend we see among young women, and they’re vastly pro-life… The March for Life is dominated by young women, the trends are moving in our direction…”

I agree with all this. I am furious when I hear well-known feminists over here, including just about all the women columnists in the national newspapers, write as if they were representing the plight and the woes of Everywoman. It must be just as irritating in the States when pro-life women over there hear Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (both raised as Catholics yet staunchly pro-abortion) claim to represent their fellow women.

And as Fiorella pointedly asks, referring to the silence of feminists over the widespread practice of aborting baby girls in China: whatever happened to the universal sisterhood? She herself specialises in pro-life issues from a feminist perspective. But can you call yourself a “pro-life feminist” these days? I can understand the wish to wrest the word “feminism” away from women who support abortion (it’s hard to call them “pro-choice” when they give the unborn child no choice at all.) It forces these feminists to confront an alternative viewpoint and it tells other pro-life women that you also stand for equality with men in certain respects; you don’t define yourself by the old stereotypes, such as “housewife”.

But personally I think that we pro-life women have to stop describing ourselves as “feminists” of any description. The word has too much negative baggage attached to it. Although its origins lie in France in the early 19th century (“feminisme”), its popular usage began in the 1960s when the phrase “women’s liberation” got a bad name – perhaps by being too closely associated by the batty element which publicly burnt bras? Now “feminism” has a bad name too. It is forever tainted by association with “reproductive rights” – a horrible euphemism for abortion. This was something that the original suffragettes would never have dreamed of campaigning for, as Fiorella observed in her talk.

We need to think of a different word to describe the silent majority of women, whether they have religious beliefs or not (think of Chinese Communist mothers, forced into late abortions by the state), whom the modern usage of “feminism” fails entirely to encompass. I have been trying to think of one, and failing. It requires a certain inventive genius – think of “Beanz Meanz Heinz” – to gain common currency. If it is not too Catholic I would love it to allude in some way to Our Lady who had every attribute that properly defines women: strength, tenderness, maternal love, fidelity, patience.

When I was an undergraduate and was asked my political stance, I always replied “Dreyfusard”. This was more or less pure affectation but it made people enquire what I meant; then I could explain in a pretentious fashion that I was on the side of the underdog, of whatever race or party. I can see that “pro-life feminism” intends to be similarly challenging; but perhaps a new invention is now required.

  • Reaction

    There are two feminisms (1) classical (2) second-wave. The first one was largely Protestant and utilitarian; about “votes”, getting women into the work place more and make them taxable, etc. The second was largely a product of American Jews and is about encouraging hatred of men to destroy the family (think Andrea Dworkin). I’m not sure if either are compatible with a Catholic position, but obviously the latter, the vicious Jewish version which crosses over with Marxism, is clearly the most malicious. Some of the early “classical” feminists were explicitly anti-abortion.

  • Sean Gough

    how did this racist **** get past the moderator?

  • theroadmaster

    It does seem that the word “feminist” has been hijacked by radical ideologues who since the 60′s wanted to portray the rights of women as being antithetical to the traditional role of a woman as home-maker,  mother and wife.  In their sustained campaign to overthrow this image, they have undermined the true radical nature of  the nourishing, life-giving aspect of the female gender in today’s world.  Their idea of empowerment for women, was to have them behave and think more like men with a disregard for the resultant societal consequences, while denying/suppressing the realities of their innate biology and maternal qualities.  True feminists across the Western World must reclaim the prophetic and life-giving aspects of being a woman and send out a much more inspiring message than has been the case with the insidious propaganda disseminated by those whose agenda is anti-life, anti-family and ultimately against the best interests of women.

  • Cal-J

    I always liked “personalism”, in the vein of JP II’s teaching. Dedicated to the recognizing the proper dignities and glories of the human being, regardless of sex.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not the baggage that damns feminism, it’s the desired destination that damns feminism.

    The claim that there’s such a thing as ‘nice’ feminism is – and always has been – false.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a professor and Catholic. amongst colleagues I have herd a new term around the university termed womanism. I don’t know much about so here’s my impression of it.
    Women want marriage, families and don’t want to be defined solely by their job, but still seek to have jobs. These jobs will be interrupted by children throughout the being pregnant and birth parts and may require temporary leaves. Having a family shouldn’t be mutually exclusive with job or a career.
    I’m missing a lot, I’m guessing, but I have strived for this lifestyle for my wife and when she gets older my daughter. Goto college have a career, a family and never suppress chemically or surgically the glorious act that you are a woman/female.