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 stltoday.com, 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.