11/13/2005

Foxes in the Henhouse: Feminism and the Right

In an earlier post, I described trying to wrap my brain around the perspective of women that comprise the "pro-life feminist" camp. (Foxes in the Henhouse)
This 'movement' has been covered by a variety of fringe media outlets, and Pat Robertson covered this on his 'news' (debatable description) program which I was fortunate enough to catch in which pro-life feminists described their belief that women can be pro-life AND support policies that are of interest and concern to women. Examples were childcare, healthcare, and employment issues. Many of these women feel that feminism is too narrowly defined by reproductive rights. Indeed, even some talking-point goddesses have been known to concede an element of "not seeing the forest for the trees" with respect to the umbrella of women's issues. And yet they defend this by saying that the neocons pour energy into abortion, and so too must pro-choice defenders because it is a tug-o-war like none other. A loss of momentum brings the team crashing down. We can make gains in other areas cumulatively, whereas the overturn of Roe can undo it all in one fell swoop. Always under threat, it must be protected with vigilance. I buy that.
In response, a reader emailed me to say that "no self respecting feminist would ever call herself a pro-lifer, a position which is by definition oppressive and relegates women to subordinate positions and perpetuates male authority in matters of no concern to them".
OK, sharing your frustration until the "no concern to them" part. How DO we feel about this? Language like that seems pretty dismissive- is such a stance justified? Maybe it is. Where do men see this? This begs the question- who is allowed a the table, and who is not? Who is the modern feminist? Who decides? Who are the threats, who are the allies?
I will not repeat my thoughts more on this as I have already beaten the horse senseless at H+S with my post "Sperm, Sugar, and Baking of Baby" where I attempted to offer up for consumption the criticism that men are treated as little more than "sperm inputs" in the "rights" arena.
Now mind you, this is not MY crticism. Not even my observation. In fact, very often, I have my own thoughts tucked away under my hat. My questions are not my answers, for those that would confuse this process. Questions are ways to fish for more, an exercise in restraint and humility unnecessary in reckless opinionating but crucial to becoming more informed . I try not to decree "shoulds" for people. There are enough blogs to do that . I want to hear, not just speak. So-
I realize that questions are construed as challenge. But in the interests of some discipline toward learning, I maintain that we need to make these overtures anyway- in keeping with an open mind.
Such gestures are important, I think. Which brings me back to the point of the Pro-Life Feminist and the same summarily dismissive view on them, too. (AKA "no seat") Where do they fit in?
Consider some comments I've collected: "Women cannot be pro-life and pro-women at the same time" "Women who feel this way seek to undo everything the feminist movement has worked for" (aside:have we only worked on reproductive liberty? Does this diminish the movement, to categorize feminism this way?) "We should leave abortion to NARAL and NOW and work on actual concrete things to improve women's lives" "Pro-lifers are woman haters. Case Closed".
How do you define the modern feminist? What informs YOUR view on their "agenda"?

7 comments:

Cantankerous Bitch said...

I have quite a banquet of opinions on this topic (what a surprise, I know) and I don't know that I can purge them all here. I've been letting them percolate in anticipation of commenting on your Baking post so I'll just ask that you humor my temporary brevity...

Part of the opposition to the dialog about what "say" men do or don't get in the question is based on the idea that pro-life advocates want to draw the question of pregnancy as being a condition of partnership -- man and woman as equal participants and therefore, both deserving of equal imput regarding it's final outcome.

This is fine as far as egalatarianism goes, but I think it's based on a faulty (perhaps winsome) assumption: that pregnancy, birth and child-rearing are indeed, a wholly shared experience. Trouble is, they are not. The woman bears the brunt of all of these things, from the physical experience, to the emotional ramifications to the societal institutions and conditions inherent to the entire process. This is not to say that the man is totally unaffected, for naturally he is not. But he is certainly not an equal participant either. And to establish laws that treat him as if he is, to some, devalues the principality of the woman's role and fractures the already tenuous political stake she retains as a matter of biology.

Further, I think some of the backlash reflects the pure resentment many women feel over the fact that the pro-life movement is primarily spearheaded by men -- men that can never TRULY know what it is to carry, birth and care for a child the way that a woman does. This lack of frame of reference renders male pro-lifers claims and concerns rather hollow, and gives their passion something of a pretentious quality, for they will never have to actually LIVE the result of their proposals.

That said, I don't offer any of the above as excuse or justification for the dismissiveness you note; I also find it distasteful and unproductive. I might, however, be tempted to cut some more slack than may be deserved, understanding why women are so terribly defensive about this topic, what with the assault coming from seemingly, all sides. From incremental state-imposed restrictions on abortion, to "originalist" nominees that reject the very notion of privacy, to vigilante pharmacists and FDA obstructionists, it's hard not to feel backed into a corner on the subject of choice. And in light of that kind of circumspect pressure, accomodating discussions about the degree to which men can legally influence our choices acts something like the proverbial last straw....

Anyway, hopefully I'll boil this down to a cogent response in the immediate future, but at the moment, I submit for your consideration...

Lily said...

Yes, I suspect that I carry some 'what the hell do you know about pregnancy" baggage too but am trying to look at it from a few sides!! I agree that our rights are assualted on every front, and I agree that "they" have the money and resources to pull it off.
This is what they do, though, like with ID, they give up on creationism, then they regroup and come back with something else like ID. They attack pharmaceuticals, the right to fertility assistance (married versus unmarried, recall?) parental notification, spousal notification..indeed it does wear us down because we fight on so many fronts about our bodies. Even the right to take out a breast and feed a baby... yes, we are right to be tired of it. I DO understand the idea of vigilance.
One woman wrote me "In the grand scheme of things, sorry if I can't cry boo hoo for the poor men of society-give it a rest, sister!!!"
That made me grin.
I agree with the biological points, we not only carry the baby but successful lactation for the year recommended requires a tether of motherhood like no other! Now I think at times we permit biology to let these guys off the hook, but fact is, a man cannot breastfeed and give birth, no amount of dialogue will change that. Theoretically, they can use formula and grow their babies in a vat, but this is far from ideal and nature's intent.
The breastfeeding aspect- the importance of which is so often overlooked- is the clincher for me as far as 'dismissing' their role.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

I nursed my son for roughly 18 months, and that, in combination with my husband's constant travel, left him effectively "in orbit" around the two of us. Now that the boy's a little older, he's connecting more with his father, but I'm still the center of his universe. I wouldn't trade the experience for the world, but that depth and degree of relationship is all-consuming in a way that I think trumps the concerns (however valid) of outside parties. I realize this is an arguably unfair attitude, and while I wouldn't deliberately and consciously cut any man out of discussions of and choices for his child, at the end of the day, I think what Bill said at my blog is right -- it is what it is, and we may as well complain that rain is wet.

Lily said...

Yes, its true. As you know I made a hooby out of lactation! And yes, I still have one kid in my room, and many people told me I was smothering and protective. In time, kids show readiness for the world and they get there, eventually, and all its trappings too. You bring up a good point about innocence and babyhood though. We force babyhood to end so we can feel better about our own choices but the fact is, its natural for the boy to follow you and be clingy. Its reasonable for him to be suspicious. Its normal for a baby to cry for mother when dropped off someplace. And yet we call them spoiled, force them to learn the alphabet at two, compete over potty training and who does what first. Then soon it becomes who scores more goals, gets better grades, has a prettier face or gets into a btter college. One thing I have become very good about lately is staying away from people who use their kids to play out their notions of status.
If only we would be less defensive of how we parent and what we do, if only we could be better about saying "Yeah, its my goddamned breast, SOOOO?"
We need to be better about telling the anti-woman morons of the world that their impatience, intolerance, shallow beliefs, and pressures are bullying and unfeeling toward children.
Your little one is a privilege and a delight, far from the nuisance or burden that some people treat children as! I am grateful for these kids and the time I have with them. The indifference about their world of course plays out in our policies.
Again I say that I am not asserting that men have a 'say' or an authority. Just wanted to get some views.

Lew Scannon said...

I resent the term "pro-life" as it is not an adequate description of the position of these people, rather they are anti-choice. The whole abortion issue hinges on the right of a woman to choose what to do with her body. The people who claim to be pro-life also support the Bush agenda of torture (sometimes to death), chemical warfare against civilian populations (Fallujah, anyone?), and endless wars designed to line the pockets of Republican corporate contributors. These are the people who blamed the victim following Hurricane Katrina and refused to support Cindy Sheehan as she wanted answers as to why her son had to die for a lie. Plain and simple, the are anti-choice, pro-life is a misnomer.

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