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Sara Lichtarge

A New Look on Feminism: Breaking Misplaced Labels

in Gender Issues/Political Issues by

When I was growing up, my family members made very clear that gender does not limit a person’s abilities. When I was in 8th grade, I realized they were wrong. I thought sexism had died off with cooties in elementary school, but learning about things such as the wage gap and cat calling opened my eyes to a whole new world of discrimination. Yes, I had mocked double standards growing up. However, that did not mean that the rest of the world had necessarily caught on. At 14 years old, I grew outraged at our world. How dare my gender determine my opportunities in life. How dare I get unequal treatment. And that’s when I discovered feminism, the idea that men and women should be given equal opportunities.

At first, my rush to feminism was personal: I did not want these obstacles in my path, and feminism promised to remove them. I spoke to classmates about how ridiculous sexism is, and encouraged them to slap on the label as well. But there were two major issues with this: first, I didn’t entirely understand feminism. I thought it was merely a group that required unconditional support for all other women. Second, I gave little to no thought on the wide variety of causes feminism advocated for, and instead focused on the ones that specifically pertained to me.

And then one fateful day I saw a post bash Taylor Swift in my instagram feed, complaining about her “white feminism” and subsequent lack of actual activism. I was confused; this feminist account literally just bashed another girl, which according to my idea of feminism wasn’t supposed to happen. My confusion and the further research led me to my first breakthrough; feminism isn’t about unconditionally supporting other girls, it’s about judging them using the same criteria you’d judge males. You’re “allowed” to dislike other women, but feminism just says if you do, then it better be for legitimate reasons and not because of the way she dresses or a misguided sense of jealousy.

And then the phrase “white feminism.” I had no idea what this term meant, so yet again I googled it. Wikipedia informed me that “white feminism is a form of feminism that focuses on the struggles of white women while failing to address distinct forms of oppression faced by ethnic minority women and women lacking other privileges.” Having grown up relatively sheltered, I had to do a solid bit of research to find out what oppression these non-white women were experiencing. And that’s when my privilege hit me.

While I was angry at the wage gap, particularly those 19 cents I felt personally robbed of, as of 2017 African American and Hispanic women were only making 68 and 62 cents to the man’s dollar respectively. More frighteningly, African American women experience domestic violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females. Even yet still, American Indians are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races. I realized that women of color experience exponentially greater discrimination than I would ever ordeal; on the daily they encounter obstacles I have never faced and won’t ever have to. But race is only one factor in the broad spectrum of sexism; class and religion also determine the levels of discrimination a woman can experience. It was humbling and scary to think of all the ways the circumstances of my birth, my natural-born privilege, had shielded me from the harsher realities some women have to face every day. I did not deserve to be born to this life any more than a struggling sex worker on the street deserved to be born into hers. This is not to say that all sex workers are struggling or all of them were forced into the industry, but the point still stands: no one earns their privilege. Conversely, no one deserves to be discriminated against for factors outside of their control. Cue intersectionality.

Intersectionality is another form of feminist ideology that is almost the opposite of white feminism. The concept states all oppression in a society stems from the same certain ideals. Therefore, advocating against your one specific form of oppression creates limited progress, progress only for you and your small minority. In short, you need to tackle the roots of oppression, the ideals creating an environment of oppression for all, to enact real change.

For example, toxic masculinity leads to the belittlement of both women and the LGBTQ community, cutting down anyone who displays “feminine” characteristics. So women could either focus on just themselves and advocate for more female CEOs, or we could protest toxic masculinity and work to create a healthier environment for boys and girls alike, regardless of sexual orientation or pronouns. Both paths have an impact, but there’s no question as to which one benefits a wider range of people.  

White feminism is the opposite. It’s the advocacy of privileged women, whether by race or socioeconomic status, for increased representation in society. Although it can align with problems feminists in general deal with (catcalling, wage gap, workplace discrimination), white feminists tend to ignore the issues that disproportionately affect less privileged women (such as increased rape statistics, police brutality, and the cycle of poverty). This is what Taylor Swift had been called out for. The most prominent example of white feminism excluding less fortunate women is a highly educated woman advocating for paid maternal leave in her company but not giving her housekeeper the same parity. The white feminist isn’t malicious; her heart is most likely in the right place. She is most likely just unaware of the misfortune around her. If you see a hint of white feminism in you, take some time to introspect, but don’t dwell too much. You’re still leagues ahead of the people who insist they can’t be feminist “cuz they’re guys.”

So there you have it: while white feminists give priority to certain causes pertaining to the privileged few, intersectional feminists advocate for all. This means they don’t just show up to the Women’s March, but also Pride and Black Lives Matter marches.

While such unwavering solidarity sounds ideal, this exposes one of intersectional feminism’s biggest flaws: though it “creates a unified idea of anti-oppression politics”, it “requires a lot out of its adherents, often more than can reasonably be expected,” resulting in a lack of action. Basically, it’s hard to advocate for so many groups of people in all aspects of your life. While this criticism is definitely warranted, I personally find it worthwhile to at least try.

Having finished my research, I realized I was a white feminist and felt ashamed. While I thought I was advocating for feminism, I was really just advocating for myself. The idea of feminism is to uplift all women everywhere. That day I chose the intersectional interpretation: all women everywhere regardless of race, sexual orientation, ability, or socioeconomic background. And while it may be impossible to implement perfectly in reality, the awareness it champions for and the small steps we can take together make me a proud intersectional feminist to this day.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards

https://www.google.com/search?q=define+feminism&oq=define+feminism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_feminism

https://www.doj.state.or.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/

https://rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

 

 

Where do you draw the Lifeline?

in Gender Issues/Political Issues by

Men should take a backseat when it comes to the discussion of abortion.

Allow me to explain.

More often than not, men are not present in the room while women give birth or receive abortions, and this is just one example of how they fail to comprehend the magnitude of these procedures on a woman’s life. Without this comprehension, it is easy to take an unrealistic stance on women’s rights. This is an issue because in our historically and currently sexist society, men have used and often still use their voice to shout over the woman’s position and opinion.* We see this when our male-dominated society calls female firebrands “crazy”, labels women irrational due to PMS, or even, such as in the issue of abortion, claims the moral high ground — even while lacking the understanding of how it feels to be pregnant in the first place. Men actually have the power in society to dictate what women do with their bodies despite not comprehending them, which is why excluding them from the abortion narrative would lead to more productive conversations. So, in an ironic twist of fate, allow me to dismiss the majority of men’s opinions on abortion. Simply put, there is no male equivalent. Abortion is an issue that is specific to people with uteruses.**

Let’s say you define life as beginning as soon as the egg meets the sperm. Good for you. While your opinion is certainly valuable if you yourself are pregnant and considering an abortion, it has absolutely no bearing on a woman whose circumstances you do not know. You are allowed and encouraged to define for yourself when life begins, but calling others murderers for not adhering to your definition is not okay. Determining when an embryo is considered a person is a personal choice and a personal decision, as is the decision to get an abortion. Furthermore, you don’t have to personally want an abortion, or want your mother or sister to get an abortion to be pro-choice. Pro-choice is simply recognizing that abortion is a deeply personal decision that each woman deserves to make for herself and should not have regulated for them by the male majority in Washington.

However, just because a woman can get pregnant does not mean that she should necessarily grapple with the question of abortion alone. Since it does take a man and a woman to create a fetus, if the mother wishes the father to be included in the conversation then by all means he should be. That is one thing. It is another thing entirely to offer a half-baked opinion limiting the rights of uteruses when you yourself do not have one. This is why I take issue when men who are excessively privileged and/or ignorant take the “morally superior” point of view, shaming women in the process. They equivocate abortion to murder, thus painting women who get abortions as murderers. Saying the zygote/blastocyst/embryo have the same rights as a fully fledged human being, and that those supposed rights trump those of the living, breathing mother is essentially taking away the mother’s right to choose what happens to her own body.

For lack of a better comparison: men, how painful is a swift kick to a sensitive area? Painful, yes? You could describe it to me at length and I will still never truly comprehend. Just as empathy is the closest I will get to understanding that kick, empathy is also the closest you will get to understanding what it’s like to be pregnant. You’ve never personally felt what it is like to have a pregnancy scare; it’s called a scare because women disproportionately bear burden of child-rearing, so if they are indeed pregnant their educations/careers/plans are essentially over. Now let’s take the social retaliation into account. As a woman, if you are unmarried and get pregnant by accident, from rape to a broken condom, society instantly labels you a slut.*** The automatic assumption is that the child was created by irresponsible parents, and the majority of the responsibility, blame, and shame gets placed on the woman, disproportionately so. We’re all familiar with single mothers, but there are much fewer single fathers, who are somehow held in higher regard. By contrast, our society tends to only celebrate mothers that are married and financially stable. Otherwise, you’re irresponsible.**** Taking the moral high ground in these situations is a slap in the face to all the women struggling against derision for carrying an unwanted child’s life to term and a slap in the face to all women who decide to forego the painful social, emotional, and physical backlash. It’s a lose-lose situation. You shame women for getting pregnant and then you shame women for wanting to undo it.

That being said, it turns out a majority of abortion seekers are actually mothers that know they can’t afford another child without hurting their existing children. Proof for this lies in the data before and after the 2008 economic crash: “every year since 2008, a whopping 72 percent of NAF clients looking to terminate a pregnancy were already mothers, up at least 10 percent from the years before the economy crashed.” If this is the case, why is there a stigma that abortion seekers are usually just misguided teens? Perhaps it’s because this fact only serves to undermine the pro-life cause. After all, it’s harder to demonize a working mother than a presumed ‘sexually indiscriminate’ teen. (Which shouldn’t invalidate their desire for an abortion anyways.)

That’s not even considering all the women who get pregnant and realize carrying the baby to term could kill them. One in 50 pregnancies is ectopic — meaning instead of developing in the uterus, the zygote takes root in the fallopian tube, putting the mother at risk of fatal internal bleeding as it grows. The national maternal mortality rate itself is actually on the rise, even as a study conducted in Michigan found “maternal mortality figures in this country may be underreported by as much as a half.” So in summation, lots of pregnancies endanger the life of the mother and this crucial argument is not getting the attention it deserves. There are also mothers who wish to spare their child with a known genetic disorder from a short, pain-filled life. Not to mention the mothers that are financially incapable of providing for their children’s diseases, as heartbreaking as that is. Though these cases are few, they provide another example of a choice that men could only ever empathize with, and prove that each woman should be free to choose for their individual cases whether or not to get an abortion.

Even if women receive proper education about sexual health, it is difficult for some to access the birth control they need. Proof for this lies in the National Organization for Women’s practice of recruiting volunteers to escort women into Planned Parenthoods. Why is this necessary? Because to this very day, hoards of pro-lifers surround the clinics that provide much-needed birth control and women’s health services and harass those who enter, regardless of whether they are seeking an abortion or merely a check-up. Without access to adequate birth control, how can we expect women to shoulder the burden of unwanted motherhood? And without access to proper sexual education, how could we blame them? Abortion has become increasingly concentrated among poor women, who accounted for 49% of patients in 2014.

If abortions are disproportionately needed by poor women, it makes no sense to have it be regulated by the affluent men that dominate Washington. Especially since when faced with the same dilemma, these men have the resources to discreetly seek out the same treatment without any consequences whatsoever. All this even as poor women resort to the only abortions they can access or afford — unsafe ones, putting themselves at risk of becoming pariahs, or even worse, suffering complications and even death. Furthermore, when poor women carry their unwanted child to term, especially without the social services a more affluent family could provide them, common sense tells us the odds of that child succeeding are astoundingly low, continuing the cycle of poverty.

And finally, the argument for adoption. The idea that, if you don’t want a child, you should let the zygote drastically change your body, develop it for 9 months, put your career on pause (regardless of whether or not you can afford to), and go through the life-altering experience of giving birth just to then give the child away. Regardless of the traumatizing emotions that accompany creating life and then giving a fully-formed child up to an uncertain fate, emotions men can never fully experience, adoption sounds a lot more pleasant than it is. There are already 428,000 children in the foster care system. Of those, 126,000 children are currently available for adoption. These children have on average three different foster care placements. That being said, it is not uncommon to hear of children who have been in 20 or 30 different homes. These harrowing statistics reveal there are already more children in America than families that can provide for them, and help explain why only 4% of women with unwanted pregnancies place their children through adoption.

It takes a special kind of person to deny the right to abortion to rape victims, mothers with mouths to feed, and women at risk of dying, so I hope this is something we can all agree they deserve. But I personally do not believe you have to be molested, destitute, or dying to earn the right to determine what happens to your own body. The experience of being pregnant for 9 months and giving birth is physically and emotionally life-changing. Forcing it on any woman who does not want it, regardless of the circumstances, is in short, cruel. And invalidating that experience by insisting they “just give the child up for adoption” without knowing the realities foster kids face every day is ignorant and insensitive.

So I have a proposition. If you are “pro-life”, you can claim the Moral High Ground, shaming women that desperately need an abortion for personal reasons in the process. Or you could use your pro-life label and find a way to improve social services for unwanted children. Almost 20 percent of children in the foster system wait five years or more to get adopted or reunited with their families. What if we changed this? Improved social services for children and families in the foster system might make adoption a more appealing alternative to abortion. Widespread sexual education and accessible birth control would lessen unwanted pregnancy rates. By providing more affordable healthcare and paid maternal leave, maybe mothers wouldn’t be forced to abandon a pregnancy due to monetary concerns. And even if the mother keeps the child, how can we help ensure that child leads a good life? A more comprehensive public education might help. Until we provide women with the means to care for an unexpected child, abortions will continue to be the leading solution, and denying women that solution while also denying them alternatives is just plain wrong.

*If your reaction to this sentence was “not all men”, you are missing the entire point of the argument. (Read this)
**This includes trans men! We see you!
***Obviously not all of society, but enough to where being pregnant and unmarried is making a statement at the very least. It’s also easier to shame someone for their choices when you’re never going to be faced with the same issues.
****And perhaps if we as a society provided more support and love to unwed mothers abortion would not seem like such an appealing choice.
Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
https://www.guttmacher.org/report/characteristics-us-abortion-patients-2008
http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/10/html
http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A59832578/AONE?u=tlc209178764&sid=AONE&xid=4f8d6bee
https://www.npr.org/2017/05/12/528098789/u-s-has-the-worst-rate-of-maternal-deaths-in-the-developed-world
http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/ectopic-pregnancy/
https://www.guttmacher.org/news-release/2017/abortion-common-experience-us-women-despite-dramatic-declines-rates

 

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