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Does Each Woman's Uterus Belong to Us All? The Limits of Sisterhood

5 years ago
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Those who have been following this debate for a while must be thinking, "What took so long?" But the question of who on the political ideological spectrum "owns feminism" has finally broken into the mainstream. Columnist Ross Douthat has an opinion of record on the state of political womanhood in Monday's New York Times, writing that "The question of whether conservative women get to be feminists" or not, may be unresolved but "their rise is a testament to the overall triumph of the women's movement."

No kidding. When the men weigh in on feminism you know something significant is happening.
The uppity women in the blogosphere have been trading observations for several weeks on this debate and Frankie Tobin summed a lot of them up last week in her post wondering whether Mrs. Palin of Alaska has stolen the charred brassiere of feminism for conservative womanhood, particularly where abortion rights are concerned. Objecting to Frankie's post, abortion rights opponent and Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser sent in a heartfelt defense of her organization's identification with suffragette Anthony, concluding that "abortion rights advocates should stop insisting on their ever more tenuous claim on the term 'feminism' and applaud their pro-life sisters' efforts to move feminism in a more diverse, popular and traditional direction."

No matter how you perceived the awkward political handling of John McCain's theretofore relatively unknown northern governor running mate in the 2008 presidential election, no one who has followed her transformation from Wasilla ex-mayor to mega-fund-raising endorsement genie, pundit and Tea Party guest, can deny Sarah Palin is this year's political savant and supernova. But the question of abortion rights and the fruits of feminism is not just one regarding Sexy Sarah (who, to clear up an earlier thread here at WomanUP, has not had breast implants . . . ). Although Susan B. Anthony struggled to achieve the woman's right to vote in the 1800s, and we've been permitted a ballot since the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, each generation of women has struggled over the political issues of our uteri.
Feminism's current cultural revolution began in the early 1970s and though I was already an adult in my 20s, I was not on the front brigades. The 60's had been politically transformative toward ending the Vietnam war and passing civil rights reforms, but I liked old-fashioned musicals as much as protest songs and enjoyed being a girl. I'd been a fashion model in the Minneapolis clothing market whose boring job nevertheless paid far better than actual labor -- which was fine with me because I was also a bit lazy. Though I would soon have a baby daughter who would grow up in a much more enlightened world, I still believed then each girl needed to marshal her own assets.

Injustices in the workplace, wealth inequities, and other forms of subtle and unsubtle sexism were still a bit over my head while the vanguard of change was led by feminist fighters Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer. As "Our Bodies, Ourselves", Title IX and Roe v. Wade all added to a liberated social and economic environment, I raised my daughter to live in a world where, even to my callow perspective, the impact of feminism was undeniable. By 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman, I had become far more alert to the value of woman's rights and had had a front-row seat to the drama that triggered the ascent of female political powers from Washington housewife Pattie Murray to Congresswoman Barbara Boxer as they were sworn into their new Senate offices.

Sixteen months earlier, from my staffer's chair behind 14 male U.S. senators on the Judiciary Committee, I passed notes to my boss as Anita Hill testified about being sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas was confirmed, but all over the country women decided to run for congressional office. Though they captured only a few dozen seats, the quaint paternalistic guardianship of a mostly male Congress had left the building.
Whether we identify as liberal or conservative, the nomenclature of feminism is important to all of us now. The early liberationists were liberal, but conservatively inclined women have come to appreciate the benefits of feminism, too. What we are allowed to do with our wombs is still a very controversial topic. Please read what Sandra Fish thinks of the political efforts in Colorado to legislatively assign "personhood" to unborn babies, Sarah Wildman's disquisition on the funding of reproductive rights in the developing world and Eleanor Clift on the sisterhood of abortion politics through the lens of the current California Senate contest between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina. Coming up, watch for the thoughtful posts WomanUP writers are polishing springing from an e-mail exchange among several of us over the weekend.

Filed Under: Woman Up, Abortion

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