Just last week, members of the media were criticised for commenting on the fact that Premier Gladys Berejiklian does not have any children. High profile female commentators leapt to her defence, calling the question “sexist.” They correctly noted that a woman is not defined by whether or not she has children.
Unfortunately, strong female voices were absent in speaking up on behalf of Tanya Davies, the new NSW Minister for women, who this week described herself as “personally pro-life.” One particularly scathing commentary suggested that women deserve better than a pro-life woman as their representative.
Just as motherhood is not the litmus test for womanhood, belief about abortion rights is not the litmus test for advocacy for women’s rights. Women are more than the children they bear, and feminism is more than abortion.
Unfortunately, this idea has been lost by many in the modern feminist movement.
The recent Women’s March on Washington initially accepted pro-life group the New Wave Feminists as an official partner for the event, with event co-chair Bob Bland commenting that feminism is not a single-issue movement based around reproductive rights, and that women from a range of backgrounds and ideological viewpoints were welcome. “Intersectional feminism is the future of feminism and of this movement,” she said.
But other vocal feminists objected, and the New Wave Feminists were subsequently removed as an official partner. Apparently, these women disagree with Hillary Clinton, who last year famously said that you could “absolutely” be a pro-life feminist.
I am one of those pro-life feminists, and it has nothing to do with being against the right of women to exercise control over our lives.
It’s because I think that making contraception and abortion as the primary indicators of women’s rights has left women in a terrible position.
Men are no longer required or even expected to take responsibility for the women they have sex with, or the babies that might be conceived, because it is ultimately a woman’s “choice” to have the child. Last year, Catherine Deveny even went so far as to accept the idea of “financial abortion” for men, allowing them to opt-out of fatherhood, financially and personally, if the woman bearing their child “chose” to keep it.
If this actually became possible, all that would happen is that we would have even more women and children living in poverty.
Additionally, employers no longer feel the need to accommodate women who “choose” to have more than one or two children during the course of their career. Yes, technically workplaces are supposed to provide flexible working arrangements for parents, and technically it is against the law to discriminate against a woman on the basis of family status, but during my own corporate career, I saw far too many women edged out of jobs as soon as they fall pregnant for that to be happening in practice. We used to have a joke that, just like on Noah’s Ark, there was a limit of two.
On top of this, as a society, we have also washed our hands of our responsibility to care for single mothers or parents with large numbers of children, instead criticising them for having kids they could not afford. We ridicule them as irresponsible, and discuss removing their welfare benefits as if the women we were talking about should be punished for their choice.
In the ideal world of a pro-life feminist like myself, fathers of children would not walk out when a woman becomes pregnant with a child they were not expecting or wanting, and instead stick around and take care of the family. In circumstances where that did not happen, I would like to think that we as a community could step up and provide sufficient support services so that a woman’s childbearing decision is never, ever based on financial pressures.
Like Minister Davies, I am labelled by many women who believe in the right to abortion as being “anti-choice.” But I like to think that my ideal scenario gives women many more choices than a hardline “pro-choice” position.
Wide access to abortion has placed women in a situation where we need to be ready to go it alone, because we cannot count on our partners or our community to back us up.
I don’t think that’s a good thing for women.
I don’t think wanting better than that for women makes me anti-choice or anti-women.
I don’t think it makes Minister Davies anti-choice or anti-women either. Those criticising her are not only out of line, they are out of touch. They don’t speak for all women and they definitely don’t speak for me. Women speak for themselves. That’s what feminism is about after all, isn’t it?
Monica Doumit has 10 years experience in corporate law and holds an undergraduate degree in medical science and a masters in bioethics. She is the co-ordinator of Catholic Talk, an initiative aimed at offering a Catholic perspective on current issues.