President Donald Trump’s election brought about a rash of protests. The subjects of these protests ranged from scientific accuracy to minority rights, but the most prominent was the first Women’s March held Jan. 21, 2017. I knew I wouldn’t go (public protest isn’t really my style) but initially liked the idea behind it. After all, I don’t like President Trump, either. The things he’d said about women offended me. It seemed clear from his comments to former Access Hollywood anchor Billy Bush that he saw women as sexualized, easily manipulated objects.
A country that would elect him after hearing those comments scared me. I am concerned, as the protesters seem to be, with the unacknowledged social problems that disadvantage women in the workplace and in the world at large. All this is to say that despite my social conservatism, I wasn’t opposed to the Women’s March. I reasoned that at its core, the march was fighting for women to feel safe in expressing themselves. Even if the approach was different, the aim was the same thing I wanted.
My feelings about the march became more ambivalent when I learned about their decision to exclude pro-life group New Wave Feminists from its list of partners. This move makes sense, considering the host organization states access to abortion as one of its major ideals. However, according to its own site, the main purpose of the Women’s March is “to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change.” And though ending abortion as a practice (not necessarily by making it illegal) is a large part of the statement New Wave Feminists wants to make, it is also “anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-torture.” It’s surprisingly liberal in a lot of its views. To put such a divisive political issue on the table undermines the Women’s March’s ability to create unity and transformative social change. It does a disservice to the diverse group of women who call themselves feminists.
It is not as if the point of view was excluded from the march entirely. Individual pro-life women were allowed to participate in the march. But the statement made by removing a group from the sponsorship list because of its belief is a significant one, especially for me. It about more than just abortion rights; it says that conservative views in general will be viewed with suspicion. Beyond a simple disagreement about the morality of abortion, it says that an organization will not be accepted if it doesn’t adhere exactly to the ideals of the hosts. A commitment to diversity of ideas, it seems, only goes so far.
I identify as pro-life, and for me, life begins at conception. However, I was not opposed to supporting a march that would inevitably skew pro-choice because I felt like the greater picture was more important than that single issue. The message that I got was that while I may have room in my “narrow” mind to support the Women’s March, the Women’s March has no room for me as a pro-life woman.
Now, before you decide to discount anything else I have to say, I have no desire to go around chaining myself to Planned Parenthood. I’d never donate to one, but I understand that most of the services they and clinics like them provide aren’t related to abortion. I’m also aware that with the decision to be pro-life comes the responsibility to care for the children (and single mothers, for that matter) brought into less-than-ideal situations as the result of unplanned pregnancies. For the record, my conservative church donates a lot of time and effort to foster care and adoptive families. I don’t condone rape or see a resulting pregnancy as some kind of just consequence for the victim. Extenuating circumstances exist, and pregnancy sometimes results or is the result of heartbreaking decisions and trauma.
Finally, and most importantly, I know that my opposition has views as varied and nuanced as my own side. It seems that the Women’s March is unable to see the same. They cannot look past a few zealots to see that there is a fairly significant segment of the pro-life movement who are not opposed to the majority of what they would call “women’s reproductive rights.” I, and most of the conservative women I know, are in favor of access to birth control and the right to quality prenatal care. We believe in the importance of quality sex education, even if it’s not abstinence-only. I don’t even think of myself as anti-choice, I just believe that the woman’s choice is made before she conceives a child and not afterwards. The point of view of the right cannot be put into a box any more than that of the left.
It is situations like these that have always made me reluctant to call myself a feminist. My mother likes to say she’d be more willing to accept mainstream feminism if mainstream feminism didn’t scoff at everything she believes. I know that feminists cannot be grouped so easily. There were women of diverse faiths and political alignments at that rally, and not all of them laugh at my belief in God or the values that go along with it. However, the general view of liberal feminists seems to be that one cannot be conservative, especially socially, without sacrificing some of the tenets that are essential to feminism. So, though I continue to support the spirit of the Women’s March as a place where women can gather and protest the blatant and subtle sexism that society so often ignores, I have deep reservations about the discrimination within the organization itself. As long as one specific political view unrelated to the main cause is marginalized, I find it hard to believe that the march has resulted in much progress at all.
Photo Courtesy of Slate