Wednesday, 16 March 2011
I loved reading the responses to my guest post at C Jane Enjoy It, which went up on Sunday. After the explosive reaction Courtney's previous posts about feminism have received, I wasn't sure whether I was going to be in for a barrage of abuse or much virtual back-slapping. Actually the response was more in line with the latter, which was heartening. Not because it makes me smug that people liked my post (although it was a post I spent a lot of time writing and thinking about) but because it was obvious from previous discussions on women's issues that among Courtney's readers, feelings on feminism run high and also that it's a controversial ideology.
One reader pointed out that I had not mentioned the subject of abortion at all in the post and wondered why this was so, seeing as the main theme of the post was feminism and religion. I have to say, it's a fair point. When I was writing the post, abortion wasn't something which crossed my mind, if I'm honest. I wanted my piece to focus on the concept of equality, how it relates to Christian teaching, how it has played a part in my life and also the issue of acknowledging privilege when considering our support (or lack of it) for gender issues.
Although I attempted to explain this in a comment, it seemed that the catalyst had been provided and from then on, a steady stream of comments relating to abortion appeared, ranging from the middle-of-the-road and measured to the downright hostile and obnoxious, references to 'man-hating', 'Satan' and 'baby murdering' abound, along with a warning about the 'consequences' of my 'unrepentant sin'.
When you wade into a discussion on a blog which is read by a great many conservative, religious women I think this is to be expected. I'm used to hearing that my opinions on gender go against God's design for women and yes, there were a few comments along those lines. But anti-choice anger is not really the sort of reaction I regularly encounter, associating as I do with a bunch of feminists and liberals and lefties. It's actually something you encounter far less in the UK and it's vital to understanding the way the abortion debate in the US plays such a huge part in feminism. What I noticed was the way it was instantly able to shut down discussion on most other issues raised in my post.
Once the knives are out regarding abortion, you know a debate is probably going to go downhill. Some readers identifying themselves as anti-choice said that this issue alone meant they would not have anything to do with the feminist movement or express support for women's rights. The call for rights was fine when it meant getting women the vote, but from the 60s onwards, it just went too far. That in itself was one of the misconceptions I was attempting to address in my post but I think that went unnoticed by some.
Yesterday I was reading a post by a woman who had a lot of anger about the way the polarization of the abortion debate excludes and hurts women; she spoke with particular reference towards women of colour and people with disabilities. She spoke a lot of sense. I was reminded of the neverending debate raging in the media and on blogs this past year over whether anti-choice Republican women should be 'allowed' to call themselves feminists. And I thought harder about how it was so easy for people to start being silenced and debate to be shut down once people mentioned it over at Courtney's blog - at the expense of wider discussion about women's issues and the inclusion of women who feel their opinion falls somewhere in the middle of the two camps.
A friend from the US who identifies as pro-life told me that those on her side of the debate see the pro-choice contingent in the same way: just waiting to storm in and initiate smackdown so that debate gets no further. Along with gay rights, it's the issue at the heart of right vs left, anti-liberal and anti-religious suspicion and hatred Stateside. It frustrates her and it frustrates me because it's one of the main barriers to religious women having anything to do with feminists and feminism and supporting pro-woman causes.
In no way should we dismiss the issue of reproductive rights and pretend it's not a major problem. At present it's unavoidable, due to the number of attacks being mounted against women and their wellbeing. But the way it's such a dealbreaker, such a catalyst for drama and personal attacks at the expense of other discussions about issues facing women is really problematic. It's hard to think about how it can be addressed and I wonder if it's even possible, in much the same vein as the porn debate, but it's been playing on my mind since Sunday.
Photo credit: Msciba's Flickr