Who Counts as a "Real Woman" at the Women’s March on Washington?
The Women’s March on Washington, planned for the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, will bring together “people of all genders, ages, races, cultures, political affiliations and backgrounds,” according to the event’s organizers, “to affirm our shared humanity and pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.”To date, over a million people in over 600 locations worldwide have pledged to march on Jan. 21.
Pro-life activists, however, have met resistance from official sponsors of the demonstration. Last Friday, the small pro-life group New Wave Feminists was listed as a partner on the event’s website, alongside Planned Parenthood and NARAL, only to be removed days later with public apologies from the organizers, who released the following statement:
The Women's March's platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one. We want to assure all of our partners, as well as participants, that we are pro-choice as clearly stated in our Unity Principles. We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions. The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women's March on Washington. We apologize for this error.
Eight unity principles form the core values of the march. The second principle on reproductive freedom (just after the principle that women’s’ bodies must be “free from all violence”) supports “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control.” When a piece in The Atlantic highlighted pro-life participation in the march and featured the New Wave Feminist’s role, a Twitter storm of pro-choice feminists expressed displeasure at the pro-life presence.
Wow. @womensmarch is partnering with New Wave Feminists, an anti-abortion organization. That's embarrassing and actually nauseating.— Lily Bolourian (@LilyBolourian) January 16, 2017
Intersectional feminism does not include a pro-life agenda. That's not how it works! The right to choose is a fundamental part of feminism.
— roxane gay (@rgay) January 16, 2017
Apparently, the umbrella of shared humanity only opens so far.
In an age that celebrates the dismantling of gender norms and boundaries, the criteria for womanhood at the march are not up for debate. As Christina Cauterucci at Slate writes, "If some women decide they can’t get behind Medicaid-covered abortions, a humane immigration system, and police who answer for their crimes against people of color, the march won’t miss them." To feminists of this cloth, the pro-life mentality is not an opposing view. It is an intrinsic evil, in all circumstances inexcusable, even abhorrent, something to be compared with cruelty toward immigrants and race-motivated violence.
This attitude aggravates an already pronounced cultural divide. It flies in the face of President Obama’s farewelladdress, which urged Americans to embrace a basic sense of solidarity, as well as the healthy debate integral to democratic society.
The exclusion of pro-life partners in the march also fails to acknowledge the complex views on abortion in the United States. In 2016, a Gallup poll found that while 47 percent of Americans identify as pro-choice, 47 percent also believe abortion to be morally wrong, and over one-third of Americans believe abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances. The all-or-nothing mentality of march organizers does not reflect polling data.
Yet given its momentum and media attention, the Women’s March is shaping up to be a veritable thesis statement on what it means to be a woman today, and what it does not.The march’s corseting of pro-life participants creates a special kind of identity crisis for a Catholic feminist. No matter her passion for immigration issues or racial equality, her view of the womb is so offensive that she is not welcome to accompany her sister in a hijab, or a fellow survivor of sexual assault. She has been cast as the single-issue voter she did not claim or want to be.
The rejection of pro-life partnership in the Women’s March sends the message that a pro-life sister, daughter or mother is not only an ideological opponent. She is not a real woman, or if she is, she is the wrong kind.
Such rhetoric is not new. Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School,wrote in 2008 that Sarah Palin’s “greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.” Yet we must acknowledge that these denials of womanhood are ultimately a denial of humanity. De-feminization is dehumanization. What happens when we dehumanize those who embody different values, when we believe they are less rational, less worthy of participating in society than we are? Historically, this has not gone well. Let us damn others’ views if we must; but let us not damn their humanity.
The New Wave Feminists will attend the Women’s March anyway, along with other plucky pro-life groups. They will march for the women in the womb, who do not count as real women, either. Less than a week later, a very youthful, very female crowd of similar number will attend the March for Life. Theirs will be a rather different idea of womanhood. While the March for Life platform is not as comprehensive as the unity principles of the Women’s March, the event will acknowledge the intersection of abortion and many of these same unity principles: race, violence, immigration status, disability and worker’s rights.
But there will be no true progress on women’s rights until pro-choice and pro-life groups recognize the shared womanhood that undergirds the principles they espouse. If we are unable to walk a mile in another woman’s shoes, the least we could do is walk alongside her.
Jane Sloan Peters is a second-year doctoral student in historical theology at Marquette University.