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Jane Sloan PetersOctober 14, 2020
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

Weary of social media takes on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett—a “Glorious ACB” meme of the haloed judge, a photo of Ms. Barrett photoshopped into the costume from The Handmaid’s Tale—I decided to distract my 2-year-old and watch the confirmation hearings myself. As an educated, able-bodied U.S. citizen of Irish and Czech extraction, I am mostly confident my interests are represented in national politics. If anything, I am more often concerned that my neighbors from Milwaukee, where I study theology, and Harlem, where I currently live, do not enjoy this same confidence.

So I am surprised at how deeply moving it has been to witness Ms. Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings. This is the first time I have seen a woman in the upper echelons of the U.S. government in whom I recognize something of myself and my approach to feminism. Specifically, this is a feminism which holds that a flourishing family is not an obstacle to personal success and that pro-life views are compatible with being both compassionate and educated—in this case, devastatingly intelligent.

This is the first time I have seen a woman in the upper echelons of the U.S. government in whom I recognize something of myself and my approach to feminism.

I have become accustomed to the political and social erasure of pro-life women—Christian, Muslim and Jewish women, as well as women of no religious affiliation—from public life. As I watched Ms. Barrett fielding questions from senators, I realized two things.

First, it is amazing how deeply this erasure cuts, how much I have subconsciously internalized that there is something defective about me as a woman because I do not share certain feminist tenets. Mainstream feminists, despite warm overtures toward diversity, are consistently hostile to those who cannot tick all the boxes in their definition of feminism, particularly those who disagree with the stance that abortion must be available on demand and without apology. As Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, said on the second day of the Senate hearings, women who are “free-thinkers” on what constitutes feminism “end up being called bad women and traitors to our gender.” Although 38 percent of women think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and 30 percent of Democrats say they do not agree with their party stance on abortion, any hesitancy about the party line is seen as contempt for the thriving and happiness of other human beings. It is as though it were impossible to hold in unison the utmost respect for a mother and for her unborn daughter, as though one could not advocate simultaneously for women’s equality and the protection of life from conception.

Second, I realized how many women I know—most who would not identify with the moniker “conservative”—share Ms. Barrett’s pro-life position and have felt chastened into civic silence and submission. This is a curious consequence of a movement that champions liberation from oppression. As I tentatively expressed my admiration for Ms. Barrett on a private social media account yesterday, dozens of women joined in. I have also been moved by recent conversations with women who object to Judge Barrett’s nomination or beliefs and who remain understanding and kind, traits that resonate with what I know of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s character, as well as most of what I have seen in the Senate confirmation hearings themselves. This makes me deeply hopeful that the “hidden feminist” values of radical hospitality and interdependence may yet emerge as compatible with equality.

As I watch Amy Coney Barrett’s resilience and composure during the confirmation hearings, I wonder if I, too, could live a bit louder as the woman I am. 

Ms. Barrett’s nomination has validated a part of me that is mostly hidden away. This is consoling—yet it is also an indictment. Too often, I keep my views quiet not out of tact but for the sake of my social life and career. In this, I submit not to the patriarchy but to the oppressive, mainstream feminist vision of myself and my peers and what we are worth to society. As I watch Ms. Barrett’s resilience and composure in the hearings, I wonder if I, too, might exercise a political voice and contribute something positive to public life. I wonder if I could live a bit louder as the woman I am. This would mean, yes, articulating a pro-life stance, but it would also mean doubling down on my civic commitment to making abortion unthinkable and allowing the heart of my views—the unconditional dignity of the human person—to more freely inform my everyday life, as Ms. Barrett herself has done.

Amy Coney Barrett does not represent me. Her role, if confirmed, would differ from that of a member of the legislative branch, since members of the Supreme Court take an oath to approach court matters without policy preference. I would not rely on her, despite the president’s Twitter claims, to decide cases in the interest of my religious beliefs. I rely on her for the reminder that my voice matters in civic life. “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” said the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She and Amy Coney Barrett have both, in their own ways, reminded me that as a woman, I belong.

[Read this next: Amy Coney Barrett’s relationship with People of Praise]

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