When I first heard that RH Reality Check was starting reader diaries, I was excited. As a feminist who staunchly supports reproductive rights, I have come to rely on RH Reality check for information and commentary, for updates on legislation and policy, and it’s been an incredibly valuable resource. I’ve been writing feminist columns and blog posts for the past year, and while many of them have touched on reproductive health, very few of them have addressed reproductive rights. It’s not that I don’t believe in a woman’s right to choose – on the contrary, I am a fierce believer in abortion rights, in access to affordable birth control, in improved prenatal and childcare, and in comprehensive sex ed.
But when I first started the blog Equal Writes, which I edited and ran until a few months ago, I wanted to launch something of a PR campaign for feminism. My own public “coming out” as a feminist in my college paper exposed me to many women –and men – of the “I’m not a feminist, but…” variety. That is, I met a lot of people who told me that while they agreed with the idea that women should be treated equally in the workplace, or that a sexual assault is a real problem and that gender inequality is partly to blame – people who held feminist beliefs – but who shied away from calling themselves feminists. When I asked why, many of them expressed their concern at associating themselves with “radical feminism.” You know, the man-hating, hairy-legged, womyn-studying lesbian radicals. You know, those feminists. Ok, you probably don’t know those feminists, and I don’t either, but it was clear that when these people thought “feminist,” a very negative image came to mind.
But most of all, my informants told me, feminists, those man-and-razor-spurning spinster cat-ladies-in-training loved abortion. Do it on Saturday nights for kicks. They hate babies, they want all women to be irresponsible sluts and selfish career women, and as a result, they love abortion. And abortion, as anyone who has spent more than five seconds in America knows, is an incredibly divisive issue. Pro-life, pro-choice, pro-abortion, anti-choice – whatever label you use, chances are it plays a large role in your political and personal decisions. And feminists’ perceived love of abortion, and their fierce defence of a woman’s right to obtain one, makes them rather unpopular in many parts of this country.
Equal Writes was intended to be a PR campaign for feminism, a chance to correct some of the misconceptions, from the most basic (feminists are all women) to the most discriminatory (feminists are all lesbians) to the more laughable (feminists are man-hating harpies and when they take over the world they’ll make everyone listen to Ani DiFranco all day, every day). I tackled most of these misconceptions head on. But the one misconception I couldn’t bring myself to tackle was the one that feminists supposedly love and never stop talking about: abortion. Knowing how much backlash it would incite, knowing how much personal criticism I would have to deal with scared me from raising the issue of reproductive control as a central feminist issue.
For a while, I rationalized it. There are other issues to write about, right? What about sexual assault? What about childcare? What about equal pay and body image and media sexualisation of young girls? I didn’t want to be one of those feminists, you know, those feminists who think abortion is the most important thing in the world? No, you don’t know those feminists, and neither do I, because they’re a myth. They’re a myth concocted to scare people away from feminism – a very effective myth in a country like the US, which is so heatedly divided over abortion. They’re a myth I bought into. But not anymore.
I have come to realize that access to birth control and to safe, legal abortion are human rights. The means by which women control if and when they have children are among the tools that allow women to control their own bodies. When men are denied control over their own bodies, we call that a violation of human rights. To choose when one becomes pregnant, to choose what happens to one’s own body, is nothing less than a human right, and it is a human right that is denied to millions of women here in the US and abroad. When a nine-year-old girl is raped and her life-saving abortion is condemned by the Church and by anti-abortion activists, or when a nineteen-year-old woman faces more than a decade in prison for procuring her own abortion, they are being punished for asserting their own human rights.
And as unpopular as it might be, as divisive and incendiary as the abortion debate is, I cannot in good conscience call myself a women’s rights activist if I fail to actively defend women’s human rights. I cannot call myself a feminist if I shy away from writing about an incendiary but essential human and women’s issue. So here ends my attempt to make feminism more appealing or more marketable by deliberately avoiding writing about abortion and reproductive rights. Here ends my tolerance for people who claim to be feminists but who work to curtail women’s reproductive choice. Here ends my fear of being tarred with the same brush as those terrifying feminists who “love” – that is, advocate and fight for – safe, legal abortions. I am proudly one of those feminists.