The BLOG: Voices

A celebration of true feminism

I teach at an all-girls private school, so feminism comes up all the time. Some students proudly self-identify as feminists, others cringe at the label, others have no idea what it really means. When it comes up in class, I always require the students to define the term before using it. It’s important, I think, to constantly define labels like these because they are so often picked up and used with abandon; their original meaning left to be desired.

As I think about today’s anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, I can’t help but think that this willful mislabeling has once more deceived many well-intentioned people. Modern feminism seems to benefit men much more than women and doesn’t seem to truly empower women, especially when it comes to issues of sex and childbearing. Men can walk away from sex largely without consequence, thanks to contraception and abortion. If a woman finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, every choice she faces is a difficult one. Feminism began as a movement to achieve equal political and social rights for women, but the feminist movement and its language have been co-opted.

For example, proponents of abortion like to accuse pro-lifers of waging a “war on women,” or “rolling back women’s health-care rights.” When I think about a “war on women,” I picture it differently.

A war on women is a culture that tells a woman who is unexpectedly pregnant that in order to be successful and to follow her dreams, the simplest solution is to end her child’s life in the womb. A war on women is a government that subsidizes abortion, but won’t subsidize paid maternity leave. A war on women is a culture that belittles women who stay home to care for their children, but then disparages women who return to work. If a woman seeks to keep her child, she is faced with obstacles at every turn. That is the real war on women.

The theme for this year’s March for Life is “Pro-woman, Pro-baby.” People who are braving blizzard conditions and the possibility of being stranded in the mid-Atlantic region for the next two days are not doing so because they are motivated by hate or by a desire to take away rights from women.

No, they are marching because they believe that women, too, need support. That the best choice for a woman is to bring her child to term, to love and to nurture her child, or to lovingly give her child up for adoption. That it is easier to support a woman in her time of need than to force her to go through her entire life remembering what would have been her child’s birthday, wondering if her baby would have had blue or brown eyes, wondering who she or he would have looked like.

To be truly “pro-woman,” to truly work to advance “women’s health care,” we need to support women and their babies. Take the funding that Planned Parenthood receives and funnel it to community health centers to provide prenatal care for pregnant women. Take the money that we spend on elective abortions and guarantee women paid maternity leave, so they don’t have to choose between feeding their families and killing their unborn child. Work to build a culture of life that recognizes the humanity of both mother and child. Don’t make women have to choose. That is real feminism.

Jennifer Manning

Jennifer Manning

Jennifer Manning currently teaches Religious Studies at a private high school in the Boston area. She earned Masters degrees in Theology from Boston College and Yale, and she writes about religion, morality, and popular culture. You can find her on Twitter at @jmfmanning.