Like all the posts in the Exploring Feminist Motherhood series (Part 1; Part 2: The Childbirth Minefield, Part 3: Tick Tock), this was inspired by reading Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself by Amy Richards. This was the second selection of the Sin City Siren Book Club.
I am a feminist. I am prochoice. And I am a mother.
And as much as the public might want to confuse the issue, there is no contradiction in those statements. In fact, if anything, becoming a mother to a baby girl has made me more prochoice (and definitely more feminist). Now, I not only defend my own rights but I feel a deeply personal responsibility to make sure my daughter’s rights are safe. (Indeed, Sarah Palin might have coined the term “Mama Grizzly” to mean another type of mother, but this Wasilla-raised girl feels pretty “bearish” about defending her baby from any attacks!)
But its feminism’s public relations problem that Richards talks about in her book:
I believe that a big reason feminism isn’t more readily associated with motherhood is that the issue has been dwarfed and confused by the abortion debate.
I don’t think you could sum it up much better. Anti-choice proponents like to conflate the ideas that abortion rights means anti-motherhood. Of course, the reality of abortion is that the majority of those who seek the procedure are already mothers. This just goes to show that being pro-choice and pro-mother go hand-in-hand. Who better to understand the gravity of the decision than someone who is a mother? Who better to advocate for safe access to abortions, than women who understand just how challenging (financially, emotionally, etc.) that motherhood can be?
And I am most certainly a mother who advocates for safe access to abortions. Indeed, in my second trimester of pregnancy I became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging a proposed ballot initiative to define a fetus as a person.
But Richards went beyond just lamenting that feminism has a public relations problem when it comes to the choice debate. She talked about her decision to do selective reduction when she was pregnant with triplets. She shared how she came under fire — from feminists and anti-choice advocates — for openly talking about it in a New York Times Magazine editorial. For Richards’ — a white, middle class woman in a heterosexual couple — the heat came precisely because she was in the “ideal” group to procreate (aside from the not-married thing, of course).
I was naturally pregnant with triplets and didn’t feel as if I could handle that — emotionally, physically, or financially. I emphasized economics as one of the reasons for not giving more serious thought to having triplets — and feminists and conservatives alike lambasted me for being selfish. Few people were sympathetic to my situation. Most people assumed because I was middle class I ‘could have made it work’; therefore, I was extra selfish for not just persevering. Had I been poor, people would have understood, perhaps even nudged me to terminate the entire pregnancy.
And this sort of gets to the heart of things doesn’t it? Be they feminist or not, the community at large feels ownership over a woman’s womb. What she decides to do (or not do) with it becomes socially acceptable debate fodder. Richards’ decision was what she felt was right for her. She wanted to be financially responsible — the cornerstone of conservative ideology — but to them it was the wrong choice. She wanted to exercise her legal right to choose — something feminists have worked long and hard for — and she was vilified there, too. This is precisely why people disown feminism even if they are prochoice! And, frankly, it illustrates the tenuous waters that women navigate all the time. As feminists, we must do better! As people we must do better!
You can be a feminist, prochoice mother. But I can’t say that it’s always easy.
Look for future posts related to the book Opting In and the SCS Book Club in coming days!