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The LA Times just published an interesting article by Crispin Sartwell, entitled “I Married a Feminist.”
The author, a male political science professor at Dickinson College, looks at the different tenets of feminism, his own marriage to a pro-choice feminist, and relates it to the current buzz about Jane Sullivan Roberts’ views on abortion. In the end he suggests that, regardless of Ms. Roberts’ anti-choice leanings, she should still be considered a feminist. (After all, he argues, she’s a lawyer that clearly believes in equality in the workplace.) Yet his wife disagrees with him. He quotes her as saying, “I don’t think you can be a feminist and try to force women to have babies they don’t want.”
Is this true? We spend so much of our time promoting diversity in feminism and we know it’s both beneficial and necessary to the movement. Does this mean we must accept a diversity that includes anti-choice women?
Read the article and let us know what you think.

Join the Conversation

  • Julia

    This is a difficult one for me. I’m pro-choice, but I don’t like the idea of abortions. Of course, unless you are a minor child living in my house, it’s none of my business.
    Can you be a feminist and not support abortion?
    In theory, if a person doesn’t like abortion, and works to prevent the necessity of abortions, without making them less available, that person could be considered a feminist because they were providing more choices for women.
    I don’t know enough about Jane Sullivan Roberts’ views to know if she could truly be considered a feminist. I don’t know what Feminists For Life do. Their website is slick, with statements like “Women deserve Better.” And promote college housing for students and their babies.
    It sounds good, but there aren’t enough details for my liking.
    Maybe someone with more info about this organization can inform use.

  • Joanna

    I recently read this article on Jane Sullivan Roberts and Feminists for Life and found it to be very helpful.
    I wanted to post something about it here, and Julia, you have provided an excellent opportunity for me to do so. Thanks.

  • Jedmunds

    I’m inlined to be as inclusive as possible with the definition, but it seems to me someone who’s arguing “merely” (and I’m just trying to be succinct here) that women should have the choice to persue a career and get paid just as much as a man for doing it, aren’t really doing anything particularly tough. That’s an argument, a few holdouts aside, that feminists have won. I just don’t see it as engaging the current manifestations of patriarchy in a way that is challenging to those manifestations. To the extent that’s false for social classes in this country that I’m culturally blind to, well, Ms. Sullivan Roberts is blind to them too. She doesn’t seem to be challenging the world she lives in in a feminist way. At all.

  • Paige

    Feminists and pro-choice people are all about options. I want women to know about adoption — Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa, my hometown PP, announced recently that they are working with an adoption center in Des Moines so that they can truly offer “all options” counseling to women who have unplanned pregnancies. I want women to know about the resources that are available to them if they choose to carry their pregnancy to term and raise the child themselves — I want them to know what child support they can legally require of the father and what government programs can help them too. More than that, I want to work so that there are MORE resources available to single mothers and struggling two-parent families everywhere.
    But if you believe in options, you don’t start by working to eliminate abortion. You start by advocating for better social programs and changes that will make “choice” meaningful again. Feminists for Life seems to do that in part, but they’re trying to make abortion illegal in the same breath — and that’s what I can’t quite reconcile with feminism.
    And then there’s what FFL DOESN’T do, things that I bet most of us think actually reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies that could result in abortions. They don’t advocate for comprehensive sex ed; they don’t advocate for increased access to birth control or EC; they don’t appear to be as concerned with advocating for family-friendly workplace policies and programs for FATHERS as well as mothers (I’m reticent to reinforce the stereotype that mothers are the only — or necessarily the primary — caregivers for children).
    I also resent that the FFL website contains “information” on the health risks of abortion. Abortion is surgery, so of course it’s not risk-free, but to peddle the idea that this is a really dangerous procedure ought to be beneath this purportedly high-minded group — every study I’ve heard of says that abortions are less risky than childbirth, so let’s avoid trying to scare women away from abortion with half-truths, eh? “Women deserve better,” I hear.

  • Cynara

    How can anyone claim to be a feminist if they don’t believe in a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body?
    That right is so basic that it seems to me anyone who would refuse it to women is relegating them to second-class citizenhood.

  • elfy

    I think it’s pretty clear-cut – a feminist would never want to eliminate freedom of choice for women. She may have personal beliefs, and hey, she’s free to that, but trying to limit other women…. mmmmm…. does not say feminist to me.
    Lately, there has been entirely too many women who claim to be feminists and who work to eliminate opportunities and choices that the actual feminists have fought to make avialable.
    Also, what exactly does “Women Deserve Better” even mean? Well, no shit, I would not want to have to consider abortion. But hey, I would rather not consider a bypass surgery or a knee replacement, but guess what? If you decide that’s what you gotta do, that’s what you do and no one would even think about what you “deserve”.
    And lastly, what about the freaking children? Don’t THEY deserve better than to be born and be raised in a shitty environment with unloving parents (if they’d be lucky to have both)?

  • feistyredhead

    Women who think other women should bear babies that they don’t want are stripping those other women of their human dignity. That is no better than the African warlords who sold their own people to European slave traders.

  • Amanda Marcotte

    Can you be pro-life and a feminist? I don’t know. But I do know that I strongly dislike reading a man write an article where he attempts to override his wife’s definition of feminism. Jesus Christ, talk about missing the point.

  • kactus

    Urgh!!! I’m reclaiming that term pro-life for myself and all the other truly pro-life people I know. The so-called pro-life movement is actually anti-life, anti-choice, anti-woman, and anti-privacy. They are pro-very little but prying into other people’s business. This is the newest bug that’s crawled up my butt, because I HATE hearing anything positive about these hateful anti-choice people. Calling them pro-anything that benefits women is a LIE!

  • stephen

    Interesting point, Amanda. Can a man be pro-feminist man and disagree with his wife? Is feminism a kind of inoculation against possible error? Let me have some!

  • mamehu

    It so very simple. Kaktus really said it all. And yes, it would be great, if we only differentiated pro- and anti-choice. The pro-word used to describe the anti-choice-crowd is utterly misleading.

  • Sarah in Chicago

    Honest, no you CAN’T be a feminist and not support a woman’s autonomy of choice over her body and reproductive options.
    IF their version of pro-life is allowing abortion to exist, but working hard through sex education and contraception provision to decrease the need for abortion, then I can see them as being feminist, albeit a different one from me, but diversity is actually a good thing for a movement.
    However, it is a primary founding principle of feminism that a woman has control over her own body, and imposing childbirth on women that would not want it isn’t compatible on a fairly fundamental level.
    If they do believe the position in the initial paragraph I wrote, then I do wish they would stop using the term ‘feminists’ to describe themselves, because they aren’t, and are giving the impression there is somehow disagreement amongst feminists on this issue.

  • stephen

    A woman can’t be a feminist if she’s anti-choice. A man can’t be pro-feminist if he overrides his wife’s definition of feminism. So if a married woman defines feminism as anti-choice, her husband is anti-feminist if he agrees with her and anti-feminist if he doesn’t. What a quandary!

  • Kyra

    “Can a man be pro-feminist man and disagree with his wife?”
    Yes. If he is more supportive of freedom and choice than she is, certainly. That is, if they disagree on something and HE’S the one more supportive of women in that issue, then yes.
    Example: if John Roberts were pro-choice (I know; if he were, we wouldn’t know who he is), and he disagreed with his pro-life wife on the issue of abortion, he would be absolutely right to disagree with her. There are many women who sell out to the patriarchy, and some men who don’t. The people, regardless of gender, who support equality in ALL areas, are the people who can claim the label of “feminist.”
    And any person who thinks she should be able to decide for me whether I should have a baby is NOT a feminist.

  • mrscoulter

    I think it’s entirely possible to be a feminist and be pro-life. I actually know several, all practicing Catholics. I don’t think believing that a fetus or embryo is human and killing it therefore represents murder is an *automatic* ticket to the Land of Patriarchy.
    Being a feminist is a lot more than just being pro-choice. There is workplace equality, access to quality healthcare, availability of quality childcare (which connects directly into workplace equality), domestic violence prevention, just for starters.
    The real question, in my mind, is how much, as a pro-life feminist, do you advocate for things that make it possible for women to avoid unwanted pregnancies, or help to make more questionable pregnancies wanted: access to birth control and adequate sex education, better healthcare, better and better-paying jobs, not just for women but also for their partners who may be helping to support them and their children (born or unborn), better childcare, etc.
    However, based on the material on their website, I’m not convinced that Feminists for Life isn’t an organization that is primarily concerned with banning abortion and the rest is just an afterthought.

  • Mike

    First, let me say I’m adamantly pro-choice.
    I think the reason many pro-lifers and pro-choicers never see eye to eye is because of how you view the issue. Pro-lifers see it as a choice to terminate a person (not a fetus. It’s the moral equivalent of offin’ your 2 year old). Pro-choicers see it as the autonomy of a woman’s body.
    Admittedly, a bunch of pro-lifers are probably also biased against choice because they have negative views on women (silly girl shouldn’t have gotten knocked up, devil-whore shouldn’t have been having premarital sex anyway etc).
    All that said, I think a person (M or F) can definently be a feminist and be anti-abortion. You can believe in equality and equal opportunity while still thinking a fetus is a person, and not wanting to kill it.
    Now, to get myself slammed. I actually think democrats in some states should be anti-abortion. There are places where you can’t get elected as a pro-choicer, and because of that we’re letting education, economic policy, civil rights, and environmental issues get fucked by the neo-cons.

  • Mike

    One last extra bit; being an anti-abortion Democrat could also help highlight sex ed as a more effective means to prevent abortions/unwanted kids…

  • Amanda

    I didn’t say a man can’t disagree with his wife. But it’s the height of male privilege for men to assume they can define feminism better than women. Are you interested in telling people of a different race than yourself what their priorities for their race should be?

  • beth

    Feminists can disagree with each other. I know several people who I will unabashedly categorize as feminist *and* as pro-life.
    One major difficulty in the abortion debate is that the two sides don’t agree on what the debate is. Pro-choicers see it as a fight over the rights a woman has to her own body; Pro-lifers see it as a fight over the definition of infanticide. While many pro-lifers are anti-feminist, remember that one can believe very firmly in the rights and freedoms of women, but believe that some or all abortions count as killing a person. These two viewpoints are not commonly found together, but they are *not* incompatible.
    Personally – and I am definitely a feminist – I can see both sides of this debate. I am personally undecided, and that is OK. (I also shave my legs and feel no “feminist guilt”. I think that’s OK too.) I agree with most feminists, as far as I can tell, on equal pay, the need for informative sex education, and a whole lot of other things besides. Since when does this make me un-feminist? Whatever happened to the idea of “feminisms” as a plural?
    If Sartwell isn’t honestly in favor of women’s rights and freedoms, then he is lying if he says he is a feminist.
    However, I think that men, as well as women, *should* be feminists. It’s good to have them discussing feminism. And, as feminists, they’re allowed to disagree with other feminists. Even if those other feminists are their wives.

  • jpjesus

    Amanda says,
    “it’s the height of male privilege for men to assume they can define feminism better than women”.
    Was the author assuming that he could define feminism better than women, in general?
    Seems to me that he was arguing for a definition of feminism supplied by one woman (Jane Roberts calls herself a feminist, for reasons provided by the views purported by the FFL organization) over the definition of feminism supplied by another woman (Marian Winik). He is saying, basically, “I agree with Roberts that she is a feminist despite the fact that lots of other people who call themselves feminists disagree wtih her.”
    Is this assuming that he knows what feminism is above and beyond what any woman says about it (i.e. assuming that he ‘can define feiminism better than women’?)? If there are various views of what feminism is/can be, to the point that such views might be discussed/argued, are men to have no part whatsoever in the discussion, if only to chime in and rah-rah one version over another? There is a disagreement over what feminism is (pretty much all the time, which is one of feminisms strengths, I think)–chiming in that he values one view over another doesn’t seem like assuming he can better define feminism than ‘women’ in general.
    To use your analogy with race: If one fragment of the ‘black community’ (leaving aside problems with such definitions for the sake of your own analogy) has a fairly conservative view about where the community ought to go idealogically (say, the black Baptist community’s stance on gay marriage) and another section of the black community which isn’t as conservative (represented, say, by somebody like Michael Eric Dyson), does a memeber of the ‘white community’ have any say in which view makes more sense to her? Would saying her piece mean that she thinks she’s knows what’s best, above and beyond what ANY black person thinks? That seems unlikely.
    It’s more likely that she’s looking at two views that various memebers of the ‘black community’ have, and saying she thinks one is better than the other.

  • Mike

    “But it’s the height of male privilege for men to assume they can define feminism better than women. Are you interested in telling people of a different race than yourself what their priorities for their race should be?”
    I don’t see it as me (or any of the other guys) saying we can define feminism better. We just have our own opinion of what it is. Being a member of a minority or gender doesn’t necessarily make you the final authority on it and all issues. I used to have an Asian friend explain to me why she can’t be racist, while I as a white guy can, so it was ok for her to make racist jokes. I think this is a lesser degree of a similar situation.
    As far as whether I’m willing to dictate (I know you said tell) what other races should do, no, I wouldn’t do that. But I’ll tell anyone what I think and try to back it up with logic, so maybe I can shift their thinking to a better course of action or be persuaded myself.

  • Amanda Marcotte

    Okay, fine. Better than his feminist wife. And he’s wrong to do it. It’s insulting. If his wife was black and he lectured her on what the goals of the NAACP should be, that would piss you off. Why should this be different?

  • Mike

    Where do you get lecturing? He’s talking about it over breakfast:
    “We don’t know whether the Robertses — much as Marion and I — argue about feminism and abortion over breakfast. But when you marry someone like my spouse or Mr. Roberts’, you’d better be willing to defend yourself.”
    And he respects her opinion, he just disgrees with it:
    ” That’s what Marion thinks. But for me, the matter is considerably more complicated.”
    There are obviously women that think similarly to this guy. Would it be ok if he agreed with and parroted them? Is it just not ok because he thought of it himself?
    It wouldn’t be wrong to me to discuss with a black person the goals of the NAACP, or to disagree with them. Not being able to criticise a group because you’re not a member is silly. Can we not criticise the human rights violations in China because we’re not Chinese?

  • Amanda Marcotte

    I tend to defer when talking to people who have a dog in the fight to their opinion, yes. I assume, correctly, that they have more information on what it’s like to be them than I do. Men don’t have to worry about the government forcing child-bearing on them. Therefore men should be circumspect when telling women how important that issue should be.

  • Nazrafel

    You can be a feminist who would personally not want to have an abortion if faced with the choice, but you are NOT a feminist if you feel that you or the state or anyone else has the right to make that choice for me. That a woman is a sentient, thinking being is beyond question. Whether or not a fetus (up to viability assuming complete health) is sentient/self-aware is debatable. Our society considers as perfectly acceptable the killing of other fully sentient adult humans in battle or as punishment- for the reason that 1)self preservation in battle over-rules the right of the other person to live 2) Person A committed a crime and therefore must be executed. So obviously the taking of a human life is acceptable in our society if there exists a valid reason to do so. Accepting (for the sake of Devil’s advocacy) that a fetus, from conception, is in fact a full human entitled to the same rights as other full humans, this would not protect the fetus from abortion since self-preservation is in fact a valid reason to end the life of the person posing a danger to your own.
    This arguement is flawed in that a fetus is NOT a full human being, that it is NOT entitled to the same rights as an adult. Not only that, but as a full human adult with all the associated rights and privaledges- I am NOT required to act as an incubator for anyone else. I, as a full human, have the right to decide when and where I will allow another human to grow inside me- that human’s right to be there is entirely at my descretion.
    (Incidentally, if human life was really considered so valuable by the right-to-lifers, how is it that private businesses and citizens can have the right to expell the homeless from their properties in the midst of a heat wave/blizzard- assuring that large numbers of homeless people die every year as a result of exposure. If human life is so valuable, (and considering that these people don’thave to actually carry the homeless around in their uterus for 9 months and feed and care for them for the next 18 years) why isn’t it illegal to not provide shelter to someone who needs it and will certainly face death/injury if not sheltered? Just as they didn’t ask for a homeless guy to shack up in the house, I didn’t ask for a baby (this is where someone says “Then you shouldn’t be having sex!” and true colors are bared- the need to punish women for having sex).
    Interested in hearing what cha’ll think

  • elfy

    ok, let’s try this one more time – if someone told you that they were an environmental activist, but they believed in massive deforestation and residential development that resulted in loss of animal habitat, you wouldn’t really care how many baby seals they nursed back to health, now WOULD YOU?
    You’d probably say that they couldn’t possibly be called environmental activists if they are against one of the major principles that enviromentalists stand for.
    Now tell me how being anti-choice feminist is any different.
    That all aside from the fact that if fetus was a child, it would have a fight to child support – yet child support only gets paid AFTER the birth, somehow, for some reason. Also, nobody has a right to say they are pro-life, if the only life they try to protect is in someone else’s womb.
    Oh and for all the peeps out there trying to tag onto “can’t a guy disagree with his wife?” wagon, me and my husband disagree on many subjects, but we tend to use this thing called “respect for other’s expertise on the subject”. Like, I don’t teach him about analitical x-ray equipment or EverQuest, and he doesn’t presume to know more than me on the subject of feminism.

  • jpjesus

    I agree with Amanda and elfy that men should tend to defer to their wives regarding issues central to feminism.
    I disagree with the implicit point that Amanda and elfy are making, that men should *always* agree with their wives (or any woman they are having a discussion with about feminism).
    I doubt that very many ‘men who are disagreeing with their wives about feminism’ would be called feminists by many people, sure. Probably they are mostly trying to force their uninformed opinions down somebody else’s throat. But that doesn’t mean that this is what the author was doing–and I don’t think it’s shown by his article. His article shows that he’s got a pretty lame opinion about what feminism is, in my opinion and in the opinions of lots of other people, but I resist the idea that what he was doing in arguing about feminism was ‘insulting’ to his wife. One could read into it some condescension, but then one could read some condescension (appropriate though it may have been) in her response to his question…

  • silvana

    i have a question – is it because his wife is his wife that he has to defer to her about all things feminist? or does every man have to defer to every woman when it comes to feminist thought?
    i think that in fact, it is because of their rapport as husband and wife that they should have some liberty to say what they truly think about an issue. i personally disagree with sartwell that one could be pro-life and still be a feminist, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a totally ridiculous opinion. and yeah, if some random guy i barely know is sitting around telling me “this is what feminism is and i know better than you,” that is offensive, but if my boyfriend, who is a feminist like me and happens to express disagreement with something i believe (in re: feminism), that doesn’t mean he is automatically an asshole.
    people get to have some intellectual indepence and honesty, don’t they? respect and understanding are important, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to have your own opinion, no matter who you are.

  • jpjesus

    I’m with you, silvana, on this one. I think it matters that the author was talking to a person who knows him, and not arguing the point either to women in general or at women in general, as some sort of authority.

  • jane

    Actually, by publishing this “private” discussion he can no longer be said to be
    not arguing the point either to women in general or at women in general, as some sort of authority.
    He is now arguing the point to everybody and his “authority” is apparently marriage to a feminist.
    I think it it’s kind of nice that now everybody wants to be a feminist.

  • LAmom

    A few months ago, we had a discussion about why more women don’t identify themselves as feminists. In part, the post said:
    Frankly, I find it infuriating when women who have feminist values steer clear of the f-word. I’ve had quite enough of the “I’m not a feminist, but…” disclaimers.
    In the thread that followed, I posted the following comment:
    It’s difficult because a lot of people (myself included) aren’t sure exactly what qualifies one to be considered a feminist.
    If I believe in equal pay and career opportunities, zero-tolerance for rapists and domestic abusers, greater respect for all the unpaid contributions that women make, breaking free from the sadistic beauty standards that are pushed on women and girls, full insurance coverage for contraceptives, equality in education and athletics, honor instead of ridicule of female anatomy and physiology, and equal political representation, but I also believe that abortion is taking a life and shouldn’t be done electively, where does that put me? Would I be encouraged to use the F-word, or would I be left saying, “I’m not a feminist, but . . .”
    At the time, the couple of people who replied seemed to feel that it would be appropriate for me to call myself a feminist, but clearly there are others who have quite the opposite view.
    If feminism had a Pope, she could make the final call about which beliefs are essential to the meaning of feminism and which ones can be open to diverse opinions. But lacking a central spokesperson, is there a way that feminists (a group which I may or may not be a part of) can develop a common definition of what feminism is?