Posted on 4.16.2012 by Chantal
There can be no doubt that in the past year, the backlash against women's reproductive rights and, I would argue, against women in general has reached staggering proportions. The Georgia House recently passed a bill that would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, unless a physician can more or less “prove” that the fetus or the mother has a life-threatening medical condition. The Arizona Senate has just passed a similar bill. Earlier this month, an anti-choice protester bombed a Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin. And faith-based employers and lobbyists nearly exploded earlier this year over the Obama Administration's mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage as part of the new preventive care guidelines. If you're inclined to call this a “war on women,” it would seem as though we're losing.
But if this really is a war (for lack of a better metaphor), perhaps we should ask ourselves, just what are we fighting for? And who or what are we fighting against?
In recent weeks, my Newsfeed and my inbox have been peppered with stories about “the contraceptive debate,” “the pro-life religious Right,” and, of course, “the war on women.” As someone who considers myself an activist and an outspoken proponent of reproductive justice, you’d think I'd be pleased to see a cause I care so much about get so much media and, particularly, social media attention. On the contrary, though, I've been repeatedly disappointed, more so by the so-called “left” than the “right.”
While scanning the news yesterday, I came across the following article posted on the pro-repro rights site, RH Reality Check. Written by Reverend Rebecca Turner of Faith Aloud, the post proclaims that “limiting access to contraception is bad for government, bad for business, and bad for women.” In the article, Turner accuses the religious right, many of whom are fiscal conservatives, of being hypocritical. Contraception, Turner claims, is good for the economy because it saves individual states and the federal government from having to support women's unplanned pregnancies through assistance programs like Medicaid. By the same token, contraception is also good for employers. Women who use contraception to prevent pregnancy are able to focus on their careers and, allegedly, make more money in the long run than their peers who don't use contraception. Employers save money and increase productivity by decreasing the number of women who request maternity leave benefits or leave work altogether due to pregnancy. Turner is not alone in making the case for birth control as good economic sense. Similar articles have appeared in blogs like Jezebel (“Want to Really Screw the Economy? Limit Birth Control and Abortion”) and business publications like Bloomberg (“Curbing Female Reproductive Rights Raises Taxpayer Costs”). The logic of these arguments may be sound. Heck, religious conservatives probably are hypocrites for one reason or another. But just who does this argument appeal to? I sit here, dumbfounded and, frankly, kind of pissed off, shouting at my computer, “you know what else is bad for women? CAPITALISM!”
Why are we, as feminists, arguing in favor of a system that exploits women's (and men's) labor in the workforce? Let's not forget that women are doubly exploited in that we often receive fewer wages than men regardless of our qualifications, a problem that highlights the link between capitalism and patriarchy. Regardless of who's on top, at the end of the day, capitalism is a system wherein a small percentage of society (bosses, governments, “the ruling class”) profits from the labor power of the masses. We work to support ourselves and our families and our bosses get rich in the process. As an anarchist and a feminist, articles like Turner's leave me feeling jaded and alienated from a mainstream feminist community that pays lip-service to women's rights while ignoring the deeper structural issues that constrain our freedom. Feminism, to me, isn't about equal pay for equal work. It's about destroying the wage system altogether and replacing it with something else entirely, a system that allows us to pursue our talents through meaningful work without worrying about how much money's in the bank at the end of the day. My feminist idols are more likely to be Lucy Parsons and Emma Goldman than Hillary Clinton. A “feminist victory” in which we all get to participate on equal footing with men in a capitalist system of oppression is no victory at all.
I agree, of course, that women should be free from the burden of unplanned pregnancies. Our bodies are not machines and motherhood is too important not to be a choice. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 38% of pregnancies in the US are unintended. And although unintended pregnancies happen to women of all races, ages, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, they are most detrimental to the livelihoods of low-income women and women of color. The very fact that so many of these women rely on state and federal aid for support during pregnancy, planned or unplanned, is proof that our current economic system isn't working and we should stop wasting our time trying to resuscitate it. That's exactly what well-intentioned mainstream feminists do when they appeal to the capitalist class by arguing that contraception is in fact good for them, too. Whether they intend to or not, they are propping up a system that has failed almost all (99%?) of us.
It seems worthwhile to point out that most women don't even have access to paid maternity leave should they decide to carry a pregnancy to term. According to a recent study by Human Rights Watch, out of 190 countries studied, 178 of them have some form of paid maternity leave for mothers and many offer leave to fathers as well. The US is one of only 3 featured countries that doesn't offer guaranteed maternity leave. It's estimated that only half of Americans receive benefits through the Family and Medical Leave Act and it is most likely low-income workers who go without. Even as Europe suffers its own economic meltdown, maternity and paternity leave programs have not been cut. It seems clear to me that mainstream feminists should be pressuring employers and the federal government to join the rest of the global community and provide for working families, rather than sending them the message that increased access to contraception will somehow get them off the hook.
I'm left wondering whether these kinds of arguments don’t ultimately throw working mothers under the bus. Sure, Turner and her peers are right in arguing that the rise of the contraceptive pill in the 1960’s increased women's entrance into the workforce. But today, in 2012, shouldn't we be asking for, demanding more than our second-wave predecessors? I, for one, want it all. I want affordable contraception and on-demand abortion in my twenties and full maternity benefits in my thirties. I'm not willing to sacrifice one for the other.
I'm also not willing to sacrifice my belief in anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist politics for my feminism. In fact, the two seem to me to be inseparable. Which is why articles like Rebecca Turner's are so unnerving. Haven't we sacrificed enough? It's time to bring the radical, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian framework into mainstream feminism.