The “Sisterhood” gets B—-y…

You may like to have a look at this article in the opinion section of The Age: Sisterhood beware – silencing ideas stymies progress. It’s one of those articles where you get to have your say in an online opinion poll. The question is: “Are women who oppose abortion entitled to call themselves feminist?” And apparently we men are not excluded from expressing an opinion, even though we don’t have a horse in this particular race.

If you are made of really strong stuff, you might want to have a look at some of the comments at the end of the article. One thing that I noticed toward the end of the article is that the author, Cathy Sherry, says

I do not know Tankard Reist and I am not pro-life, but I defend her right to express her opinions, call herself a feminist and prosecute her beliefs.

I thought that was an interesting line, “I am not pro-life”. One of the commentators – a member of the “sisterhood”, it seems – reacts:

We need to stop engaging we the anti choice zealots using their language of choice. They are not “pro-life”. They are anti-choice. It’s not a courtesy to them, it’s letting them own the debate.

Now that is what I would call “b—y”.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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12 Responses to The “Sisterhood” gets B—-y…

  1. Peregrinus says:

    Well, it cuts both ways. I’ve seen people impassioned in the other direction object to the term “pro-choice” and insist that the term “pro-death” should be used instead.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, which is why I was a little surprised that the author of the article was able to write that she was “not pro-life”!

      • Mary H says:

        Hmm. The “pro-choice” crowd doesn’t want the other side to use their “language of choice.” Interesting choice of terms.

        Nevertheless, I don’t like you calling her “b–y”. She’s not – her message (as written) is dispassionate and rational. We have a big advantage when we’re called “pro-life” because besides happening to be true, “life” is an issue that people tend to accord a similar importance with “choice.”

        The “pro-choice” crowd are masters at setting the terms for the debate. They’re not “pro-abortion” – they’re pro-choice. An abortion doesn’t kill a child or even a fetus – it “terminates” a pregnancy (as if every natural birth doesn’t do that – every pregnancy terminates one way or another) or it removes the “products of conception.”

        And of course, it is true that we are “anti-choice” — when the choice is to kill an unborn baby.

        I’ve run into the idea that I can’t be a feminist if I’m not “pro-allowing-the-choice-to-kill-an-unborn-child” so often that I’ve stopped calling myself a feminist, for fear of being mistaken as pro-abortion-rights.

        But between organizations like Canada’s “ProWoman ProLife” and the US “Susan B Anthony List”, I may reconsider. In case you weren’t aware, most of the “first wave” feminists considered abortion a feminist issue — on the pro-Life side — including Susan B Anthony. The Susan B Anthony list tries to get pro-Life women elected to political office.

        • Schütz says:

          Mary, I was not calling the author of this article “b—-y”, but the reply in the comments regarding the use of “pro-life”.

          • Mary H says:

            I know you were referring to the commenter, not the article author. My point was just that this is a very familiar argument to me, and even the commenter seemed pretty straightforward.

            Both sides are very aware of the impact that the use of terms have.

            I would think that the most neutral formulation would be to refer to pro-abortion-rights and anti-abortion-rights. That would be perfectly clear and correct and I would have no trouble with that at all.

  2. Clara Geoghegan says:

    Great article from Melinda’s publishers at the feminist publishing house “Spinifex’.

    • Mary H says:

      Which pretty much sums up why I don’t call myself a feminist. Just reading through the stuff said about Tankard Reist is disgusting. Why would I want to subject myself to something like that from people who are supposedly on my side?

      I’ve yet to meet a pro-life person who does not think that women are equal in dignity/personhood with men (although I suppose they probably exist). Everything else is details about what best supports / reflects that dignity or personhood.

      And I can accomplish a lot more for women working with religious and pro-life people than with “feminists” who can’t even agree that RU 486 is dangerous (to the woman!) or that there is a connection between breast cancer and abortion.

  3. Stephen K says:

    Well, my own view is that feminism is all about promoting the interests of women, and specifically and fundamentally, in terms of gender autonomy. That is, of not defining their interests in terms of male interests, or solely in terms of the relations between men and women. To argue feminism, one argues that the female is not “the second sex”, “the “other half” etc etc.

    Therefore it seems to me that one can be a feminist anti-abortionist. It is not, in my view, the question on abortion that defines whether one is a feminist or not, though, regrettably, it has become a kind of demarcation line in the popular mind. Though throughout history women have managed to exercise power despite the public patriarchal culture and even self-determination on an individual basis (especially if they were rich enough), it is only under the banner of “feminism” that has evolved along with other ‘revolutionary’ movements that I think the self-empowerment of women everywhere has become a conscious and/or self-conscious cause. When a cause or ideal begins to become self-conscious, issues or questions become important symbolic campaigns. This is what has happened to abortion. As far as I can observe (I’m aware it’s a generalisation), women don’t naturally wish to have an abortion and only consider it if other factors manage to represent something worse.

    That some women can genuinely feel oppressed by their pregnancy and face real hardship and consequences threatening their physical and emotional survival as well as that of their child if it is born cannot in my view be denied. Some of the motivation for feminist advocacy for abortion can be found in this fact. The ironic, perhaps tragic, thing is however that the oppressive circumstances and consequences which I have in mind seem to me by and large imposed or brought about by men and the promotion of their interests, so that in effect, promoting abortion often works to subordinate women’s circumstances and interests to the male’s which is profoundly anti-feminist.

    So there is a contradiction inherent in those feminists who insist that anti-abortion cannot be in a feminist’s portfolio. It depends on the rationale. Like Catholics or Calathumpians, feminists can be a mixed jar of smarties.

    But is my analysis of the essence of feminism correct? Do you agree with it? Can a woman who chooses to comply with cultural norms such as wearing the burka, able to call herself a feminist, on the grounds that she has exercised her choice for something she believes she benefits by embracing? There are many scenarios along these lines, but this is the perhaps one of the more readily illustrative. Whenever this subject is raised, it attracts divergent views by women, some arguing that if the cultural norm is itself a male-imposed norm or can be interpreted or applied against the liberty of women, then the so-called free choice of the compliant woman is not free but simply an expression of cultural coercion. Others argue that it is how the individual ultimately sees the problem that is determinative of the character of the decision.

    We have this debate – whence does value come? – over many questions. Perhaps, like so many things, it is not really so clear-cut. There is also a view that feminism, like so many other value-movements, should not always be cast in the role of an opposition but also, and perhaps primarily, as a proposition. It may not be necessary to be Wiccan to achieve this perspective. What does appear clear to me is that we can expect to see genuine feminists on both sides of controversial questions.

    • Mary H says:

      “What does appear clear to me is that we can expect to see genuine feminists on both sides of controversial questions.”

      You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But apparently, pro-abortion activists in general don’t consider it possible for a pro-life position to be feminist. That’s been experience, at least.

  4. matthias says:

    I know of two Faculties of Nursing (not ACU) where the Sisterhood work. I was i believe a target of bias when undertaking a project on the perceptions of nurses’ caring for women who have had abortions. I said that there was no distinct nursing literature as against general feminist literature- 99% pro abortion ,er sorry pro choice. I quoted a doctor firmly in the Anti Abortion camp-a devout presbyterian in fact- who amde comments about nurses.
    They failed me because I used sources older than 3 years and did not according to them address the issue. I showed my work to my then boss- a firm feminist married to a Catholic by fr eric hodgens no less- and she was appalled at the biasness .
    So the Sisterhood can act as much as a bunch of thugs as anyoner else can.

  5. “We need to stop engaging we the anti choice zealots using their language of choice. They are not “pro-life”. They are anti-choice. It’s not a courtesy to them, it’s letting them own the debate.”

    Wouldn’t the solution be for journalists, when the article which they are writing involves the topic of abortion, to let neither side ‘own the debate’ and instead just speak of the parties involved being not pro- or anti-life or pro- or anti-choice, but pro- or anti-abortion? Of course, the objection which the pro-abortion side will raise (and which has been raised against me in the past on-line) is that ‘no-one is pro-abortion’. But logically, one can have one of three possible attitudes to abortion: One can be pro-abortion in all, some, or no circumstances, and since presumably no-one is pro-abortion in every circumstance, and so no-one will take the description ‘pro-abortion’ to mean ‘pro-abortion-in-all-circumstances’, there’s no problem with shortening ‘pro-abortion-in-some-circumstances’ to ‘pro-abortion’, and substituting ‘anti-abortion’ for ‘pro-abortion-in-no-circumstances’. (Though the fact that any pro-abortion person would find being described, in the interests of brevity, as ‘pro-abortion’ objectionable makes one wonder how credible they think abortion being, so they say, at least morally neutral is; by way of comparison: I support the use of the death penalty in whichever cases the natural law commands it, and I wouldn’t feel at all uneasy about being described as, say, ‘pro-execution’, for the reasons, mutatis mutandis, which I’ve outlined above here.)

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