The XX Factor

Stupak Amendment Reveals Fissures in Feminist Movement

In reading all the accounts from fellow pro-choice women- like Emily’s from earlier this week -bemoaning the Stupak abortion restrictions, I noticed that many of the women who were outraged by the concessions of the health care bill used the terms feminist and pro-choice almost interchangably . Over at Salon , Kate Harding writes, “Feminists have been up in arms about the latest assault on access to abortion,” but if you take one look at the website for the group Feminists for Life , one of the first things you see is the banner proclaiming “Women the Winners in U.S. House Amendment Vote.”

Also on Salon , a year ago, Catherine Price wondered whether you can be pro-life and feminist. She muses:

I think the question is interesting because in some ways it’s emblematic of a big problem not just in the battle over abortion but in American politics in general: a complete refusal to see any part of the opposition’s argument. I like to think that there are often more shades of gray, more nuance, than just the black and white lines down which we are currently divided-and this is a great example.

But actually, when it comes to things like the Stupak Amendment, things are absolutely black and white: If this thing goes through, it will be impossible for a huge chunk of American women to get abortions. The fight over this amendment reveals what a mess the feminist movement is. Women who care about feminism want it to be more inclusive, because we believe that many women are merely turned off by the label, but there have been so many concessions about the term (almost like there have been so many concessions on the health care bill) that it’s devolved. In an article from The New Republic last year about Sarah Palin and her membership in Feminists for Life, Michelle Cottle broke it down : “Feminism seems no longer to denote a particular set of values or ideological agenda; it is merely a label appropriated to proclaim that one is committed to the best interests of women-whatever one believes those to be.”

Fissures in the feminist movement are also the subject of Ariel Levy’s excellent piece in this week’s New Yorker about Gail Collins’ When Everything Changed and Leslie Sanchez’s You’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary and the Shaping of the New American Woman . Levy wonders, “[W]hy has feminism, which managed to win so many battles-the notion of a woman with a career has become perfectly unexceptionable-remained anathema to millions of women who are the beneficiaries of its success?” Maybe because there are still issues where feminists can’t be gentle and nuanced and inclusive. To rally women against the Stupak Amendment, feminists need to be willing to offend.