This piece is a work in progress. I started working on it a few weeks ago and have been making subtle changes ever since. I originally posted it on my personal blog, but would now like to share this piece here as well. I am really open to hearing what other people have to say, receiving feedback, and having conversations about the points I make in this piece.
Before getting started, I would also like to note that there is great diversity within both anti-choice and pro-choice communities. The points I make below are based on my own personal experiences with feminists of my generation and those in the anti-choice community that I know personally and those I have interacted with online and at abortion clinics in the past. The main thing I want to make clear is that feminism and gender essentialism are not mutually exclusive. (I have a lot of feelings about this that I plan to write about soon.
In my last post, I reblogged commentary on the manipulative rhetoric used by the anti-choice community in their political discourse, “activism,” and media campaigns. I was really glad to see that iamateenagefeminist expanded on this issue, noting that the anti-choice right focuses on women because they believe that all uterus-bearers are women and vice versa. Of course, I am not surprised by this type of erasure and exclusivity. In fact, it is a huge problem even within pro-choice communities. Understanding cisgendered privilege and using gender-neutral language is incredibly important, yet I find that this is still a huge obstacle in even the most progressive circles. I’ve only recently started learning about these issues myself, but feel that the reasons for this lack of knowledge and the way in which it is addressed differs greatly depending on the individuals in question.
Speaking only from personal experiences, I find that [young] cis-gendered feminists that do not understand this privilege have often not been educated on this aspect of their privilege and how their cissexist language and actions erase the lives and identities of many people in the trans* community. For example, I used to refer to abortion as a “woman’s issue,” as this is how it was framed in the feminist literature I read, the media I consumed, and the conversations I had with friends. It wasn’t until I read an article on Feministing a few months ago that I realized how the language I had been using was cissexist and exclusionary. I immediately started incorporating gender-neutral language when discussing reproductive rights, and have been trying to use only gender-neutral language in ever aspect of my life since then. I have also found that many other feminists, those that I interact with in “real life” and those that I follow on Tumblr, have reacted similarly by acknowledging their mistakes, checking their privilege, and rethinking their perspectives. [I think this points to a really significant problem within our communities and indicates that we need to work harder to ensure that people are educated about this part of privilege & oppression.]
Many feminists do not want people to feel restricted or limited because of their gender; however, there are many others in the feminist community that base their identities and perspectives on gender essentialism. This needs to change immediately: there needs to be space for those who are marginalized in these conversations to share their experiences and perspectives. This is definitely a huge issue that the feminist movement is still working on, but I see a clear difference in the way that pro-choice and anti-choice communities understand gender. I would argue that those that are anti-choice are quick to put individuals in boxes because of the sex they were assigned at birth; the anti-choice agenda is completely founded on the gender binary and gender essentialism. Their erasure of trans men and non-binary individuals is also rooted from a position of privilege, but the way in which they understand their positionality and interact with others is completely different. For one, I feel that the pro-choice movement is open to making changes with regards to their politics and the way they frame their arguments. The anti-choice community, on the other hand, has a clearly defined agenda: abortion is murder, therefore it should be illegal. There is no concern for the lives of the living uterus-bearers involved or the science that acknowledges that abortion is a safe medical procedure.
Also, I think the anti-choice focus on women is rooted in deep-seated misogyny; being anti-choice implies being anti-woman, which also equates to not supporting gender equality. If and when abortion is legal, women are given the right to control their own bodies and reproduction. This exists in opposition to the anti-choice agenda, as that community would ideally have us barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Meanwhile, women’s “equality” is becoming visible in society: women are running for president, hosting television shows, and even marrying other women in a few states! The patriarchy is falling apart before our eyes (LOL I wish) and male privilege seems to some like it is becoming threatened, so the anti-choice community is getting creative to ensure that we women stay in our place. If women gain rights, men may lose some of their power; for some people, this is basically synonymous with the end of the world. Well, what better way to maintain the patriarchy if not by encouraging misogyny and exerting control over the female-sexed body with lies, manipulation, and “moral” justifications?
On another note, I agree with iamateenagefeminist’s argument that the anti-choice community uses cissexist language because they truly believe in the gender binary and do not understand that being a uterus-bearer is not synonymous with being a woman. The rhetoric they use is supported by all major social structures and institutions, whereas feminist understandings of gender and sexuality are often excluded from any and all things mainstream. Consciousness raising groups unfortuntaely don’t happen in middle school social studies classes and sex education programs hardly even talk about safe sex, let alone gender identity. Understanding one’s privilege takes time, education, and information, along with an open-mind and many other things. Many people may not be aware of their own personal privilege and their role in directly/indirectly oppressing others. Some say ignorance is bliss, but I strongly disagree.
The cissexism and heteronormativity in anti-choice communities may not be as explicit as the misogyny, but it surely does exist: the anti-choice right is opposed to both reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights.
I can only imagine how the anti-choice agenda would transform in a different social and political context. If heterosexual and/or cisgendered privileged were being “threatened” to the same extent that male privilege is currently being “threatened,” I would picture the anti-choice community incorporating rhetoric that encourages individuals to become (even more) hateful towards the LGBTQ community.
Lastly, I want to say that I think gender-inclusivity would actually be detrimental for the anti-choice community. Not only would it give validity to the arguments of those in the pro-choice community that focus on uterus-bearers (as opposed to only women) but it would mean that they could no longer rely on stereotypes and generalizations about women to support their arguments. Ultimately, the anti-choice agenda depends on misogyny, gender essentialism, and the gender binary if they want to successfully organize in opposition to reproductive rights.
*Of course, there would still be jokes about manicures and frozen coffee, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, but it would all take on a completely new form that may or may not be as effective in creating a similar political climate.