There is an immense difference between the philosophy of feminism (in essence a belief in civil rights for women) and the actions of those now in the women’s movement, with its emphasis on “women first” and “let men and children manage ton the left-overs.”
This philosophical difference is highlighted in an Australian book, Women Who Do & Women Who Don’t (Join the Women’s Movement). The editor, Ms Robyn Rowland, has gathered together 24 essays from women on both sides of the debate. The contributors are divided into Feminist or Anti-feminist, a curious distinction, as almost every contributor explicitly states that she considers herself a feminist.
The concealed basis of the difference between the two groups of women is – surprise, surprise – abortion. In editor Rowland’s view, a feminist believes in abortion as a woman’s right, while the anti-feminist is anti-abortion. Rowland states that, in the main, feminists are concerned for the woman, while anti-feminists are concerned for the “unborn child” (her quote marks). She writes that feminists are pro-choice, not pro-abortion. Note the language, the negative labeling. The “women who don’t” consistently refer to themselves as pro-life and pro-family, yet they are labeled “anti-feminist” and “anti-abortion” by the editor.
The editor is negative in another way: her cliché portrayals. The heroines are the card-carrying feminists working in the women’s movement and doing so to restructure society. With one exception (Connie Purdue, who works with Feminists for Life in New Zealand) the pro-life feminists are women outside the women’s movement and are depicted as mere conservatives. They are women fearful of change, “if a woman’s power base lies in her role as mother in the family, she needs to defend that position from threat.”
Several of the feminist contributors from Australia, New Zealand and England write that their work and training in socialist and communist organizations reinforced their belief in the ideals of the women’s movement: both call for radical social change.
Some contributors are lesbian: Sylvia Kinder writes of herself as “teaching adolescents in an alternative high school… and politically active as a lesbian feminist.” Throughout her essay, she writes of “womon” and “wimin” (instead of “woman” and “women”). She argues “the changing of words which define wimin in relationships to men is an important political activity…” While many feminists talk of men as the enemy (to be avoided if possible, not fought head-on), Peggy Seeger feels she has to defend her position. She describes herself as a “classical feminist,” and explains, “I have had too many helpful, supportive men friends and family to subscribe to their exclusion in my life.” Seeger feels she is a unique case as she has been “privileged all my life, never having been poor, unloved, raped, battered, deserted, bored, irrevocably put down.”
Seeger implies that a series of disastrous experiences, to be blamed on the power of men in society, is a prerequisite to becoming a modern active worker in the women’s movement. Several other contributors cite instances of incest, or of unsuccessful marriages and difficult personal relationships as important motives for their adopting their current positions.
These feminist essays pursue three general themes: that the individual’s problems are the “fault” of society as a whole; that women cannot control their own lives; and, as noted above, that women must come first. Jocelynne Scutt comments, “I would never begin a long-term relationship with any man friend. The price to be paid – loss of identity, of the right to be solitary, to be alone, to be uncommitted, to be one’s own woman – would be too high. It would mean surrender of self.”
Who needs the women’s movement?
In contrast to the stern attitudes embraced by the feminists, the essays by “anti-feminists” are a delight. As Laura McArthur (does anyone need me to remind them that she is president of the Toronto and Area Right to Life) states succinctly, “Who needs the women’s movement? – not women.” The “anti-feminists” view women as equal-but-different. They are concerned that women be treated fairly, not only in the workplace but in the family.
Nance Cotter, founder of Australia’s Women’s Action Alliance, comments, “Women’s liberation wasn’t concerned for the children, only for freeing mothers from caring for them.” She believes that “we must allow women the right to choose whether they will work outside the home, or be fulltime workers in the home and the community. They must be allowed to care for their families without financial penalty and government and social policy must be directed toward this end.”
Equality by abortion?
Gwendolyn Landolt, legal counsel for Campaign Life and REAL Women of Canada, agrees with Mrs. Cotter. She writes, “A decent mother’s allowance would enable many women to stay in the home and raise their children. Why should a stranger be paid to raise your child when you can do it better yourself?”
Valerie Riches, secretary of Britain’s Responsible Society, praises the role of motherhood, yet rejects government support. She says, “I regard motherhood as the most honourable and valuable contribution a woman can make to society: there is nothing degrading or exploitative of women in being homemakers. It would be degrading to receive a salary for what can only be given in love.” (Bear in mind that in Britain’s socialist government policies have caused much government interference in family affairs.)
Another striking difference between “those who do” and “those who don’t” is that religion plays a part in the “anti-feminists” lives – a matter never mentioned by (and so, one assumes, irrelevant to) the feminists. Teddi Holt, national president (U.S.) of Mothers on the March (MOM) says, “I am pleased that God blessed me with the privilege of being a woman.” She has vigorously campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment, and believes that “it would remove many protections and exemptions that were specially placed in our laws, recognizing the fact that our Creator had most certainly created us male and female: two separate, very different, equally important human beings.” MOM members believe “that the mothers of this and other nations must stand up for the protection of our homes and our children. In no way are we extremists, unless we be guilty of extreme devotion to our husbands, our children, and our homes.”
Babette Francis, a founder of Australia’s women Who Want to be Women, points out that Christianity “was the historical event which had the greatest effect on establishing the philosophical basis for the equality of women, and the Christian ethic gives a continuous impetus to efforts to enhance women’s status.”
This comes as a breath of fresh air, at a time when there is so much discussion on women’s role in the Churches, when many women feel alienated because the Catholic church refuses to ordain priestesses. It is out of place here to enter into a debate on women’s ordination; it is appropriate, however, to repeat what Mrs. Francis has to say on the subjects of the Church and of a woman’s right to control her body. “Among Christian denominations, the Catholic tradition in particular held steadfastly to the principle that women should not have to subject their bodies to contraception, abortion and sterilization to achieve equality with men.”
In her preface, editor Rowland states she feels this is “a dangerous book.” She says, “some feminists will be appalled that so much space has been given to the ‘enemy,’ but may find it more difficult than they thought to condemn the women along with the ideas.” Simultaneously, she suggests, the “anti-feminists” may “find their similarities with feminists more disturbing than they anticipate.”
Ms Rowland would classify me as “anti-feminist.” I’m not, of course. Neither are the 10 contributors to this book who she so labels. The divisions are over abortion and the role of the family, and those matters will continue to keep the two groups apart.
Rowland asserts, “all the women are pro-family, pro-children and pro-women.” Sorry, Ms Rowland, you cannot be pro-family, pro-children and pro-women when you advocate the right of a woman to kill her child, a member of her family, and in the process to damage herself psychologically and often physically.
Let’s hear it for women who don’t need and won’t join the women’s movement. If the term “feminist” is now so distorted as to exclude us, so be it. We know who we are and what we stand for. We are used to being the “antis”!”