The most significant long-term political contradiction facing the feminist elite in North America is that the feminist agenda has never been shown to represent the interests of the majority of women. And women know this. Although 90 per cent of women tell pollsters that achieving equality is important for them, only one-third of women are willing to call themselves “feminists.” Why?
Let’s examine some statistics: Women are now 45 per cent of the Canadian workforce outside of the home (Statscan, 1991). Compared with only 35 percent 20 years ago. The actual percentage of workforce Canadian women who worked for money in 1991 was 60—up from 40 per cent in 1971; and this included fully 79 per cent of women between the ages of 25 and 44!
The feminist elite has for years tried to convince women that are working outside the home was implicitly a voluntary, positive advance, a sign of gaining equality with men. To be sure, for women this has been the case. A significant minority of women entering the workforce—certainly the feminist elite—have been motivated by aspirations of career and self-fulfillment. O illustrate this point between 1986 and 1991 the number of female economists increased y 65 per cent, female lawyers by 71 per cent, and accountants and auditors by 42 per cent.
The pressure of economic necessity
But do most women—who perform jobs other than economist, accountant, auditor, and lawyer—enter and stay in the work force to be fulfilled, to be liberated? “Most women work for economic necessity,” says Ruth Getter, vice-president of the Toronto Dominion Bank. “The days of one income being sufficient to support a decent standard of living are gone.” (Toronto Star, March 3, 1993)
“Because much of the increase in labour-force participate in labour-force participation has come from married women with very young children (from 52 per cent of such women in 1981 to 70 per cent in 1991), a growing number of women may be economically shackled to work, rather than enthusiastic participants,” writes Alanna Mitchell, Social Trends reporter for the Globe and Mail. (March 3, 1993, italics added)
Robert Glossop, coordinator of programmes and research at the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa, is even more blunt: “To some extent women have achieved equality with men in that they no longer have the choice to be in or out of the labour market…I am worried about just how harried, frenetic and exhausted are members of families.” (Globe & Mail, March 3, 1993)
The Macro-economic coercion of women
For 25 years, North American business and industry have successfully pushed for lower real wages in order to lower unit prices and to stay competitive in selling goods and services on the world market. The lowering of real individual wages has forced working single women to delay marriage and childbearing. The average age of women marrying in Canada today is 26; 65 per cent of all abortions performed in Canada involve single women.
The lowering of individual wages and the resulting financial squeeze have forced married couples to delay having children so that the women’s income would not be interrupted. The necessity of a second income for family survival has depressed the average number of children per family to less than two.
Married women who become mothers are forced to return to work sooner after giving birth. In many families, where the mother had previously remained at home with children, the need for a second income has taken its toll. It is this economic necessity that has pushed most women into the workforce.
Women know they have been pushed. The feminist elite’s championing of this macro-economic coercion of women to enter the workforce-and their characterizing of economic necessity as positive boon for women—were at first puzzling and confusing for women. Many a mother dropping off young children at day care on the way to work has asked herself, “How can something that is supposed to be so good for me, feel so bad?”
“Most women work for economic necessity,” says Ruth Getter, vice-president of the Toronto Dominion Bank. “The days of one income being sufficient to support a decent standard of living are gone.”
But today more women than ever realize that the pressures exerted upon women to work outside the home in order to maintain a certain standard of living—and the technology of fertility control (the pill and abortion) to ensure that womens’ participation in the workforce is not interrupted—have been both coercive and damaging for many women.
Middle class and working class women who are sole income providers—particularly those who are single—know the terror of becoming pregnant “at the wrong time” and facing the pressure of “choosing” abortion. Many married women, with or without children, whose families depend upon their incomes for survival, come to fear pregnancy and “having to think about the unthinkable –abortion.”
Among poor women—particularly women of colour—the “choice” of aabortion has a particularly cynical and hollow ring. Sunera Thobani, spokesperson for Immigration and Visible Minority Women of B.C., criticizes the elitist feminist “myth that abortion should be available to women of colour in order to prevent their poverty.” When a pregnant woman who needs emotional and financial support, decent housing and child care is offered abortion as “her choice,” what real “choice” has she been offered?
Although opposition to abortion by working-class women and women of colour is far higher than among feminists, the pressures on these women to work and to avoid children are greater, too. Consequently, their abortion rates are also higher! Indeed, although black women comprise only 12per cent of the U.S. female population, 43 per cent of the 1.6 million annual abortions in the U.S. are performed on black women.
Ms. Thobani sees abortion as subtle coercion resulting from lack of meaningful choices. She sees abortion and other reproductive technologies as “closely linked to racist programs of population control.”
That many feminists are beginning to view “choice” increasingly as a “limited” or even “bankrupt” slogan for their movement is best summed up in the writings of three feminist scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
“Choice has become the reigning value on the pro-abortion front. Pro-choice, not pro-woman, has become the slogan for groups acting to protect abortion rights for women in western countries. It is almost as if the rhetoric of choice might attract those who are not sure about their commitment to women’s rights but are definitely committed to the right to choose…Feminist reliance on a rhetoric of choice lacks not only honesty, but vision and aspiration.. It also allows for all sorts of things to be defended in the name of choice-prostitution, pornography, surrogate contracts, and the gamut of reproductive technologies—without any genuine recognition of how such choices deprive women of autonomy, dignity, integrity, well-being, and basic social justice.
“The emphasis on choice narrows the questions surrounding abortion, so that how abortion fits into the total oppression of women is rarely discussed.” (Raymond, Klein and Dumble, the Institute of Women and Technology. M.I.T., 1991)
Women’s awareness of these contradictions—“choice” vs “what’s good for women”; and the class bias of feminism—has resulted in two-thirds of women refusing to identify themselves as feminists.
Modern society is viewed increasingly by many women as a shoe that no longer fits the need of the human foot. The feminist agenda—abortion in particular—is viewed as a crude shoehorn to squeeze and even crush women into a shoe that doesn’t fit and in fact injures women and their families. More and more women are beginning to ask the question: Why isn’t a shoe that fits the real needs of women a “choice” for women ? Why is “choice” today limited to the type of shoehorn?
For many observers the most striking deficiency in the various strategies for ending abortion is the absence of serious analysis of the above-mentioned economic and social antecendents of abortion-on-demand.
Insufficient thought is given to easing the actual pressures that lead most women to seek abortions. To the extent that thought is given to these pressures, solutions focus on piece-meal, small-scale, direct intervention with food, clothing, shelter and money in individual crisis pregnancies.
Those who seek to end abortion must understand that abortion-on-demand is rooted in the radical transformation of Western economies since the early 1960s, when one person working could still earn enough money to support a family at a reasonable standard of living. Many opposing abortion seem to surmise that abortion-on-demand—Roe vs. Wade (1973) and the Canadian abortion law (1969)—coincided by pure chance with economic conditions that forced more women into the workforce.
Believing as they do that every individual is a moral agent ultimately responsible for his or her actions, few pro-lifers focus on reconstructing certain features of the post World War II economic and social fabric which made “being good”-in this case not resorting to abortion –easier. In fact some who labour to stop abortion view its demise as a worthy goal only if abortion is ended for the “right” – that is, for clearly moral –reasons. They would say that making “being good” easier—not to mention, economically painless—makes “being good” less “good.”
Leaving this theological objection aside, there are realistic, immediate economic changes that have been advanced to lessen the pressures for abortion. These economic changes need not be hugely inflationary or as economically dislocating as a sudden return of real wages to the levels of three decades ago.
Such reasonable changes include: (1) Revamping the tax structure to restore support for families, (2) Giving sizeable bonuses for each birth and generous monthly allowances for every child. (3) Providing day-care vouchers to be used at the discretion of mothers to pay for day care or to assist in her staying home with her children..
These reforms would not be designed to discourage any woman–even a mother with small children—from working full-time outside the home, if she so chose. But such reforms would indicate society’s re-commitment to the traditional incentives and supports for family formation and family viability that would—over time—end the economic and social pressures on pregnant women to abort.