The Seduction of Feminism
THE SEDUCTION OF FEMINISM
by David Reardon
Many people assume that feminism and the movement to legalize abortion are virtually synonymous. Some equate feminism with a virulent leftist political philosophy which advocates abortion, free love, lesbianism, pornography, witchcraft, and goddess worship. But in fact, this "neo- feminism" is far removed from the ideals and goals of the original 19th century feminists, who were strongly rooted in the traditional Judeo- Christian concepts of morality and justice.
Most of the early nineteenth century feminists espoused a conservative morality. Indeed, it was their Christian idealism which was the motivating force behind their demands for reform.
One of the chief goals of the Founding Mothers was to reform the sexual abuses in and out of the marriage bed. Their agenda for sexual reform emphasized two basic Christian concepts: mutual fidelity and mutual respect.
First, they condemned male promiscuity, and they denounced the social injustices which compelled their sisters to degrade themselves in lives of prostitution. While vocally denouncing fornication, they actively developed outreach programs to help prostitutes leave their lives of self-degradation and find gainful employment.
Second, they demanded respect for women as marriage partners. Wives, they insisted, cannot be treated like prostitutes, available on demand without regard to their feelings, desires, and health. Love for and from the husband was necessary. Such love includes respect for the wife's concerns, especially health concerns in a time when maternal deaths were appallingly common.
Thus, feminists opposed "enforced motherhood," a euphemism for unwanted sexual intercourse ranging from marital rape to emotional badgering. In their effort to achieve both practical reform and the elevation of a wife's dignity, feminists demanded the right of "voluntary motherhood," the freedom of a wife to accept or refuse marital intercourse.
The call for "voluntary motherhood" was a demand that a woman should not be considered her husband's property; the law should not require her to submit to his every passion; and society should encourage respectful, joint decision-making with regard to the "marital embrace." It was the goal of feminists that motherhood should result from a woman's voluntary consent to intercourse, not her begrudging endurance of it.
Birth Control and Abortion
These twin demands for marital fidelity and marital respect led 19th century feminists to take a strict view towards the appropriate means by which procreation could be regulated.
Feminists condemned artificial contraceptive methods as "unnatural, injurious, and offensive" to women. They believed that the use of contraceptives in the home would only further entrench women into the role of being sexual objects for their mates. Contraceptives would deny women their rightful fertility, turning wives into little more than prostitutes, always "safe" for husbands to exploit to satisfy their passions.
Widespread contraceptive use, feminists urged, would also encourage promiscuity, thus undermining their call for mutual chastity. They particularly feared that the availability of contraceptives would lure even more husbands and sons who were presently chaste into illicit sexual exploits, exposing even more young women to seduction, abuse, and abandonment.
Feminism's founding mothers also condemned abortion from two directions. First, they insisted it was immoral to kill an unborn child. Susan B. Anthony, Victoria Woodhill, and virtually every other noted feminist leader of the last century described abortion as "infanticide" and "child- murder."
Second, they asserted that abortion was just another tool by which women were exploited. While they did not exonerate women from the crime, leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Gage charged that abortion was a "degradation of women" and that "most of the responsibility for this crime lies at the door of the male sex" who beg, cajole, and even force women to have abortion.
With equal perception, Alice Paul, the author of the original Equal Rights Amendment (1923) stated that "abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women," the escape route men use to avoid responsibility for their own acts. These visionaries would not have been shocked by the results of a 1984 study which found that 60 percent of women seeking abortion feel "forced" to do so by others.
It is important to understand, then, that the early feminists' complaints about "enforced motherhood" and their demands for "voluntary motherhood" did not imply a right to abort "unwanted" children, or even a right to use contraceptives. Instead, these rather euphemistic terms referred specifically to the right of a woman to accept or reject marital intercourse. No woman, they believed, should be forced to engage in sexual intercourse simply to satisfy her husband's passions when love is absent, or when the possibility of an untimely pregnancy would be injurious to her health. In short, they simply wanted respectful, sensitive husbands who could control their desires in accordance with their wives' desires and health needs.
The Seduction of Feminism
Abortion was the antithesis of feminism's egalitarian principles until the mid-1960's. It was then that population control zealot Lawrence Lader convinced a reticent Betty Friedan, the founder of the National Organization of Women (NOW), to adopt abortion as a central element of "neofeminism." Lader, not so incidentally, was the founder of the National Abortion Rights League (NARAL) and has repeatedly supported the State's right to force women into unwanted abortion for population control and eugenic reasons.
According to Lader, "It was the surge and fervor of neo-feminism that paved the way for the abortion movement. Each was essential to the other." He gives Friedan singular credit for "pushing an abortion plank" into NOW's agenda at its 1967 agenda even though "a lot of delegates resigned" because of it.
Friedan's decision to embrace abortion as part of the feminist agenda was a strategic choice. In return for accepting a leadership role in the stalled abortion movement, "neofeminism" gained the support of population controllers and leaders of the sexual revolution who in turn provided financial and political muscle to aid the budding feminist movement.
The right of women to "control their own bodies" also provided an essential focus for the movement's ideology. Since that time, young feminists have been taught to see abortion rights as the overarching symbol of their pursuit for bodily and social independence. Without this freedom, they are told, they are enslaved by their biology.
The Symbolic Importance of "Choice"
It is this symbolic importance of the "right to choose" which "neofeminists" treasure above all else. Justice, morality, and health come second to the freedom to choose. This is why feminists truly see themselves as pro-choice, not pro-abortion. It is fine, they believe, for a woman to choose against abortion for moral or health reasons. It is her choice. But even if all abortions are immoral or dangerous, they argue, an emancipated woman must still be free to make her own choice. What matters is only that women have the right to choose, for good or ill.
This is why so many feminists resist talking about the morality or safety of abortion. The freedom to choose is paramount. What the choice means, whether or not the child is a person, or how abortion affects women in the long run, is immaterial. These are side issues to them. It is not abortion itself they are defending so much as the symbolic "right to choose" in which abortion has been so cleverly disguised.
But not all feminists can defend the symbol of choice without examining what that choice really means. And when they examine the choice of abortion, they have found it to be a betrayal of women's rights, a betrayal of children, and an abandonment of our daughters and sisters to the exploitation of irresponsible men and an unloving society. One such feminist is Pat Goltz, who was called before a tribunal of her state NOW chapter, tried, and "excommunicated" for her vocal pro-life views.
Return to Pro-Life Feminism
Along with Cathy Callahan, Pat Goltz founded Feminists for Life of America (FFLA) in 1972. Since that time, FFLA has consistently emphasized the destruction that abortion inflicts on child, mother, and society as a whole.
In addition to condemning abortion, FFLA has denounced the spread of ineffective and dangerous contraceptive devices foisted on American women. Instead, they encourage the use of natural family planning methods as superior, effective methods which enhance respect and mutual responsibility between marriage partners.
Pro-life feminists, like all fully Christian reformers, defy categorization as "liberals" or "conservatives." Embracing the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic, they have remained a voice for the authentic rights and dignity of women, without degenerating into a "neofeminism" of amoral sexual ethics and revisionist theologies. Instead, they have maintained a truly feminine vision of their rights and duties as sisters, mothers, and co-workers with God, which is proudly described in their slogan: "We are homemakers--and the world is our home."
While the membership in NOW continues to decline, the membership of FFL continues to grow. Anyone wishing to join Feminists for Life or to receive their newsletter "Sisterlife" should write Feminists for Life of America, 811 E. 47th St., Kansas City, MO 64110.
1. Allan Chase, "The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of Scientific Racism" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), 154.
2. Keith E. Melder, "Beginnings of Sisterhood: The American Women's Rights Movement," 1800-1850 (New York: Schocken Books, 1977), 155.
3. Ibid., 51-52; and Cal N. Degler, "At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Resolution to the Present" (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 286.
4. Ibid., 136. 5 Linda Gordon, "Woman's Body, Woman's Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America (New York: Grossman, 1976), 97.
6. Ibid., 109.
7. Ibid, 117.
8. Ibid ., 98.
9. Mary Krane Derr, "Man's Inhumanity to Woman Makes Countless Infants Die: The Early Feminist Case Against Abortion" (Kansas City, MO: Feminists for Life, 1991).
10. Ibid., 10.
11. Frederica Mathewes-Green, "Suffragists at the Abortion March," "Sisterlife," Spring 1992, 12(2):1,5.
12. David Reardon, "Aborted Women, Silent No More" (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987), 11.
13. Derr, "Man's Inhumanity", 7; Degler, "At Odds," 215.
14. Lawrence Lader, "Abortion II: Making the Revolution" (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), 36.
15. Ibid., 37, 39-40.