New York—The Susan B. Anthony List held an event on the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote entitled “A Conversation on Pro-Life Feminism,” which attracted a wide variety of feminism enthusiasts. SBA president Marjorie Dannenfelser opened the academic discussion at the Yale Club of New York by telling guests that incidentally 2010 had been dubbed the “year for pro-life women.”
Dannenfelser gave a quick history of the organization, which calls itself the “voice of pro-life women in politics,” and explained that their aim is to advance, represent, and mobilize pro-life leadership. She then turned the discussion over to the group of panelists.
Acting as the event’s moderator, associate professor of law at George Mason University, Helen M. Alvaré, described the rise in female leaders in the public sector as a “reclaiming of feminism” in the original sense where being pro-family, pro-woman, pro-life underpinned feminism as integral beliefs.
Her answer for propelling this movement forward was a change in the current vocabulary of feminist jargon that would explain the proper role of women as feminine, nurturing, intelligent mothers and workers. “Essentially,” Alvaré said, “there needs to be a legal and cultural shift that supports motherhood, women, pro-life feminism as complementary to contemporary ideals.”
Jennifer J. Popiel, Ph.D. in European History and assistant professor of history at St. Louis University, said that “life is the wealth of society,” to quote Jane Addams. Popiel is a foremost intellectual and cultural women’s historian. She explained that from the outset feminist activism it has not been a monolithic movement.
Popiel displayed a series of caricatures from early Ladies’ Home Journal from which a general consensus can be drawn, both of depictions by feminism supporters and opponents, and that is that “woman’s strength lies in their uniquely nurturing sense.” In a poster for female suffrage it shows an activist woman as an angel in society.
The disconnected feminist movement has dissolved throughout history into various factions that have become today’s fragments—from pro-androgyny to pro-life feminism. A photograph from the 1960s shows a group of women holding posters that read “Put motherhood in a test tube!” Popiel argues that, “the denial of maternity is far from true feminism as the original purpose was to uplift women as women.”
Dr. Catherine E. Wilson, assistant professor of the MPA Program at Villanova University, asked “whether a cross-pollination of diverse strains in a Darwinian spirit” (borrowing from NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s article “Don’t Bring in the Clones”) could be applied to feminism?
In a sense, yes, feminism as a whole is founded on the principle of individuality, so that no singular vision in the various fragments is irrelevant. Wilson has primarily examined how ethnicity and race have factored into pro-life politics and said that in both Pew and Gallup Polls demographic trends show sympathy for pro-life feminism.
“There might not be one cause, but there is an electric affinity that culminates in all women having a voice in society, and the candidates this year accurately demonstrate this,” said Wilson. She used gubernatorial candidates Susana Martinez (NM) and Nikki Haley (SC) as examples of the diverse strains within the pro-life feminism political scene. Both are of ethnic origin, and both, Wilson said weave the pro-life, pro-woman message into their expansive platforms.
“Is the pro-life cause a traditionalist preserve?” asked Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and associate professor at the university. His answer is partially yes, but polls indicate that not as much today. He explained that to be pro-life has typically been associated with less-educated, white, homemaker, Christian women, but in a General Social Survey (2000-2008) there are clear signs that society has become more accommodating to the pro-family movement.
Across the charts, based on ethnicity, education, religion, and marital and working status, the expected groups are still more inclined to the pro-life cause. However, the conventional wisdom does not apply because empirical evidence points to a growth in pro-life, pro-family sympathy. He cites a 2000 study conducted by Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics that shows 30 percent of women prefer a home-centered lifestyle, 20 percent prefer a work-centered lifestyle, but 50 percent prefer an adaptive lifestyle.
Wilcox’s point is that, “the pro-life cause is most likely to make headway with this adaptive group if they embrace policies and candidates that enable women to combine their authentically dual interests as mothers and in public life.”
To close the conversation, Dr. Laura L. Garcia, member of the philosophy department of Boston College, challenged audience members that “the new feminism” is an inclusive view, which celebrates women’s distinct gifts. It embraces fertility, children, and morality as the means by which society will flourish.
The new feminism—pro-life feminism—promotes the good of people; it permits women to set their own priorities and enables the collaboration of male-female relationships. Garcia sees it as a reaction against the feminism that “steers women into a single careerist mentality where they are competing with men to prove themselves as women.”
But women cannot compete in this way if they are to remain truly woman, hence the reason promoting the pro-life feminism movement is crucial during the coming election cycle: to reclaim feminism and strengthen the Nation’s family-centered founding.