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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The feminine mistake


    During her undergraduate career at Smith College, recently deceased feminist leader Betty Friedan surveyed her fellow female students and found a strong and pervasive malaise among them about their assumed futures as doyennes of homemaking. She got mad, but then she did something about it: Her book, “”The Feminine Mystique,”” published in 1963, challenged – and changed – the basic assumptions of American society.

    Friedan and the others who paved the way for the women’s rights movement were rebelling against the idea that just because women had the equipment to bear children, that was all that they should do. They wanted to secure equal rights and opportunities – and so chose reproductive rights as a primary battlefield. The paradigm of reproductive rights as the frontispiece of the women’s rights movement remains today.

    On the surface, that makes sense. The fact that women had children was what for years completely defined their lives. By taking control of their biological roles, women could take control of their lives.

    But the continued focus on women’s physical forms misses the point. The women’s rights movement was supposed to be about ending women’s confinement to definitions of their purpose in life that derived strictly from their anatomy. I don’t want to be given rights on the basis of my uterus – I want to be assured of equal rights based on my equal brain.

    When I asked Annie Roepke, a senior majoring in linguistics and Spanish, what she considered to be the largest issue in the women’s rights movement, she responded, “”Keeping abortion safe, legal and rare”” – an answer many, if not most, individuals keeping up with the press on women’s issues would give. In fact, women’s rights and abortion rights are often used synonymously.

    However, by making reproductive rights the vanguard of the woman’s rights movement, we risk falling back into the trap of being whittled down to a simple anatomical set – defining the rights that women seek by those that relate to their bodies.

    And equating abortion-access rights with women’s rights means that many women who, like me, believe abortion is a moral wrong, are excluded from the movement as a whole, and made to feel like traitors to a cause that should be equally ours. Women’s rights are supposed to be about securing equal opportunities for us all, not about Balkanizing our gender in to ever-warring camps over what amounts to personal moral choices.

    The importance of the pro-choice/pro-life debate can’t be understated. However, perhaps the field of women’s rights is not the appropriate arena for it to be played out. It’s detrimental and divisive for one side of the debate to claim the women’s rights movement as its own, and in so doing, alienate just over half of the women in the country.

    According to a recent survey taken by the Center for the Advancement of Women, a nonpartisan, pro-choice advocacy group for women’s rights, 51 percent of American women support banning or limiting abortion access to extreme cases. Does it really make sense to shunt this many people out of the movement that was intended to assure and protect our equality?

    Reproductive rights are a fundamental aspect of family planning, and families are made up of both genders. By keeping reproductive issues classified as “”women’s rights”” we let men off the hook in terms of responsibilities and exclude their viewpoints from discussions on the issue. Although some may say that women have more at stake immediately in the debate over abortion access, it’s downright simplistic to act as though men’s opinions are totally irrelevant to the question.

    Maybe the debate on abortion should occur under the category of human rights. It’s something in which everyone – male or female – should have a say. Equating women’s rights with abortion access serves to divide women as they work toward securing and protecting other important aspects of equality.

    What if women could work together on issues we should all agree on? We could make huge strides in the right to equal pay for equal work, breaking the glass ceiling and helping the hugely disproportionate percentage of women who make up the extreme poor in our nation, among other issues. Keeping women with differing views on abortion out of the discourse will serve only to disable it – and that would be a shame.

    Lori Foley is a senior majoring in English and French. She can be reached at

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