Feminist or “Fetalist”? Feminism in Light of the ’08 Campaign

Feminism has become the new buzzword this presidential election cycle. First Hillary fought hard to shatter that ultimate glass ceiling, then Sarah Palin emerged as a “new face of feminism“, despite holding views that are antithetical to those of most self-described feminists.

Hillary was criticized by Palin herself for pointing out gender-bias during the primaries, yet feminists are being regarded as hypocritical for not supporting the potentially first female Vice President of the United States.

Which got me wondering – what is a feminist?

Palin’s beliefs on sex education, birth control, abortion, and GLBT issues make her decidedly un-woman friendly to the majority of feminists. Yet Palin considers herself extremely woman-friendly and thinks the other side has everything all wrong.

What’s going on? Can there be a Christian conservative feminist?

I struggled with this one. Does believing abortion is murder and that the government isn’t responsible for enforcing gender equality mean that you are against the empowerment and equality of women?

Palin is a member of Feminists for Life. It’s a group that believes “women deserve better than abortion” and strives to “systematically eliminate the circumstances that drive women to abortion.” The latter sounds pretty good. Except they don’t.

The group lobbies for a program of federal grants for pregnant or new parents (or those preparing to adopt) who are students so they don’t have to sacrifice their education in order to support a child. They also oppose family caps for women on welfare. However it seems that, in FFL’s world, financial burden is the only circumstance that provokes women to choose abortion. The site speaks nothing of sex ed or contraception, except when it condemns them. In an article on rape and incest, it mentions birth control:

“birth control counseling and abortion often indirectly contribute to the victim’s sense of shame, guilt, and blame for what is happening, since she is told to “take control” and “be responsible” for her “sexual activity,” implying that this situation is indeed within her power to control.”

Who tells a victim of incest or rape that they should have used birth control? Or implies that she “take control” next time by carrying rubbers around just in case? That’s so offensive, it’s sickening.

A 2005 piece by Kathy Politt in The Nation investigates FFL and interviews its president, Serrin Foster. Foster advocates a ban on abortion in all circumstances, including rape, incest, deformity, or when the life or health of the mother is at stake. She makes the thoroughly debunked assertion that an abortion ban would stop abortion altogether and make women safer overall, she ensures her members are “medically informed” by erroneously telling them that abortion causes breast cancer, feels the contraceptive pill is an ” abortifacient” and birth control in general “doesn’t work” for teenagers or swing-shift nurses who lose track of their body clock.

Feminsts for Life isn’t actually about improving the lives of women, nor even addressing the circumstances that lead to abortion. It sounds great to say women need more help juggling babies and education and careers, but in what practical way does FFL represent feminism?

Politt concludes her piece with the answer:

Exposing the constraints on women’s choices, however, is only one side of feminism. The other is acknowledging women as moral agents, trusting women to decide what is best for themselves. For FFL there’s only one right decision: Have that baby. And since women’s moral judgment cannot be trusted, abortion must be outlawed, whatever the consequences for women’s lives and health–for rape victims and 12-year-olds and 50-year-olds, women carrying Tay-Sachs fetuses and women at risk of heart attack or stroke, women who have all the children they can handle and women who don’t want children at all. FFL argues that abortion harms women–that’s why it clings to the outdated cancer claims. But it would oppose abortion just as strongly if it prevented breast cancer, filled every woman’s heart with joy, lowered the national deficit and found Jimmy Hoffa. That’s because they aren’t really feminists–a feminist could not force another woman to bear a child, any more than she could turn a pregnant teenager out into a snowstorm. They are fetalists.

Feminist historian Estelle Freedman told NPR that conservative women (have been known to) appropriate the term for political gain. If you say you’re a feminist, but the nice, family-oriented kind, people hear what they want to hear. Without examining too closely, women believe you’re one their side.

Yet even this can backfire. To the right even of Palin the tag “feminist” is raising some disapproving eyebrows. Olivia St. John of World Net Daily writes that Palin’s decision to work outside the home is a direct contributor to her teenage daughter’s pregnancy. She is accused of gauchely “(stealing) the spotlight” as her husband and children look on from the shadows and further reprobated as “legitimizing the societal phenomenon of the career-centric absentee mother.” I guess you can’t please everyone.

Palin is an accomplished, intelligent, successful woman. She manages a career and a family in a way that appears enviable. She could even become the very first female Vice President of the United States. But Sarah Palin will not make the country better for women. No matter what she says, or what FFL wants you to believe, Sarah Palin is not a feminist.


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6 Responses to “Feminist or “Fetalist”? Feminism in Light of the ’08 Campaign”

  1. jonolan Says:

    You’re taking the birth control / rape comment out of context and spinning it into the worst possible light.

    I believe it’s fair to say that the more a woman is taught that she must maintain total control over her sexual activity, the more psychological damage being raped will cause her. Many counselors heavily push the “keep control of your sexual activity” idea – with laudable goals. But they don’t leaven it with the advise that if you’re raped it was OUT of your control.

  2. revromansky Says:

    What you seem to be implying is that the day after pill, administered after a rape and being an abortifactient, should be retained as treatment; that this justifies abortion of all kinds and for all reasons, as well as justifying the death-by-omission of born-alive aborted children; that anyone who disagrees with this is wrong. All based on an out-of-context excerpt.

    Thank your mother for not aborting you.

    Jesus Loves You



  3. Julie Ann Marra Says:

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to. “Abortifacient” was the term used by Serrin Foster of Feminists for Life in relation to the birth control pill, which releases hormones that – in addition to supressing ovulation – prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall. It is the latter that many consider a form of abortion. I can only assume Ms Foster has similar feelings about about levonorgestrel, or the morning after pill, which also prevents implantation of a fertilized egg.

    What exactly is “out of date”?

  4. Julie Ann Marra Says:


    I find the “control your sexual activity” and guilting the victim for not being able to prevent an episode of sexual activity (or a resulting pregnancy) staunchly in the realm of abstinence only proponents. Teaching someone about birth control, in itself, isn’t related to rape or incest in any way that I’ve ever seen. Insisting a boyfriend wear a condom, or getting a prescription for the pill doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly empowered to defend yourself against sexual assault.

    The newsletter article I quoted talks about a victim of ongoing incest at the hands of her brother who takes her for a quick and secret abortion. It implies that talking to her about birth control furthers her shame because she is told to take control so as not to become pregnant again, yet will have no control over the ongoing incest.

    But what is the alternative? To NOT counsel people who choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy on the ways they can prevent it from happening again? The article represents learning about birth control and suffering from rape or incest as two sides of the same coin – one exacerbates the other.

    Ideally counselors would have recognized signs of the girl’s plight, handled the situation responsibly and gotten her the help she so badly needed, but to mention birth control only in light of how it shames rape victims is misleading and irresponsible for an organization that claims to strive to “eliminate circumstances that drive women to abortion.”

  5. jonolan Says:


    It’s not staunchly in the realms of the abstinence only proponents though. In fact an unintended negative side effect of much of the sexual empowerment counseling is to make the psychological effects of rape worse. They may the teaching empowerment and control – very laudable since each person should be the controller of their own sexuality – but don’t touch on the fact that you can loose that control through no fault of your own.

  6. Julie Ann Marra Says:

    I can’t disagree with you because I don’t know what is or isn’t touched upon in typical counseling on birth control. Actually, I hadn’t given much thought to the inclusion of rape in discussions of sex ed. Given that these topics are extremely important to me, maybe I should. Thanks, Jonolan.

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