Posted by Professor Robin LeBlanc
Hi Allison and Others,
As the Acting Head of Women's and Gender Studies (and thus distinct from the permanent head, Professor Radulescu), I feel it is somehow incumbent upon me to weigh in here. Most significantly, I want to say that I respect the right of groups that conduct themselves in a civil manner to make a plea for what their members believe we should value.
This respect includes respect for the right of Allison's group, "Feminists for Life," to urge members of our community to attend their events and to work in a civil manner at those events to convince us to share their interpretations of what constitutes feminism and a moral response to unwanted pregnancy. I do not believe there is anything wrong in publicizing such an event or trying to argue that many types of people will find it compelling. I believe that reaching out to people who do not agree with our views and encouraging them to reconsider their position is part of what we all do when we engage in democratic discourse.
That said, in two ways I do not find the "Feminists for Life" position compelling. First, I agree with Professor Delaney who argued that, in fact, the Allison's original announcement of the anti-abortion event is clearly political despite the fact that Allison has claimed it is not. I think it's fine to advertise political events that will be conducted in a civil fashion. It's even acceptable to advertise them among groups of people who are very likely to find the politics involved abhorrent, but it is common courtesy to admit that the events are designed to push a political perspective (which may well also involve moral perspectives). It's common courtesy to work to acknowledge one's political commitments (which are, by definition
biases) because such acknowledgements are simultaneously displays of recognition of and respect for those who do not share those biases and who are also committed to being good people who do good. So, Allison, please work to provide more forthright acknowledgement of your biases when you advertise pro-life events.
Second, although I have deliberated about this with myself over the years, I am of the view that "feminism" can not be defined as acceptance of constraints on the uses of women's bodies legislated and implemented by political institutions overwhelmingly dominated by men.
I certainly think a feminist woman can choose against abortion in her own case. However, I can not think that in a political realm in which all women are marginalized because of their tiny numbers we can view any group of women urging women generally to submit to constraints on their use of their bodies that must necessarily be imposed by an authority structure controlled by men can be, in any sense, feminists.
As I understand it, "Feminists for Life" are not arguing that we should replace male majorities with majorities of women so that women can legislate the uses to which women's bodies must be put. They are arguing that we accept an agenda for women's bodies that has been crafted in a political world where having a male body is still a very significant predictor of one's likelihood of holding power. "Feminists for Life" are asking for support for males' construction of limits on female bodies (obviously, women can not construct the limits as they are not in power). Therefore, I view the use of the word "feminist" in the name "Feminists for Life" as fundamentally disingenuous and, I would warrant, contrary to any usage the OVERWHELMING majority of self- labeled feminists around the globe would accept.
So, from my particular position of bias, I urge Allison and other anti- abortion activists on campus to a more vigorous examination of their biases. And I urge those who, with me, find the use of "feminist" in the advertising of anti-abortion activity as an offensive misuse of the term to, nonetheless, protect the right of those with whom we disagree to invite us to events where (should we go) they would attempt to convert us.
Here's to debate! We could use a lot more of it around here.
Robin Le Blanc
Professor of Politics
Acting Head of Women's Studies
Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics Washington and Lee University Lexington, VA 24450