What women's rights look like when the two sides come together as one.
What women's rights are when women are no longer manipulated by party rhetoric.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Taking on the Third Rail of Feminism

Cynthia Ruccia

I'm taking on the hottest topic in feminism-land. Everyone's afraid to talk about it and to face it head-on, but hey, SOMEONE has to do it, and I'm either just brave enough or stupid enough to do it. How badly will I get burned? Not at all I believe because if this topic isn't addressed, we women will get to spend the next 30 years the way we've spent the last 30 years and that is making 75% of what men make for the same work, ranking 70th in the world for female representation in government, holding 2.7% of the CEO positions, and holding around 24% of state legislative positions and 6 governorships out of 50. You call this equality? We are around 51% of the population, and you say we'll get there eventually? At this rate maybe by 2500 women will make what men make, and all of the other things will be equalized. Maybe.

There have been many things written about why women are in this state. Some people blame it on the Mommy track, others say it is because women don't speak up enough for themselves. I could go on and on about the theory of the day. They probably all have grains of truth to them. Some people believe that the young generation will fix everything because that generation is more used to different gender roles. Could be, but I certainly don't have a crystal ball and at any rate, I'm not willing to hope I live to be one hundred to see how that all turns out.

So what's the third rail of feminism?
What's the thousand-pound gorilla sitting on the table that I have yet to name? Why am I already in paragraph three and I still can't get it out of my mouth? Well, it's because I'm going to TALK ABOUT ABORTION!!!! Please be warned that I am NOT going to talk about abortion in any way you've ever heard it talked about. And I'm going to kindly ask you to just listen to these ideas a little before you react. I know you can do it or you wouldn't be interested in reading a blog like this one.

First off, let me state that I am pro-choice. To my pro-life sisters (and brothers) out there, I have complete respect for your position. I get where you are. I ran for Congress twice in the 90's and I grew weary of making abortion a litmus test issue because all I saw was vile hatred coming from both sides. The abortion debate is not over really, and it is still being fought. HOWEVER, I've decided to let other people fight that battle because it is a debate that has held all other women's progress hostage for 30+ years. Really, as long as we're tearing each other's eyeballs out over abortion, who cares about women's progress being held back? Right?

To those who say that if women don't have a say over their own bodies, nothing else matters, I say----WTF? Not that there isn't something to respect in that argument either. You see, I understand that if women aren't given respect to make their own decisions about their bodies, a person might make the conclusion that women will never be respected for anything. This is actually something of a weak argument because the facts don't support the idea. Women may have more sexual freedom if abortion is available, but heck------ abortion has been legal since 1973 , that's been 38 years, and if legalized abortion is a sign of respect for women, why aren't women doing any better in the workforce, in the legislatures, in their paychecks, etc.?

I don't understand why abortion became the zero-sum game of women's rights. It's an absolutely ridiculous notion. If I were a conspiratorial type, I'd say that as long as we keep the girls fighting each other over this issue---I mean REALLY fighting, tooth-and-nail, fight-to-the-death fighting, we'll never have to pay them equally cause they'll never notice and they won't have any fight in them left even if they do notice. But of course I'D NEVER go there with this argument (wink, wink).

Another blind spot about this issue is the contention that because women on the right are pro-life, they don't deserve to be able to take advantage of all of the progress that has been made because they had nothing to do with it. I'd say that that issue left the train station a long time ago. Believe it or not, there are pro-choice women who stay at home with their children instead of working outside the home, and there are pro-life women who have careers outside the home. And regardless of their position on abortion, women are still paid far too little and are underrepresented in every high-level position. We just need to get over that idea, even those who are still mad at Phyllis Schlafly for stopping the Equal Rights Amendment. That was done 30+ years ago, and it is just time to stop holding a grudge over it. Heck, even the Cambodians, the South Africans, and the Rwandans were able to forgive each other over true atrocities much worse than the stoppage of the ERA, and these countries were able to go on and work together. Interestingly, Rwanda ranks #1 in female representation in government in the entire world. Talk about turning scars into stars!!!!

My point is that it is 2011. Life has moved on, new generations have been born, and we women still have so much work to do. Are we going to spend our energy fighting over abortion and holding grudges? Are we going to keep fighting over who gets to be the keeper of the women's rights torch? Can we start thinking again about how to make sure women are paid what they're worth? Can we start thinking about how to get women more representation---on both sides of the aisle? Can we imagine a world where a woman has just as much a chance to be president of the U.S., president and CEO of a top company? That world is really our next step. And honestly we are almost there. Except we need to build a new coalition, a new approach and jettison the ideas from the past that haven't worked. Remember, the definition of insanity is to do the same things over and over again and expect to get a different result.

I'm not saying that the abortion debate isn't important. I believe that that debate is here to stay. BUT, that debate hasn't given us any progress in any other way, and to those other causes our attention must be turned. And when we turn our attention to fixing those statistics I laid out in paragraph #1, we're going to find that pro-choice, pro-life will come together and make great things happen. Why? Because fixing those statistics is something most everyone can agree on.

I know, I know----you aren't used to thinking about it that way and it feels strange. Well, any new idea takes a minute to get used to. But it's really so easy. If more of us keep talking the talk, our society will begin to walk the walk. They just haven't been able to because, heck, we stopped talking about women's progress a long time ago while we were busy talking about abortion. Time for a change----ya know?

Whew----I'm off that third rail!! And guess what? NO BURNS!!!! NO CALAMITIES!!! If I can do it, so can all of you. Let's get on with it. The things that divide us are small next to the things that unite us.......


  1. OMG Cynthia---I guess it needed to be said. I wonder if people can learn to think with this new paradigm?

  2. Excellent post! Thank you! You're exactly right and I couldn't agree more!

  3. Love it and I'd like to add that with the development of the morning after pill (which works up to 36 hours) there is little need for MOST abortions that the LEFT claim MUST be kept available (rape and when the rubber breaks) and the fact NO one pushes the truth of the 36 hour window! It's basically a really strong birth control pill that I think women should have access to just like MEN get a rubber machine in every bathroom! yes the debate is less valid with that pill!

  4. thanks for addressing the elephant in the room!

  5. Great point Lady Dawnelle----the whole debate has really changed due to medical advances!! Glad you brought it up...

  6. I like what you say about abortion being a divide-and-conquer topic. For example, I have long said that by insisting on no parental notice for minors, it is pro-choicers who are raising the heat by making this more than a medical decision. (Yes, I support exceptions.) As for Mrs. Schlafley (with whom I had a weird dinner one night long ago, well, she and her daughter are back and actively fighting the newest attempts to pass ERA so I can't go with you there.

  7. Kimberly BuchananJuly 31, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    I agree with everything you have written yet dont forget other perspectives. feminism is not just about being hetero and what that means... as a hetero feminist in 2011, these issues go further than my right to choose, that was my mothers issue. What about our sisters that are lesbian and our male friends that are gay or our male friends that are hertero and love a feminist. This is a very big issue for me and have not recently been exposed to an open venue, I welcome dialoge in respect.

  8. Great post, Cynthia.
    That said, I don't think one should ask women to support women whose fundamental values they disagree with. Just ask women to support those women whose values they DO agree with! That's all we need to get LOTS of women into office - both Democrats and Republicans.

    Thanks for leading us on!

  9. As a feminist I am against feminist groups dealing with gay issues. Not because they aren't important but because Gay issues have their own groups and those groups stick to dealing with gay issues they don't even give lip service to feminist issues. So lets stick to issues that affect ALL females. That would be, equal pay for equal work, distorted media images of women, equal and relevant medical care and medical research for women, equal representation in government. Those issues affect all females young and old, gay or straight. When we get those issues solved we can take on issues like sexual orientation and birth control and abortion which affect small numbers of females. I think lesbians are 5% or the female population, and females under 13 and over 45 as well as those who are not in an active sexual relationship with a man don't require birth control or abortions. So lets for once concentrate on issues that affect ALL women.

  10. "Thanks Cynthia, I read your post on abortion and I am still thinking about it. I see your point, and I think there are some aspects that I agree with...Yet I also feel that the issue of abortion should still continue to be addressed, progressives were simply outmaneuvered politically by the Right. It is that simple, and many pro-choice organizations continue to use old school tactics that don't work anymore, and they continue to operate in silos."

  11. Interesting post. I do feel the need to point out that abortion rights are being eroded as we speak in several Republican controlled states. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has done a series of segments on state actions that have made it just about impossible for women to exercise their supposedly legal right to an abortion in several states. Between that and the ever shrinking job market, I fear women are going backwards in terms of maintaining equal rights.

  12. Great post and I couldn't agree more. I reached much the same conclusions long ago. I believe that the divide and conquer tactic has worked for those who would keep women down for so long that they see no reason to change it. It's those of us who want to fight the divide and conquer tactic that need to fight that tactic. Together. Women on the left and women on the right.

    I'm afraid I have no faith in the women of the younger generation being the ones to lead us forward and out of this quagmire. They were the ones that swooned over Obama. They were the ones that wore Teashirts with the words "Sarah Palin is a c*nt." I neither have much hope for them or from them. They are also accepting abortion as the "litmus test."

    I wouldn't watch Rachel Maddow if someone held a gun to my head. Talk about a divider!

  13. "What do you mean? " Centering the debate on abortion has led to a wasteland of feminist activity, and contributed to the ghetto-ization of feminine health care". I can not believe I am hearing this. Do you think we chose to center the debate on abortion? Do you not realize that NOW and other organizations have been working on all kinds of issues for years? If you lose the right to choose (and it could happen) you will understand why some of us have worked so hard to long. Women did die before abortion was legal in terrible ways. Doctors are still being targeted and shot for helping women get the health care they need which is why there are so few clinics all over the U.S. Clinics have been firebombed. People have been hurt. Get a grip!!"

  14. I love these comments!! I want to remind Linda and others that I was not writing about the validity of the abortion debate. My point is that that particular debate has become the sine qua non of women's issues to the detriment of all others. It's just time to focus on advancing the rest of the agenda. That women run very little in this country is a serious issue. What good does it do me if I can have an abortion but have no real voice in any decision making in this country? I am old enough to remember the back alley abortions and all of the horrors associated with that era. It's still an important issue. HOWEVER, once again, it just can't be the sole focus of where women are going.

    I suspect that if women are 50% of our legislatures, 50% of our CEO's, and are paid properly, we as women might feel less insecure about our place and standing in this country.

    And KenoshaMarge----nice to see you're back!!

  15. H COMMENT: Some people who want to divert attention from OTHER ISSUES THEY could do something
    about FOCUS (or try to argue) SINGLE ISSUE VOTER Abortion -often hypocritically. For example they MIGHT argue
    that we must keep Obama and HE will take care of us 2nd term (despite MAJOR failures to keep promises) and
    doing far greater harm or adding to the harm Bush-Cheney did = with stupid counter productive wars = see also
    http://tinyurl.com/6aplwsf and http://www.obamatheconservative.com/ and
    = there are MANY ISSUES affecting women which NEED addressing NOW .... not holding our breath fore Obama the Savior (or anyone else)
    Of course we should simply write in via absentee ballot our REAL choices: (check out the rules in your area:)
    = In Texas, they call it "early voting by mail."
    (other states have similar and overseas)
    such as for example



    or simply the name of your significant other

  16. The reason nothing else matters if women can't control their biology is that children are life-altering. Having a child should be a well, reasoned and joyous choice--not a requirement. Women are quite simply unable to control their destiny if they can't control their bodies. Nothing else--educational opportunities, equality in the work place, etc., is even a close second, because if you are denied that choice, the door is closed to the rest. And your gratuitous comment about abortion giving women more sexual freedom plays into the hands of women bashers and is entirely beside the point. Access to birth control and abortion gives us EVERY kind of freedom. And how can you fail to see, now that it has become increasingly clear, that those who would deny us the right to abortion would also deny us access to birth control? Although I respect people who have a genuine reverence for life, that concern usually stops short at fetal development, leaving unwanted children and their miserable mothers to their own devices. A great majority of those who oppose choice sincerely believe, usually for religious reasons, that it is the role woman to stay home, shut up and make babies. They have already succeeded in making it extremely difficult for woman in many parts of the country to obtain a legal abortion,

  17. Kathleen----i think you missed what Cynthia was sayong. There is room for people to work on abortion, but it is not all there is and as a political issue it has ended up limiting us. surely you must agree that women deserve to be paid properly and that we need to hold more power in proportion to our numbers!!!!

  18. Kathleen, abortion is not the be all end all. How many women out there have successfully avoided pregnancy just because they knew how to properly use birth control? Count me in! It was a choice I didn't need to make, and there are millions upon millions of women just like me.

    And don't give me that boondoggle about defunding Planned Parenthood being proof that Republicans are attacking choice. Hardcore pro-choicers are the ones who said PP doesn't even use federal dollars to fund abortions, so they can't then turn that around and say depriving the entity of federal dollars somehow effects the access to abortion care--it doesn't. It can't be done both ways, and it's little arguments like this that don't add up that make more and more women skeptical of the fearmongering on abortion.

    And it is fearmongering. As I said to another person priming the political fear pump over on Facebook, abortion is safe. The Guttmacher Institutes own studies on the issue show a continual growth in access to abortion ever since Roe v Wade was passed. Not once has it shown decline, despite all the wailing and hand-wringing over what pro-life conservatives are up to. It's not going away. And all the time better advances are made that make it possible earlier and earlier.

    If you want abortion preserved, stop keeping it separate and stop fighting so hard. All that's done is lead to a ghetto-ization of women's healthcare in general and made it a special interest issue that is easier to target. Stop hyperventilating and start living your life like the woman you are, the woman who has access to the birth control of her choice and, failing that, access to abortion. Demand those services from your primary care provider or gynocologist, and let PP be the fall back it was always intend to be. Don't make it the frontline. The sooner we make feminine health care a matter of course instead of something to freak out over, the safer abortion access will be.

    That's why decentering the debate onto other issues is so important. We are never going back to the world of back alley abortions for a number of reasons, chief among them access to and advances in medicine, including birth control options. It's a waste of our energies to continue to distract ourselves with an issue that shows no signs of trouble in the data. It's a total red herring. These other issues are stalled, and they are real, and ignoring them puts tons of women at risk, including a large segment of very young working class and poor women who have few other options except for having a baby, but who would rather do something else that is valued. They generally don't have that option and no one is fighting for them if we are all haggling on abortion.

    (I definitely have to write about this, you're right, Cynthia)

  19. Very well said Anna Belle!

    I have never been more sick of, disgusted by, and disappointed in we women than when I read comments on an article even remotely related to abortion. Even after reading a well written article like this one trying to start a conversation about NOT tearing each other's eyeballs out over abortion - some women can't help but get to the comment section and let the tearing begin. It's exactly the reason so many of the younger generations of women want nothing to do with the feminist movement.

  20. I enjoyed reading everyone's comments. I get what Kathleen's point. I as well see what others are saying. What I find bothersome in America is we as women have men of ideological views which are extremely hypocritical making choices for all our lives and I would like to see real change to that process.

  21. Here are my thoughts and concerns. When you say, 'if legalized abortion is a sign of respect for women, why aren't women doing any better in the workforce, in the legislatures, in their paychecks, etc.?' But women are doing dramatically better in all these areas since Roe v Wade. I agree that the amount of gains on all these issues isn't what I hoped it would be in 38 years. BUT I think it's very important to actually look at the statistics and see the truly historic gains women have made in all areas since 1972 - it's dramatic! One question I have for you is about de-funding & demonization of PP by federal & state legislators in 2011 - the effect of the defunding is that it eliminates access to affordable birth control & basic health exams for women who don't have the means or insurance to get birth control (including morning after pill) any other way. That's why I think it's a huge issue - not because of abortion access.

  22. Hi Nancy----nice to see you over here!!

    As to your first point, yes, women HAVE made progress and I acknowledged that. But our progress has completely stalled, and in order to nudge us forward I think we need to look forward to find solutions and not look backwards at what we have already accomplished. Women need to take a huge leap to achieve the kind of parity many of us dream about.

    As for your second point, I think what you say is important. But I just choose to concentrate on the economic parity issues. I guess we feminists will have to have our own areas to focus on because the job is huge-----too much for one group to cover. But then we women are FABULOUS multitaskers and and I am optimistic that we will accomplish what we set out to do.

    Glad you came over to talk---hope to see you again!!

  23. Nancy, the PP funding cuts were only for Medicaid. Women on Medicaid can get those same services at their primary care providers, or by seeing a gynecologist. So for poor women not much changed. If they have Medicaid, they can still access services elsewhere; if they don't, they still qualify for PPs sliding fee scale. People really need to think about that issue rationally, outside the foaming rhetoric from the left.

  24. It is time to put "Choice" in it's real place and to come together as united women from all walks of life fighting a misogynistic world that affects us all in all areas of life.
    The reality is women have been held hostage by the debate of their reproductive rights. The right to choose is just that. You choose to get pregnant or not. You choose to have sex or not. You choose to keep your child or not. Choice is the reality for all women no matter what their background is. Choice will never change in this country. We live in a Democratic society that is based on individual liberty and freedom and this will never change in the USA. Every woman has a choice and that is freedom. Choice is a common denominator on both sides of the pro-life-pro-choice debate. There are reproductive choices in both.
    Of course in a perfect world we hope that those who would choose not to keep their child are not doing such in a way that is an abuse of this freedom. But, that is for a health care system to safely advocate and care for.