Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Personhood and Feminism

This week local elections were held across the country*. Two ballot initiatives in particular received national attention: Ohio’s “Issue 2” would repeal the law enacted by Gov. John Kasich which greatly limited the collective bargaining rights of public employees, and Mississippi’s “Initiative 26” would define fertilized embryos as persons under the law – meaning abortion would be legally considered murder in that state. Labor supporters passed “Issue 2” in Ohio (Four for you Labor! You go Labor!) and Mississippi’s anti-abortion effort failed.

Several articles I have read about this ballot measure have included some line to the effect of: if this had passed it would have sparked a renewed debate about abortion. I think it has to some degree regardless, and I think it raises some challenging questions for the “third wave” feminist movement. Third wave is all about choice, right? Our generation of feminists champion personal expression, freedom of all peoples, individual agency and autonomy and all that awesome jazz. Right?

In my experience, unfortunately, even feminists and choice advocates can fall into the trap of “I respect you and your rights and your opinions – unless you disagree with me.” Let me just say, if you support “pro-life” measures doesn’t mean you are automatically and necessarily anti-woman or anti-feminist. I know pro-life feminists: the idea of life beginning at conception is a religious issue for many people and you can support equal pay, equal access, gay rights and many others things while holding this religious belief. Conversely, you can believe life begins at conception for religious/spiritual reasons and still be pro-choice (I am). My point is that not everyone is pro-life or pro-choice, Democrat or Republican (some of us are socialists), man or woman, etc. – life is complicated and everyone has the right to complex opinions.

On the question of personhood, I think legal definitions are tricky because all situations where the rights of more than one person (or groups of people) are potentially at odds are tricky. For example, if a fertilized embryo is a person, then when abortion is medically necessary to save a woman’s life, her doctor must consciously choose to break all sorts of ethics codes by letting a patient die (and face mal-practice suits) or break the law by terminating the fetus. That’s a shit choice without the hovering penalty of a murder charge. I’m glad the ballot measure failed because I think implementing that sort of law would be incredibly problematic and it may have fueled the anti-choice fire, encouraging other pro-life advocates to bring similar extreme measures in their states.

The world is too small for us to keep up these divides. We need to be able to talk to each other without screaming, cursing or condemning. If our generation wants to be serious about feminism and human rights, we all need to remember that everyone is human – even when they piss us off.

*For more information about the local level elections, click here.

- One of the 99%

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