Women’s March, Women’s Rights? Religious women, reproductive rights and feminist ideals

Womens March 1

Alison Halford is a PhD student within the Faith and Peaceful Relations group at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations. Here Alison offers some critical reflections on the recent Women’s March, feminism and attitudes towards birth control….

On Sunday, January 21st as women walked to raise consciousness about gender inequality that limits women’s abilities, ambitions and actions, the daytime TV presenter Piers Morgan, claimed to be ‘planning a male protest ‘the creeping global emasculation of my gender emasculation by rabid feminists’. In framing it as an attempt by ‘Feminazis’ to dominate and demean men, Morgan imposed a distorted narrative upon the march, failing to understand the complexity of women’s motivations to march.

However, in a march that aimed to cultivate collective action that encouraged diverse communities to walk in unison, in order to ‘build bridges not walls’, contested territory between pro-lifers and feminists on the legitimacy of their right to protest generated uncomfortable conversations. If unrestricted access to abortion is central to the values of feminism can religious women ever claim to be part of the feminist movement?

Womens March 2

The tension between women who oppose abortion in all forms and those that consider it is a fundamental right for a woman to have control over her body was exploited by Donald Trump in his campaign, with his heavily emotional rhetoric he positioned himself as the champion of pro-life, and the darling of Christian right. However, religious women are as diverse as their faith and as authorative, autonomous actors in private and public spaces, many women form their own position on reproductive rights that can conflict, conform or confirm creed. In making the supposition that all religious women are pro-life, feminists are continuing to reinforce stereotypes that reduce women of faith to the margins of feminism.

The work of feminist scholars, such as Kristin Aune and Line Nyhagen recognise that in adopting a unilateral position towards women’s reproductive rights it forces compromises that are problematic for both groups and the Women’s March in those few hours offered no solution but it was as Jo Cox said, about how ‘we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’.

The Women’s march in placing women as political actors allowed all faiths, all genders, all races and all cultures affirmation of the power of humanity. It demonstrated that feminist activity is not solely ‘all things women’ as if Morgan had watched, it saw men protesting, not against women but with women, LGBT communities walking with Muslims, Mormons and Methodists and challenging the toxicity of white privilege. The Women’s March in the mobilisation of women opened up spaces that were messy, conflicting and contradictory, creating inclusivity and intersectionality whilst facilitating complex positionality and disagreements and crucially, in the wise words of Josiah Bartlett on the TV drama ‘The West Wing’, ‘if you don’t show up, how can you comment’.

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