If They Believed it 100 Years Ago…

Tradition is important. But why is it only with feminism that the anti’s demand we stick to outmoded and totally outdated viewpoints held by a handful of our foremothers?

Amanda does a nice job fisking this one, so go over to Pandagon and read her post. The premise of the article, written by Kate O’Beirne, is that because the suffragists opposed abortion, good modern feminists should too — and therefore, pro-choice feminists aren’t feminists at all. Anti-choice women who believe that a woman’s only role should be as a wife and mother are the real feminists here.

The modern-day successors to Anthony and Stanton are Feminists for Life, an organization determined to reclaim the legacy of America’s earliest women’s-rights activists, but “Debunking the myth that 19th century women’s rights supported abortion is a constant challenge, especially for historians faced with prejudice and political correctness.”

These pro-life women celebrate the early feminists’ delight in motherhood.

“Against society’s norms, [Stanton] went out visibly pregnant and raised a flag to commemorate the birth of each of her [seven] children. She saw the beauty in women’s awesome life-giving abilities and celebrated each new life publicly. . . . Stanton’s views on the individuality of every human life . . . underscore for me the need to help women appreciate their unique abilities and fight against being molded into the wombless model of success society has foisted upon us,” writes one feminist for life.

Ok. So, because feminists 100 years ago opposed what was then a dangerous procedure often forced upon them by men, feminists today should also oppose a procedure that is now safer than childbirth and freely chosen (again, see Amanda on this point). Well, fine, O’Beirne has a point, and I’ll swallow her argument. So let’s look at the grand old traditions pushed by other movements and political parties in this country, and evalaute where, using O’Beirne’s model of selecting an arbitrary “ideal point” in that movement and suggesting that such a point encompasses the movement’s very soul, they should be today:

-The Democratic party should still support the right to expand slavery into the Western territories. Since they don’t, they have clearly abandoned their roots, and modern-day white supremacists who are under the impression that there are still Western territories are the only real Democrats left.
-But then Johnson enforced the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, Strom Thurmond swtiched parties, Barry Goldwater was openly against the Voting Rights Act, and Reagan’s support of “state’s rights” was thinly-veiled code to racist Southerners. So clearly, racism is at the heart of the Republican party, and modern-day white supremacists who support segregated schools and don’t believe in the enforcement of voting and civil rights are the only real Republicans left.
-Let’s not forget the Federalists. By today’s standards, Federalists are people who believe in state’s rights and a minimalist central government. But at their conception, Federalists believed the opposite — they were the party in favor of a strong national authority, while the anti-Federalists supported state’s rights. Today’s Federalists, then, need to shift their views, because they are obviously wrong and have gone too far away from their founding ideals.
-Republican president Teddy Roosevelt launched major national conservation programs. Therefore, today’s Republican party is totally offending its roots by not being more eco-friendly.
-Democrat Woodrow Wilson was in power when the 18th Amendment was ratified and Prohibition began. So, Democrats who drink are party-defectors.
-You know, it was also Christian women who were the major actors in the prohibition movement, through the Christian Women’s Temperance League. A lot of Protestant churches jumped on board, too. And what do we see today? Christian women who drink. They are traitors.
-Many conservatives and Christian groups also opposed interracial marriage, the conservatives because it was against tradition and Christians because it was against what was written in the Bible. Therefore, any modern-day conservatives or Christians who marry interracially, or who support those who do, blaspheme their roots and their religion.
-Then there are the Americans. Just look at our Constitution — blacks and women are given virtually no rights, the whole thing applies only to land-owning white men, and blacks are basically considered 3/5 of a whole person. We’ve obviously gone deeply, deeply astray. The only real Americans left are those who subscribe to the exact beliefs of our Founding Fathers, as memorialized in the original text of the Constitution.

It’s a dumb game, right? Because movements evolve. They change to better suit modern views, and the new needs of the people they serve. The idea that it’s a valid argument to say, “But 100 years ago this group thought…” and use it as evidence for what the group’s current set of beliefs should look like is just ridiculous. And given that Ms. O’Beirne is a conservative woman, I’m not sure how she’d feel about having that same model imposed upon her.


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12 comments for “If They Believed it 100 Years Ago…

  1. Tanooki Joe
    January 26, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    Quite right.

  2. Jon C.
    January 26, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    By today’s standards, Federalists are people who believe in state’s rights and a minimalist central government.

    Not really. The modern day Federalist Society was founded explicitly to further the model the founders proposed- a balance of power between the states and the federal government. Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute has a letter to the editor in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription only unfortunately) explaining that federalists believe in more than just states’ rights.

    The rest of the post is just one big straw man, since O’Beirne’s article is hardly a simplistic argument that “whatever was done 100 years ago must be done today, without exception.” That’s quite a different proposition from an observation about a particular movement starting out in favor of an admirable goal and then drifting away.

  3. January 26, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    But Jon, the question is, who decides what’s an admirable goal? Who decides which exceptions are ok? Shouldn’t it be the people within the movement, who are defining it for themselves, as opposed to people who have made a career out of opposing it?

    As for the Federalist issue, my point was that, in modern parlianee, “Federalist” is understood as someone who favors stronger states’ rights. I didn’t say that states’ rights was all they cared about, but that they see the ideal balance as titling more in favor of the states than the situation we have now. By contrast, the first Federalists wanted a stronger national government. That’s all I was saying.

  4. piny
    January 26, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    Shouldn’t it be the people within the movement, who are defining it for themselves, as opposed to people who have made a career out of opposing it?

    And if the people who have made a career out of opposing it attempt to shame a movement for evolving away from its historical views, shouldn’t they have some understanding of what those views actually were, and why our foremothers held them?

    The rest of the post is just one big straw man, since O’Beirne’s article is hardly a simplistic argument that “whatever was done 100 years ago must be done today, without exception.” That’s quite a different proposition from an observation about a particular movement starting out in favor of an admirable goal and then drifting away.

    Feminists considered abortion a societal evil when abortion was an extremely dangerous procedure undertaken for the sake of male convenience against women whose wishes don’t even enter into the matter. That does not describe abortion today. And don’t even get me started on how Elizabeth Cady Stanton or any feminist woman from that era would have reacted to the devlopment of a pill you can take the morning after sex that will prevent pregnancy. O’Beirne therefore is not describing feminist views on abortion as it exists today.

    With some selective quoting, you could make the same argument about, say, women working in Victorian-era mills and factories. Does that mean a feminist would have a problem with a female construction worker, or feminist labor reforms in a unionized modern factory? I doubt it.

  5. Jon C.
    January 26, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    But Jon, the question is, who decides what’s an admirable goal? Who decides which exceptions are ok? Shouldn’t it be the people within the movement, who are defining it for themselves, as opposed to people who have made a career out of opposing it?

    But O’Beirne’s article seems to indicate that it *is* people within the movement who are setting the goals- she is, after all, talking about a group called Feminists for Life. Now, I know there’s been a whole lot of debate around these parts about whether FFL can fit under the feminist tent, but it certainly sees itself as a feminist group.

  6. piny
    January 26, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    But O’Beirne’s article seems to indicate that it *is* people within the movement who are setting the goals- she is, after all, talking about a group called Feminists for Life. Now, I know there’s been a whole lot of debate around these parts about whether FFL can fit under the feminist tent, but it certainly sees itself as a feminist group.

    They’re about as representative as Jews for Jesus. PFOX identifies itself as a group of people with homosexual desires fighting for the best interests of homosexuals; should they be considered in-group in the same way as the HRC?

  7. Kyra
    January 26, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Impossible anti’s.

    What the suffragist movement opposed was oppression and, by extention, things used as tools of oppression. Things like abortion were opposed solely because of their use as tools of oppression, and now that they are used to avoid oppression, have lost that quality which made it objectionable to early feminists.

    Neither abortion nor childbirth are oppressive in and of themselves; it is pressure or coersion to submit to them which conveys the oppression—or using their existance to coerce someone to submit to something else—or coercing someone to do something else in order to have them available.

    Forced abortion is oppressive. Forced pregnancy and childbirth are also oppressive. Chosen abortion is not oppressive, and chosen pregnancy and childbirth are not oppressive. Rape is oppressive, but freely chosen consensual sex is not. Society’s stigma on a choice made freely is oppressive, as are deliberately increasing the risks/prices/consequences of a choice, and forcing someone to deal with greater-than-necessary risks/prices/consequences.

    Disdain for a teen mother, a pharmacist’s refusal to fill a Plan B or contraception prescription, a legislature’s support for a bill that makes working-poor women travel hundreds of miles twice, a teacher’s insistance that condoms don’t work, a young man telling his date that she has no reason to say no, because he has condoms so she won’t get pregnant, a parent who forces her daughter to give the child she bears up for adoption, the anti-choice movement’s insistance that lowering abortion rates through contraception use isn’t good enough to be worth even tolerating, much less supporting, because people will still be having sex even though fewer “unborn children” will be getting killed . . . the list goes on and on.

    Denial of options. Use of an option to pressure someone. Making an option unsafe or unnecessarily expensive. Stigmatizing someone because you disapprove of the option they chose. These are the oppressions. The existance of options themselves are not. The difference is in how they are used.

  8. Bill
    January 26, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    Jill, small point, but did you know that the word fisk was coined by right-wing detractors of Robert Fisk, one of the greatest journalists in the middle east?

  9. January 26, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    since O’Beirne’s article is hardly a simplistic argument that “whatever was done 100 years ago must be done today, without exception.”

    Agreed. Her argument is even more simple–“I can pick and choose what I want from the past to browbeat women now and misrepresent the past willy-nilly.”

  10. kate
    January 26, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    Forced abortion is oppressive. Forced pregnancy and childbirth are also oppressive. Chosen abortion is not oppressive, and chosen pregnancy and childbirth are not oppressive. Rape is oppressive, but freely chosen consensual sex is not. Society’s stigma on a choice made freely is oppressive, as are deliberately increasing the risks/prices/consequences of a choice, and forcing someone to deal with greater-than-necessary risks/prices/consequences.

    Kyra states the facts eloquently.

    O’ Beirne, like the others of their ilk like seals in a circus, do their little dance and slap their fins together and get their juicy fish thrown to them by the established in control.

    Oh it is so comfortable in the heated pool while onlookers, greedy for a show that requires little thought, shreik with delight. She revels in her comfort and superiority to all other common seals for she is a ‘trained’ seal.

    All the while on the beach where she was found, other seals angrily lob beach balls and stupid people throwing them rotten fish wanting tricks. What stings the most is that it was the effort of the entire herd, swimming over rough seas that got her to the beach where she was ‘chosen’ and gave her the muscular preparation for her well paid service.

  11. January 27, 2006 at 9:40 am

    I’ll have to read her book. I’m sure that as with any pundit’s writing, I’m going to agree with some of it and disagree with some of it. I’m sure she’s right on some of her points, but I’ll give you that she’s crazy if she thinks she would have been a LAWYER without any sort of women’s movement. Maybe if she were arguing that she wouldn’t be abused, or that she’d still have a good marriage, she might be right, but a lawyer?? I doubt.

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