August 04, 2014

Foundations of Feminism: Why is reproductive freedom so essential to feminism?

I've been reading The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir as translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. It's absolutely marvelous, and I highly recommend it to everyone. You will leave it with a whole new appreciation for the semicolon as a form of punctuation, my friends.

I was reading a passage this past weekend that made me pause for a moment and consider, of all things a Matt Walsh post on Christianity and feminism, where he argues that without pro-choice, you can't be a feminist.

I don't know that I would go that far--and I've disputed it in other posts--but the passage in The Second Sex definitely brought it to mind. You see, reproductive rights are key to feminism. Allowing women to have control over their bodies is key to feminism.

Let me have Beauvoir explain the thought, my friends.
The convergence of these two factors--participation in production and freedom from reproductive slavery--explains the evolution of woman's condition. As Engels predicted, her social and political status necessarily had to change. The feminist movement begin in France by Condorcet and in England by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and followed at the beginning of the century by the Saint-Simonians, never succeeded for lack of a concrete base. But now women's claims would have ample weight. They would be heard even within the heart of the bourgeoisie. With the rapid development of industrial civilization, landed property is falling behind in relation to personal property: the principle of family group unity is losing force.
In coupling the ability of woman to contribute to society at large with the ability to reduce the burdens of her fertility, feminism gained ground.

Without reproductive rights, the entire premise becomes shaky. Woman becomes shackled by her fertility again.

I know the language is strong--"reproductive slavery" conjures quite the image!--but Beauvoir makes it clear in other parts of the work that it's controlling fertility that is important, not having no children. Unrestrained maternity is a burden; this is an important distinction to make.

Anyway, this is a unique unifying thread throughout the feminism movement, wave upon wave. The ability to control our bodies--and demanding of the world to respect that right to control--is absolutely crucial.

As it has always been.

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