White Women and Reproductive Rights

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How the Women’s Movement forgets about most of us.

On Friday, I stood among my peers at a rally that called for action against the Trump administration and the hatred it was bound to perpetuate nationally. People of color, queers of color, trans folks of color, women, immigrants, socialists all shared their experiences and asserted solidarity and hope for each other. It was a moment of healing for a lot of us, as well as a moment to spur us into action.

On the same day, the Students for Life organization at my school held a demonstration in honor of the “Walk for Life” that was to happen the next day. The organizers stuck miniature white spokes draped with white flowers into the ground — an image that was supposed to elude sympathy for the many “lost baby lives.”

I walked up to their table, exhausted from that morning’s rally and from thinking about how to begin the work to protect the communities I care about. I asked them what their demonstration was about, and why they had to do this today, of all days. I was told about the Walk for Life that would be happening the next day, as though that was justification for this heinous display of anti-reproductive rights. I couldn’t fight with them, though, so instead I just rolled my eyes and said, “This is awful.”

Not the best form of the argument for choice, I know — or even an argument at all. But between Friday and Saturday, too much was happening for me to even fathom confronting them. This is an organization that ignores the reality that folks with unwanted pregnancies have had to lose their lives, families, and livelihoods due to lacking reproductive rights.

It was important to see them there, though, because it was a reminder of a conversation that wasn’t happening between Friday and Saturday.

Saturday held a myriad of Women’s Marches across the country and around the world. Like the rally, the marches were responses to Trump’s presidency, particularly as it pertained to women’s rights.

Here he was, a man who has committed sexual assault, the 45th President of the United States. With that title, he is granted a greater ability to control the lives of women around the country and the world, too. As such, the question of reproductive rights has come into question. Trump is anti-choice, and is in control of the next Supreme Court Justice, which means it’s entirely plausible that should he wish to, he could overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion.

Criminalizing abortion won’t stop women from having them. But who has the fight for reproductive rights left out of the narrative, and who will be further hurt by Trump’s administrative actions against reproductive rights? This was a question the Women’s Marches on Saturday were leaving out.

Not every woman is affected by Trump’s presidency the same way — certainly not white women as much as the rest of us, since 53% of whom voted for him.

Source: Ty Alexander

Conversations surrounding women’s rights tend to begin and end with white, straight, cis-women. That’s why, on Saturday, women and femmes of color had to go and delineate their own spaces at the Women’s Marches. There were South Asians at the Oakland Women’s March, for example, who explicitly marched together. This happened all over the country, where women and femmes who were forgotten by the broader women’s movement had to remind the world that the conversation about reproductive rights is an important one, but isn’t the only one we can have when we talk about gender oppression.

Low-income folks lack access to reproductive rights and care, but are generally left out of the movement. People who are on public healthcare or don’t have access to healthcare often have to go through greater barriers or aren’t given access at all to services such as contraception or abortion. If we cannot talk about economic and racial justice in conjunction with Women’s Rights, we aren’t talking about all people affected by gender oppression. In the early part of the 20th century, the liberal Women’s Movement turned away from women of color to secure the civil rights of white women. Today, nothing has changed.

A key component of reproductive rights is biology in defining “womanhood.” We often forget, at marches like Saturday’s, that not all women have vaginas, that femininity, or even gender oppression, isn’t tied to the ability to have kids or not. Trans women have been kept out of the movement for far too long. To focus on reproductive rights as the praxis of your feminism excludes the myriad of women for whom the question isn’t whether or not you can have an abortion, but whether the broader women’s movement even includes you or not. The Women’s Movement, to this day, carries around imagery of vaginas and vulvas to define womanhood, and further pushes trans women out of the narrative.

Those of us who are further marginalized by the current American political state also have more to lose as Trump takes office. As we continue having conversations surrounding Women’s Rights, let’s not forget which women, which people, will suffer the greatest by racial, economic, sexual, and gender oppression. Let’s re-orient the movement to center these people. We can’t rely on white, straight, cis-women anymore unless they’re confronting their own part to play in oppression. Remember, 53%.

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About Author

Fatima Zehra is the Deputy Editor of Kajal Magazine. She owns too many red lipsticks. Bother her on Twitter @zebrazehra and Instagram @fatimazehral.

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