When we look at women’s rights in North America, we can see a trajectory with the curtailing of and gradual gains of rights and opportunities since the time of the pioneers and settlers. Initially, the limits and restrictions must have been established out of necessity mainly due to the fact to the various threats and difficulties that the settlers had to face on a regular basis. Basically, they had adopted a hunter and gatherer lifestyle where the home would be assigned to the females, while the dangerous ventures into unknown terrains as well as the protection of the property were the business of the men. Such behavior, practices, and mindset in today’s world would be justifiably called and criticized as "toxic masculinity", but back then it was out of sheer necessity and circumstance and not a matter of choice.
During slavery, another crucial instance and a serious case of injustice, there were many women who would identify with black people’s plights, not only because of a natural heightened sense of empathy but also because they could identify with the plight of not having necessary rights and a lack of movement, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Women felt equally limited and shackled in their societies so the unconscious motive and potential hope and drive would have been to shed some light on their own conditions by helping to free and liberate the enslaved members of their respective communities.
At this point in time, those who clearly ruled the lands, as well as the politics of the time, were men, and they would purposely not allow and even subjugate females by purposely ignoring and stifling their voices and influence. But as black people began to gain certain basic rights and freedoms, at least in theory and on paper, women felt emboldened to demand their God-given rights next to men, which would represent at least a semblance of equality. A crucial moment in the women’s liberation movement was the right to vote. This opened the path and opportunity not only of influencing politics but to enter it, that is of course, to the extent that the ruling males at the top would permit and allow for this.
The Second World War highlighted the many contributions of women in the workplace. It was not a conscious choice but came out of necessity, and women showed their mettle during these troublesome times as many of their husbands were fighting for freedom overseas. This not only gave them confidence but also demonstrated to the men that women were much more capable than previously assumed. But as the economy was thriving and necessities did not demand a double-household workforce during the 50s, most people focused on their homes and families, and we could say that to an extent, women’s rights regressed and took a step back.
Then we had the 60s and it came with a powerful tool at women’s disposal, the pill as a contraceptive device. This empowered and emboldened women to gain control over their bodies and to choose whether and whenever they wanted to become pregnant or not. It also opened pathways into the workforce as they could work so to speak without “unwanted interruptions” due to unplanned and accidental pregnancies, a concern that many employers openly or secretly harbored.
But that is the moment where women moved away from their quest for equality into other somewhat more radicalized domains and territories. Their real focus, whether intentional or not, was an attack on marriages. As such, it was framed as a rejection of femininity and female values. The bra instead of supporting the chest was redefined as a symbol of oppression and was burnt at the stake.
Women within this liberation movement joined forces with other marginalized groups including gay rights as well as the hippies. The latter with their rejection of marriages and denial of romantic notions and conceptions driven by anarchistic ideas of free love without strings attached, and an overall lack of commitment and emotional bonds gained traction with the women’s liberation movement. Various women who were not themselves attracted to men felt a sense of threat, anger, hatred as well as envy towards everything that was deemed masculine in nature.
While marriage was seen and defined as a prison, the focus then shifted toward families. This is where the battles over abortion come in. The idea that pregnancy occurs within the female body and hence it is her absolute choice gained momentum since then. What this encouraged and accelerated was an attack on families. Many conservatives noted that and started to oppose and fight back. Many of them were women, and although they were seen as traitors of the movement, and hence of their own gender, they did have a point.
At this point, the quest for liberation and equality moved into an uncomfortable battle for hegemony and power. The battle cry was to bring about a sexual revolution and to topple the patriarchy only to replace it with a matriarchy, which would be, by all likes and purposes and in the words of The Who, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
Sadly, eminent and respectable figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg got caught up and entangled in the more radical aspects of the movement. Although she had fought for equality, successfully so, in her later years, she had a less open and more inflexible, and one-sided stance. For instance, she was asked what the ideal gender proportion would be for the Supreme Court. She answered to have a Supreme Court that was made up of women only. At this point, she was clearly not supporting equality and equal rights, and it may have started to set a dangerous precedent for judges and courts to take more daring and provocative stances thereafter.
Then, we have the famous or infamous case of Roe vs Wade, recently overturned after having half a century of precedence. I had little knowledge about the actual case, that is until I watched the documentary AKA Jane Roe. Somehow, I had imagined the case in a very different way. In reality, the alleged victim was neither honest nor sympathetic. Initially, she had even lied about the circumstances of her pregnancy falsely claiming that she had been raped by black men.
And yet, the civil rights lawyers saw an opportunity in her and managed to win the court case in the name of women’s rights. It is rather unfortunate if not misguided for the movement not to have found a better and more reliable representative for women’s rights. In fact, what Norma craved most was attention and the spotlight, but soon enough, the women’s liberation noted that she was emotionally unstable, volatile, and highly unpredictable. As a result, she was barred from major speaking events on this cause.
And they were right because, at a later date, she was recruited and paid by an evangelist group to speak out against abortion. There, she was handed the opportunity to speak up, but it came at a cost because she was asked to renounce sexual intercourse with women from then on. In the end, she got paid handsomely for her speaking engagements against abortion where she claimed that she was conned into advocating for it in the first place. But, in all fairness, she was the con artist who managed to always get her way on both sides of the fence and debate and managed to attain both fame and money by deceiving and letting down everyone in the process.
Sadly, this casts a shadow on the whole movement from its inception. But women’s rights are much more than the right to abort. It has received too much attention and focus but by doing so, the movement loses focus and undermines itself. The slogan and battle cry “my body, my choice” has been overused and it does not take into consideration or underplays various factors, such as the many potential threats and dangers of such operations, which could cause permanent physical and emotional damage and lead to sterility.
Moreover, while it seems accepted and commonplace to pigeonhole and demonize conservatives on these issues and to label them as bigots and chauvinists, they do have a point in that the baby’s rights are being completely disregarded and undermined in this debate. It is not merely a matter of religious stance or viewpoint but a simple fact. And there is a double standard at play here where many concerned with avoiding meat and animal products to save sentient beings are asking for unrestricted access to aborting life within their bodies.
In fact, I have rarely heard any talk about men’s rights in this matter. Yes, it is not their body, but it is still their child and the fact that men would have no say whatsoever is unfair, unjustified, and unethical and only proves my point made earlier that the current state and status of women’s rights is not interested in equity and equal rights but has its own agenda of superiority.
There are also issues with the terms given to each side of the movement. Those who claim to be “pro-life” are essentially anti-abortion. It is not an issue of life only, the preservation of life leading to birth, but it also includes being against the harms and dangers of such abortions. Of course, it is to be assumed that women are aware of the implications but there are cases where the information is not conveyed to them clearly, they are not fully conscious of the risks, or where it is used as political fodder. Lastly, there is also a matter of cost and resources. Abortions are not free and will take various resources of time, money, and staff away from other pressing and urgent health issues and concerns.
It is also to be noted that most world religions and philosophies tend to oppose abortion, whether it is Islam, Christianity, the Catholic Church, or even Buddhists. In fact, His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself has openly declared to be against abortions as they impede, disrupt, and hinder the karmic flow and cycle of life.
On the other hand, the term “pro-choice” should also be scrutinized. I would prefer to see such a morally, psychologically, and emotionally loaded decision less as a choice than an option or a way out. A choice can range from minor decisions about what to wear or to eat to life-changing ones about whether to get married, have a family, or have children. But it is my opinion that in this case, the 'choice' is not and should not be entirely the women’s.
Although it’s her body, she should consider the input of the person who impregnated her as well as take counsel from her loved ones and family members, her community, and even more importantly, the input and consultation of her doctors, those of the body as well as those of the mind. And like any type of surgery, the decision to abort should be made as a last resort. It is not to claim or imply that women tend to take this choice lightly but cases in which a person chooses to partake in various abortions are a red flag that not everybody takes the matter as seriously as they ought to.
I would like to add some final thoughts, reflections, and potential clarifications here. There are many issues that need to be addressed in terms of women’s rights. We have made headways on the path to equal rights, but we have not yet reached equality and the quest may even slip back and recede if we are not careful and attentive.
This is not just about Roe versus Wade being overturned, which is unfortunate and deplorable because as a whole and as a blind blanket statement, it curtails women’s choices and freedoms in various states, but it is also a setback as it pertains to sexual abuse and domestic violence. To hold onto a hardline view without allowing for any compassionate grounds will not benefit anyone, and there are and will and must be viable exceptions to the rules even from those who are strongly set against abortion.
On the other hand, the fact that people support the notion and institution of marriage does not mean that they are not aware of misuse and abuse occurring in these relationships especially where and when the couples are not on equal footing. There are also cultural and religious aspects to be considered and evaluated and, in many cases, re-evaluated since women are often mistreated in many of those practices and traditions. Nonetheless, these problems are not limited to men and heterosexual marriages as they occur also in same-sex relationships and, although less common, there are also cases of emotional abuse perpetrated by women against their husbands in heterosexual relationships.
At the same time, while in the Western privileged world, we are fighting for certain specific and important rights, many basic rights are ignored and trampled upon in other parts of the world. As implied earlier, even in the West, we still have outdated, and dangerous practices that are done in the name of religion or other bigoted ways of thinking and mindsets. It is important to try to see these vital matters through a less emotional and political lens by adopting a more reasonable and realistic view and to make gains in the direction of what matters for all of humanity, not only select groups, lobbies, or agendas. All the while, we must ensure that we protect, fortify and expand upon rights and privileges, not at the expense of other equally important matters.