From Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to Margaret Thatcher and Betty Ford, the world has seen its fair share of powerful women. Women who shaped and defined their space in history.
But today, there are countless women who identify with Anthony’s conviction or Thatcher’s gravitas, but live in no woman’s land. They anger the left with their unflinching commitment to life and frustrate the right for identifying with a movement that in this era seems inextricably linked to radical progressivism.
They are pro-life feminists.
Some readers might see that four-word sentence and immediately react — I do. People of all political stripes see those two words and have been trained by the tribal society in which we live to immediately respond with either blind affirmation or rigid opposition.
But much of the debate can be settled — or at least understood — by simply defining our terms. After all, Socrates is credited with once saying, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
So in the spirit of Socrates, let’s get to it.
Can you be pro-life and feminist?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines feminism as both the “theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and the “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
While on its face not a complex or even controversial idea, progressive leaders like author and activist Gloria Steinem and outgoing Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards have successfully lumped abortion in with “women’s rights.”
In fact, Richards has nearly eliminated scientific language from her lexicon. Much of her rhetoric on abortion translates to “women’s health” or “women’s rights.” It is much harder, after all, to suggest either of those things should be restricted.
If abortion is, in reality, a “women’s right,” then it’s not only difficult but practically impossible to divorce it from the feminist movement. But there are many women — and men — who don’t see it that way. Turning back to science, they see the issue of abortion as a matter of human liberty, understanding that the life inside a woman’s womb is uniquely human and deserving of inalienable rights from the moment of conception.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of the New Wave Feminists, a pro-life group that was kicked out of the progressive Women’s March after it was discovered to be opposed to abortion, sees her position as the logical conclusion to her commitment to “consistent non-violence.”
“As someone who believes in science, who believes in standing up for the marginalized and the vulnerable,” Herndon-De La Rosa told IJR, “it’s very difficult for me to get on board with this belief that violence plays any part in my liberation.”
She makes her case by telling her story. At just 19 years old, Herndon-De La Rosa’s mother — a student at the University of Texas at the time — became pregnant with her. Living in Austin, a progressive college town, abortion would have been not only the logical but socially acceptable choice.
Her mom, though, chose differently, and now Herndon-De La Rosa sees her decision as “a testament to my mother’s strength.”
“Things were really hard, but would I rather not exist?” Herndon-De La Rosa pondered. “Of course not. Of course I’m glad that I’m here. So I could never use any of those reasons — when you hear people justifying this is why a woman needs an abortion, it often feels like you’re saying that’s why I shouldn’t exist.”
Years later, at 16 years old, the New Wave Feminists leader found herself in an all-too-familiar situation: She was pregnant.
She, like her mother, chose life. Her feminist worldview — which demands maximum liberty for all people, regardless of sex — made the choice clear.
“I think it was good for me to experience both sides of that coin and it gave me a lot of empathy for a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and realizing that I need to dedicate my life to making sure she has the support I had,” Herndon-De La Rosa said.
Can you be conservative and feminist?
For much of her life, Herndon-De La Rosa identified with the Republican Party because the GOP was the only political group linked to the pro-life movement. Today, she’s an Independent.
But there certainly is — or should be — room for conservatives under the feminist umbrella.
Last year, following the decision to cut the New Wave Feminists out of the Women’s March, the left-leaning Refinery29 editorialized its support of the progressive feminist movement welcoming Republican women.
By its very definition, the feminist campaign is about celebrating — not isolating — diversity. Why should that welcoming spirit stop at the door of ideological divergence? Steinem has proclaimed a feminist to be “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”
Conservatives, like any forward-thinking demographic, are fully capable of recognizing and rejoicing in that equality. It would be wrong not to.
And one could hardly argue former Hewlett-Packard CEO and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina doesn’t embody feminist ideals. In 2015, she said the feminist movement began “as a rallying cry to empower women” and urged her conservative counterparts to reclaim the so-called “f-word.”
“Over the years, feminism has devolved into a left-leaning political ideology where women are pitted against men and used as a political weapon to win elections,” Fiorina explained before offering her own take on the oft-polarizing word:
“A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses. … A woman may choose to have five children and home-school them. She may choose to become a CEO, or run for president.”
Fiorina’s presence as the lone female GOP candidate on a crowded stage full of men was a shot across the bow to both conservatives and liberals. To progressives, it gave voice to the women hushed in the name of political advancement and forced conservatives to reckon with the fact that her appearance on that platform shouldn’t be such an aberration.
Can you be Christian and feminist?
Biblical teaching, which informs the worldviews of many inside — and outside — the conservative voting bloc calls for and portrays the empowerment of women.
Christian author Wendy Alsup even suggested in a column last year for Christianity Today that God — if feminism is defined as the “quest for justice and equal rights for women” — was the world’s “first feminist.”
“God created woman in his image and bestowed on her equal dignity with man,” she wrote. “By a woman’s mere existence, God has bestowed on her dignity and privileges that transcend race, economic status, and physical ability.”
Furthermore, author and speaker Rachel Held Evans recently highlighted on Relevant’s podcast “The Faith Angle” the fact that the very first people to proclaim the gospel in its entirety, including Jesus’ resurrection, were women:
“The first person to say ‘He is risen,’ was a woman!” pic.twitter.com/ZVTZIft6uP
— RELEVANT (@RELEVANT) March 30, 2018
Christians uniquely have reason to affirm feminism as it’s defined. They should boast unabashedly in the fact that, according to the Apostle Paul, the God of the universe named both women and men as heirs to the kingdom of heaven.
The arch of Scripture — and the gospel — bends toward justice and equality.
“When you read the Bible in the context of its sweeping narrative, you find passage after passage intended to break the chains of sexism,” author and religion columnist Jonathan Merritt told IJR, going on to describe the New Testament as among the “most radically feminist” religious texts of the first several centuries.
“Women become disciples in a boys club society, women prophecy in public, and women are called ‘teacher’ and ‘apostle.’ The Bible asks husbands to be mutually submissive to their wives, which was a jaw-dropping command in that time.”
There are, of course, varied interpretations of Scripture, but there’s no question Jesus’ paradigm-shifting message — greatly ahead of its time — was and is in lockstep with the call for “equality of the sexes.”
So can you be a conservative, pro-life feminist?
For too long, the progressive left has claimed total ownership of feminism, attaching to it all kinds of other social causes. The best — and truly only — way to correct feminism’s radical trajectory is not to dismiss it but to reclaim it, from within.
Conservatives have a seat at the feminist table. They just might need to press a little harder than their liberal counterparts to find their chairs.