The Right's Misogyny

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Reproducing Patriarchy: Reproductive Rights Under Siege
by Pam Chamberlain and Jean Hardisty
The Public Eye Magazine - Vo. 14, No. 1

Pro-lifers' often over-simplify their arguments. While they ground their arguments in scriptural interpretation and legal language, they make no reference to the social, economic or historical context of women's lives that create the need for women's reproductive freedom. This lack of context gives credibility to a debate about morality that ignores women's reality. Many anti-abortion groups, both conservative Christian and secular, promote extremely traditional family structures and are explicitly anti-feminist. Most attribute women's use of abortion to a so-called disintegration of traditional family values, the alleged promiscuity of poor women, permissiveness supposedly promoted by liberalism, and the secularization of American culture.

Mirroring a common practice by the right in general, anti-choice activists claim ownership of the debate on women's issues. Although silent about women's role in the process of abortion (where the focus is on the fetus), pro-life advocates aggressively categorize women who seek abortions as "selfish" or sinful, because they do not place the value of the fetus above themselves.

"Traditional family values," as defined by such spokespeople for the Christian Right as Gary Bauer or Jerry Falwell, rely on a willingness by both men and women to accept the sex roles inherent in a heterosexual, nuclear family. In this context, a woman must abstain from sex until marriage, marry, maintain a monogamous relationship with her husband, and willingly bear him children. Any diversion from this track - such as pre-marital or extra-marital sex, deciding on her own how many children to have, or living as a lesbian -- is not only alien to the principles of a conservative evangelical Christian family, it is self-indulgent and sinful. A woman who refuses to place the needs of others (the fetus, in particular) ahead of her own is not making the sacrifices required of family members to maintain these principles.

The Christian Right considers social, economic, or for that matter any other reasons that may influence a woman's thinking about her pregnancy as secondary to this principle of maintaining strict family traditions. In this rigidly traditional vision of the family, a woman who describes her pregnancy as "unwanted" is refusing to accept her natural role as wife, mother, and childcare provider. And any woman who lives, acts, or even thinks outside that prescribed role threatens such a system. In this frame, it becomes legitimate to criticize, shame, and even demonize her. Such a worldview, which describes itself as "profamily," is more accurately anti-woman.16

While the Christian Right has correctly identified such "uppity women" and the feminist movement that supports them as threats to its traditional perspective, the more secular right also condemns women who renounce their traditional roles. In this case, it is not God who is being defied, but the needs of society for strong traditional families and adherence to sex roles as a necessary component of the family. 17

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