The Rise of the Angry White Woman in the Reproductive Debate

March 12, 2012  |  

The reproductive debate has been growing in intensity with each new bit of legislation introduced; from laws requiring transvaginal ultrasounds before women can have abortions to requirements over who should fund birth control, to personhood amendments that state rights start the minute sperm fertilizes an egg. For the most part, there have been two faces in this discussion: the white female protesters who will be damned if you take away the rights to procedures they supposedly only need in theory; and the black and Latina female victims who are said to stand to lose the most because they are the ones who need access to family planning services and procedures.

When you look at the facts thrown out about the womb being the most dangerous place for a black child, and then see white abortion rights advocates like Sandra Fluke taking a stand or Margaret Doyle shown here being removed from a General Assembly in Richmond, VA, because she’s so angry over the limiting of reproductive rights, you might ask, like Courtland Milloy did in a Washington Post article yesterday, “what does the white woman really have to be angry about?” As Milloy points out:

“She has the longest life expectancy in the country and, through sheer numbers, dominates the demographic landscape. Her power at the polls is immense. Her risk of falling victim to street crime is low compared with the risk faced by black women. She’s rarely exposed to the AIDS virus, and breast cancer is no longer the death sentence for her that it is for so many others.

“Relatively healthy, happy, safe and financially secure, she is the reigning queen of the ‘golden mean,’ the norm by which other women are measured.”

Yet, these are the women who, despite the fact that they supposedly don’t need the mammograms that Planned Parenthood will continue to fund through grants from Susan G. Komen, or abortions that will require prior ultrasounds in some states, or free contraception, are fighting tooth and nail to stop lawmakers from entering women’s wombs. Why are they so invested, because of an altruistic shared sisterhood or the idea that they want this right, even if everyone would have us believe they don’t need it? When Milloy asked the disgruntled activist what her motives were, she said this:

“To be honest with you, we are rattled because just a few years ago this nation was brought to the absolute brink and we nearly lost everything,” Margaret Doyle said. “If you were comfortable in your lifestyle, had your Colonial home with a picket fence and thought ‘this is my entitlement, I am supposed to have this,’ and then learn that it can all go away in a hot New York minute? And instead of creating jobs, helping us stay in our homes, improving roads and schools, these dangerous men are in the state legislature obsessing over our wombs.”

She certainly has a point about greater attention needing to be placed on far more pressing issues facing our country, but her use of the word entitlement causes Milloy pause in his summation on the differing visibility of white and black women in the debate. He writes, “For the white woman, perhaps, it is the fear of losing the rights that she’d come to take for granted that has led to the explosive displays of rage. For the black woman, thwarted in her drive to win some of those same rights, fear of not getting what she deserves is probably fueling a silent fury that will soon erupt as well.”

In other words, white women wouldn’t be taking a stand in this discussion now if they didn’t finally stand to lose something as well. Of course Milloy is using broad assumptions in making his points about the racial divide in the reproductive debate. There are likely as many white woman who need these services as there are black women who don’t, but the entire discussion reminds me of the black feminist movement and how an entirely new effort evolved among black women in the 1970s because they simply were not fighting for the same things as their white female counterparts. Is that what’s going on with the absence of women of color in this discussion today? Forty years ago black woman created their own movement because white feminists failed to acknowledge oppression based on race and class. Are white women now ignoring that the limiting of reproductive rights is as much, if not more so, about controlling poor women of color and their offspring, as it is women’s bodies in general?

Or maybe black women are largely silent on the national reproductive platform because as Milloy says, “the white woman decides who gets heard in such matters. By her own efforts, but also through her unique access to wealthy men, she builds institutions to support her causes.” When you think about it, would black and Latina women as the true face of this issue—whether that is legitimate or not—ever garner as much attention as it currently does? Or is it the power that the white woman holds and her ability to speak up in certain circles what commands attention from the government?

Thus far, Judy Eason McIntyre, the Oklahoma Senator who held up a sign during a protest at the state’s capitol that read, “If I Wanted the Government in my Womb, I’d F*** a Senator,” continues to be the sole black face in a sea of white ones taking a prominent stand on the reproductive debate. This begs the question of whether black women want to get in on the discussion or if they’ve been pushed out of it. It’s fine for white women to take a stand on this hot button issue but what shouldn’t happen is what Milloy suggests, “other women may sit at the table, but she alone speaks on their behalf.” If women of color stand to lose so much when it comes to reproductive rights, then we should have a voice in this as well.

Do you see the reproductive debate as an opportunity for all women to work together toward a common goal or are the agendas of white women and women of color too different to put up a united front?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • littlelion

    The Reproductive Movement affects every woman in America.  We need to work together to make sure we keep, maintain, or regain our rights because restricting birth control, abortions, etc. oppresses every woman.

  • guest

    How dare you try to make this a divisive issue; of course we can work together towards a common goal. And in what way are white women in control of who gets to be heard? I’m a white woman who has had to use planned parenthood to get basic healthcare when I wasn’t working and I needed those services just as much as anyone else.  If you really want to make this a divisive issue, pay more attention to socioeconomic status.  In some rural areas of the country a majority of people who use health clinics are low income and white.  Women’s health is women’s health, doesn’t matter if you’re white or black, what matters is if you have access to care.

  • Purrr

    Actually, Georgia State Rep. Yasmin Neal and Ohio Senator Nina Turner are both prominent black female faces in the reproductive debate and both have proposed counter-bills limiting men’s reproductive freedoms to bring awareness to the ridiculousness of legislating a woman’s reproductive rights.  I’m surprised that you didn’t research this further before writing such a counter-productive article decrying the feminist white devil.

    Here’s a couple of links to get you started. 

    And yes, of course, lots of white feminists are unaware of their privilege but it is not solely their fault that society is divided along racial lines and it is not their fault that reproductive rights issues disproportionately affect black women.  Even the privileged white woman is still a second-class citizen in the political establishment and holds little power.  Last I checked the white feminists are not campaigning to put “whites only” signs outside of abortion clinics so maybe you should stop being such a hater and get involved instead of sitting around blogging about how they’re not taking you into account.  

  • Kelly

    I’m a young white female, and I feel very passionately about the reproductive rights issue. I don’t want the government in my reproductive business, and I don’t want it in any woman’s reproductive business, because our reproductive decisions should be left to us, and us alone. No woman facing the untenable situation of an unplanned pregnancy should be forced to have a transvaginal ultrasound before she makes her choice. That’s something that can and will affect any woman, regardless of race. Even if our reasons for fighting are different, we all have a common goal, and we have to unite if we’re going to affect change. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I believe that together we can stop these bastards.

  • Aggie

    Women need to support each other regardless of race, nationality, class, religion, language etc.

    Women are the people most routinely opressed, marginalized and abused the world over.

    One day I hope we stop letting ourselves be divided and come together to improve the world for all of us, no matter where we are, who we worship, or how many zeros are on our paycheques.

  • Kara, a black woman is joining in!

    I really think that the problem has more to do with the fact that less than 20% of the house and senate are made up of women, regardless of race.  Women are already a minority in politics, and then there are even fewer minority woman.  But isn’t this the reason that anti-woman legislation is passed?

  • ProtectandProtest

    It’s an interesting and well-written point, however, I feel that women’s reproductive rights transcend race. It’s about men being invasive and hurtful towards ALL women. Granted, white women may be in a more secure place and have the resources to protest better, but they shouldn’t be punished or called racist for speaking their minds. The cycle of racism and sexism will only continue if we keep this sort of mindset.

  • Ripley

    As a white feminist, I feel like this issue is pretty pertinent to discuss openly. I’ve been lucky to have the opportunities given to me to be more aware of my privilege, but I will never fully be able to eradicate it because of the color of my skin and how others treat me. But you know what I can do? Try to protect the rights of women everywhere, and encourage other feminists regardless of their background to join this fight. We need your voices to be heard so that other women can understand how this form of oppression manifests itself in other groups in different ways. I can’t speak for all feminists, but I invite any woman who doesn’t want the government having control of her womb to join the cause and enrich the movement. I don’t care what ethnicity/race/SES/sexual orientation/ or even what your gender is. If you’re fighting for women, and not against them, then you’re okay in my book.

  • Alexandria

    I can’t be uspet with the white woman for standing up for something she believes in. BLACK WOMEN won’t stand up AT ALL. Whether pro-life or pro-choice WE have to make our voice heard! We can’t get upset when someone else says what they feel if we stay silent in the corner–no matter their motives.

    Myself, I’m pro-life. I feel that it’s not the government’s decision about life or death and it’s not the woman’s. We have to realize that LIFE is bigger than our SITUATION. Yes, unfortunate things happen that may cause in a child, but LOVE and a respect for life should overcome any feelings of hate. If people stopped acting out of carnal fear/hurt/emotion and actually put the spirit above that, then we’d get somewhere. ONLY a change in the HEART will end this crusade for death in the black community.

    Stop thinking of this world, this one life as all that matters. Think about the future lives and an eternity of guilt and pain. It starts with YOU.

    • Dee

      Yes, when is the last time black women took a stand for anything. I remember! Nelly’s video for Tip drill. We have to change our ways. We complain and play victim instead of educating and organizing. 

  • MixedUpInVegas

    The issue of reproductive rights is a universally feminine one.  I fail to see why women of color view this as a “white woman’s” issue, when we are all, in fact, women with the same bodies and the same concerns.  Perhaps women of color hold different views on birth control, reproductive rights and women’s healthcare in general.  If that is true, why not speak up on those matters in this area that concern you?

    Every woman should have access to gender-specific healthcare that can help her control her fertility and treat feminine health issues (breast cancer, fibroid tumors, cervical cancer, pregnanacy-related health concerns and so on) in order to lead more healthy and productive lives.  This isn’t a racial issue–it is a health-related matter that is common to all women.

    Ragging on white women for insisting on attention to feminine health affairs is short-sighted.  We, as women, share the same problems.

    • Aiyannahsmami

      Omg thank you Jesus. I’m so glad you posted this. I was about to go Ham…this is ridiculous, this is pathetic, it just doesn’t make sense. IF YOU DON’T LIKE YOUR SITUATION, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT DAMNIT. Stop crying about them white man this, the white woman that. Get it the Hell together!

  • Glittermagic86

    or maybe they are just sitting around while the “angry white woman” is doing all the dirty work for them.

  • I just did a paper on this.  While I am a huge supporter of women’s rights, I have never identified with any aspect of the feminist movement.  They have never had the best interests of Black women in mind (except when it suited their own agendas).  It isn’t that Black women and other women of color don’t have a stake in this too. ALL women should have access to proper birth control.  It’s just that we are fighting on two fronts, race and class, and the feminist movement as a whole doesn’t understand that. 

    • Ripley

      Actually, there are several feminist theories that have been laid out along the course of history and Multiracial Feminism and Standpoint Feminism talk about how class/race/ and gender are synergistic and you can’t address the problems of racism/classism and sexism independently because those who hold the dominant opinion and are in power use these to keep women, non-whites, and the poor in their ‘proper place’ which constitutes a Matrix of Oppression. Whew. I hate be be long-winded, but in short Feminists are trying to get better at understanding how people with different backgrounds experience oppression differently. Post-colonial and marxist feminism talk about how capistalism hurts women in other countries by using sweatshops to sell cheap clothes to poor people in the USA who then inadvertently become the oppressors of people across the globe. Either way, there are versions of Feminism that have been created by women who aren’t white, and have gained a lot of merit in the Feminist movement. You should try looking them up, I loved reading about the different viewpoints, and it seems like you would too, since you found whatever feminist theory to be lacking to address the problems of a variety of racial backgrounds.

      • Thank you. 

      • I still have my doubts, but I appreciate the information.  It’s tough stuff all around.

  • ruthena

    this article is divisive and just plain nasty. attributing the worst motives to “white women”—and why?
    some people are always going to be selfish and/or racist but why let that stop us from working together for reproductive (and other) rights for all women? “are the agendas of white women and women of color too different to put up a united front?” ?!?!?!?! we are all human beings, can’t we just try and get along and appreciate that everyone has hardship? let that bring us together, not split us apart. what do you think makes the world a better place?

    empathy, cooperation, and compassion vs. self righteousness and playing the victim.

  • Black_Pride

    The white feminist majority are angry, disgusting, and a dangerous IMO! They use African American women to increase their numbers they don’t give a damn about us! They use African American men and especially our black children, teens & young adults as cannon fodder for their causes.

    EX:1) Chris Brown and Rihanna are now to blame for the ADULT ISSUE of domestic violence although they had one fight as teengaers three years ago! One white feminist “expert” had the gall to say it is 22-yr-old Chris Brown’s RESPONSIBILITY to heal the nation as it concerns domestic violence!  Really, not Charlie Sheen with his 20 years of beating women from Kelly Preston to Denise Richards to Brook Muller to a hotel call gril in NY? Have you heard Sarah Palin’s disgusting statements against President Obama?

    • ruthena

      wow. way to lump an entire group of people together. racist much? you sure sound like it.
      instead of blaming white women for all these terrible things, look inward and try and find some peace. one love.

    • I agree 100%. Screw them.

    • Purrr

      Chris Brown and Rihanna did not have a “fight”.  He beat the holy hell out of her and damn near tried to kill her.  Big difference.  He is responsible for his own actions, but not responsible for DV on a national level and just because on idiot said something stupid about it doesn’t mean he’s being persecuted by the “white feminist majority”.  Get real.

  • Virtualvenus

    This is by far one of the most divisive articles I have read in a long time. I almost stopped reading it in the middle. THANK GOD, someone, black or white is standing up to these MEN who want to decide what can go on in a WOMAN’s womb. Like I’ve maintained, if a man needed abortions…. this would not even be a discussion. They would have drive thrus dedicated to quickie abortions! I am from VA where they passed the transvaginal law. Honestly, I don’t even know why they law as passed… PPH already does ultrasounds before abortions. They do them so they get the correct age of the fetus!!!! I would rather saw my state’s reps take that time they used passing a useless law to use bringing jobs to our state! Much ado about nothing. These are OUR rights!!!!! Tolerate abortions or not, that’s your business, but when people start chipping away at your rights, where does it end???? Like an abortion, fine, that’s between you and your God. Don’t like an abortion, fine then don’t get one!!!!  We deserve all of our rights, whether we will use them or not! Never know when you’re become a victim of rape (God forbid) Republicans kill me with this “government stay out of our business/lives, except when it comes to the gay’s bedroom and women’s wombs!” Please get out and vote!

    I liken the abortion right to the 2nd amendment. I may not ever need a gun, but if I needed it, I have an absolute right to it! 

  • Pfeiffer87

    this article really annoyed me. Despite having valid points the use of the collective ‘white women’ ‘black women’ etc painted far too broad a picture of the issues surrounding this topic. You write ‘There are likely as many white woman who need these services as there are black women who don’t’ yet continue to contradict this statement by what you write in the rest of the article.

  • StuckInDaMatrix

    Historically, with the Feminist movement was for/benefited White woman more than any other race of women.  This movement along with the Amazonian Feminist movement was sponsored by Rockefeller.  This was when the shift started between black men and black women.  So what I’m saying is, they (white women) want the support of black women for their own gains without including black women and other races of women as collaborators and equals.  Don’t fall for it!

    • Very true Stuckindamatrix.

    • mrsk

      Oh good grief! 

    • Black_Pride

      If i could I would kiss your through the computer! Finally another person understands the real game these evil women have been running for years. They could give less than a damn about Black women and have no clue about our plight.

      They are running adds to stop Kony in 2012, no STOP THE WHITE FEMINISTS IN 2012!

      • StuckInDaMatrix

        Much love to you brother or sister!  Black pride is what we all need to end the system of White supremacy and receive justice for all people who were/are victims of it.  The Feminist movement was never meant for women or color.  Only to propagate white women as equals to white men in terms of power and privilege.  We see the effects of the Feminist movement today in the high abortion rates in the black community, the massive shift between black men and women, the government stepping in as the parent, the effeminization and the emasculation of black males and defeminizing of black women

      • Glittermagic86

        wow, cant wait to see how you react when your rights are taken away. then who are you going to blame. whites again?

        • StuckInDaMatrix

          I’m going to blame whoever set the system in place to “take” away whatever rights are being taken away.  Point blank!