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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