Radical Feminism and the Abortion Ban
28 November 2022
Graffiti on rue Victor Cousin, Paris; image credit: Philosophy World Democracy.
The new patriarchy is so sufficiently inclusive that it both dismisses women’s capacity to choose and their right to authority over their bodies and reduces them to reproductive machines by calling them ‘individuals who can give birth.’
I see the abortion ban through the lens of radical feminism and take it to be another step in restoring men’s dominion over women’s bodily autonomy and attempting to set back women's hard-won rights from the 1970s onwards. Feminism is a fight for women’s emancipation, and patriarchy denies women their freedom by controlling their bodies. I realize that the developments in queer theory since the 1990s have made these conceptual lenses seem limited and insufficiently inclusive. If the new theoretical framework has positively or negatively impacted women’s sex-based rights is open to debate. The abortion right is a case in point.
Nowadays, we are instructed not to use common names such as ‘girls’ and ‘women’ in protesting the abortion ban that has come to effect in several states in the USA. Instead, we are encouraged to use expressions such as ‘individuals who can give birth’ as it is believed to include transmen into the descriptive category without misgendering them as women. This should not go without feminist criticism. Traditionally, radical feminism sees women’s oppression by the patriarchal system as a direct consequence of their reproductive capacity and anatomy. Therefore, it refuses any attempt to define women with a focus on their capacity for birth or any body part. Women have been forced by patriarchy to give birth and become mothers to prove their worth as “real” women. Radical feminism acknowledges ‘women’ as human beings with the capacity to choose and to have the right to design their own lives free of oppression. Some women cannot give birth, others decide not to, and adolescent girls can be too young for it, yet they are all equally women.
I know all this was based on the metaphysics of subjectivity expressed by Foucault; embracing this led feminism to suspect its material premise. Alas, look where we ended up only after a few decades. The category of women has become invalid. Women are redefined in terms of their gestational capacity, and now they are forced to give birth against their will by the ban. Even the supposedly progressive discourses that come to their aid proceed to efface their name.
The new patriarchy is so sufficiently inclusive that it both dismisses women’s capacity to choose and their right to authority over their bodies and reduces them to reproductive machines by calling them ‘individuals who can give birth.’ To conclude, we should not believe it is easy to change the reality of women’s oppression just by giving up the use of the traditional names, or at least when we do that, we should suspect we risk the worst return of patriarchy.