Thursday, October 14, 2010


In a recent chat with fellow Abortioneers, the question arose of whether it is possible to work in Abortion Land without being a feminist. About a Girl recently expressed her discontent at the diminishing sense of feminism in our clinics, superseded by a for-profit model that shifts the focus from the woman to the service-payment exchange. I can't really begrudge that; you provide a service that people want, one that will never diminish in demand, and you've got a pretty steady stream of income. It's good business sense, not personal. Then again, it's not a dental office. It's an abortion clinic. Women go there to make some of the most important decisions of their lives. Shouldn't the clinics give a damn?

I suppose, by default, if you are providing a service that advances women, you hold some feminist ideals. Even if you are just a health care tycoon by day, the fact that you enter into the line of abortion fire confirms your feminist leanings. I would agree with that. But if I were to ask the manager of a large clinic chain if he were a feminist, what would he respond? Might he identify as a not-feminist, yet still commit to his position and intend to provide quality services? I would agree with that also.

I think there are two separate ideas at play: feminism and Feminism. You can be feminist, and believe in "the radical notion that women are people", or you can be a Feminist and officially align yourself with a cause that holds certain and specific ideals. And while this distinction may seem slight or nitpicky, I consider it important in distinguishing the who from the what, the estar from the ser.

Example: I have Depression. I am a Depressed person. This is a label that I wear, because having a clinically-diagnosed, chronic mental illness that necessitates treatment with drugs and/or therapy is a part of my being. It is a part of who I am, and not just a condition or a state. I rally 100% behind the Depression cause, because it is a struggle I will likely battle throughout my lifetime. On the other hand, some people are depressed. They feel sad from time to time, but not for unusually long periods of time. They may seek drug or psychotherapy, but those avenues are not essential to alleviating the condition. Depression is not an part of their being, but it is something about which they have some feelings, however strong, and experiences that do affect how they react and respond to life circumstances.

Wax philosophical, much?

The point is, I think that people are generally able to relate to feminist causes. People can stand behind women obtaining education, women receiving equal pay, and women having the same opportunities as men without too much debate. I believe in all of the above, and then some, but I can't say I stand 100% behind all Feminist ideals. Frankly, I feel there are too many different schools of thought, too many "waves" to keep track of, in order to arrive at a cohesive and concise definition of a Feminist movement. And so, I appreciate that folks can support and even enable a woman's right to choose without having to declare a commitment to Feminism per se. Maybe it's because they don't like labels. Maybe because they consider capital-F-Feminism to be a movement in a more stringent sense that they don't feel comfortable aligning with. Or maybe because, sometimes, you don't really need to give a special name to what it is that you do. Because you must. And no matter what you call it, you are in it for the women.

(That said, I absolutely adore About a Girl and love her post!)


  1. I dumped the feminism label somewhat recently. Is it because I no longer agree with equality? Of course not. I just found that feminism and equality don't always go hand in hand.

    I stopped using the term feminist to identify with because I felt like it was a club for white, cis women. When Mary Daly died, I saw feminists praising her and portraying her as some sort of idol. Look her up, and you'll see that she refers to trans people as "frankenstenians". When there was a hate crime committed against a white, cis gay man (like w/ the guy who committed suicide lately because of that awful bullying) I saw feminists making a lot of noise about it, understandably. But when Stacey Blahnik, a trans woman of color, is murdered.. the response is deafening silence. I don't mean to be one of the "why are you concentrating on x when y is so much more important" types, but I've seen feminists put up more of a fuss over gender-coded laptops than over the fact that trans women can't even receive medical care in this country without fear of being severely abused by medical staff.

    (Btw, this is not meant to bash those who choose to identify as feminists, there are self proclaimed feminists who do fight for equality for all. I just pray that, instead of ignoring the problems with feminism, those who choose to stick with the label are going to try to fix them.)

    Soo, anyway, after I learned all of this, I had a choice. I could either stick with the label "feminist" and try to redefine feminism so that it includes all women, or just dump the label altogether. I chose to dump the label. What's in a label anyway? I'm still the same liberty loving, life loving, pro-choice gal, and I'm still going to be an abortion provider :).

  2. For 14 years I worked for the major abortion provider in southern California. It is a for-profit chain of clinics, the most financially successful in the country (I believe).

    I identify myself as a Feminist.
    Many of my female co-workers did not, though when push came to shove, they'd usually behave as one.

    The doctors, on the other hand, were a mixed sort.
    All male, only a few had liberal politics. BUT... even the most conservative among them were good doctors, taking care to see that every woman received decent medical care.

    So, I suppose the real question is: if I can only have one, do I want a healthcare provider who shares my world view, or one who will take care of me well?

  3. PCG, I relate a lot to what you're saying, but often feel sad that, while some of us feel the "feminist movement" doesn't quite encompass all of the progressive ideals we hold, there are still people trying to pull it apart from the other side -- people who don't want to see women liberated, either. And then I don't know what to do. On the other hand, it's definitely the case that the longer I've been doing this work, the less the names seem to matter -- like you said :) But I do appreciate having a conceptual and ethical frame of reference for thinking through issues and actions -- and that's one thing that feminist theory has always helped in.

    Jan, thank you for sharing your experience. It's certainly true that some very skilled and safe providers may not be progressive people, or vice-versa. However, it's not like we always must "only have one"! I am happily employed in a place that is both, and I'd like to strive for a world where we can always have both!


This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.