Editor’s Note: Proletarian Feminism and Calvin College’s Anti-Choice Group

by tigermanifesto

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Two weeks ago I published an article in my college’s student paper, Chimes. It was a personal intervention meant to give constructive advice to pro-choice students on campus as well as fortify their resolve in the midst of a hostile environment. The college and the church that puppeteers it are both committed to anti-choice politics, and in this environment the assumption is that everyone follows that political line. When my article proved that that was not the case, it touched off a minor firestorm on Facebook. “Respectable” people from here to Iowa derided me for writing the piece and attacked my editors at the paper for having the gall to publish it. Though the response was overwhelmingly negative in the comments section, I received thousands of Facebook “likes,” for whatever they’re worth, as well as much more meaningful personal “thank yous” from women on campus who had had abortions and others who were happy I stirred up the conservative hornets’ nest.

My article is linked here, and because of its brevity and overtly polemical tone should not be taken as a complete argument for a pro-choice position or anything like it. I would be more than willing to accept substantive criticisms, especially from sympathetic comrades. Among its many problems, it fails to address the fundamental theoretical basis of my argument, which stems from a class analysis of the situation. Divorced from a political party with which to affiliate and any practical basis for my analysis, I often slide into abstractions and at one point even use the dread word moral. I intended to use this as a provocation against reactionaries but accidentally implied that I believe that abstract morality has bearing on the situation. I repent for not emphasizing both the concrete nature of the oppression of women, particularly proletarian women. Because I am addressing an overwhelmingly anti-choice audience with the article, or at least ended up doing so, I did not put nearly enough emphasis on the way in which women were not all equally oppressed by anti-choice politics. Queer women, women from racial minorities, disabled women, and proletarian women are especially affected. This explains my accusation that pro-life morality assumes a primarily racist as well as misogynistic form when it becomes concrete, though this was misunderstood by most of the conservatives spewing bile at me.

While I do not want to get into the particulars of proletarian feminism as a developing political line–both because of my aforementioned lack of participation in practical work and a lack of space–I would like to refer readers to a few posts on the topic. Evaristo Marrero, writing for the estimable Maosoleum blog, summarizes some of the goals of proletarian feminism this way:

We need to reject patriarchal women’s emancipation, and struggle for proletarian feminism, for the reforms necessary under capitalism that weaken patriarchy, for the reforms necessary under socialism to overcome patriarchy, and for permanent cultural revolution until the overthrow of patriarchy.

Universal access to abortion is one of the requisite “reforms necessary under capitalism” that weakens the grip of patriarchy on women. Reactionary governments in numerous American states have imposed increasingly onerous restrictions on legal induced abortions, putting it out of reach for countless women for whom it is a necessity. Though the law protects abortions in theory, it is becoming more and more difficult for women–especially proletarian women, queer women, and women of oppressed racial groups–to gain access to basic services. The struggle against patriarchy must take an active character, and those of us on campus who oppose these restrictions as well as the “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” that spread vile misinformation and specifically target underserved groups must recognize that the boundaries of the college are not the edges of the world. Though the institution is privileged and denies the greater community access to its space and resources, this is no excuse to carry on practical work only inside the college. This is developing into a tangent on the unfortunate split between academic spaces and others–and between mental and manual labour as well–so I will get to the central point of this post, which is to criticize a response from the Calvin College Students for Life published in Chimes this week.

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The picture that appears above their response article’s online version. They look like a Mormon extended family.

This article, written by two women named Sarah Weiss and Laura Wheeler,  runs through the expected gamut of pro-life deceptions. While taking a conscious stand for “promoting the inherent dignity and value of all persons,” they apparently do so in an entirely abstract fashion. Their weak-tea humanism is all about supporting “all human life,” which they in their infinite grace extend to fetuses. This is all despite their political position which robs women of basic agency. Don’t worry, proletarian women! Students for Life (S4L) is not a “political activist group” but instead a place where people just assume control over your body is off the table while thinking fuzzy thoughts about you. Charming. Of course, the unstated fact here is that S4L doesn’t need to operated in a militant fashion, and can hide behind a privileged mask of civility, because the entire community as a whole already agrees with them. Anti-choice activism has hegemony. It is institutionalized in their churches, pressed forward by those who harass pregnant people walking into clinics, and is embodied in its purest form by murderers who spread death and fear so that quaint little groups like this don’t have to. It’s wonderful that privileged women and men in S4L will be so civil and polite. After all, the curtain of niceness that stifles meaningful debate at our college and in our community will protect them much better than it will those who stand in solidarity with the 1 in 3 women in our country who will get an abortion at some point. Religious idealism and abstractions run so thick in the article that I would have to parse word by word to get to it all, and maybe even ferret it out of the spaces. Suffice to say that their ruling class ideology and concrete position blinds them to the concrete reality of the situation.

Sickeningly, they even attempt to take a moral high road, once again demonstrating that this ruling morality serves the ruling class. “We are a group that not only promotes life but speaks life as well. We are, however, willing and in fact eager to discuss our views with anyone who is interested, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with our convictions,” they write. Perhaps we should give them a blue ribbon for magnanimity.

I would not even be addressing this if it did not concern me personally. My own article is nothing spectacular, and contains numerous errors and omissions I am working with some comrades to rectify. As a person in a privileged economic position, attending the same private college as these two writers, I am in no position to claim revolutionary vanguard status. My mistakes are many and my complicity in oppression is a fact. It will continue to be a fact until capitalism is overthrown and patriarchy extinguished through cultural revolution. At the same time, I hope it is clear that the vague and ethereal “love” practiced by S4L is nothing more than a screen for reactionary politics and should be criticized as such. Despite my imperfections, I hope I have offered a strong criticism of this group, and I hope to offer a reminder to my readers that, no matter what words they use, anti-choicers perpetuate the oppression of women as a class.

Links on Proletarian Feminism:

J. Moufawad Paul: “In Defense of Proletarian Feminism” and Radical or Proletarian Feminism

Evaristo Marrero: “A response to the NCP(OC): Gender Whateverism is not Proletarian Feminism”

Anuradha Ghandy: “Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement” (more of a critique of liberal, radical, and Marxist feminism, but still highly informative)

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