There’s no one way to be a woman. So why, in 2020, do we still expect all women to be the same? In many ways, this year has pushed us collectively to expand our intersections of identity, and redefine our activism. But what does it mean to fall under one banner, one slogan? How can we remain on one side of history and still maintain individualistic thought?
The recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been met with the seemingly collective fear of women across the US for their bodily autonomy. Well-intentioned messages flood Twitter to remind uterus-owners to stock up on birth control now, before we enter the new age of womanhood (read: Gilead). What a privilege it is to utter “Justice for Breonna Taylor,” “Abolish ICE,” and “My Body, My Choice” in the same breath, as if the three do not meet at a crucial intersection.
The irony is that the bodies of Black women were subjected to the horrific trials that produced modern-day birth control. The ever-updating news cycle revealed that the bodies of detained women in the US are again subject to illegal medical procedures and sterilization in the same week as Amy Barrett’s nomination. The only bodies to retain autonomous choice, it seems, are those of white women. These are the women for whom difference of opinion is not a matter of life and death. How else can Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Trump’s top choice to fill her seat, Amy Coney Barrett have tread the same career path?
This is not a matter of pitting women against women, but a reminder that our fear of Barrett on the bench stems from an age-old economic theory of scarcity. RBG was the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court—the first Jewish woman. In 2009, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the first Hispanic and Latina to become a member of the Court. For as long as there’s a qualifier preceding a woman’s role, there’s a second, silent fear: what if she’s the only? While it’s simply not true—this fear has fueled our motivations in almost every field: model minority myths, purported college demographic quotas— the idea of nine women on the bench still seems far-fetched. Impossible. This is what makes us angry at Amy Coney Barrett—afraid even. She’s being offered the opportunity to represent all of us, but her track record shows her preference for the conservative, non-immigrant few.
Last week’s confirmation hearings remind us that Barrett identifies as an Originalist–that is, much like her mentor, the late Antonin Scalia, she believes that the Constitution is not a living document, but rather one frozen within the context of the year it was ratified. She once again emphasized in her hearing that “it’s not up to me to update [the Constitution] or infuse my own policy views into it,” something she has been reiterating toward every question regarding her opinions on Roe v. Wade and her conservative Catholic views. Comforting, right?
However, despite Barrett assuring us that she is the consummate public servant, her promise that “[she] would assume this role (regarding her nomination to the Supreme Court) to serve [us]” feels hollow. The fear is real: historically women who do not have to fight for their right to exist have exercised the luxury of choosing to renounce things they don’t need. Consider Susan B. Anthony’s lack of interest of securing the right to vote for Black women in the United States, for example. It’s important to note that white women are not the founders of feminism—rather only the face of the modern word, as it emerged in the Western world.
But what about Amy Coney Barrett’s feminism? After all, as women, shouldn’t we be on the same side? If anything, she’s a reminder that women, despite facing similar obstacles, are varied and complex. Feminism doesn’t deride motherhood or womanhood–it’s not meant to shame femininity or identity. Rather, it is best viewed as with most successful movements, through its intersectionality. A feminist doesn’t have to be a woman, doesn’t have to be unmarried or without children. However, a feminist does have to care and advocate for other marginalized groups. Therefore if feminism must include bodily and reproductive rights, it must do so for any and all uterus-bearers; eschewing a cis-heteronormative lens, and consider both those who choose parenthood and those who choose otherwise.
Amy Coney Barrett is the right’s feminist icon because of her working motherhood, which in itself is not the issue. If anything, the fact that her hearing was filled with reminders of her seven children is a reminder that her personal choice to be a parent is now touted as a feminist flag for female success in the workplace: if Amy could be a working mother, then women have breached that final hurdle. However, it ignores her choice to do so: her choice to be a mother is as valid as another’s choice to not be a mother. What’s important here is that Amy Coney Barrett’s long-held anti-abortion views do not suggest that.
In the aftermath of the 2016 US election, we saw many women vote against their own interests, and puzzled how we, as women, could be so divided. It’s worth noting, that feminism is quite literally, not for everyone. The 2010s resurgence of feminism and the need to make it palatable led quickly to the condemnation of White Feminism. This is a reminder that until they are truly intersectional, movements cannot achieve success. Sure, without feminism, Barrett would not have pivoted to the role she is nominated for today—but to support her blindly, in the name of feminism, or solidarity—is an injustice to any woman who does not fall under Barrett’s own scope.
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