News Abortion

Since When Is “Protecting Women” from Making “Bad” Decisions Feminist?

Robin Marty

Thinking women aren't capable of making their own decisions, good or bad, is as unfeminist as you can get.

There has been a very distinct surge in anti-choice activism abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom and Canada.

The United Kingdom is now in the midst of its own 40 Days for Life protests, complete with the “sidewalk counseling” and graphic placards and signs synonymous with anti-choice activities here. Women’s rights and reproductive rights activists are pushing back, an effort that can be watched day by day at the 40 Days for Choice tumblr.

The media, however, appear to be doing some of the anti-choicers work for them by couching the effort to curtail reproductive freedom under the guise of feminism.

News Presenter Cathy Newman speaks with Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Miller, who is in favor of reducing the limits for women seeking to terminate pregnancies, has recently been appointed Minister of Women.

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In a Telegraph interview, Miller states that she supports reducing the legal limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, on the idea that feminism is about supporting women and she is “driven by that very practical impact that late term abortion has on women.”

It’s one thing for a member of the right leaning Conservative Party of Britain to try to equate a desire to protect women from their own actions as somehow being a feminist trait. But it’s one that Newman appears eager to accept.

Difficult as my decision was [to terminate a non-viable fetus], if the law changes, women in similar situations might not have the choice I did. On the other hand, I do appreciate the Miller/[Conservative politician Nadine] Dorries argument that the trauma of a late abortion, or terminating a potentially viable pregnancy may leave women with emotional scars which never fully heal.

It’s telling as a society that we find it necessary to debate whether or not protecting women from the alleged repercussions of their own decisions is feminist. For one thing,  reputable scientific studies have found no link between abortion and adverse mental health outcomes. And for another,  I can think of no other situation where we legislate restrictions on a medical procedure to save a patient from potential regret. Doing so in a way that specifically targets women is about as far from “feminist” as you can get.

Commentary Media

Women’s World Cup May Seem Like a Feminist Fairy Tale, But the Fight’s Not Over

Shireen Ahmed

Despite the joyful ending for the U.S. Women's National Team and the increased media attention toward women’s soccer, there is far more to achieve and attain for equality within the game—including the need to address the sexism inherent in pay disparity for players and in commentary surrounding the sport.

The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada began with 24 teams, the most in tournament history, playing with passion and pride in order to achieve ultimate soccer glory. The exhilarating matches ignited discussion and debate while drawing attention to social issues surrounding the beautiful game. But despite the joyful ending for the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) and the increased media attention toward women’s soccer, there is far more to achieve and attain for equality within the game—including the need to address the sexism inherent in pay disparity for players and in commentary surrounding the sport.

In spite of fears that the recent scandalous allegations involving the World Cup’s governing organization, FIFA, would hurt ticket sales, the Cup took off in thunderous form with host nation Canada already on its feet. The Canadian Soccer Association confirmed that attendance for this tournament would be a record 1.25 million people over the 52 matches. The final between 2011 World Cup Champions Japan versus the United States was watched by 25.4 million viewers, according to FOX Sports, making it the most-watched soccer game in United States sports history. From the initial blow-out matches, to the unexpected upsets, to the riveting and incredible football, to some teams’ heartbreaking endings, people around the globe were captivated by this World Cup.

The proof of importance of women’s soccer is in the pudding—or in the case of the USWNT, the World Championship. And was the country ever-ready to celebrate and revel in this spectacular win.

All of this might make the 2015 Women’s World Cup seem like a fairy tale, in which the ongoing success of women’s soccer might defeat the evil sexism that is so deeply rooted in organized sport. At Mashable, for example, journalist Rebecca Ruiz wrote that this tournament “was a victory for women warriors everywhere.” And while she is correct in asserting that watching the USWNT rise to glory has been an inspiration for many young girls and women, a World Cup win for the United States does not guarantee a “win” for female players on a global scale.

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Despite a grand tournament distancing itself from a governing body steeped in patriarchy and headed by the blatantly sexist Sepp Blatter, the financial outcomes for the teams, for instance, are not exactly shining. The world-champion USWNT received $2 million in total for their championship prize money. This is in stark contrast to the $8 million that the U.S. national men’s team received at last summer’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They were awarded four times as much as their female counterparts for only reaching the 16-team round—not even the quarter-finals. There was no discussion about the matter from FIFA; these were evidently just normal allocation procedures. As in all other industries, equal compensation for women athletes is a huge issue. In this instance, there is a dim silver lining: In the last week, discussions of gender inequality in pay have been prevalent in mainstream, male-dominated sports media that would otherwise not even discuss such topics.

Beyond pay inequity, female players are still inundated by sexist behavior in sports culture. The trophy ceremony at the WWC itself, for example, unnecessarily featured models in tight-fitting, black dresses to award the players their medals—unfortunately often considered the “norms” for such events by organizers. The Edmonton Sun, the news site of one of the host cities, posted an article during the tournament on the “hottest women at the World Cup,” unnecessarily drawing attention to the physical appearance of certain players. And in a horrible attempt to laud England’s women’s team for their solid third-place finish while beating the German team for the first time in history, the Football Association in England came under fire for a sexist tweet focusing on the players going back to being “mothers, partners, and daughters”—despite the fact that they do not stop being athletes at any point. The Lionesses ended a drought of pride in English soccer, only to be welcomed home with condescending compliments.

Sadly, this kind of behavior is not uncommon. Soccer can be the playground for a lot of misogynist behavior that is considered acceptable and even humorous. There are often incidents of male coaches, advisers to top football clubs, and players making ridiculous statements that can be discouraging and disheartening for women. And young players must endure tropes that often emphasize the physical looks of a player, instead of her skills. This adds undue pressure on young girls to not only perform brilliantly but to adhere to unrealistic beauty standards.

Sexualizing female athletes or a sport is common all over the world. Such behavior is unhelpful and potentially psychologically dangerous for women: Body image issues and eating disorders are already rampant for young female athletes. In addition, supporting the personal choices of a female player to dress a certain way is paramount. Some players, including USA’s Sydney Leroux and France’s Louisa Necib, enjoy wearing make-up while playing and that is their prerogative. Criticizing them for that choice is not acceptable.

To present the players in a demeaning manner is not a way to applaud their achievements. It propels a system of intimidation and misogyny in sports.

Perhaps this lazy sports journalism strategy is applied in order to attract more readers and viewers. Fortunately, there has been growing pushback to many outright displays of misogyny. The English Football Association deleted its aforementioned tweet after a social media outcry rightly cited the team’s strong, character-displaying performance in Canada. When Andy Benoit, an NFL analyst for Sports Illustrated, tweeted that he thinks that women’s sports “are not worth watching,” retribution was swift. Much of the Internet replied to Benoit’s comments with sarcasm. Comedian Amy Poehler, accompanied by her colleague Seth Meyers, spoofed Benoit’s remarks on “Late Night.” Ironically (and that is being very generous), Benoit supported his claim by arguing that TV ratings of women’s sports were low. As the USA celebrates its highest viewership ever and a World Cup championship, he might be in his man cave eating humble pie.

As we move forward, players, fans, and policymakers must continue to call out sexism in mainstream sports media, urge decision-making federations to support development of the game, and to recognize and act on the needs of female players, including where pay is concerned. During the Women’s World Cup, FIFA hosted a symposium on women in football, featuring former and current players, executive members, academics, and advocates. The objective, according to FIFA-appointed executive committee member Moya Dodd: to grow the game on every level. In order to expand women’s soccer, developing programs for young girls and women is critical—not only on the pitch but in all aspects of soccer. FIFA, for example, recently launched a program encouraging women to take roles in leadership: a move that can not come soon enough.

More than 30 million girls and women play soccer around the world. It is a sport that is revered across cultural lines showcasing different styles of play with charisma and love. This must be nurtured and supported, particularly in the wake of the Women’s World Cup, when different leagues and tournaments will continue to delight fans. At the same time, one need not look further for future sports heroines beyond our own schools and neighborhood parks. Equality in sports is an intersectional feminist issue. In order to support young players at a grassroots level, supporters must work to also make the game more accessible in marginalized or low-income communities; advocate for more visibility of players of color; and ensure women’s soccer does not remain, as former USWNT player and current ESPN commentator Julie Foudy called it, “a middle-class, white sport” in America.

One of the most compelling sentiments among fans from this tournament has been: “Can we just call it ‘soccer’ from now on instead of ‘women’s soccer’?”

We certainly can. We definitely should.

Commentary Maternity and Birthing

Invoking ‘Choice’ When Discussing Surrogacy as a Feminist Concern Is a Mistake

Susan Berke Fogel, Francine Coeytaux & Marcy Darnovsky

A recent Rewire piece treated the vexing question of commercial surrogacy as a litmus test for feminists. For us at Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, we believe that contract pregnancy can’t be understood in such a simplistic framework.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this commentary incorrectly stated that a number of countries, including Australia, “protect abortion rights far more strongly than the United States.” In fact, laws relating to abortion vary between each state in Australia, and the procedure remains illegal in many Australian jurisdictions. We regret the error.

It is troubling to see the vexing question of commercial surrogacy treated as a litmus test for feminists at Rewire. While some lifelong supporters of women’s rights may see nothing problematic about contract pregnancy, others argue that it should be prohibited, and still others believe it should be allowed but carefully regulated. Contract pregnancy can’t be understood in a simplistic pro-choice versus anti-choice framework, or as only a matter of self-determination. Thirty years after “Baby M” and more than a decade after the emergence of a cross-border surrogacy industry, some of us are still unsure where we come down on commercial surrogacy. But it seems indisputable that the issue of contract pregnancy deserves careful thought.

We at the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research believe that social justice, safety, and human rights must be paramount in public policy and private practice in emerging biotechnologies, and we are striving to assess commercial surrogacy from that perspective. The surrounding quandaries are many and complex, especially for women working as surrogates and the children they bear, but also for commissioning parents. Consider:

  • By definition, commercial surrogacy operates in a market context. At a minimum, that means we should look closely at supply and demand, power and control, and workers’ safety and rights. In a world of stark inequalities, outright exploitation in cross-border surrogacy arrangements is not surprising.
  • In the real world, contract pregnancy is a class issue. We won’t see many women working as surrogates for people who are less privileged or affluent than they are.
  • Regulation of contract pregnancy varies wildly among countries, and within the United States it is mostly absent and usually inadequate. In most jurisdictions, for example, surrogacy brokers and agents are completely unlicensed. This policy hodgepodge has facilitated numerous scandals that have harmed surrogates, commissioning parents, and children, including the infamous case in which prominent surrogacy attorneys were running what the FBI termed an international “baby selling ring.”
  • Many women working as surrogates are subjected to strict limits on where they live and travel, whom they see, what they do, and what they eat. How many commissioning parents know that the women in India who will bear and deliver their children typically sign contracts in a language they cannot read, live apart from their own children for the duration of their pregnancy, are prohibited from seeking independent medical advice, and must sign away their abortion rights?
  • Contract pregnancies are often delivered by cesarean section in the absence of medical indication, in large part for the convenience of commissioning parents. C-sections carry greater risk for both mother and baby—especially for women who may subsequently have children of their own without ready access to high-tech medical care. Many countries have chosen to ban surrogacy, including the Scandinavian countries, the UK, France, and Canada. By any social indicator, all are more “feminist” and protect abortion rights far more strongly than the United States.

Even these brief notes demonstrate that surrogacy is a complex issue for all those involved. From the point of view of commissioning parents, surrogacy involves not only themselves but the woman who is carrying the child or children they have commissioned and, more and more often, another woman from whose ovaries eggs will be harvested. From the point of view of women working as surrogates, it’s about whether, and under what conditions and restrictions, and for what payment, to undertake a pregnancy for someone else. And let’s not forget the interests of the children who result from contract pregnancies.

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We need to insist on adequate safety data, responsible policies and oversight, and more information to help women make informed choices, whether they are providers or buyers of surrogacy services. Until those conditions are in place, we can’t know whether a surrogacy arrangement is a truly informed and non-coercive contract in which all understand the short-term and long-term implications. We know enough about on-the-ground conditions of commercial surrogacy (and commercial egg retrieval) to be convinced that caution is warranted, and that policies to help ensure everyone’s rights and well-being are needed.

The commercial surrogacy market is growing and spreading rapidly. Because third parties are involved, the messy issues it raises are appropriate matters for public policy. They are also matters about which feminists should think carefully. Having insisted so powerfully on women’s rights, how do we ensure that we are not pitting one woman’s rights and well-being against another’s? Having fought so hard for our own bodily autonomy, do we really want to partake in arrangements that curtail other women’s?

We need this conversation and we need it soon. Shutting down careful examination of commercial surrogacy is not in our interests. Invoking “choice” and “paternalism,” as if those were the final words about contract pregnancy, is a mistake. These moves ill serve all the parties to commercial surrogacy arrangements, our own political and intellectual integrity, and our ongoing struggles for reproductive justice.