Leah Farish is a civil rights attorney. Her work has focused on religious civil liberties and often involved disputes over education and the rights of children. She won the Mary Beth Tinker Award from American University's Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Law Project for her work in Hearn and U.S. v. Muskogee School District.
The women’s marches on January 21 held in Washington, D.C., and many other places were characterized by loud and scalding rhetoric, often seething with vitriol such as Madonna’s thoughts about bombing the White House and signs about private parts biting other people. But perhaps more troubling was the organizers’ refusal to include pro-life voices in the chorus. True, under Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc., the organizers are legally entitled to shape their message by limiting participants. Yet, there are three ethical problems with that exclusion. These problems exist because the female marchers are driven by their commission but have no commandment that can channel their zeal.
First, unborn children are voiceless unless others—including feminists—speak up for them. The unity principles of the march demand “a society in which women…are free and able to care for and nurture their families…in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.” Unborn women, including female fetuses, are not in a safe and healthy environment that is free from structural impediments when their mother is seeking abortion and the state allows it. “Women deserve to live full and healthy lives,” continue the unity principles, “free of all forms of violence against our bodies.”
Do tiny baby girls deserve less? Why?
The marchers’ Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles state that “no woman or mother should have to fear that her loved ones will be harmed at the hands of those sworn to protect.” But doctors and nurses are to be feared by a grandmother who knows her daughter has an unwelcome pregnancy, or a sister whose sibling is unwanted, or a young woman pressured by her parents to abort. There was no unity at the march for those women.
Second, one of the most visible feminist concepts these days is intersectionality, which mandates that we pay attention to how discrimination against one group interacts with discrimination against another group. This phenomenon, or potential phenomenon, named by Kimberlé Crenshaw, is echoed where the organizers recognize women’s intersecting identities. Talking about differences within feminism in a 2014 interview, Crenshaw said, “If the underlying assumption behind the category ‘women’ or ‘feminist’ is that we are a coalition then there have to be coalitional practices and some form of accountability.” Good coalitional practice would have allowed pro-life participants in the marches. Progressives and feminists frequently ignore or scoff at those at the intersection of “female” and, for example, “evangelical” in religion.
Third, much of the message and method of the women’s and “sister marches” shows that while the organizers feel a strong commission that propels them to seek justice for some females and other sexual identities, they have forgotten the Golden Rule—or what I like to call the Golden Ethic—that urges them to treat others the way they would like to be treated. Instead, they flaunted posters about “urine over your head, Donnie,” aimed aggressive slogans and gestures at cameras, and excluded those who agreed with much of their platform.
In the context of refugees, the organizers say online, “We recognize that the call to action to love our neighbor is not limited to the United States, because there is a global migration crisis,” but the neighbor who disagrees on the abortion issue is still an outsider. This treatment of the “other” will happen even at the hands of those who sense “a call to action to love our neighbor” but not a call to love our enemy. Christianity is spreading as effectively as it does because it has a “Great Commission” to go and make disciples of all nations, but also a “Great Commandment” to treat even your enemies as you would want to be treated. This second mandate shapes the methodology of the first. When it’s forgotten, more harm than good is done.
Social movements that are founded in love have a lasting impact and elicit the good in society: the abolitionist movement; Gandhi’s leadership for Indian independence; the adoption and homeschooling movements in the United States; and Martin Luther King’s civil rights advocacy. However, the American temperance movement and Lenin’s Communist upheaval were both more revulsion than effective revolution—expressions of condemnation expressed in punitive acts. Women—like men—are at their best when they work for love in loving ways.
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