At Newsweek, I’m discussing some of the tensions within modern feminism, and where we can find common ground across the abortion divide.
Women are divided over how to respond to a world that treats us as defective men. Do we try to elbow our way in by adjusting our lives to a norm that may not fit us—bringing in a lap blanket, dropping apologies from our speech or freezing our eggs to delay childbirth? Or do we fight to reject or broaden the norm? Both tactics have their place, but the latter is the more powerful. Often, expanding the norm benefits men, too, who may have found themselves chafing under narrow expectations.
Some of the divisions between mainstream feminism and what Ross Douthat describes as the “conservative feminism” symbolized by Amy Coney Barrett come down to how women respond to the Procrustean pressure to fit uncomfortable norms patterned on men, especially as they pertain to fertility and childbirth.
For instance, are women aiming to overcome our biology to achieve the same liberty as men—to only live as a parent through an active, affirmative choice? Are the burdens of pregnancy a design flaw we aim to overcome, whether through gestation in Brave New World-style artificial wombs or through classifying pregnancy as “care work” and hiring other women to do it—following the model that shifted elder care to poorly compensated, overworked women?
Often, our equality is premised on remaking ourselves to be more like the median man, whether that means changing our style of speaking to exclude apologies, changing our breastfeeding plans to keep up with work’s minimal accommodations, or changing our bodies to suppress fertility and destroy our children.
We say no, and that, instead, the world must remake itself to be hospitable to women, not the other way around. That means valuing interdependence and vulnerability, rather than idealizing autonomy.
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