Empowerment, not protest
This past weekend, Washington, D.C. saw two very different marches. On Friday, tens of thousands of people, including over 1000 students from Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross, ascended Capitol Hill to advocate for an end to abortion in the March for Life. The following day, thousands of participants in the Women’s March marched on D.C., along with estimated millions in other cities worldwide. But rather than working in harmony towards realizing a greater respect for human rights, these two marches promoted significantly different visions of what women’s rights should look like. The Women’s March is proudly sponsored by Planned Parenthood, and had previously removed the pro-life feminist group New Wave Feminists from the list of partner organizations, making a statement about the openly pro-abortion agenda of the protest.
The signs used at the marches provide a provoking illustration of the radical contrast in approach and goals of the two marches. Signs at the March for Life promoted adoption and included slogans such as: “love them both,” (referring to the mother and unborn child,) and “love life, choose life.” The overall theme was one of hope and love, and the joyful celebration of life was evident on the faces of the marchers.
Signs at the Women’s March, by contrast, ranged from “women’s rights are human rights,” to many variations of “f*** Trump,” and explicit references to female anatomy. The predominant theme: anger towards and a burning hatred against a president that many participants in the Women’s March consider to be both emblematic of and responsible for society’s current untenable treatment of women..
For a demonstration intended to promote women’s rights, the goals of the Women’s March, most notably protecting access to abortion, and the marchers’ chosen methods of expression, seem to contradict their stated intent. A central concept to promoting women’s rights is empowerment: affirming the inherent value of what it means to be a woman and granting women autonomy and agency over their own actions. However, rather than being empowering, abortion essentially tells women that they aren’t strong enough: not strong enough to sustain pregnancy, not strong enough to bring her child into the world, not strong enough to care for her child. Additionally, any protest claiming to promote women’s rights should promote those rights for all women, even those yet unborn. The March for Life stands for the incredibly empowering idea that, regardless of her situation, a pregnant woman has the strength to give life to her child, and, on a more general scale, upholds the dignity of women by promoting the dignity of all human life.
The gratuitous and explicit references to female anatomy in the Women’s March, most notably in the “p**** hat” iconic to the protest, is emblematic of the inherently contradictory nature of the goals of the protest. The #MeToo movement has brought media attention to how women are objectified and treated as sexual objects by men, but in placing female anatomy in focus, participants in the Women’s March ironically present women as simply a sum of anatomical parts, rather than as human beings deserving of respect.
Contrastly, the March for Life featured signs celebrating life and promoting human dignity, from conception onwards, presenting all human life as deserving of respect. The positivity and love reflected in the signs used by the marchers reflected the intent of the March. As St. Edith Stein said, “the world doesn’t need what women have; it needs what women are.” Representing women with their reproductive organs is emblematic of how the goals and tactics of the Women’s March undermine its intended mission to promote women’s rights, as it contributes to a worldview in which women are primarily defined by what they have, and not what they are, in a society that desperately needs women being what they are.
Much of the anger evident at the Women’s March can likely be traced to a sense of victimization: in protesters’ minds, women are subjugated and oppressed by President Trump, by Republicans, by pro-life advocates, by men, or by society as a whole. The Women’s March is necessitated by a lack of respect for women’s rights in society. But rather than emphasizing women’s victim status, perhaps the goals of the Women’s March would be better served by modeling after the March for Life, which emphasizes empowerment: a woman can be empowered to give life to her unborn child, to embrace her uniquely female life-giving capacity, to be treated as a more than the sum of her bodily parts, and instead as a unique and precious human person.
Teresa Kaza is a junior studying biology and philosophy. When she’s not languishing in lab, she enjoys painting, reading C.S. Lewis, and obsessively making new Spotify playlists, preferably all while wearing a hippie skirt. If you would like to hear her insiders-only Waddick’s secret menu, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org