DFLA 2019 Essay Contest Results
DFLA asked students to respond to the prompt: Although the term "feminist" turns off a lot of people, many women (and men) identify this way for the term’s presumption of equality between genders. Similarly many view themselves as "whole life" because they adhere to non-violence and a consistent life ethic throughout the full human cycle. Evaluate the term "whole-life feminist."
1st Place - by Kathryn Thompson
America's first-wave feminists not only courageously campaigned for women's rights but also demonstrated a steadfast commitment to all the underrepresented. The same feminists who launched the women's suffrage movement went on to promulgate what was the largest petition for the abolition of slavery in US history. They lobbied for child labor laws, pushed for affordable health care, provided education for immigrants, founded homes for the elderly, partnered with labor unions, and advocated for unborn children. Feminism is historically and fundamentally grounded in a whole-life ethic...
1st Runner-Up - by James Chapman
The feminist movement, from its earliest days, has battled relentlessly to secure equality for women in a male-dominated society. From extending voting rights to women, to expanding their employment options, to ending the centuries-long silence that has smothered victims of abuse and harassment, feminist leaders of the past century have indeed left a legacy of transformative and energetic activism in the modern United States...
There is a misconception in today’s society that pairs the feminist movement with pro-choice ideals; however not all feminists support the choice of abortion. Whole life feminists believe in equality and rights for every life that exists, from the moment of conception to natural death. Feminism has always been committed to protecting and fighting for women’s rights...
2019 2nd Runner-Up Essay
There is a misconception in today’s society that pairs the feminist movement with pro-choice ideals; however not all feminists support the choice of abortion. Whole life feminists believe in equality and rights for every life that exists, from the moment of conception to natural death. Feminism has always been committed to protecting and fighting for women’s rights. The modern mainstream feminist viewpoint claims that it is a women’s right to say what happens to her body, they view anti-abortion laws as anti-feminist. Caring for an unplanned child could have the possibility to interfere with a woman’s future and/or she may not be emotionally or financially able to support her baby. It might seem like the right decision. Abortion, however, is a step backwards for feminism and societal equity.
The founders of the feminist movement were pro-life. Elizabeth Stanton references abortion as infanticide, saying “it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." These women refused to accept the ideal that for women to be equal, they must also get rid of their children. The core values of feminism call for equality, nondiscrimination, and justice for everyone; however, modern feminist perspectives clash with this older viewpoint. New perspectives have taken on the notion that abortions are necessary to enable women. The issue, however, is that this implies that women cannot achieve success if she has a baby. The very thought that abortion is required in order to be equal to men submits to the male dominated structure of society. Modern culture views men’s bodies as the standard and by stating that women must be just like men, it disrespects the special ability of females to sustain life. Asking women to give up their capabilities to maintain life to thrive contradicts the equality that feminism advocates for.
Women often justify abortion as a more humane option when the child has been diagnosed with a genetic disorder, physical disability, or other incurable condition. By going along with an idea such as this, they are claiming the life of disabled individuals is less valuable than others. If my mother had chosen to get me tested for any disabilities, she would have discovered that I have a rare genetic mutation that causes the growth of incurable cancer. Even though I have developed cancer, had several surgeries, and continue to undergo treatments, I am thankful for my life. My suffering does not outweigh the value of my life. If I had been aborted, I would not be able to share my story and inspire stories. I would not be here today, as a future teacher, who is on a mission to make a positive impact on the lives of under-privileged children. Choosing to abort a child because of a disability of any kind is unfair to that child, it is taking away the right to life from someone who is unable to stand up for themselves. Death is not merciful; it denies the fact that unborn children have value and purpose.
Aside from the fact that abortion goes against the main concepts of feminism, there is also the perception that abortion is exclusively a women’s issue. Even though it is biologically a woman’s choice, the act of labeling it as such reduces the expected responsibility amongst fathers to their unborn child. This leads women to succumb to peer pressure and commit the act of abortion. Rather than urging a woman to have an abortion, feminists should be providing support and encouragement to pregnant mothers. They should provide resources and affirmation to women instead of abortion that comes along with physical and emotional distress. Whole-life feminists call for a world in which every living being is appreciated, protected, and cherished. They work to change the patriarchal systems in society that dominates women, promoting equity.
Being a whole-life feminist is so much more than being against abortion, it is about supporting life in every form. It means accomplishing ethical, financial, and societal equality for all living beings through unprejudiced and peaceful practices. It involves fighting for the rights of the unborn and those who cannot speak for themselves. Whole life feminists work to educate and donate resources to deprived mothers, as well as being advocates for children in need. People who are pregnant need a support system, not a society that glorifies the choice of abortion. There is so much power that comes with encouraging and assisting each other. By creating a society of acceptance and life through the recognition of everyone’s value, an unbreakable network of care is created, and stereotypes are broken. The future of the feminist movement is whole life and that future starts now.
2019 1st Runner Up, by James Chapman
The feminist movement, from its earliest days, has battled relentlessly to secure equality for women in a male-dominated society. From extending voting rights to women, to expanding their employment options, to ending the centuries-long silence that has smothered victims of abuse and harassment, feminist leaders of the past century have indeed left a legacy of transformative and energetic activism in the modern United States. It is in the footsteps of our feminist foremothers—the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—that the whole life feminist movement persists in defending the dignity of all life through resisting the violence of war, abortion, torture, the death penalty, genocide, and euthanasia. And, although whole life, or pro-life, feminism may seem a strikingly unusual phrase through the lens of today’s mainstream feminism, the concept is in reality a natural expression that embodies the purest ideals of feminism: a stirring desire for equality, an activist spirit, and a respect for all life. Quite to the contrary, it is any other type of feminism that is paradoxical.
Nevertheless, in recent decades, the goals of mainstream feminism have narrowed dramatically. Rather than reshaping societal structures to accommodate both women and men, feminist leaders have settled for incrementally wedging women into a masculine world. The true equality that mainstream feminism ought to seek—and a number of feminists already do—is not, in fact, direct parity between the sexes; this approach rejects incontrovertible physical and psychological differences between women and men. Instead, true equality is only possible if society adapts to the needs of women—not the other way around. For example, women should not have to worry about securing maternity leave, equal pay, affordable and high-quality health care, reliable childcare, or any of the other undue burdens that fall on women, and particularly mothers, in today’s society. Women should not have to choose between motherhood and a career, between subsistence and success. Instead, true equality is a nuanced reality; true equality cultivates respect for the differences between men and women and provides both sexes equal opportunity to live the American Dream. Whole life feminism centers around this concept of making each moment of every woman’s life worth living, and reducing inequalities that preclude all people—and especially women—from full, unfettered exercise of their womanhood and their ungendered human rights.
As such, whole life feminism has a wide range of target issues—and not just issues that concern women alone. From creating affordable, family-friendly housing, to raising the minimum wage and closing the pay gap, to resuscitating blighted school districts, whole life feminism spans a wide range of issues that deal with improving the basic quality of life for millions of Americans—men, women, and children. In addition, whole life feminism promulgates a consistent ethic of life, cultivating a respect for those who are most vulnerable in our society; whole life feminism rejects abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty, for example, as contrary to a true, unwavering respect for human dignity. Failure to protect those threatened by these practices, whole life feminism posits, is a betrayal of the very core of feminism; there is nothing more insidious than securing opportunity for one group by hijacking it from another. Its care for all human life from conception to natural death—including during every moment of the interim—is what makes whole life feminism such a robust, powerful, and important movement in today’s society, and is what will continue to drive its success in producing long-term, effective change.
2019 1st Place, by Kathryn Thompson
America's first-wave feminists not only courageously campaigned for women's rights but also demonstrated a steadfast commitment to all the underrepresented. The same feminists who launched the women's suffrage movement went on to promulgate what was the largest petition for the abolition of slavery in US history. They lobbied for child labor laws, pushed for affordable health care, provided education for immigrants, founded homes for the elderly, partnered with labor unions, and advocated for unborn children. Feminism is historically and fundamentally grounded in a whole-life ethic, one that defends anyone whom society threatens to neglect and define as "not a person." Only in second-wave feminism did women's equality become associated with a pro-choice platform. To comprehend "whole-life feminism" it is vital to explore how promotion of abortion is inconsistent with the central commitments of the feminist movement, on a social, physical, and philosophical level.
Abortion reinforces a male-dominated social structure. While at first glance abortion seems to offer women control and equality, many women suffer interpersonal coercion to terminate their pregnancies. That compulsion, usually from men, makes abortion a decidedly unfree choice. Additionally, the basic expectations of male-dominated workplaces pressure women to feel that eliminating a pregnancy is the only viable option to sustain a career. Abortion enables men to continue defining the standards of success—not going on maternity leave, not breastfeeding every three hours, not taking a day off when children are sick. Furthermore, abortion preys on the poor. 49% of women receiving abortions live under the federal poverty level. As many surveys report, the financial inability to provide for a child is a major motivating factor for termination. Abortion also targets minorities. In 2015, 40% of all abortions in the United States were among African American women, despite African Americans comprising only 12.1% of our population. Systematic violence against black bodies begins before they even leave the womb. Thus, abortion is not a "feminist-minded solution" but a cause and consequence of structural injustice done unto women, the poor, and minorities.
Secondly, one of the strongest "feminist" arguments for abortion is the insistence that female bodily autonomy permits ownership over the fetus. However, this platform peculiarly mirrors the argument once used to deny the very personhood of women. As Charles Camosy elaborates in his book "Beyond the Abortion Wars", a woman was once considered, "incorporated into the 'one flesh' of her husband's person; she, too, was a form of bodily property." Furthermore, abortion advances the false narrative that a female's body is inferior to a male's body. Rather than respecting a woman's unique physiology, abortion insists that a woman's sex life functions best when it imitates that of a man's—when it does not result in pregnancy. It treats pregnancy as a parasitic disease to be cured rather than a remarkable capacity of female anatomy to be celebrated. Though pregnancy is not, in fact, an illness, we cannot deny that it entails varying degrees of suffering—in the social and financial sphere, and in the physical experience itself. In this way, pregnancy is a conundrum: childbirth is both poetic and traumatic—the wound of love and life.
This complexity brings us to an essential philosophical anchor at the heart of feminism: that love demands sacrifice. Feminism celebrates that while each human person has an inalienable dignity to be upheld and respected, society is not simply a collection of autonomous individuals. Rather, we are inherently interdependent. We are born out of relationships and flourish in community. This reality has stood at the heart of feminism all along—men need the voices of women, adults need the wisdom of the elderly and the imaginations of children, just as children need the protection of caregivers, and the elderly need our medical support. Feminism affirms that the secret to a flourishing community is sacrifice: the crucible of love. Feminists proclaim that we have a duty to love each life, and that the difficult yoke of love must be carried in community. And so we make sacrifices, financially, legally, personally, together, to offer ongoing concrete support to every mother and child before and after birth.
Ultimately, the nature of sacrifice illuminates whole-life feminism and grounds support for the unborn child in love for every life. As feminists, we advocate for access to health care so clinicians can tend to the suffering no matter their income status. We give up comfort and security to welcome the immigrant across our borders and into our homes. We hasten to protect the prisoner's life, no matter his or her history. And as our own mothers grow weak, we spoon feed them at their bedside just as they once fed us. Feminism is more than advocating for equality; it celebrates our interdependence and the distinct beauty of each and every human life.
The essay contest deadline has passed. Thank you to all who entered! Winning essays will be announced at the Conference, and posted on the website Monday, July 29.
Although the term "feminist" turns off a lot of people, many women (and men) identify this way for the term’s presumption of equality between genders. Similarly many view themselves as "whole life" because they adhere to non-violence and a consistent life ethic throughout the full human cycle. Evaluate the term "whole-life feminist."
$2,500 to the Winner
$1,000 to the 1st Runner Up
$ 500 to the 2nd Runner Up
Rules & Essay Submission
- March 14, 2019 to June 23, 2019
- Age 17 - 26
- Full Time Student or Forthcoming Full Time Student
- 500-800 words
- American Citizenship
A 45-minute panel discussion from the 2018 DFLA Conference that might help with ideas or inspiration:
Last Year's Winning Essays