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.