Debating what the word feminist means, and what is the right way to act or think as a feminist, and who is the most feminist and least feminist is so popular it’s spawned its own cottage industry online. Can a pop star who dances pantsless be feminist? (The cumulative conclusion of tens of thousands of words says yes, but only if her songs are about how empowering not wearing pants is.) Can a politician who earlier in her career wasn’t woke enough to promote intersectional issues be feminist? (Survey: maybe, but only to people who weren’t excluded from her old-model feminism, because being excluded smarts.) Can a woman in the March for Life be feminist?
In the last decade, declaring oneself feminist or not has become a rite of passage for young women, like rushing a sorority, or a running back pledging to attend an SEC or Big12 school on Decision Day. If a young female celebrity is asked in an interview whether or not she is feminist, she better prepare for the backlash in either direction that awaits her. No matter how a young woman answers the feminist question, celebrity or not, she’s either bound to an accompanying set of expected personal and political principles or destined to spend her young years defining herself with a “but.” I’m not a feminist but I believe in equal pay. I’m a feminist but I don’t think abortion should be legal. (The entire feminist inquisition seems a little reductive and sexist, if you ask me. Boys don’t get asked these things.)
A little over a week ago, organizers of the Women’s Marches on Washington and elsewhere debated whether a woman’s group that opposes abortion rights could be included in the empowered set, if the anti-choice had a place at the feminist table. After a vigorous debate involving prominent feminist writers and organizers from around the globe, feminists in charge decided the aspirant pro-life feminists did not belong on the list of sponsors of that particular Women’s March. While pro-life women still participated, the exclusion of a pro-life women’s group from the list of sponsors sent a clear message that this march, this “women’s” march, was for a specific type of woman. A woman who supports abortion rights, or who is at least willing to walk under the banner of choice.
Today, pro-life women—whether or not they call themselves feminists—will get their chance to march without having to subjugate their views. They’ll gather in enormous numbers at various locations around the globe for this year’s March for Life. The rally, in Washington, has occurred annually since 1974. Despite ups and downs and endless hope and disappointment for people working to end abortion, the march’s crowds have trended larger over the decades, at one point surpassing an estimated half-million people. Even last year, when the March for Life was greeted by a snowstorm, thousands showed up. If you believe abortion is murder and that ending it was a matter of life and death, then why would a little snow stop you?
Comparisons between this year’s March for Life and the Women’s March are inevitable. They are occurring a week apart, and they are in vehement disagreement on one key issue that centers on women’s bodies. But the comparisons aren’t really fair, because there’s a clear victor here. If the March for Life is trying to show up the Women’s March, the odds aren’t exactly in the former’s favor. Some of that’s just logistics. The March for Life occurs on a Friday, a work day for most, and the Women’s March was on a Saturday. The March for Life also occurs one week after a inauguration of a conservative president, which means politically active people who don’t have far to travel would have to set aside two days in one week to stand outside in the D.C. January weather and people who did travel from far and wide would have to spend an idle week in D.C. or make two separate trips. Or pick one or the other. And I’m pretty sure the inauguration has better parties.
The March for Life has never been known for its star power or glamor. Instead of a litany of young A-list starlets reading slam poetry before a full band like the Women’s March, the March for Life features Kellyanne Conway and a moderately-well-known player for the Baltimore Ravens. Instead of clever, bawdy signs, the March for Life has a real live Catholic Cardinal. But what it lacks in cultural zeitgeist it makes up for in political might. No matter how cool and inspiring the Women’s March was, there’s one thing the March for Life has in 2017 that the the other march doesn’t: the White House. And for that reason, no matter what the turnout, today’s pro-life demonstration in D.C. and other cities won’t be as much a march as a victory lap.
It will also serve as a place for pro-life voters to feel soothed and reassured. If I were a pro-life voter, I’d be wary of President Trump. Trump’s sudden and convenient change of heart from pro-choice to pro-life is particularly curious given his very public private life. If decades of tabloid coverage are to be believed, the now-president spent the better part of the ’80s and ’90s fornicating his way through Manhattan, suffering no personal fallout apart from appearing frequently on Page Six with a model on his arm. It seems strange that paying several UPenn tuitions is the worst consequence of sex somebody like Trump has faced, given his history. It seems reasonable to wonder whether a man having that much sex for that long a period of time when birth control was that unreliable (abortion rates in the U.S. peaked in the early ’80s) was involved in an unwanted pregnancy, or whether he is extraordinarily lucky. Maybe Donald got lucky. These are questions I’d ask myself if I were pro-life and depending on Donald Trump to represent my views.
But it seems the White House knows this. With both Vice President Mike Pence and Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway on the slate of speakers, the march seems like an opportunity to reassure the pro-life voter that the Trump administration hears them and will advocate for them. I’d imagine that means a lot to a person who traveled a great distance to support a cause they value over a candidate. I’d imagine that matters more than seeing Madonna dance in a cat hat.