To my liberal friends, on the day after the Women’s March:
I woke up this morning with the same pit in my stomach as on November 9, 2016. On that day, like so many of you, I awoke disillusioned with our democracy, horrified that an unqualified narcissist lacking in empathy, curiosity, and morality would soon become the leader of the free world. But today, I experience a new sense of horror: a feeling of utter alienation from my generation and my gender. In November, though I was no fan of Hillary Clinton, my opposition to Trump placed me squarely on what some of you have called the “right side of history,” and I felt a sense of solidarity with you in that. Today, however, on the day after the Women’s March on Washington and on the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I feel, to quote Dostoevsky, that “our fateful troika is racing headlong,” while I stand alone in its path, waiting to be hit.
I am a feminist. Indeed, I am, in some people’s eyes, the worst kind of feminist—the kind who believes that women not only are equal to men, but may, in fact, be superior. As I see it, a woman can do anything a man can do, but she can do it better, faster, and in high heels. I’m fairly certain that I’ve held this opinion since the day my parents explained that they were sending me to an all-girls’ school for kindergarten because they wanted me to be challenged, inspired, and empowered in a way that was only possible when unfocused five-year-old boys weren’t sucking all the air out of the room.
During my thirteen years at the Nightingale-Bamford School in Manhattan, women ruled. We ran the clubs, teams, and student government; we led the class discussions. We learned about the famous women, from Cleopatra VII to Murasaki Shikibu to Rosalind Franklin, who had shaped our world, and we were taught to be incensed by the injustices that women had faced and continued to face. At least once a month we were reminded that women make only seventy-nine cents to a man’s dollar, but we were told that we could and would fix this. In our navy-blue tunics and matching lace-up shoes, we were told that we could do anything we set our minds to. We were raised to speak up and sing out.
Yesterday, my former classmates and teachers did just that. Donning “pink pussy hats” and wielding signs of resistance, dozens of you, my friends from Nightingale and, more recently, from Princeton, descended upon Washington and cities around America, voicing your opposition to our new president. I wanted to be supportive. I, too, am disgusted by Donald Trump’s past treatment of women. I, too, want to stand up against the bigotry, misogyny, and racism that the president’s rhetoric has, intentionally or not, perpetuated. I, too, believe in sisterhood and girl power (and the aesthetic of the color pink). And, having devoted much of my time at Princeton to fighting for free speech, I am glad to see you, my friends, exercising your First Amendment rights and voicing your dissent.
I knew, of course, that the organizers of the March had excluded pro-life sponsors and had made it clear that pro-life women were not welcome, but I hoped that the March would nevertheless focus on the message of resistance and unity that the organizers had preached and advertised. However, as I scrolled through the 129 photos of and about the March posted by my friends on Instagram, not to mention the hundreds of photos and videos that flooded my Facebook and Snapchat, any illusions I held quickly faded away. The thousands of signs depicting uteruses and proclaiming “My Body, My Choice,” the calls to “Abort Trump,” and the adoration bestowed on Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards made it clear that this so-called “unity” consisted of one thing, and one thing only: unity of opinion about a woman’s right to choose. To quote my fifth-grade history teacher’s Facebook status, it was “just us and 800,000 like minded people out for a Saturday stroll …”
When I mentioned this to a few of you who attended the March, you were quick to exclaim that the day was about so much more than that … though you couldn’t articulate exactly what. I recognize that, for many, the March was primarily a response to the election of a president who has bragged about and been accused of sexual assault; however, JFK and Clinton have also been accused of sexual assault, and while that does not in any way excuse Trump’s behavior, it does remind us that his behavior is nothing new. The difference, the key difference, I think it’s fair to say, is that women believe Trump is threatening to take away their right to choose. Misogyny and male pigheadedness are not enough to mobilize millions of women worldwide—we deal with misogyny and male pigheadedness every single day. What can mobilize them? The fear that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.
And so I spent yesterday scrolling through your photos, coming to the painful realization that nearly every woman I know is not only pro-choice—I’ve known that for years—but proudly pro-choice: so proud that you will happily parade your pro-choiceness all over the world and proclaim it on all of your social media pages, as if it were a positive good. “Happy birthday, Roe v. Wade,” wrote one friend in the caption of her Instagram today. “we won’t go back. #whyimarch”
The unhappy truth is that abortion is murder. You may argue that it is justifiable murder, but it is murder nonetheless. A living organism is killed; a being that would otherwise go on to live a life as human as yours or mine is prevented from living. Have we become so desensitized, so removed from reality, that we can joke about this kind of murder, joke about “aborting Trump” and about “the elephant in the womb”? And, what’s more, joke proudly?
Before you jump down my throat: I know the difference between “pro-choice” and “pro-abortion.” I know that most of you consider abortion a necessary evil and that you feel simply that the government should not be legislating morality—that it should be up to a woman to make this moral choice for herself. I do not hope to dissuade you of this opinion in this letter.
But I do hope to open your eyes to your rhetoric, just as you have opened mine to the rhetoric used by conservatives. Over the years, I have listened carefully as you accused members of the Republican Party of selfishness, of a lack of empathy for experiences different from their own. And often, I think, you were correct. The Right’s frequent apathy towards, for example, welfare recipients and the environment and the experiences of minorities betrays a privileged and, yes, fundamentally selfish outlook. Certainly our new, narcissistic president ran a campaign that was all about him, and I would argue that his inaugural speech was selfish on behalf of America—America first, no matter the cost to humanity. This kind of selfishness and narcissism is unsightly, dangerous, and, as many of you have pointed out, contradictory to the words printed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
And yet, what could be more selfish than the rhetoric of the pro-choice movement? MY body. MY choice. Just as Republicans may be accused of ignoring their responsibility to the poor and oppressed, so you are guilty of choosing to ignore the possibility that we may have a greater responsibility to humankind—a responsibility to promote a culture of life, instead of death, a culture in which every human life is valued and allowed to reach its full potential. You make the right to choose all about you, while conveniently forgetting that it isn’t all about you—there is, in fact, another human life at stake, whether you like it or not. When you fight for the right to choose, you are saying that you should be able to prioritize your career, your education, your relationship, your convenience, etc., over the future of the fetus inside you. Moreover, your self-centric rhetoric allows you to forget about that fetus entirely. The language of individual rights sounds so good, so convincing, that you never have to think about the painful reality of abortion at all. Your body, your choice … and your conscience is clear.
Of course, we are all guilty of putting ourselves first from time to time. Sometimes it may even be necessary. If faced with an unwanted pregnancy, I hope that I would not make the selfish choice, but I cannot say for sure that I would not. How difficult it must be to give up your own hopes and dreams for the sake of someone who has not yet even been born. How dreadful to face society’s wrath and ridicule as, for example, an unmarried, pregnant college student. Were you to choose abortion, my friends, I would mourn the loss of life, but I would love you all the same.
Nevertheless, I ask you to recognize that it is the selfish choice, and that demanding the availability and legality of that choice is rooted in selfishness—in the desire to be able to prioritize your interests above another’s life if and when the time comes. You purport to oppose the self-centeredness of our president, but yesterday, when you paraded around with signs saying “My Body, My Choice,” you were doing nothing more than proclaiming your own self-centeredness to the world.
That is, of course, your prerogative … but it is not something to be proud of, let alone something to celebrate. There is nothing happy about “800,000 like minded people,” like-minded in their selfishness. There is nothing happy about a culture that teaches us to value our own, individual success over human life. There is nothing happy about a society that ridicules and rejects young, unmarried, pregnant women, but worships the ground Cecile Richards walks on. There is nothing happy about the breed of feminism that tells women their ability to end life is more important than their ability to create it.
But yesterday did give the feminist in me one reason to celebrate. Sandwiched between photos of uteruses and pink pussy hats, my friend from Princeton posted this status to her Facebook: “tfw your prof returns your dean's date paper with thorough feedback the same week she had a baby and basically makes you realize you have absolutely no excuses for not doing work ever #myprofiswonderwoman.” I’d like to amend my earlier assertion about female superiority. A woman can do anything a man can do, but she can she can do it better, faster, and in high heels, while giving birth. It is in creating life, not destroying it, that we show our greatest strength. And if we can unite behind that, then we will be wonder women, indeed.
Love and Peace,
Solveig Gold is a senior in the classics department at Princeton University and a co-founder of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition.