We strongly take issue with the Highlander’s coverage of this incident and the personal denunciations/mischaracterizations of students who chose to protest (and will continue to protest) the presence of anti-abortion groups on campus.
As a matter of public record, the group working with the Women’s Resource Center was invited to join a protest against “Students For Life.” The open invitation was swiftly met with strong denunciation, which among other things, claimed that protesting against Students For Life would be disrespectful to survivors of rape. A decision seemed to have been made that treated survivors as uniformly “triggered” by both the Students for Life display and the call to protest. The presumption that rape survivors speak with one voice is problematic, as is some of the ways in which “trigger warnings” are mobilized by some quarters of the feminist movement (see Jill Filipovic, “We’ve Gone Too Far with Trigger Warnings,” The Guardian, March 2014).
Rape survivors also supported and participated in the counter-protest against the message of “Students for Life.” To re-cap, we who protested clearly took on the crux of SFL’s message: their idea that something is inherently immoral about choosing to terminate a pregnancy, even in cases of rape. This is the same logic the anti-abortion movement has been harping on for decades, as more and more clinics are forced to close, and women and clinic staff are harassed and sometimes physically attacked by hateful religious fundamentalists. If it is true that November 11 was the first time Students For Life has been protested on a campus, as one of their national representatives claimed in your article, this is a sad state of affairs indeed.
On coat hangers: we did not invent this symbol. It was first wielded by the women’s liberation movement in the battle to attain the legal right to abortion. There is no reason why both men and women cannot take it up in resistance today. Before Roe v. Wade, 5,000 women a year died from botched abortions. In many states of this country, women are already being forced to “go back” to those days, as abortion has become all but inaccessible (especially for poor women), and they are trying to self-abort through dangerous means. Denying women the right to abortion is (like the rape culture in which a woman is raped every 12 seconds in this country) is a form of vicious patriarchal female enslavement. Simply stating this truth is not “lecturing.” Saying that we do not feel safe in a society where women are subordinated in this way is not “appropriating” anyone’s feelings, it is a statement of our feelings and a call to fight back.
The real question is, what should be the response of our generation to this urgent fork in the road we’ve reached over the right to abortion (not to mention a host of other systemic injustices)? What is it going to take to defeat this tide of attacks? We think a dose of boldness and audaciousness would serve the women’s movement, and the broader society, quite well. That said, the exchange we had with others about the coat hanger lasted about 15 seconds. First people willingly took them, then changed their minds. Some passionate statements were exchanged but nobody was personally harangued.
We’d like to point out that the counter-protest included several men and women. A person’s gender does not give them a monopoly on truth or falsehood.
The sentence saying Morosin “disagreed with the other protesters who suggested that the display was a trigger warning for sexual assault survivors” is misattributed. What we disagree with is the idea that a group who openly opposes abortion even in cases of rape, a group very connected to the whole anti abortion movement we’ve been speaking of, should somehow NOT be met with vocal protest. Notwithstanding SFL’s facade of merely “distributing information,” they are a political group deserving a political response. We are proud to have apparently started a trend of actively protesting Students for Life and we hope that continues to grow.
Finally, the Highlander chose a poor title for the article. It essentially promoted and printed gossip, while losing the bigger story: an anti-abortion group was met with broad opposition on campus, and the relations among those who totally oppose SFL’s message are both cooperative and contentious. This is not mainly about personalities, but in fact reflects an existing divide in the women’s liberation movement (or what remains of it). The approach that favors working in the legislative process, minimizing use of the very word “abortion,” etc. is by far the most visible section of today’s feminism, but other approaches exist. They have a strong historical precedent, and in our eyes, they are badly needed today.
Alessandro Morosin, Sociology graduate student
Stephanie Attar, Political Science graduate student