Feminists for Life: A Misreading
Posted by Rosepixie on February 23, 2010
This is an ad from Feminists for Life, an anti-abortion group.
The text reads:
Another anti-choice fanatic
“Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own it has been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.” – Susan B. Anthony
The woman who fought for the right to vote also fought for the right to life. We proudly continue her legacy.
This is an interesting advocacy ad. It’s very insidious because it takes a figure we are taught to admire very much, presents a quote taken entirely out of context, and then interprets it exactly as it wants to for us, ignoring what the quote actually says and refers to. The hope is that we will be so busy thinking “wow, Susan B. Anthony thought this way, why don’t I?” that any misinterpretation of the quote itself will be completely overlooked.
So let’s look at that quote. It does mention unborn babies, but it doesn’t mention anything even related to abortion. See, one of Anthony’s big issues was mother’s rights because at the time, children belonged to the father. This meant that women had no say over what happened to their children if their husbands or lovers didn’t want them to. It also meant that in the event of a divorce, the father kept the children. This also meant that if a man got a woman he wasn’t married to pregnant, he could take the child as long as he was willing to admit the indiscretion. Anthony was working to change the laws that made that so. Women did the vast majority of the childrearing, so it seemed terribly unjust to her and to other women of the time that their children could be ripped away from them at a moment’s notice because a spouse got tired of them or died and willed the children to a sibling or something. When Anthony mentioned “unborn little ones”, she wasn’t referring to fetuses, she was referring to the children that women would have in the future. The future when children couldn’t be taken from their mothers because children belonged to fathers and not mothers.
While abortions absolutely did happen during Susan B. Anthony’s lifetime and it’s entirely conceivable she knew about it, I’d be shocked if she ever mentioned it. She was rather a prude and tended to avoid even giving a position on anything too controversial. I’m not sure she’d be too fond of being used as a spokeswoman for any campaign relating to reproductive rights, regardless of the position.
Quotes are great and I love seeing them in ads. They can ad a lot of credibility to an ad or a cause. But they need to be used in context. It’s not fair or right to take a quote and make it mean whatever you want it to mean. That makes me more suspicious of your campaign, not more likely to agree with you. If you’re either more concerned about swaying minds than being truthful or too lazy to do real research, you’re not dedicated enough to your cause to get me to agree with you.