Can Feminists Dialogue?

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

To what do we attribute the public bickering of the women of Planned Parenthood and the women of Susan G. Komen over effective breast cancer funding?  Why did the women involved come across as emotional and unable to dialogue over differences?  I suggest that two trends are clashing and I ask, 

“Can women with deep differences in
perspective dialogue respectfully?” 


In today’s post, I offer:  Trend One, Progressive Feminists.  Tomorrow, I’ll post Trend Two, New Feminists.  I invite you to consider both descriptions, call me out (nicely please) and consider whether these two groups of feminists can dialogue. 

Trend One, Progressive Feminists.  Often demanders of free contraception and morning after pills for all menstruating females and unrestricted abortion without parental consent (including late term and for sex selection), these women are intensely earnest and often privileged.  They fight along the same battle lines drawn by Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan.  Trend One women favor terms like “inner raging feminist,” “pissed off” and “outraged.” 

Trend One is well represented by “Kelly” who blogged recently in response to opposition to the HHS contraception mandate: 

“You all can kiss my healthy, birth-controlled, educated, middle-class, well-traveled ass.” 

To explain, this blogger – a veteran Foreign Service spouse – featured her maid, an African woman who cared for her children and cleaned her house during her husband’s 1990s post in Zambia. Kelly offered her employee “Beatrice” as a poster child for her personal opinions on contraception which, Kelly passionately believes, is a woman’s entitlement in order to avoid the nightmarish existence of the “Beatrices” of the world.  Kelly posted a photograph of Beatrice embracing a little, blond haired white child (presumably Kelly’s child) and described Beatrice to her worldwide audience as follows.

Beatrice was about 35 at the time she worked for me, and had eight children, which was actually below the average per woman for Zambia at that time. But hey, she still had a good ten years to work on that. She was always tired, slightly stooped, and walked like a woman twenty years older than she was. Her breasts were long, wrinkled tubes that she pulled out of her blouse and literally unrolled when her youngest needed to nurse.


According to Kelly, it was Beatrice’s uncontracepted brood that brought Beatrice to this state, not caring for Kelly’s children or cleaning house for United States Foreign Service spouses.  Like many Trend One women, Kelly earnestly believes that she represents all women.   As Kelly put it, “we have just about all known at least one “Beatrice.” and “I have not yet heard one woman of my acquaintance express [a point of view that opposes the HHS mandate or agrees that the HHS mandate implicates religious freedom.]   Not one.  Because we know that contraception is as basic to health care as childhood immunizations.”

From Kelly’s perspective, the push back on the HHS mandate reflects the “plot” of a persistent men’s collective of “jerks and dinosaurs” and “Sexist Porkers” who are “probably terrified of women. . . . All I can say,“ Kelly wrote on behalf of her and her friends, “is I KNOW these guys.  As women, we’ve all met a few.“  Kelly points to Rick Santorum as an example of this male collective of “Mad Men,” mentioning only in passing, and unnamed, his wife and mother of seven children.  Kelly summarized, “I am deeply suspicious when a sanctimonious twerp like him starts talking about birth control being “unhealthy.”  

I want to say two things about Trend One women here, and then continue to Trend Two, New Feminists tomorrow.  First, I understand Kelly’s pointed point of view.  We educated, privileged American women have all  interacted with women who we conclude have not enjoyed an education, range of choice and options that allow them to hold primary what most women hold dear.  Second, I do not understand the judgmental exposure of personal detail to the entire world of a woman who has served so personally in order to make a political point – has any male ever publicized the state of his male employee’s penis to make a political point?  Are we as women to sacrifice compassion, sisterhood, dialogue and context upon the altar of our own political opinion?  What is more important?  ~our personal political opinion or our sisterhood? 

More tomorrow . . .  


5 thoughts on “Can Feminists Dialogue?

  1. The answer appears to be in the post. If Kelly can not have a conversation with Beatrice and truly appreciate what Beatrice appreciates in her life, then Kelly is simply making value judgements about Beatrice based on her mindset. Her observation is rather colonial. I travel abroad a lot and have employed domestic help. The best we can do is show proper respect to eachother and pay an honest wage and hope for a honest job. I can not insinuate myself into the other person’s life, I do not walk in their shoes. I do know, though, they do it for their family. Asking them about their family, is the one conversation that elicits the most enthusiastic response. They work to give their children the best that they can obtain given their circumstances. The physical description of Beatrice was tastless and unneccesary.

  2. If history repeats itself and you look at the transition from First to Second Wave Feminism in the early half of the 1900’s, I’d expect to not see much in way of dialogue, but more in the direction of hostile takeover of public opinion on women’s issues.

    Second Wavers were ruthless in assuming the achievements of the Suffragists, but throwing out many of their moral and ideological convictions along the way in order to establish their new brand of women’s empowerment, or Feminism. If we want to overcome Second Wave positions, I say we do what they proved works; call their movement’s ideas antiquated, ill-informed, and then claim our ideas and achievements grow out of their spirit of female empowerment. Create a false sense of camaraderie and claim that women like Margaret Sanger and Betty Frieden unfortunately were before their time and that if they had been born 50-75 years later with the medical technology and knowledge we now have, they would have never held their convictions.

    Ok, so maybe that would never work with how divided we are and how strong that movement still is, but it did work once already. So maybe we should give it a shot?

    • That’s interesting! I think that Fox-Genovese, however, thought that respectful dialogue, reasoned dialogue, offered the most promise. All feminists, ultimately, care about women and their bodies. No one, for example, wants their daughter to get breast cancer. So, if we can continue to pressure disclosure of the actual, real impact of the anti-fertility technologies aimed at young women, we can find some common ground. I believe that, once we find some common ground, even if it’s tiny, we can get a foothold and help each other to a firmer ground for much needed discussion.

  3. How much do you actually know about Kelly? Have you read her blog other than this post? How many third world countries have you lived in? Did you ever consider the possibility that she knew Beatrice far better than you could? That Beatrice’s employment might have saved her family from even more extreme poverty? I didn’t think so.

    Love that you *know* Kelly so well from one post. Try reading a bit more and actually getting to know her before you throw that first stone….

    • Kate, Thank you for your comment. I do not know Kelly and have only followed her blog on the issue regarding the HHS contraception mandate. I did not intend to cast a stone. I emailed her with the post ahead of time and I tried to be fair in quoting her point of view. Since I was once a Progressive Feminists (and am well educated and travelled though not through the Foreign Service), I could easily relate to the opinions she expressed. I think many Trend One Progressive Feminists share both the opinion and the scorn toward anyone who disagrees. I hope that we can all consider each other’s points of view respectfully.