Shulamith Firestone 1968

Shulamith Firestone 1968

On Abortion

Source: Notes From the First Year, a compilation of radical feminist speeches and writings printed by New York Radical Women in June 1968 and subsequently archived by Redstockings.

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I would like to address this speech to· those women, and there are few enough here, who had the guts to show up at this rally. There are many many more out there who could not make it. Many who are afraid to take a stand on an issue as important as their own self determination. Many who are terrified even to express support for a man who did more than merely support them, but a man who took the risks that they should have taken.

For Bill Baird now faces the absurd ten year jail sentence that really we women should have to face, if anyone must.

But I didn’t come to excoriate other women. For I must confess that even I after months of work in women’s liberation, bad my fears about coming out openly for free abortion. Before hundreds of people? Perhaps to be quoted? God, what would my father think? Let’s face it. Woman is scared shitless. And she has good reason to be! She has been told to shut up and stop talking a million times. On a higher level, when she expressed concern for personal relationships she is told haughtily that she is too subjective, too wrapped up in her own problems. If she dares to have a self, she is termed selfish, and unfeminine. If she dares to have an opinion, she is called shrewish and opinionated. She has been told to stay at home, where she belongs, and not to meddle in important affairs, to “leave the driving to us.” Now, how can we be surprised that this woman has· chosen to stay at home today? Oppressed, suppressed, depressed and repressed all her life, we can hardly now expect to find her here standing up for herself against that huge male power structure which has always put her down, the awesome authority of which she well knows.

How can we now expect that she be here, when that life-long intimidation in her is so deep-rooted that even if you put her in solitary for twenty years she wouldn’t dare to think un-kosher thoughts or to question her position in this society. For she has internalized its values, she has accepted, and indeed in many cases she has become, its low estimate of her human worth. But despite all this, the need for an abortion frequently starts a woman thinking. And let us not kid ourselves, it is not a distant Aunt who faced this problem. We ourselves do. And if by some accident, any of you women here at the rally have avoided it, you can count yourselves lucky or bless the pill. For you know as well as I that you are the exception and not the rule. Think about your female friends. · I'll bet you that those of them who have bad the problem outnumber those who haven’t.

So we have a young woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy; if she doesn’t act fast, she knows that nothing short of a miraculous miscarriage can save her from the frightening prospect of twenty years of unprepared-for childbearing, that will necessarily be, in this society, entirely on her shoulders.

In all good faith and trust she will approach her man first.. Shocking what she is likely to hear, and many do, is a complete denial, something on the order of “Hell, no, it ain’t mine.” lf she’s lucky, or higher class, he may choose to assume some responsibility: that is, he will send her to an illegal doctor, perhaps help her to scrape together some money if she has none. Sometimes he will grudgingly even marry her, in which case she will never hear the end of it. And if she doesn’t hear about it explicitly, she will have to be doubly grateful to him, reinforcing her already dependent position.

And if she is already married, and surprisingly, most women in this position are, her lot is not much better. She will be stuck with the full responsibility for rearing an unwanted child, but to rebel against this is to face grave personal danger, financial extortion, illegal action, blame and the resulting guilt feelings.

In all these cases the woman finds that even if the man helps her, he is helping her with HER problem, not THEIR problem, that in the end she is the one who must take the risks and pay the price for their mutual relationship with blood. And the same men exclude her from the lawmaking process which decides her fate! Think about it! How many women represent you in the law-making bodies of this country? The few that there are are not chosen as women, but as wives, wives of this or that man, or because of their reactionary politics. It is a grand convention of dogs deciding the ~ate of cats. And now the Blumenthal Bill comes around, providing loop-holes in the male law. So! Same dogs have decided that certain cats should be allowed to break their rules. Well, thanks. But, sir, we're getting tired of all this gratitude.

We're tired of having to feel grateful, like house servants glad that at least they are not the field hands out there picking cotton. Who gave you lawmakers the right to make us have to feel gratitude? Those bodies belong to us. We don’t have to appear in your courts proving our mental incompetence to you before w~ can avoid forced childbearing! We refuse to be your passive vessels becoming impregnated for the greater good of society. We want a society that exists for our good as well as yours! We are not just grease between men, links between generations, not just the mothers of sons and their future wives! We are tired of being pawns in a male power game. Tired of being bought and sold and traded and used to sell your deodorants and hair sprays.

In short, we are tired of paying for the sins of men. For I often wonder if we have even gone beyond the Old Testament in which, if a man took a girl in the field he could get off the hook easily by simply paying her father for her destroyed value.

No one ever asked her what she thought about it. She was nothing niore than a piece of damaged chattel then, and even now, over two thousand years later she is still only a piece of property, a commodity for the use of man. Even that unwanted child in her, that undeveloped life, is more important than the living woman who bears him.

So: we must say to those bishops and pompous lawmakers and self-righteous men, we will no longer be shoved around. We will no longer submit to your definitions of what we should or should not be or do to become truly feminine in your eyes. For unless we have a part in creating the laws which govern our fate, then we will refuse to follow those dictates and laws.

There was a wistful note at the end of Bill’s interview on WBAI. He said same thing ta the· effect that, who knows, perhaps some day women will really get angry. I thought about that. Because some of us, still very few, are getting angry. And we are getting angry now. I hope Bill will not have to wait for his Utopia quite so long as he thinks. I hope that it will be very soon when we approach him, en masse, strong, organized, conscious, and say: We sincerely thank you, Bill Baird, for your great sacrifice. You and people like you have helped us immensely in our struggle to become aware. And now, sooner than you predicted, your wish has come true. We are angry at last. So angry that we no longer need you to fight our fight.

Shulamith Firestone