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Susan B. Anthony List's 'Feminism': Not Fooling Anyone | The Nation

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Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti

Feminism, sexuality & social justice. With a sense of humor.

Susan B. Anthony List's 'Feminism': Not Fooling Anyone


Failed senatorial candidate and SBA beneficiary Todd Akin. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

A few years back, a women’s organization with a bad record engaging with young feminists decided to add on an event to their annual conference. It was a forum specifically for younger women, launched with painfully constructed slang: “We’ll be headin’ to Albany and hangin’ at the Crowne Plaza!” The tagline was even written in a graffiti-type font.

Anti-choice organizations’ efforts to present themselves as “pro-woman” give me a similar feeling of second-hand embarrassment—you wish someone would tell them how foolish they sound. But unlike the aforementioned well-meaning organization—who despite cringe-worthy language, works hard to improve women’s lot in life—anti-choice groups use feminist language to push an agenda that puts women’s health and lives in danger. It’s like if your mom tried to prove how cool she was to your friends by punching them in the face.

Leading the “pro-woman,” anti-choice charge is the Susan B. Anthony List—an organization that seeks to elect anti-choice men and women to office. Think of them as the bizarro EMILY’s List. Like its cohorts the Independent Women’s Forum and Feminists for Life, SBA List tries to shroud its radically conservative ideology in pro-woman rhetoric. Hence its name (though there’s no evidence that suffragist Susan B. Anthony was in favor of criminalizing abortion) and mission to prove that access to abortion is actually bad for women.

But a comprehensive report just released by NARAL Pro-Choice America shows just how thinly veiled the SBA List’s anti-feminism really is—no matter how many women-friendly slogans they use.

The organization stood by Todd Akin after his “legitimate rape” comments suggesting that women can’t get pregnant after rape, and said they “couldn’t agree more” with Richard Mourdouck, the GOP candidate for the Indiana Senate who said pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended to happen.” The organization also supported Rick Santorum’s presidential run with over half a million dollars—the man who said pregnancy after rape was a gift from God and that victims should just “make the best out of a bad situation.”

The SBA List, clearly expecting more anti-woman comments from their candidates, even organized a training program for politicians to help them avoid sounding crass and ignorant—even if their policies are just that.

It’s not just the people they support who are out of touch—the SBA List’s leadership is similarly retrograde. Marilyn Musgrave, the organization’s vice president of government affairs, voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act while serving in the Colorado Legislature and has said that legalizing same sex marriage would lead to “group marriage.” She even opposed adoption by same sex couples.

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, who tried to convince women that Virginia’s widely mocked ultrasound mandate was just “a matter of giving a woman more information,” strangely says that the abortion rate increases the more women use birth control. She’s also said, “the bottom line is that to lose the connection between sex and having children leads to problems.”

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This “bottom line” epitomizes how out of touch and antiquated the SBA List is. Ensuring that sex doesn’t always result in children is one of feminism’s greatest wins. Reliable birth control has freed women in a way that arguably no other modern invention has, but to SBA List, that’s too much freedom.

So maybe the SBA List and other conservative women’s organizations are pro-woman in a way—they’re just pro a version of womanhood that most of us left behind a long time ago. And even if they gussy it up in modern garb (the Suzy B blog!) it’s a version of “woman” that modern women are simply not willing to return to.

What happened to LGBT inclusion in comprehensive immigration reform? Read Aura Bogado’s take.

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