Choose Life at Yale, Yale’s undergraduate pro-life organization, recently applied to be a residence group at the Women’s Center. The application proved to be a catalyst for conversation between CLAY and the Women’s Center on an issue that desperately needs attention on campus: the lack of support for pregnant women at Yale. This conversation is an exciting step forward. But by refusing to admit CLAY as a residence group, the Yale Women’s Center undermined the prospect for successful cooperative action, fundamentally hindering the feminist effort.
First, in rejecting CLAY, the Women’s Center hinders its mission to “seek to improve the lives of Yale and New Haven women.” This mission can only be accomplished by bringing unlikely feminists into the fold of the feminist movement. In general, the Women’s Center recognizes this fact. Yale Men Against Rape is an example of a current residence group whose members are not stereotypical feminists. By uniting them under the same umbrella their joint work has been more effective.
Like Yale Men Against Rape, CLAY is a non-stereotypical feminist group that should also be supported under the Women’s Center umbrella. CLAY is dedicated to improving the lives of women by making the choice of keeping a baby feasible through support and information. Few Yale women know how to find crisis pregnancy assistance, homes for children, day care centers and support on campus. Without this information, keeping a baby is difficult and stressful. Indeed, if a woman has no vision of the kind of support she could find, the choice to keep the baby is almost impossible.
Currently, Yale women lack the resources to make real choices. Not only do they lack information on crisis pregnancy resources, but they also lack the best intellectual and moral arguments on both sides. If the campus is hostile to that voice, at least the Women’s Center should be a place where women can consider the unconventional choice of carrying a child to term.
The Women’s Center should not hesitate to grant the appellation “feminist” to a group that seeks to remedy this situation. Instead, it reifies choice into an ideology that forces it to exclude pro-life groups from the joint project of improving the lives of women. It is not liberating to elevate the pro-choice convention to the status of an unquestioned truth. The Women’s Center is not living up to its name, or to the spirit of feminism.
In addition, the Women’s Center hurts the feminist movement by discouraging the silenced voices of pro-life women on campus. As expressed in their constitution, they themselves feel that, “one of the major themes of the Women’s Movement has always been to encourage previously silenced voices to speak and to assert the personal as political.” Because they mimic the framework of “grassroots politics,” residence groups were created to facilitate this encouragement: “Therefore, it is only fitting that one of the fundamental missions of the Yale Women’s Center be to provide a safe space and an open opportunity for such discussions to take place. It is in this spirit that the Women’s Center sponsors residence groups.”
It is exactly “in this spirit” that the Women’s Center should sponsor CLAY as a residence group. The pro-life women in CLAY face glass ceilings and tough choices as do all women. Like the women at the Women’s Center, they have theories about what can be done to improve the lives of women and energy to get it done. At least in the Women’s Center, their voices should be respected as much as those of pro-choice women. Under the umbrella of the Women’s Center, and within the “framework of a small group” such as CLAY, pro-life women could find the perfect place to develop their feminist voices.
Finally, by insisting that pro-life women cannot be feminists, the Women’s Center runs the risk of narrowing the appeal of feminism to the point of irrelevancy. A 2009 national Gallup poll found that 49 percent of women identify as pro-life while only 44 percent identify as pro-choice. No wonder the feminist movement has recently failed to be a national force — its abortion litmus test alienates nearly half of the women in the country. The Women’s Center should begin the process of resuscitating feminism by bringing feminists for life back into the fold.
I hope the Women’s Center reconsiders its rejection of CLAY, in order to help Yale women find the resources — material, intellectual and moral — to make the decision to carry a child to term a real possibility. Accepting CLAY as a Women’s Center Residence Group would invite a revival of the national feminist movement, encourage feminist voices and, most importantly, improve the lives of women.
Isabel Marin is a sophomore in Trumbull College and the women’s outreach coordinator of CLAY.