The latest “Saturday Night Live” featured a skit about formerly famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony that backhandedly explains why so many women, particularly millennials, just aren’t sure what’s in feminism for us anymore.
Here’s an embed, but it’s a dull skit, so I’ll summarize below.
Five ladies conclude their tour of Anthony’s historic home, then conjure her up in a giggly séance. After OMGing for five seconds over, like, meeting “Susan B,” the ladies quickly get bored and spend the remainder of the skit ignoring the woman who pushed for freedoms they now obviously take for granted. They argue over pedantries: which apps or friends to use to transport themselves home and get burgers on the way.
Anthony desperately tries to engage them by calling attention to some of her ideas and artifacts. No dice. Suffragettes are, like, so totally yesteryear. Thanks for everything, Susan B., but women don’t need you anymore. The last line in the skit is Anthony shrieking “A woman is just as good as a man. And abortion is murder!”
The message is somewhat hard to divine given the lackluster acting and dearth of humor. But it seems to mean to telegraph that, just as Susan B. Anthony is so last-century, so is the idea that abortion is murder. In other words, it’s chronological snobbery poorly disguised as humor.
In a backhanded way, however, the skit also lays its finger on a core problem with today’s women’s rights activists, and what’s become of the legacy Susan B. Anthony left women. Here we have women taking for granted ideas Anthony spent her life promoting in an uncertain environment with lots of opposition: Men aren’t the only ones who can govern themselves. Ideas are powerful, and so is fighting for what you believe is right. Yet they utterly refuse to consider another of her key ideas, one that has lasted yet another century and which millions of women find deeply compelling — the claim that abortion is murder.
Unconsciously, the skit seems to say: Susan B. Anthony spent her life kicking butt so these ladies could get petty, uninteresting, and lazy? Look how far we’ve come, huh. What are Western women doing with all the freedoms we have now, thanks to Anthony and others, that we didn’t before (and that millions of women the world over still don’t have)? Arguing about how many cabs to take home while ignoring an inspiring, challenging intellectual legacy left to us by our foremothers. Yeah. I’d say that’s about right.
Not that the Women’s March Is Paying Attention
In fact, the women’s movement has gotten worse than banal. To women like me it is distasteful because Anthony’s legacy has become largely a cover for people who profit from killing other humans and selling their dissected body parts for profit. So much for human rights.
It may shock SNL writers, but the decline in women identifying themselves as feminists has directly coincided with leading feminists’ defenestration of pro-life women to obsess almost exclusively over abortion. Making abortion the core of the women’s rights movement isn’t helping, but at least SNL gets that there’s something funny going on.
The day after Donald Trump is inaugurated president, DC will feature the Women’s March on Washington, a protest that accuses Trump of “insult[ing], demoniz[ing], and threaten[ing] all of us.” Their mission statement says:
The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.
We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us.
Despite this rhetorical appeal to “stand together,” “defend the marginalized,” and support for women’s “intersecting identities,” after an Atlantic writer noted that some pro-life women were joining the march the organizers identified and banned these would-be supporters. This even after the Atlantic piece reported affirming statements from march co-chair Bob Bland, who said attendees define their own reasons for attending:
While the organizers’ general position is that ‘a woman’s body is a woman’s body is a woman’s body,’ she [sic] said, ‘I can’t tell you how many emails I received from women who identify as conservative who are marching with us on January 21 because there are so many other concerns.’ In all the emails they’ve gotten—close to 1 million, Bland estimated—women have expressed worries about cultural misogyny, the state of education and health care, and a desire for their own daughters to be able to lead.
Bland also told The Atlantic “she’ll be glad to see women of all backgrounds show up. ‘That’s what’s really powerful about this: It’s centering voices that have previously been either marginalized or silenced,’ she said. ‘I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to walk together with my sisters and brothers.’”
Well, between 4 a.m. January 16 when the Atlantic article published and 4 p.m, the same day, something changed, Bland’s sisterly love comments notwithstanding. New Wave Feminists, a pro-life organization in Texas (to which, disclosure, I have donated a far-too-small amount of money in return for hours of uproarious laughter at their YouTube videos) is no longer an event partner. Presumably New Wave Feminists and pro-life women in general can still make the Women’s March look good by boosting their numbers and thus media coverage, but the march isn’t interested in reciprocity.
WHAT DO WE WANT? A diverse coalition of women to oppose Trump! WHEN DO WE WANT IT? Right after we purge everyone who disagrees on anything!
— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) January 17, 2017
— James Taranto (@jamestaranto) January 16, 2017
This is another key problem of today’s women’s rights movement: they say “affirming,” “open,” and “intersectional.” They say they love women, that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” But then they shun, ban, and marginalize women. Don’t think other women haven’t noticed.
Intersectional feminism does not include a pro-life agenda. That's not how it works! The right to choose is a fundamental part of feminism.
— roxane gay (@rgay) January 16, 2017
Women's March in a gif pic.twitter.com/GqgyrvOMnl
— Amy (@AmyOtto8) January 16, 2017