Do women of color organizations working on reproductive rights
issues work well together?
Loretta Ross: Women of color come together as the universal outsiders, which gives
a sense of unity. At the same time, tensions don’t just disappear.
As women of color we can practice oppression upon one another and
sometimes I think we make a hierarchy of oppressions, trying to
outdo each other to prove which group is the biggest victim.
I’m also struck how many of these organizations are run by
lesbians who remain closeted. These organizations aren’t dealing
with homophobia. It’s telling how hard they think the issue
would be to deal with, because powerful women put themselves on
the line for many issues but keep that one private. And class? No
one deals with class issues.
you speak to the differences between the mainstream reproductive
rights groups run by white women and the women of color groups?
They aren’t all the same as one another. NOW is a more multi-issue
organization than NARAL is. After the march, all four of the mainstream
organizations— NOW, NARAL, Feminist Majority and Planned Parenthood—
are apparently considering a broadening of their frameworks from
abortion rights to reproductive justice. We’ll see what happens.
MMO: The big march
experienced an in-house or in-the-movement struggle before the major
organizing got going. Could you describe what happened?
Loretta Ross: Originally,
it was the big four organizations deciding to do a march and they
called it the “March for Freedom of Choice.” Within
these organizations, there were many people protesting the narrow
focus on choice. The four groups came to Sister Song’s conference
in November of 2003. Sister Song is the organization that’s
created a national coalition of women of color groups organizing
on reproductive rights issues. At the conference, Sister Song’s
coalition demanded that the march’s name be changed to demonstrate
a broader commitment to reproductive justice. I don’t want
to have Sister Song or women of color take all the credit because,
as I said, there were people within those organizations arguing
for this too. Two weeks later, the march’s name was changed
to “March for Women’s Lives.” The organizing took
off. Over a million people were there, I’m sure.
MMO: Do you think that
the march’s redefinition of itself from choice to reproductive
justice means that women of color organizations will redefine the
white women’s abortion rights-driven movement?
Marlene Fried: White women have for so long feared the dissolution of abortion
rights, even from within the movement because abortion rights have
become so profoundly compromised. Women of color have the belief
and confidence to create a more holistic picture of reproductive
justice. That’s inspiring. When the Planned Parenthood signs
at the march had the words “reproductive justice” that
was exciting. Those words represent motion. I’m not sure what
will happen, over time.
What’s clear is that many women of color groups are doing
grassroots, in-the-trenches social justice work, such as anti-poverty
work. There’s a tremendous amount to be learned from this
work, which isn’t theoretical. Grassroots organizing like
this is very tangible. We all have to do this work, which focuses
on access. It’s politically important work and it’s
necessary work. To reshape the reproductive rights movement means
that abortion rights activists will have to embrace a wider variety
of issues and to see how those connect to their own.
MMO: Can you speculate
about why feminism has become such a dirty word?
Loretta Ross: I always say, “Don’t flatten women out to their wombs.”
For one thing, this is exactly what the right does by seizing upon
fertile women and ignoring the rest. They make it all about fertility.
Feminism is so inclusive; it takes on all issues. For instance,
how can you talk about anything in America right now and not address
the war in Iraq?
Feminism is stigmatized.
I think that for white women the religious right makes a greater
impact than for women of color, who aren’t so influenced by
the religious right. The
Center for Advancement of Women did a study that showed more
women of color consider themselves feminists than used to while
at the same time white women are more reluctant to call themselves
feminists. When feminism was “The Feminine Mystique,”
it didn’t speak to women of color. Women of color have never
been housewives; women of color have always worked. To hear women
whining about having to work is a symptom of the owning class, nothing
to do with the reality of most women of color’s lives. One
of the major goals of the feminist movement is to make better conditions
for women to be mothers. I always saw it that way. The feminist
movement is talking about that more now, about women and work and