|Emma Watson at the United Nations, via CBS News|
Emma Watson. Who doesn’t love her? Emma Watson seems to be strong lady who has carried herself with poise and grace even whilst being in the spotlight. I love her acting, applaud her drive to get her university degree, and truly respect her quest to make a difference in this world by serving as the U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador. Needless to say, she has certainly always been at the top of my “celebrity girl crush” list! So when I started listening to her HeForShe speech at the U.N. headquarters, I was very excited and was nodding enthusiastically (watch/read the transcript here). But when she said the line, “…I should be able to make decisions about my own body,” my heart and excitement plummeted.
Now, in theory, that line could have many innocuous meanings. Decisions about one's body might include, for instance, the decision to abstain from sex until you feel you are ready—a serious international concern, given the startling number of child marriages. It might also refer to decisions about contraception, confidential mental health treatment, and even what clothing to wear. But in practice, "decisions about my body" is coded language for the dismemberment of unborn children.
Assuming she is referring to the legal right to abortion, I’m going to also assume that she does not realize that over 200 million girls are missing in the world due to legal abortion and infanticide, a phenomenon explored in depth in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. I’m not here to lecture you all on how I feel about the legality of abortion, but I firmly believe that gender equality can only be reached if we address what is occurring worldwide: prenatal sex-selection and female infanticide. Gender equality begins at conception, but on this, Ms. Watson not only has missed the mark, but has ignored what the anti-abortion feminists have been fighting for for years.
As Emma points out later in her speech, “…not all women have received the same rights that I have. In fact, statistically, very few have been." However, this statement doesn’t necessarily only cover inequalities in wages, education, and general respect for women. This especially rings true in countries such as China and India, whose regional birth sex ratios can reach discrepancies of ~120+ male births for every 100 female births. This skewed ratio of male to female births is not just seen in countries such as India and China where in some parts cultural traditions have made it preferable to have male children; it is seen in the US and the UK as well. Sex-selective abortion is currently illegal in the United Kingdom, where Emma calls home. Despite its illegality, studies have discovered a skewed birth sex ratio among the second children of some immigrant families in the UK. It is currently estimated that between 1,400 and 4,700 girls are missing from the UK.
On the other end, sex-selective abortion is legal in the majority of the states in the US, where a woman can get an abortion on-demand and for any reason. Unfortunately, prenatal gender discrimination is evident in the US. Forms of gender preference were shown in a 2011 Gallup poll where 40% of Americans reported that they would prefer a boy if only allowed one child, in contrast to the 28% who would prefer a girl, statistics that are shockingly similar to those found in 1941. This opens the door wide to sex-selective abortions that are still legal in 42 states. Also in the US, parents are allowed to choose embryos by sex through in vitro fertilization, an option that 40% of Americans believe is appropriate. This suggests once again that gender preference is a serious issue that ought to be addressed as IVF technology advances and abortion remains on-demand.
Now that being said, do I think that making sex-selective abortion and IVF sex selection illegal is (by itself) going to fix this issue? No, it’s much more complex than that, as shown by attempts to restrict sex-selective abortions in India. But after listening to Emma’s speech, I was left wondering why the “hard questions” like sex-selective abortion and female infanticide are frequently left out of feminist discussions. While her efforts are indeed commendable, discussions on the gender wage gap and gender stereotypes tend to be much more palatable than discussing why being a girl can mean a death sentence. Most of all, I want to see more “nontraditional” feminists—namely men and pro-lifers—step up, get involved, and talk about these uncomfortable issues and to push the boundaries of what it means to be a feminist. Using Emma’s words, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
At the end of the speech, Emma invites men to participate in the fight for female equality. But in her comment alluding to abortion rights, she has perhaps inadvertently excluded anti-abortion feminists from this “HeForShe” discussion for gender equality, exactly the opposite of what she claims her goal is: a united front. My fellow anti-abortion feminists and I desire the same things that Emma Watson states in her address. We fight for maternity leave, we fight to close the wage gap, we volunteer our time at domestic abuse shelters and pregnancy centers, and we spread awareness about gender discrimination across the world and close to home. We want females to have the same rights as males; but first, we have to let them be born.