Thomas ’15: A call for women’s activists

Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March is Women’s History Month. Events sponsored by the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center will be happening all month, recognizing past and present contributions and experiences of women worldwide. While these events represent a positive approach to the inclusion of women in academia, they remind me of what I perceive to be an unfortunate paucity of activism relating to women’s or gender issues on campus.

I came to Brown excited to get involved in what I presumed would be a vibrant feminist community on campus. But I have found myself disappointed by the lack of a powerful public voice of such a group. 

This is coming from someone who has actively attempted to seek out student organizations targeting feminist issues. While these groups exist and do good work, there needs to be more of a culture of support for their efforts, as well as greater visibility of feminist activism.

It has been my observation, though I hope I am mistaken, that a certain amount of ambivalence surrounds the terms “feminism” or “women’s issues.” Other facets of activism seem much more prevalent among the student body, such as queer issues or environmental sustainability.

I do not want to detract from the seriousness or necessity of other routes of advocacy, but we need to recognize that sex and gender equality are still very important issues that cannot be abandoned. The number of attacks on women’s rights – specifically reproductive rights – occurring on the national scene is atrocious and cannot go unchallenged.

The Virginia State General Assembly recently moved to pass a bill requiring a transvaginal ultrasound for all women seeking abortions. Due to significant public outcry, the measure has been changed to only require an external ultrasound rather than the more invasive transvaginal procedure. 

This type of legislation falls right in line with other outrageous attempts to deter women from having abortions, all of which have repercussions beyond the domain of reproductive rights. 

Currently, seven states require all women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. Of these, Texas is the only state that also requires the provider to display the image of the fetus to the women. The other six have generously afforded the women the freedom to turn away while undergoing a medically unnecessary procedure intended to guilt them into choosing not to abort. 

Before addressing the sickeningly paternalistic tone of these laws, note the hypocrisy of any proponent of these policies who also claims to be concerned with reducing health care spending. To require by law the same treatment of patients regardless of conditions or context is not conducive to proper medical utilization, nor does it allow an appropriate degree of privacy and autonomy for physician’s practices. As we are in the midst of trying desperately to cut health care costs, to whose benefit is it to require often-unnecessary tests and procedures?

Returning to the patriarchal overtones of such policies, it appears that the general notion that has seized the national dialogue on reproductive rights is that women cannot be trusted with their own decisions, and beyond this, that a fertile woman’s role is first that of an incubator, then of an individual. 

Consider laws cropping up in states like Georgia that would require investigations of the causes of miscarriages in order to determine if there was “human causation” on the part of the mother. Women found guilty of such “prenatal murder” will face criminal charges. 

Yes, that’s right, after going through the often very emotionally painful process of miscarrying, women will be investigated to see if they caused it. These procedures come as products of the new “Personhood Act” being proposed in several states including Oklahoma and Mississippi which would grant full rights of citizenship to a fertilized egg. In addition to making abortion illegal, the Personhood Act places limitations on availability of birth control as well as in vitro fertilization. 

Clearly, we have not shaken the need for dialogue about feminism, gender issues, women’s rights or whatever name you want to give it. 

We as university students are notorious for standing up for causes we are moved by and taking political action to bring about change. It would be a great loss to the spirit of liberal education to lose this essence of protest and critique from our campus. 

Given the current reversion to the Stone Age with regard to reproductive rights, it is imperative that we not forget the importance and necessity of activism within the realm of women’s rights.  



Leigh Thomas ’15 is from Irvington, New York. She can be reached at

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