Corvallis Pro-Abortion Rallies Showcase Need for Intersectional Feminism
Last Friday, Corvallis was one of numerous cities throughout the U.S. to, within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade, turn out in opposition to attacks on reproductive freedoms in the form of a protest. And it wasn’t the first time; during the first couple weeks of May, two separate protests had been organized when the now confirmed SCOTUS decision was leaked in a draft — one in front of the Benton County Courthouse on May 4, and a Bans Off Our Bodies march in front of the Oregon State University Memorial Union on May 14.
These rallies emerged several months after the Corvallis Women’s March that also took place in front of the courthouse on Oct. 2, 2021, which was primarily a response to Texas’ six-week abortion ban.
In typical fashion, some wore pink “pussy” hats, some donned red handmaid’s robes in reference to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and some carried signs with household slogans like “My Body, My Choice”; “I’m With Her”; “Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Rights”; etc.
Unfortunately, when it comes to feeling welcomed, heard, supported, and empowered, cisgender white women tend to be the priority.
Not Just A “Women’s Issue”
With much of the messaging at protests framing abortion bans and restrictions as attacks on women, they essentialize reproductive rights as a cisgender women’s issue — at the expense and erasure of trans men and transmasculine, nonbinary, intersex, and gender nonconforming people who have uteruses.
“It’s important for us to remember that reproductive rights span the spectrum of identities,” said Missy Kloos, a local protestor who attended the Oct. 2 rally. “Oftentimes that binary language
doesn’t allow people to feel like they have a say in the fight or that they belong. I think it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t specifically a women’s issue; it’s also a trans rights issue, and it’s everyone’s business to be in support of reproductive rights.”
One sign at the October march read, “If Men Could Get Pregnant, Abortion Would be Sacred.”
At the OSU campus rally, one read, “What If Men Could Get Pregnant?”
These statements disregard the reality that trans men and transmasculine people can, and do, get pregnant — playing into the harmful assumption that trans men are not real men.
Some trans and non-binary people in Corvallis have expressed feeling excluded and invisibilized by the local feminist community when it comes to conversations about reproductive rights, including Robin Weis, a local experimental installation artist.
“I will say as a transmasculine person the biggest issue I run into in the area is often associated with the cis gay community and with white feminists because there is a lack of transmasc visibility and understanding,” said Weis. “I am vocal about being FTM [female to male] in classes at OSU and talk about my concerns with my reproductive rights in conjunction with my identity and am often greeted with confusion because there is usually little to no dialogue about trans anatomy and its diversity.”
Weis initially wanted to join the Women’s March back in October, “but felt alienated by the associations of ‘pussy hats’ and trans-exclusionary language on signs and opted to avoid the downtown area” even though he lived close to the site of the protest.
“I feel a sincere lack of kinship with the feminist community locally because I am transmasc,” he said.
Though less prominent, there are some local cis activists who recognize the need to support, amplify, and make space for their trans and nonbinary friends and neighbors in these conversations, such as Megan Schuster, who attended the Friday protest with a sign that read, “People of all genders have abortions!”
“I have a lot of friends and people really close to me who are trans and non-binary and who still have uteruses, who still menstruate,” said Schuster. “I feel like they tend to be forgotten or kind of pushed to the shadows.”
“I do experience that a solid amount of the signage is fairly hetero- and cisnormative,” said Jess Hume, an OSU Photography major who attended the May 4 rally. “I have had similar conversations with a transmasculine friend who felt, in a way, excluded from a topic that still very much affects him. I feel that the more protests I attend in Corvallis, the more I see a bit of representation, but you do have to look harder for them.”
Max Darling, a transmasculine community member, suggested other ways that people can respond in this moment — starting with recognizing their own privilege and learning who will be most impacted, and who are being left behind.
“I have resonated with some trans people who have spoken out against the protest sign commonly seen, ‘If men could have abortions, they’d be at every ATM,’ when in fact trans men do get abortions,” said Darling. “The white woman thinking she’s clever for writing about men getting abortions at ATMs could instead make an impact by asking those most at risk [from abortion bans] what they need.”
An Intersectional Lens
In her book Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot, activist and cultural critic Mikki Kendall notes that abortion is an intersectional issue, and should be viewed with regard to systemic oppressions that both contribute to people choosing to have an abortion and that block access to — or safety from discrimination within — these services.
“When mainstream feminists don’t talk about the infrastructure that contributes to people aborting fetuses… it leaves ready-made space for those who would infringe on the right to choose,” she writes. “It is important for reproductive rights and reproductive justice frameworks to recognize that the choice to carry to term or to abort is heavily influenced by class, race, and other obstacles created by marginalization.”
Megan Swets, an OSU Master of Fine Arts student who attended the October Women’s March, agreed with this insight. “Treating [reproductive rights] as an intersectional issue requires that we look at all of the different intersections of identity,” she said. “Race, gender, beyond the gender binary, class — all of these things have an impact on how you’re able to access abortion.”
But for many who don’t experience these barriers, they remain largely invisible. One protestor at the October march claimed, “This was taken care of 50 years ago!” Another, “I’m disappointed that we changed things in the 1970s; now we have to do the same things over again.”
According to Planned Parenthood, however, the gains and protections promised by Roe have never been fully realized for people and communities who have historically experienced systemic obstacles to healthcare, including Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities; LGBTQ+ communities; people with disabilities; people who live in poverty; immigrants; incarcerated people; etc.
Likewise, pro-choice rhetoric, which primarily focuses on keeping abortion legal, tends to neglect the reality that even when abortion is legalized, many people are unable to afford or access the nearest clinics. MaKenna Pike, a community member who attended last Friday’s protest, highlighted this in her sign, which read, “Keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible”.
“With this issue in particular, the reason I highlight accessibility is because there’s low-income communities who are specifically marginalized, there’s communities of color who are specifically marginalized,” said Pike. She remembers a time when she was financially unstable and may not have been able to find a close clinic with accessible prices if she had needed an abortion. “But then you take into the fact that I’m a white woman, so for me there are less marginalized access points for me to get those services, so to be a person of color in a state where abortion is criminalized and then to have to drive all the way to [another state] is a completely unattainable idea. And even with my privilege as a white woman, I would not be able to make that journey, let alone the financial aspect of aftercare that comes with post-abortion procedures. It’s just such a multifaceted issue, and one where accessibility is definitely in play even prior to this lobbying.”
Erasing, Whitewashing Histories
In June of 1994, a group of Black women gathered in Chicago to start a grassroots movement that could effectively prioritize the needs and perspectives of their communities, inventing the concept of reproductive justice in the process. Naming themselves Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice — now a national women of color collective known as SisterSong — these women recognized that the mainstream women’s rights and pro-choice movements, led by and representing cis, middle-class, white women, neither met nor uplifted the needs and lived experiences of women of color, poor and unhoused women, disabled people, trans and gender-nonconforming people, or other marginalized groups disproportionately burdened by issues surrounding reproductive rights.
These rights, they note in their definition of reproductive justice, don’t just include the right to not have children, but also the right to raise children “in safe and sustainable communities.” These are communities that are envisioned as being free from pollution and fossil fuel extraction; poverty, gentrification, and displacement; family separation via immigration detention, deportation, incarceration, and the foster care system; police violence; food apartheid; lack of support networks; lack of comprehensive sex education for queer and trans youth; etc.
Such definitions don’t fit the predominant pro-choice or “women’s bodies” narratives, which tend to neglect the reality that the bodies of disabled people, immigrants, and women of color — particularly Black and Indigenous women — have been subjected to horrific reproductive violences in the U.S. for centuries, from disproportionately high rates of sexual assault, to forcibly separated children, to coerced sterilizations, to medical experimentation on reproductive organs.
Yet, as Kendall notes, despite how well-documented these assaults on marginalized bodies and their reproductive lives are, mainstream feminist narratives and concepts of reproductive rights often fail to engage with this ongoing history and its consequences.
Or, when white feminists who organize or attend pro-choice rallies do things like dress up as handmaids from Atwood’s novel — a story revolving around cis, able-bodied white women who are enslaved under a patriarchal society which forces them to be raped by and conceive children for their white commanders — as one protestor had done at the May 14 Corvallis protest, they claim a dystopian reality is coming which has already been lived by generations of Black women in the U.S. Consequently, marginalized women’s intergenerational traumas and resistance movements have become co-opted and whitewashed, and they themselves are erased from their own histories of reproductive violence and collective struggles for liberation.
“There’s a long history of sterilizing Black women, plus rape and sexual abuse towards Black women,” said Darling. “A lot of white feminists feel the shock of waking up to this horrible world that everyone else has been living in for a lot longer without shelter. So many people are just now experiencing the grief of learning what is really under the surface of American history, but none of this info is new.”
This Rage Is Not Fresh
Despite the dominant narratives currently on display, there are local activists, artists, mutual aid groups, and everyday community members who are pushing to cultivate more intersectional feminist spaces, conversations, and movements in Corvallis.
Jayden Dukes, a local queer artist and activist who participated in the Spontaneous Garbage pop-up earlier this month, creates artwork that focuses on the intersections of marginalized bodies, queerness, sexuality, and the expression of those identities. For their Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) solo exhibit, they displayed a photographic series depicting how society tends to view and interact with queer bodies.
“A part of this series was centered around reproductive justice for bodies who are often left out of the conversation,” said Dukes. “Reproductive rights as they pertain to ovulation, menstruation, and impregnation are not ‘women’ issues. People who have periods, pregnancies, abortions, and any other issues or operations as they pertain to having a uterus exist outside of gender binaries.”
Reptile Lovechild, a Corvallis-based folk punk band, will be hosting a benefit backyard show at noon on Monday, July 4, with local bands Skeleton Boy, Happy Front, and Ant Jello, proceeds for which will be donated to the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. The first flier that was created for the event described it as a “Women’s Rights Benefit Show”, but was updated to reflect that cis women aren’t the only group impacted by abortion bans and restrictions.
“We’ve come to the realization that this poster isn’t the most inclusive to the many people who are being affected by this,” reads a comment from the band on an Instagram post for the original flier. “So we’re gonna be changing this to a Reproductive Rights benefit… [and] keeping this post up in the spirit of accountability and doing better.”
Crucial to helping create a framework that will actively welcome and center historically excluded communities, Darling notes, is this level of willingness to learn and adjust one’s practice accordingly.
“All of this stuff that I believe on the subject of queer bodies is only because I had access to Black queer people’s academic work, and because I follow Black trans creatives engaging with a preexisting history,” said Darling. “Without access to the right information, it could just as easily be me writing a transphobic joke on a protest sign.”
Enacting effective change doesn’t come solely from organizing more inclusive protests, but engaging in direct action, building community solidarity and outreach, and supporting BIPOC- and LGBTQ-led support networks for reproductive justice and healthcare — which protests can serve as an avenue for.
“It’s good to see people flood out to protest, but for a lot of people this rage is not fresh, and going out to protest raises awareness but doesn’t provide a clear path to a change in consciousness,” said Darling. “That change comes through reading the work of Black queer scholars that move beyond white feminism, and figuring out what the most vulnerable people in your community need.”
Another protest is scheduled to take place in front of the Benton County Courthouse tomorrow, July 3, at 10:00 a.m. On Monday, a demonstration will take place at 10:30 a.m. on 1st St between SW Jefferson and SW Madison Ave; at 2:30 p.m., attendees will meet in front of the courthouse for a March for Reproductive Rights, which will begin at 3:00 p.m.
Hood Feminism can be special ordered at Grass Roots Books, located in downtown Corvallis at 227 SW 2nd St.