Book Review: A book every feminist should read
Book Review: A book every feminist should read
The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism Is Betraying Women by Fiorella Nash, Ignatius Press, 234pp, £14.99
reviewed by Pia Matthews
Fiorella Nash’s book The Abolition of Woman is a passionate, punchy and honest account of being a pro-life feminist in the twenty-first century. Nash’s central thesis is that feminism has been high-jacked by a radical strand that has itself become oppressive, bullying and intolerant of other feminine voices. This radicalised intolerant feminism shows itself particularly in the abortion debates where women who champion female empowerment yet who also support the inalienable right to life of every human being are in effect shouted down.
Call for a new feminism
At the beginning of the book Nash describes in some detail her experience of being discriminated against and at times vilified for her views. Certainly it would be easy for Nash merely to offer her side of this debate in order to vindicate her own version of feminism. However, Nash does in fact claim more. As a result of her extensive research over more than ten years Nash provides ample evidence of areas where this radical feminism has simply failed to speak out on behalf of women. Her book then is not purely an apologetic for a certain kind of alternative feminism. Rather the book challenges the prevailing notion of feminism and, finding it lacking, calls for a new feminism that can name and challenge injustices to women.
Abortion oppressing women
The book’s provocative title no doubt echoes The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. Lewis argued that the denial of natural law and of objective values would have dire consequences for humanity. In a similar way Nash argues that radical feminism has not only severed its roots and lost its way, but it has also become obsessed with choice for sexual relationships without ‘strings attached’. After all, as Nash points out, the early feminists saw abortion as a means of oppressing women. Nevertheless, Nash does not think that the feminist cause should be abandoned. Instead she argues that authentic feminism should be recovered and be put to work by both women and men, ‘shoulder to shoulder’, to challenge injustice to women and girls.
Going beyond the abortion debate, Nash is particularly concerned by the way in whichcertain policies masquerade as feminism.
She draws attention to funding for reproductive health that includes funding for abortion, the growing prevalence of surrogacy, the IVF industry, the promotion of prostitution as a woman’s choice of profession, and the rise of abortion on the grounds of sex selection and discrimination against female children. She meticulously explains the ways in which these policies fail women and seeks to debunk some of the myths that feed these policies.
On the issue of abortion Nash points tothe fabrication of data that shored up the argument that legal abortion was necessary to curb back-street abortions, the covering up of evidence about the physical and psychological cost of abortion to women, manipulation of women under the guise of choice, the closing down of scientific debate and the adoption of narratives that promote abortion as legal, safe and liberalising. She sees abortion policies as ultimately misogynist since they portray abortion as a form of protection for feeble, vulnerable and weak women who can see no alternative. On the issue of artificial reproductive technologies Nash details the commodification of not only women’s eggs and embryos but also of the female body. In this industry where in fact the success rates are low, the risks to women appear to be brushed aside and the ethical implications ignored.
On the issue of sex discrimination, Nash discusses gendercide, the deliberate killing of a human being on the grounds of his or her sex, and details evidence from countries such as China and India. She further indicates that countries such as the UK may be in denial of a reality that is already happening through hidden sex selection in IVF. Again on the issue of abortion Nash describes the way in which abortion has been falsely portrayed as an answer to maternal mortality. Nash also points to other injustices done to women that radical feminism has failed to challenge such as rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, prostitution, trafficking and the way in which some women are treated as sex objects. Her treatment of arguments related to bodily integrity are concise and to the point.
Passion and drive
Nash explains that her book developed from a series of her lectures and at times this is evident. Nevertheless, she uses a wide breadth of media reporting, story and up-to-date information to anchor her arguments. At times and for some readers Nash’s style may come across as strident and some of the accounts are graphic. However, that perhaps is an indication of her passion and her drive. In her critique of radical feminism Nash does present the alternatives and she shows a sensitivity to the difficulties that many women face. Perhaps her next project could be to develop this further. That said, The Abolition of Woman is direct, clear, challenging and a book every feminist should read.
Dr Pia Matthews lectures at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and St John’s Seminary, Wonersh.