The Vital Role of Intersectional Language in the Future of the Democratic Party

by Maggie Bender

Like many college students, my laptop is plastered with stickers, the most prominent of which says “keep abortion safe and legal.” Noticing this sticker and the sentiment behind it, a friend asked me why I didn’t also have a sticker that says “pro-choice,” seeing as I was clearly of that mindset. Her question struck me as significant, especially because I know her to be a feminist and supporter of Hillary Clinton, a candidate frequently criticized for her 2016 campaign absence of intersectional language, particularly in regard to reproductive rights. The point of this blog post is not to offer additional criticism of Clinton, but to point out a major issue for her campaign that is also a major issue for the Democratic Party, even more so as we inch closer to the 2018 Midterms, and suggest a change of message.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 12.29.40 PMThe language of the Clinton campaign was remarkable in that it championed an intersectional approach to economic and social policy, a rhetorical choice that pushed the term into the spotlight of the political mainstream, introducing thousands of voters to a conceptual framework that will, with any hope, serve as the guiding principle of the Democratic Party’s future legislative agenda. However, critics accused her of branding her campaign as intersectional as an attempt to draw in socially conscientious young voters who have become familiar with the term through both the classroom and the computer, evidencing her continued use of the phrase “pro-choice” in her campaign speeches. If Clinton were truly intersectional, they argued, then she would be using the more comprehensive term “reproductive justice.”   

The term “pro-choice” is rejected by intersectional feminists for its connotations of privilege: for many women, it’s not a question of whether they will or will not choose to have an abortion, but if they will have access, economically and geographically, to an abortion provider. This is particularly true in Ohio, where, as of the Guttmacher Institute’s July 2017 report, “some 93% of Ohio counties had no clinics that provided abortions, and 56% of Ohio women lived in those counties.” Thus, to use a term based on the assumption of privilege appeared thoughtless to some voters. Further, seeing as the reproductive justice movement goes beyond choice, concerning itself with the environmental conditions under which a woman will birth and raise her child, the Clinton campaign’s use of one term over the other should not be reduced to a case of semantic squabbling–it is ideological, and it has profound implications on voters’ future decisions.

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Maggie is a senior at Miami University studying english literature, gender studies, and film studies

Looking ahead to 2018, the Democratic Party should take note of this issue within the Clinton campaign and strive to represent its platform, especially in regard to reproductive rights, in the most correct terms. Doing so will not only acknowledge the significant stake social progressives have in future election cycles, but also reflect the intersectional nature of today’s America.

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