Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States

By Myra Marx Ferree; William Anthony Gamson et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Representing Women's Claims

Since women are the only people who can experience the existential crisis of an unwanted pregnancy, it may seem self-evident that women have a special claim on the issue of abortion. Such claims, however, do not appear spontaneously and are not foreordained. Whether, when, and how gender claims are mobilized and made politically relevant is a matter of the discursive opportunities available, as well as the strategies and activities of specific actors in utilizing them. It may seem “natural” for women to have a distinctive position on abortion politics, but such positions grow from historically contingent mobilization processes that select gender as a relevant dimension for aggregating diverse interests and values (Solinger 1998).

Gender as a concept does not just mean women, or the social differences between women and men, but rather “gender is a constituitive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes and gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power” (Scott 1986, p. 1067). To define men and women as categories of people with different understandings and interests means to minimize both the similarities between genders and the considerable variances within each. The meaning of gender is shaped by culture, time period, social location, and the nature of the issue.

Even when gender is, in fact, shaping experiences in major ways, it may not be recognized as a meaningful category and its significance may be socially ignored (as in the United States in the 1950s). Using language that emphasizes gender, whether talking about women or men, helps to constitute women and men as politically salient groups, just as not talking about gender can be a way of obscuring women's interests and political disempowerment as well as facilitating alliances on other grounds, such as race or class. Political choices are involved

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