The Evolution of “My Body, My Choice”
Why other political agendas’ recycling of this phrase is overwhelmingly dangerous to the womxn’s rights movement.
By Lily Patterson
Image retrieved from Newsweek
An iconic tagline for feminists and activists across the globe, “My Body, My Choice” has packed a powerful punch in the fight for equality and, more specifically, womxn’s rights. Starting in the 1970s, the phrase was unofficially coined as a mantra belonging to the gender equality movement and was commonly heard at protests in a number of countries. However, around 50 years later, the tagline shouted proudly from the mouths of feminists is beginning to be twisted to fit a very different agenda. So what is the history of this phrase, and how can we foresee it changing in the near future?
Starting in the late 20th century, “My Body, My Choice” became words of empowerment and retaliation, particularly in the battle for reproductive rights and accessible abortions. In response to the oppression facing womxn and their reproductive power, feminists and protestors continue to use this phrase as a battle cry, an expression of the importance of bodily autonomy. Naturally, this response isn’t well-received by everyone, and is particularly opposed by pro-life supporters and government officials with anti-abortion agendas. As you can imagine, it isn’t exactly a popular mantra with sexists either. Regardless, “My Body, My Choice” continues to be an expression of the rights womxn deserve, and it is still consistently used in the battle for gender equality.
These words of strength have found their way around the world, and international chants for reproductive freedom and equality have rung proud. In a number of countries around the world, this tagline is met with brutal criticism. In recent months, womxn in Pakistan have been organizing marches and taking a stand against the injustices facing them in daily life. The phrase “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” (meaning “My Body, My Choice”) has made its home in the streets of Pakistan as activists demanding equality practically shout it from the rooftops. In Pakistan, this mantra holds true to its original intentions and is utilized as a powerful retaliation to sexist societal ideals and the archaic patriarchy. Other countries, including Zambia, England, Austria, Turkey, and more, have recently followed suit in chanting “My Body My Choice” as a bold statement about reproductive rights, gender equality, and other feminist ideals. The original intention of this tagline is described by Rameeza Ahmed, a journalist who covered the marches happening in Pakistan. “Whether she chooses to follow a certain religion or whether she chooses to walk around proudly without any clothes, it is her right to do as she wants and nobody else has a right to prevent her from exercising her choice,” states Ahmed.
Despite the history of “My Body, My Choice” and its meaningful intention, recent political landscapes, particularly in the United States, have caused these words to morph into something else entirely. What are still considered to be feminist words of glory are now being used in completely contradictory agendas. Most often, these words are contorted to fit the agenda of anti-vaxxers and citizens against wearing masks in the middle of a global pandemic. “How you react to those words determine which side of any of those debates you are on,” says journalist and bioethics expert Kyle Munkittrick.
But if it's just a four word catchphrase, why is it a big deal if other groups are starting to chant it too?
First of all, people against basic healthcare and others who have recycled this phrase to move their agenda are harming the original feminist origins of the mantra. Instead of being a meaningful statement in the war over reproductive rights, it is being used by primarily alt-right groups protesting wearing masks and vaccines for children. The slogan itself could begin to hold less meaning when it’s shouted at feminist marches, causing it to have less of an effect on government officials and the gender equality movement’s opposition. This slogan hijacking is also problematic because it mocks the feminist movement and takes attention away from the real issues that “My Body, My Choice” addresses.
Instead of being used in a fight against sexual assault, it’s being used as an excuse for parents not to vaccinate their children. Instead of making a statement about abortion rights and reproductive freedoms, it’s shouted by citizens against wearing life-saving masks. The attention is inevitably pulled away from the real gender inequality issues at hand, and instead shines the limelight on absurd protests calling for something completely different.
“A core part of that has always been the co-opting of messages and symbols of social justice movements,” says author Ilyse Hogue in regards to how certain political groups are taking over other movement’s rallying cries for their own gain. “These bad actors weaponize disinformation every chance they get in order to push their ideology and advance their dangerous agenda—no matter the costs,” she adds. These people protesting stay at home orders and healthcare options (like vaccines or wearing masks) are stealing a slogan meant for equality and gender justice in order to not only change the tagline’s meaning, but to also mock the feminist movement and the real empowerment that these four words can bring.
While it’s normal for phrases and their meanings to evolve over time, at a certain point it becomes dangerous for once-impactful words to be twisted into something else entirely. “My Body, My Choice” is a seemingly simple but incredibly important set of words in the fight for gender equality, and it needs to remain as such.
Written by writer Lily Patterson