by Laura Grossberndt
January 8, 2020
Michelle Williams made headlines with her acceptance speech at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. After accepting her prize for best performance by an actress in a limited series or motion picture made for television, Williams said she is “grateful to have lived at a moment in our society where choice exists.” She went on to declare that the award—and her career—would not have been possible “without employing a woman’s right to choose.”
When you put this [award] in someone’s hands, you’re acknowledging the choices that they make as an actor, moment by moment, scene by scene, day by day, but you’re also acknowledging the choices they make as a person, the education they pursued, the training they sought, the hours they put in.
I’m grateful for the acknowledgment of the choices I’ve made, and I’m also grateful to have lived at a moment in our society where choice exists because as women and as girls, things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice. I’ve tried my very best to live a life of my own making and not just a series of events that happened to me, but one that I can stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over—sometimes messy and scrawling, sometimes careful and precise, but one that I carved with my own hand. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose. To choose when to have my children and with whom. When I felt supported and able to balance our lives knowing as all mothers know that the scales must and will tip towards our children.
Williams may feel gratitude for the choices afforded to her, but she shouldn’t have even had to choose between career and children if she didn’t want to.
For many women, pregnancy can feel like a career death sentence, with the potential to jeopardize their self-identity, education, training, and hard work. Meanwhile, their male peers rarely must choose between having children and a career. Working women everywhere are justified to feel dismayed at this imbalance. But the alleged solution, that of “a woman’s right to choose,” is not as egalitarian and empowering as its proponents claim.
When we talk about a woman’s “right to choose,” rarely do we discuss what exactly is she choosing between—and why she can’t have both.
Consider the story of Susan Struck. She wanted to keep both her pregnancy and her job in the Air Force. But military regulations at the time said she couldn’t have both. Struck wanted to choose childbirth and place her child for adoption, but her superiors would not allow Struck to keep her job unless she got an abortion. This shouldn’t have been a choice Struck had to make. But in 1970, it was. Ruth Bader Ginsburg recognized the injustice of this choice and took up the case on Struck’s behalf. Ginsburg noted years later:
It was, I thought, the perfect first reproductive-choice case to come before the Court. The government was telling Captain Struck, ‘You cannot exercise your choice for childbirth unless you give up your chosen career.’ She had the choice of leaving the service or having an abortion, available to her on the military base pre-Roe v. Wade. She became pregnant in 1970, if I recall correctly. Susan Struck’s position was, […] ‘[The Air Force] cannot force me to give up my career if I make the choice for childbirth.’
She further commented:
Susan Struck was told by her commanding officer you have a choice: you can get an abortion or you can leave the service, because pregnancy was an automatic ground for discharge. Susan Struck said, I am Catholic. I will not have an abortion. But I will use only my accumulated leave time, I have made arrangements for adoption of the child. Nonetheless, her choice was, you get an abortion or you get out. That’s the reproductive choice case I wish had come to the Supreme Court first.
After becoming a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg reflected on her legal career and credited motherhood as a reason for her own success, rather than a hindrance:
When I started law school my daughter Jane was 14 months … I attributed my success in law school largely to Jane … I went to class at 8:30 AM … so I came home at 4:00 PM; that was children’s hour. It was a total break in my day … and children’s hours continued until Jane went to sleep. Then I was happy to go back to the books, so I felt each part of my life gave me respite from the other.
If Michelle Williams and other actresses like her think they need to have abortions to keep the careers they’ve worked so hard for, then it’s a somber indication of the cost of doing business in Hollywood. However, it shouldn’t be surprising. You don’t have to look any further than the #MeToo Movement to know that Hollywood has a long, ugly history of mistreating and exploiting women.
The lesson of #MeToo has been lost on Hollywood. Instead of making the entertainment industry more accommodating and respectful of women, it still demands its actresses submit and conform to a status quo shaped by and better suited to men. If Hollywood truly respected women, it wouldn’t exploit them as often as it stands accused of doing. If Hollywood truly respected women, it would value the children and families of its women. Instead, Hollywood insists that female bodies must perform like male bodies, leading its women to believe that they must choose between giving life to their children and having a career with which to support themselves. And after the women choose the career, Hollywood stands and applauds when these same women confess on awards stages to aborting their unborn children.
In her speech, Williams said she sought to carve out a life for herself with her own hand. But is that really what happened? Or is Hollywood’s handwriting all over her story? The scales may have tipped towards Williams’ children now, but not before Hollywood insisted that they tip towards her career first.
In addition, Williams said she felt ready to have a child when she “felt supported and able to balance our lives.” But what if Williams—and women everywhere—never had to worry about feeling supported? What if she knew her employer, family, friends, and community would be on her side and wouldn’t force her to choose? What if she knew there were health clinics and adoption agencies ready to help her should she need them (and there are)? Would she still think her abortion was necessary for her success?
Scientific advancements make an increasingly overwhelming case for life in the womb. The pro-abortion lobby is losing on that front, so they have fallen back on the argument for women’s autonomy. No woman should be robbed of her life choices and career opportunities, they say. But this is simultaneously a false and an unjust choice.
Why pit a woman against her children? Instead of expecting a woman to end her unborn child’s life for the sake of a career, we should make it easier for a woman to have both the child and the career (with which to support herself and her child). The most empowering thing for a woman is not “choice,” but instead not needing to choose at all—because she can have both.