Hostname: page-component-546b4f848f-gfk6d Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-05-30T11:30:04.674Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Using a Feminist Paradigm (Intersectionality) to Study Conservative Women: The Case of Pro-life Activists in Italy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 June 2019

Martina Avanza*
University of Lausanne, Switzerland


This article builds on ethnographic research concerning the Italian pro-life movement and argues for the use of intersectionality theory in studying conservative women. The article suggests, first, that understanding conservative movements necessitates linking their political claims to the social identities of their activists, as would be the case for any other social movement (e.g., feminism). These social identities are as complex and intersectional as any other: a white, upper-class pro-life activist is no less intersectional than a black feminist from a poor background. Concomitantly, there is no unique feminism, but rather a plurality of feminisms, a diversity that intersectionality facilitates the identification of. The same is true for pro-life movements, but scholars tend to use the singular form to talk about conservatism; in this article, I explore the use of the plural to show that pro-life women do not constitute a monolithic group. On the contrary, these women are diverse in terms of their reproductive stories, their working status, and their class, race, and sexual practices, and this diversity translates into different ways of being pro-life. Second, recognizing this complexity does not suggest a natural link between feminism and conservatism. Alternatively, I suggest that a better understanding of conservative women can only be reached if they are studied on their own terms.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Special thanks to Karen Celis, Sarah Childs, Xavier Dunezat, Eléonore Lépinard, Camille Masclet, and Francesca Scrinzi for their insightful comments on various drafts of this article. My gratitude goes also to the members of the Berkeley Center for Right Wing Studies working group where I presented and discussed a version of this paper. Finally, I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the journal's editor in chief, Mary Caputi, for their work and very useful suggestions. The first stage of the fieldwork that allowed me to gather my initial data has been fund by the Bureau of Equal Opportunity of the University of Lausanne (Tremplin funding). I want to thank them here for their support.



Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1990. “The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power through Bedouin Women.” American Ethnologist 17 (1): 4155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Avanza, Martina. 2008. “Comment faire de l'ethnographie quand on n'aime pas ses indigènes? Une enquête au sein d'un mouvement xenophobe” [How can you do ethnography when you don't like your natives? Fieldwork within a xenophobic movement]. In Les politiques de l'enquête, eds. Fassin, Didier and Bensa, Alban. Paris: La Découverte, 4158.Google Scholar
Avanza, Martina. 2018. “Plea for an Emic Approach towards ‘Ugly Movements’: Lessons from the Divisions within the Italian Pro-life Movement.” Politics and Governance 6 (3): 112–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Avanza, Martina, Fillieule, Olivier, and Masclet, Camille. 2015. “Ethnographie du genre: Petit détour par les cuisines et suggestions d'accompagnement” [Gender and ethnography: A short detour through the internal kitchen and suggestions for garniture]. SociologieS, May 26. (accessed January 8, 2019).Google Scholar
Avanza, Martina, and Mattalucci, Claudia. 2013. “Femmes Pro-life: Parcours de militantes du Movimento per la Vita (Italie).” Presented at the General Conference of the French Sociological Association, September 2–5, Nantes.Google Scholar
Avishai, Orit, Gerber, Lynne, and Randles, Jennifer. 2012. “The Feminist Ethnographer's Dilemma: Reconciling Progressive Research Agendas with Fieldwork Realities.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 42 (4): 394426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bacchetta, Paola. 2002. “Hindu Nationalist Women Imagine Spatialities/Imagine Themselves: Reflections on Gender-Supplemental-Agency.” In Right-Wing Women: From Conservatives to Extremists around the World, eds. Bacchetta, Paola and Power, Margaret. New York: Routledge, 4355.Google Scholar
Bacchetta, Paola, and Power, Margaret, eds. 2002. Right-Wing Women: From Conservatives to Extremists around the World. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Bassel, Leah, and Lépinard, Eléonore. 2014. “Introduction to The Theory and Politics of Intersectionality in Comparative Perspective.” Politics & Gender 10 (1): 115–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bilge, Sirma. 2009. “Théorisation féministes de l'intersectionnalité” [Feminist theorization of intersectionality]. Diogène 1: 7088.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bilge, Sirma. 2010. “Beyond Subordination vs. Resistance: An Intersectional Approach to the Agency of Veiled Muslim Women.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 31 (1): 928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blee, Kathleen. 2002. Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Blee, Kathleen, and Deutsch, Sandra McGee, eds. 2012. Women of the Right: Comparisons and Interplay across Borders. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
Bracke, Sarah. 2008. “Conjugating the Modern/Religious, Conceptualizing Female Religious Agency. Contours of a ‘Post-secular’ Conjuncture.” Theory, Culture & Society 25 (6): 5167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Celis, Karen, and Childs, Sarah, eds. 2014. Gender, Conservatism and Political Representation. Colchester: ECPR Press.Google Scholar
Celis, Karen, and Childs, Sarah. 2018. “Introduction to the Special Issue on Gender and Conservatism.” Politics & Gender 14 (1): 14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chauvin, Sébastien, and Jaunait, Alexandre. 2012. “Représenter l'intersection: Les théories de l'intersectionnalité à l’épreuve des sciences sociales” [Representing the intersection: Social sciences testing of intersectionality theories]. Revue Française de Science Politique 62 (1): 520.Google Scholar
Chauvin, Sébastien, and Jaunait, Alexandre. 2015. “L'intersectionnalité contre l'intersection” [Intersectionality against intersection]. Raisons Politiques 58 (2): 5574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43: 1241–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
de Gasquet, Béatrice. 2015. “Que fait le féminisme au regard de l'ethnographe? La réflexivité sur le genre comme connaissance située” [What does feminism do the ethnographer's eye? Gendered reflexivity as situated knowledge]. SociologieS, May 26. (accessed January 8, 2019).Google Scholar
Della Sudda, Magali. 2016. “Par-delà le bien et le mal, la morale sexuelle en question chez les femmes catholiques” [Beyond good and evil: Catholic women discussing sexual morality]. Nouvelles Questions Féministes 35 (1): 82101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Delphy, Christine. 1977. The Main Enemy: A Materialistic Analysis of Women's Oppression. London: Women's Research and Resources Centre Publications.Google Scholar
Dworkin, Andrea. 1983. Right-Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females. London: Women's Press.Google Scholar
Gerami, Shahin, and Lehnerer, Melodye. 2001. “Women's Agency and Household Diplomacy: Negotiating Fundamentalism.” Gender & Society 15 (4): 556–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gerber, Lynne. 2008. “The Opposite of Gay: Nature, Creation and Queerish Ex-Gay Experiments.” Nova Religio 11 (4): 820.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ginsburg, Faye. 1989. Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Giorgi, Alberta. 2016. “Gender, Religion and Political Agency: Mapping the Field.” Revista Critica de Ciencias Sociais 110: 5172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Granberg, Donald. 1981. “The Abortion Activists.” Family Planning Perspectives 12 (5): 157–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haenfler, Ross, Johnson, Brett, and Jones, Ellis. 2012. “Lifestyle Movements: Exploring the Intersection of Lifestyle and Social Movements.” Social Movement Studies 11 (1): 120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hancock, Ange-Marie. 2007. “Intersectionality as a Normative and Empirical Paradigm.” Politics & Gender 3 (2): 248–54.Google Scholar
Haugeberg, Karissa. 2017. Women against Abortion: Inside the Largest Moral Reform Movement of the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hill Collins, Patricia. 1990. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
Jacoby, Kerry. 1998. Souls, Bodies, Spirits: The Drive to Abolish Abortion since 1973. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
Kelly, Kimberly. 2012. “In the Name of the Mother: Renegotiating Conservative Women's Authority in the Crisis Pregnancy Center Movement.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 38 (1): 203–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kergoat, Danièlle. 2000. “Division sexuelle du travail et rapports sociaux de sexe” [Sexual division of work and gendered relations]. In Dictionnaire critique du féminisme, eds. Laborie, Françoise, Le Doaré, Hélène, Senotier, Danièle, and Hirata, Helena. Paris: PUF, 3544.Google Scholar
Klatch, Rebecca. 1988. “Coalition and Conflict among Women of the New Right.” Signs 13 (4): 671–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kofoed, Jette. 2008. “Appropriate Pupilness: Social Categories Intersecting in School.” Childhood 15 (3): 415–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Luker, Kristin. 1984. Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Mattalucci, Claudia. 2012a. “Maternità immaginate: Le donne, il loro corpo e la vita nell'attivismo pro-life (Lombardia)” [Imagined motherhood: Women, their bodies, and life in pro-life activism (Lombardy)]. In Etnografie di genere: Immaginari, relazioni e mutamenti sociali, ed. Mattalucci, Claudia. Lungavilla (PV): Altravista, 37156.Google Scholar
Mattalucci, Claudia. 2012b. “Pro-life Activism, Abortion and Subjectivity before Birth: Discursive Practice and Anthropological Perspectives.” Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 3 (10): 109–18.Google Scholar
Mattalucci, Claudia. 2017. “Contesting Abortion Rights in Contemporary Italy.” In A Fragmented Landscape: Abortion Governance and Protest Logics in Europe, eds. De Zordo, Silvia, Mishtal, Johana, and Anton, Lorena. New York: Berghahn, 85102.Google Scholar
Maxwell, Carol. 2002. Pro-life Activists in America: Meaning, Motivation, and Direct Action. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Mazouz, Sarah. 2015. “Faire des différences: Ce que l'ethnographie nous apprend sur l'articulation des modes pluriels d'assignation” [Making differences : What ethnography can teach us about the intersection of modes of identification]. Raisons politiques 58 (2): 7589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mügge, Liza, Montoya, Celeste, Emejulu, Akwugo, and Weldon, S. Laurel. 2018. “Intersectionality and the Politics of Knowledge Production.” European Journal of Politics and Gender 1 (1–2): 1736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Munson, Ziad. 2008. The Making of Pro-life Activists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Passmore, Kevin. 2003. Women, Gender and Fascism in Europe, 1919–1945. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
Rinaldo, Rachel. 2014. “Pious and Critical: Muslim Women Activists and the Question of Agency.” Gender & Society 28 (6): 824–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schreiber, Ronnee. 2008. Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schreiber, Ronnee. 2013. “How Studying Ideological Diversity among Women Transforms Political Knowledge.” Politics & Gender 9 (4): 474–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schreiber, Ronnee. 2018. “Is There a Conservative Feminism? An Empirical Account.” Politics & Gender 14 (1): 5679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Snow, David. 2006. “Are There Really Awkward Movements or Only Awkward Research Relationships?Mobilization 11 (4): 495–98.Google Scholar
Staggenborg, Suzanne. 1987. “Life-Style Preferences and Social Movement Recruitment: Illustration from the Abortion Conflict.” Social Science Quarterly 68 (4): 779–97.Google Scholar
Staggenborg, Suzanne. 1991. The Pro-choice Movement: Organization and Activism in the Abortion Conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Tatli, Ahu, and Özbilgin, Mustafa. 2012. “An Emic Approach to Intersectional Study of Diversity at Work: A Bourdieuan Framing.” International Journal of Management Reviews 14 (2): 180200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
West, Candace and Fenstermaker, Sarah. 1993. “Power, Inequality, and the Accomplishment of Gender: An Ethnomethodological View.” In Theory on Gender/Feminism on Theory, ed. England, Paula. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 151–74.Google Scholar
Yuval-Davis, Nira. 2006. “Intersectionality and Feminist Politics.” European Journal of Women's Studies 13 (3): 193209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yuval-Davis, Nira. 2015. “Situated Intersectionality and Social Inequality.” Raisons Politiques 58 (2): 91100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zion-Waldoks, Tanya. 2015. “Politics of Devoted Resistance: Agency, Feminism, and Religion among Orthodox Agunah Activists in Israel.” Gender & Society 29 (1): 7397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar