Natalism is profoundly anti-feminist…

According to The Creation of Patriarchy, by Gerda Lerner, patriarchy began with the rise of agriculture, when women’s capacity to procreate became vital to the survival and flourishing of rooted communities. In essence, women’s bodies became first property of the community, and then, with marriage, property of their husbands. While you may agree or disagree with this theory, it’s hard to deny that the oppression of women has gone hand in hand with women’s capacity to procreate.

If we pursue this point, we may also observe that natalism has been used politically to justify women’s oppression, through nationalism and the need for more workers, more soldiers and more consumers. That the more a society needs children, the more women’s role of fulfilling motherhood is emphasized and enforced. Another fact which cannot fail to attract our attention is that partner violence is linked with unwanted pregnancies:

[A] compelling argument can be made of the indirect mechanism through which the climate of fear and control surrounding abusive relationships could limit women’s ability to control their fertility. Lack of fertility control can lead to unintended pregnancies, which are also associated with adverse outcomes for women’s and infant health, especially in developing countries. The association between intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy also suggests serious social effects spawned by a cycle of unintended childbearing in abusive households.

The ownership of women’s bodies, the enforcement of motherhood, and partner violence are all fundamental feminist issues. Therefore I think we can come to the conclusion that natalism is profoundly anti-feminist.

Natalists may reply that partner violence is not the way they want women to have children. But since natalist arguments typically ignore women’s and children’s well-being, it seems to me that such a reply would miss the point. Indeed, to posit the creation of children as a moral principle by itself entails opposing the well-being of women and children: the health and well-being of women who go through pregnancy and childbirth, the psychological health and well-being of women who must care for children whether or not they have any ability or will to do so, and the health and well-being of children who are either born compromised or who are destined to experience disease, hardships or poverty.

Note that the opposite is not true: antinatalism is not inherently feminist or anti-feminist. One antinatalist can see women as the main perpetrators of procreation, and therefore as the enemy. Another antinatalist can see women as the victims of procreation, and therefore see antinatalism not only as an ethical issue but also as a gender issue. These two views don’t necessarily contradict each other: a victim can also be a perpetrator, as we see for instance in internalized misogyny or internalized racism. But either way, I see all of us as victims of procreation, men and women, although women suffer more in its name than men. Most of us do internalize natalist propaganda and evaluations, and that is unfortunate, but it doesn’t in any way change the fact that we are all fundamentally victimized.

Given all the facts, it’s not surprising that second wave feminists (who were right about most things) thought that motherhood was a raw deal, and tried to attack the undeservedly high status of motherhood. Nowadays, the pressure on women is even greater because they’re supposed to both have a career and be mothers. So it is perhaps not that surprising that it’s men who want children more nowadays, although the percentage of acceptance for both genders is still very high:

Lauren is part of a growing cohort of women: those in their late 20s and early 30s who aren’t sure about — or are decidedly against — becoming mothers. In a nationally representative survey of single, childless people in 2011, more men than women said they wanted kids. (On the other hand, more women reported seeking independence in their relationships, personal space, interests, and hobbies.) A different poll from 2013 echoed those findings, with more than 80 percent of men saying they’d always wanted to be a father or at least thought they would be someday. Just 70 percent of women felt the same.

Women in general are starting to get a grasp of the problem, although they are still psychologically pressured to pursue the natalist party line. And men, well, have no reason to feel particularly responsible about it. After all, the procreation is done mostly for their benefit, not their wives’. Not to mention that men as a class aren’t particularly known for their sense of responsibility: just look at the most masculine institutions we have, sports teams, the military, the cops, which all not only lack any sense of responsibility (except for an abstract concept of “sportsmanship,” for sports teams), but glorify that fact.

16 thoughts on “Natalism is profoundly anti-feminist…

  1. unabashedcalabash February 22, 2016 at 12:29 Reply

    It’s true…in my experience, all of my boyfriends have wanted a baby with me far more than I with them (although my body–as evidenced by my dreams–did), and flippantly so too, as if they had no idea what that entailed. I have talked about this with my sister; we are both terrified of having our bodies colonized by alien babies threatening our health and very lives (and whose burgeoning lives we are also somehow responsible for, were we to do anything society deemed wrong); perhaps forever damaging our health and bodies, post-birth; and then colonizing our lives forever…on the other hand, there is the love and joy of having children. My sister has discussed adoption with her partner but there are as many issues with adoption as with surrogacy (babies bought from poor often third-world mothers or even stolen and sold to legitimate agencies who fabricate a trail of paperwork). This is so sad as there as so many children who need to be adopted, but out of fear of robbing some mother of her child some people might choose not to, for ethical reasons.

    Now I am in a relationship and pondering the idea of children again. Not being particularly careful, which I should know better at my age. I have no idea what to do…I am agnostic when it comes to this philosophy, like many of my generation (though there are plenty who say they are but secretly want children or fear regret later in life), always said maybe, if I met the right person. But it seems it should be a conscious choice and not an accident, which a lot of couples set out to make happen (it’s never an accident if you’re not using protection, it’s just willful ignorance). I suppose I need to think it over and talk about it with my partner (it would, of course, change my life forever–even more than his. Men can walk away from parenthood a lot more easily than women). And give our relationship more time to see if it is solid, too. It’s not something to rush into.

    I am so torn about this.

    • Francois Tremblay February 22, 2016 at 16:30 Reply

      Sorry I can’t provide any more help. I hope you find your way.

      • unabashedcalabash February 23, 2016 at 01:23 Reply

        Well, okay. It’s hard to convince someone else of anti-natalism. I had a long conversation with my dad about it today, from all sides. None of us (his children) yet have children, and he said he’d be fine if we didn’t. We talked about overpopulation, we talked about the hardships of the world and of living…I can’t entirely agree with you that it would be better not to be to avoid any suffering. I think there’s joy too, for most people (even if you can’t control your child’s outcome). It’s a gamble you’re taking without an unborn person’s consent, it’s true. But that’s what life is, that’s what the human race is. Take care.

        • Francois Tremblay February 23, 2016 at 03:49 Reply

          “It’s a gamble you’re taking without an unborn person’s consent, it’s true. But that’s what life is, that’s what the human race is.”

          That’s a pretty flippant thing to say about doing things without a person’s consent. I don’t want to be mean, but… anti-feminists could speak like this about other things.

  2. naut humon February 22, 2016 at 22:29 Reply

    Sorry, off topic and perhaps ignorant, but if you don’t mind, briefly as you will: “‘No future triumph or metamorphosis can justify the pitiful blighting of a human being against his will.’ Peter Zapffe”…What would you say is the role of the term ‘pitiful’ in that quote? Can you ever justify forcing harm(s) upon another for the “greater good”, or should not even the smallest pin prick be inflicted upon another against their will, no matter the cost to others? Thank you. By the way, I think your blog and online work is great. Thank you also for that. I hope your work is being archived by someone (other than the NSA).

    • Francois Tremblay February 23, 2016 at 01:30 Reply

      ““‘No future triumph or metamorphosis can justify the pitiful blighting of a human being against his will.’ Peter Zapffe”…What would you say is the role of the term ‘pitiful’ in that quote?”

      Well, it seems to reflect Zapffe’s opinion that the harms we inflict on each other are pitiful. I would have gone more for “absurd,” myself, but there’s plenty of room for disagreement.

      “Can you ever justify forcing harm(s) upon another for the “greater good”, or should not even the smallest pin prick be inflicted upon another against their will, no matter the cost to others?”

      This may answer your question:
      https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/on-the-delicate-issue-of-human-sacrifice/

      “Thank you. By the way, I think your blog and online work is great.”

      Thank you! I’m glad you like it!

  3. lady bug February 22, 2016 at 22:43 Reply

    great post. i lean hard toward the radical feminist position on things and the unquestioned natalism & pro-natalism i see in the movement does definitely bother me at times. all the talk abt systematic oppression in the world and yet i never hear a peep about thr topic of antinatalism or population control which is a huge driving force for the continued oppression and suffering of women and girls. if you know your daughters are being born into a world where they are treated as a lower caste, as a commodity, as a vessel to abuse and extract resources from, wouldn’t you want to prevent this by not bringing them into the world in the first place?

    • unabashedcalabash February 23, 2016 at 01:26 Reply

      Bleak.

      • Francois Tremblay February 23, 2016 at 01:51 Reply

        No, just realistic! Feminists have to come to terms with the fact that, if they have children, they are giving birth either to an oppressor or an oppressed.

        • unabashedcalabash February 23, 2016 at 03:24 Reply

          I’m not sure I believe that anymore. That’s dualism, black-and-white moralism. I think the human race CAN be better. Heterosexual relationships are always a struggle because of power dynamics, sure. But this can only change through an effort on the part of everyone to raise their children better (what you would call childism–since every effort to teach children anything is inevitably childism). I don’t think the human race is inevitably doomed. I am annoyed at the oppression of women because they are humanity’s greatest natural resource, yes. It would be nice for a woman to choose to be in control of her own decision to give birth–but there’s never any control again, once a new person is in the picture. Men need to step up. I would never have a child with a man who I thought wouldn’t.

          I am not and have never been willing to give up on men despite everything that I’ve been through and that they’ve done to me through no fault of my own. And I believe I’d believe that even if I were not straight (in fact, in some ways, I hate being straight, I feel so defensive all the time with people I want to love)–men are indoctrinated too, and if we can find a way to deprogram everyone–to radically restructure society, and the next generation (including in their ideas about “meritocracy” and money)–maybe we can do something worthwhile as a species.

          So no. I am ambiguously, ambivalently spiritual, and I’m not willing to give up. Yet.

          And don’t call me a bad feminist because of it. That’s not a very feminist-ally type thing to say.

          • Francois Tremblay February 23, 2016 at 03:50 Reply

            That’s great, I agree with you that things can change. But things are not going to change within our lifetime. Anyone who gives birth right now is still subjecting their children to become one or the other. Not sure what feminism has to do with it.

    • Francois Tremblay February 23, 2016 at 01:50 Reply

      I totally agree. Recently I saw a post on a tumblr about the qualms some women had about raising boys. My reply was that there is one simple solution, and that’s not having children. I understand this may sound a little callous for people who do not already know AN arguments or outlook.

      You can also make the same general sort of argument about environmentalism (about how having a child is the single worse thing you can do to the planet), religion (the Hell argument), and so on.

      • unabashedcalabash February 23, 2016 at 03:27 Reply

        We can raise both boys and girls better. Boys are not naturally oppressors, and girls are not naturally oppressed. These are constructs and we can overcome them.

  4. Alexandra Hanson-Harding May 5, 2016 at 19:05 Reply

    I love being a woman with a creative mind and a creating body that has given birth to human beings. It is a profound experience–perhaps the most singularly central act living beings can do, to create other human beings. Only women can make this happen, and therefore, I feel that I stand right at the center of humanity, powerful and whole, knowing the mysteries of creation and parental love from the very beginning. I have found it painful, humbling, deep, enriching, beautiful, meaningful, and important, and I am very glad I have not missed it. It makes me think that no woman is ordinary, because we have this incredible capacity. And whatever choice a woman makes about parenting is a deep and serious one, because each choice–having children or not–has its own set of gifts and sorrows that she must decide for herself based on her own circumstances.

    • Francois Tremblay May 5, 2016 at 21:39 Reply

      Well, I can say I’ve never had an apologist for motherhood come on here before and deliver me a sermon. Thanks, I guess.

      I’m not going to argue with your homily because it does not invite any response, but I have to say that doing something that any dumb cud-chewing animal can do does not make you not “ordinary.” What WOULD make you not ordinary would be doing something worthy of praise. Having a child is not one of those things.

    • Francois Tremblay May 5, 2016 at 21:41 Reply

      And it’s also fucking insulting, because your praising of “women’s choice” means you are spitting in the face of all those women who DIDN’T have a choice in the matter. Behind your pretty words is some pretty deep misogyny.

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