Although the connection between feminism and antinatalism has already been made (more notably in L’Art de Guillotiner les Procréateurs), it hasn’t really been explored in much depth. I wanted to expand on it somewhat and discuss more concrete arguments for what we can call feminist antinatalism, because I think it does deserve a category of its own.
I expect that many readers who are interested in antinatalism are not necessarily interested in feminism, so I should start by defining what I mean by feminism, because there are many different ideas out there of what feminism is about. By feminism I mean a movement by women to expose and eradicate the Patriarchy, the hierarchy by which men are superiors and women are inferiors (note that I am not saying they are actually superiors and inferiors in reality, only within the worldview propagated by the Patriarchy). I reject the view that the goal should be “gender equality” (I’ve already discussed why that’s meaningless). However, the fact that men and women are unequal, as a result of the Patriarchy, is a major fact worth talking about, as long as we understand that it is a consequence of the Patriarchy and not a brute fact.
Feminist antinatalism, following the other kinds of antinatalism, should argue that procreation is wrong based on specifically feminist premises. Based on this, I have identified five main ways in which one can argue a feminist antinatalist position. You may disagree with my classification or present new ones. We can quibble over what goes where. This is fine, and I make no claim that my way is the only way.
1. The historical case. As I’ve cursorily discussed before, the oppression of women and natalism have always gone hand in hand. I don’t feel I can really do justice to the history of this process, so I will, as always, refer interested readers to The Creation of Patriarchy, by Gerda Lerner. But basically, the upshot of this argument is that we cannot destroy the Patriarchy, and therefore the gender hierarchy, without also attacking natalist premises. The concept that women exist to perpetuate the species is deeply ingrained in most conceptions of gender that exist or have existed on this planet. There is no foreseeable way to advocate for women’s liberation without at the same time also arguing against natalism. Although this does not logically imply being an actual antinatalist, it does imply that procreation is wrong to some degree.
Furthermore, pushing for procreation makes women as a class dependent on men for genetic material, for resources, for support. This is contrary to the need for the kind of physical and intellectual independence that could emancipate women.
As I’ve said before, most antinatalists are not feminists. But antinatalists are in a unique position of actually being able to respond to natalist premises with a coherent and logical counter-ideology. This can be done for feminist reasons as well as for anti-feminist reasons, but I believe the latter does not detract from the former.
2. The harms of motherhood. While antinatalists argue that all lives can experience a wide variety of harms, women who undergo motherhood experience major harms specific to that role. They undergo the physical and psychological harms of pregnancy, as well as the desperate suffering of women who cannot deal with raising children (as I’ve discussed here). These specific harms are worth talking about because, under natalism, the needs, desires and bodies of women are considered to be irrelevant to the harm/benefit analysis of procreation. One of the things feminism does is expose the ways in which women are oppressed by the gender hierarchy, and this is definitely one of them. To this we must add the objectification of women as breeding machines and life-support system for fetuses, which harms women as a class.
The narrative of motherhood that we’re presented is inextricably linked with the rhetoric of gender: women are uniquely suited to care for children, women are psychologically driven to have children, the greatest expression of womanhood is to be a mother. Women are meant to be mothers and, when they do become mothers, they find their true role and their true happiness. Women can only “have it all” if they have children, otherwise they are just sad, incomplete women.
The argument here is similar to the misanthropic arguments: we should not bring more suffering into this world, and the harms of motherhood, as invisible as they are in our societies, are forms of suffering we should not want to bring about. No man who loves and respects his wife should seek to expose her to such harms, and I find any man who would do this repugnant.
3. Argument from gender inequality. There is a dramatic gender inequality in procreation: not only do women bear all the physical burdens of carrying the fetus to term, but a majority of the child-raising is still done by women. This means that women are less free to devote energies to real accomplishments or a more fulfilling career, or do anything else they value. It means they are being held down by having children. Only rich women are able to delegate the time costs of child-raising to other people, generally other women. Either way, child-raising requires an incredible amount of attention, time and resources which women could use for much better ends.
Some will argue that this is not really gender inequality because that’s women’s role and where they find their true happiness. This is still all based on the narrative of women being uniquely suited to child-raising, a myth which has no basis in reality (I don’t think most female parents are any more suited to raising children than male parents are). There is no reason to think that women can’t be happier as scientists, engineers, writers, athletes, or gardeners. All of these things have an actual social purpose, and may help relieve suffering in some way. Having children, on the other hand, adds more suffering to the sum total of existence, for no discernible reason beyond “I want one.”
The inequality does not end there, however. In society at large (e.g. in the workplace, in welfare, in homeless shelters), women who have children get special treatment, which hurts the other women (childfree or childless) who get short shrift. This is an unfair system, but it shows that procreation divides women into groups when they should be united.
Without procreation taking over women’s energy and resources, all of this gender inequality would cease to exist, and women would be as free as men to develop physically, mentally and intellectually.
4. Argument from socialization. All of us have been indoctrinated and socialized as children into all sorts of social constructs, including gender. And even if parents do not want the child to be socialized as a gender, they will be socialized nevertheless- through their own incompetence, by the media, by consumer products, by their friends, by other parents, by their school. Children will either be socialized as boys or as girls, and this has lasting consequences. Men are much more likely (90%+) to commit murder, mass murders, and rape. Women are much more likely (90%+) to be killed or raped by men than by women.
This means that a woman, whether she is a feminist or not, is giving birth to a child who will be socialized as either an oppressor or an oppressed. Every male child is a potential rapist and every female child is a potential rape victim. Either of these possibilities not only adds suffering to the world, but reinforces the gender hierarchy, and presents a cruel dilemma to feminists who want to have children. There are only two ways to resolve it: by attempting to raise one’s children without gender socialization (and failing miserably, because parents are not by far the only input in a child’s life), or by refusing to have children.
Furthermore, part of female socialization is not only psychological but also physical, through the imposition of beauty practices. Historically, these beauty practices have been gynocidal in nature, including footbinding (which crippled women for life), female genital mutilation (which removes sexual pleasure), corsetting (which can be lethal). Our beauty practices are less damageable than those of the past (apart from FGM, which is an ongoing concern), but they still reinforce the gender hierarchy: women exist in order to be pretty and serve male sexuality.
Socialization presents to us a specific kind of suffering which we should want to spare future lives from.
5. Argument against capitalism. As I’ve discussed before, natalism and capitalism go hand in hand. Capitalism is used to justify the need for procreation: while nationalism and racism sometimes take that place, capitalism is the main justification for natalism. Feminism and anti-capitalism are equally linked. Women’s labor is trivialized under capitalism under the guise that it is part of the “private sphere.” Women are massively exploited for their sexuality (or as liberals call it, “sex work”) and reproductive labor, while men are not. While all of this is not unique to capitalism, feminists have identified capitalism as the main source of this injustice.
Continued procreation continues the process by which some people (a majority of which are women) are economically exploited for the benefit of others (a majority of which are men). Anyone who’s against capitalism, like feminists are, should oppose procreation until the economic system is fair for all and ensures the well-being of people regardless of gender. Procreation gives capitalism its consumer base and its cheap labor.
In addition to these five arguments, I think other antinatalist arguments can be enriched by feminist theory. The consent argument, for example, is greatly augmented by the various ways in which the concept of consent is undermined in our societies, notably against women and POC. The ways in which natalists sidestep consent are neatly reflected in the ways men dismiss women’s consent or white elites dismiss POC’s consent. Women also have a specific perspective on the misanthropic case, insofar as they are exposed to a set of risks which men are barely conscious of.