Tag Archives: race

Race and Reproductive Freedom in the Childfree Community

This is a direct response to Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville today about being childfree, but it’s also something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time in regards to mainstream feminist views about “reproductive choice”, the recent attention being paid to teen parent shaming, and re: the Reddit Childfree community.

 

childfree

 

Melissa McEwan’s article detailed her personal experiences as a “childfree” individual– someone who consciously chooses against being a parent for any number of personal, cultural, financial, environmental, or political reasons. Being “childfree” is not a new phenomenon, but those who identify as such are becoming more vocal, demanding an end to the endless questions about their reproductive choices, swapping tips for finding “childfree-friendly” doctors, and using feminist and reproductive justice rhetoric to articulate their identities and struggles. They are fighting for rights that students of second-wave feminism might recognize: the right to be sterilized on demand, without question, without waiting periods, and without needing a spouse’s permission; the right to define themselves as other than mother, father, or parent; and the right to absolute reproductive freedom and to make their own choices about their lives.

McEwan identifies the societal pressures to reproduce that she and other childfree individuals are subjected to as “cultural reproductive coercion”. And it certainly is a very specific form of cultural reproductive coercion– coercion to reproduce. The childfree community makes me uncomfortable (even though I do identify myself as “childfree… for now!”) because it often fails to apply an intersectional approach to this idea of “cultural reproductive coercion,” choosing only to focus on the pressure to reproduce– a pressure that is a result of white privilege and the fact that society wants you to reproduce.

I previously brought up the second-wave feminist fights for abortion rights and against sterilization restrictions, and again, if you’re familiar with those fights this may all begin to sound familiar. The “mainstream,” white, educated, cis, upper or middle class feminists of the second wave were fighting against “cultural reproductive coercion” to reproduce because society wanted and expected them to. Many of these women found their liberation through rejecting society’s call, putting off motherhood by fighting for birth control and abortion access.

steril

At the very same time, black, Latino, and indigenous women in America were suffering extraordinary rates of forced sterilization and forced removal of their children by social welfare agencies, while the leaders of certain groups in the Black Power movement forbid its female members from using birth control because it was akin to genocide. For these women, “cultural reproductive coercion” looked very different. Society told them not to reproduce because they would not, could not, be good mothers, and some among their own people told them they must reproduce because their people were dying out. Many of these women fought against the mainstream feminist movement’s goal of removing waiting periods and other restrictions on sterilization because those same restrictions helped prevent them from being sterilized without their consent or knowledge after a cesarean section or a routine operation. For many of these women, having a child on their own timing, by choice, and to parent that child in their own culture and communities without threat of removal by the state was liberation.

McEwan does mention race in her post about being childfree. She writes:

“…And when I still didn’t change my mind, I was subjected to all manner of shaming narratives trying to convince me there is something wrong with me if I choose not to parent. I am a traitor to my womanhood. I am an incomplete woman. I am a selfish woman. I am a frivolous woman. I am barely a woman at all, if I refuse to use my fertile, cis, female, male-partnered body for what I am told is its natural (and only) purpose. I am a traitor to my race—a white woman partnered with a white man refusing to have white babies when the white birth rate is dropping in the US. I am a traitor to my country—an educated middle-class woman refusing to make a contribution to the future of the great society which has provided her with so much. The ultimate taker among makers….”

By the end of that paragraph, McEwan finally hits the most important part of her argument: the fact that she experiences “cultural reproductive coercion” to reproduce because she is a white woman. When we (as feminists, or as childfree individuals) talk about reproductive justice, freedom, and respect, we must also talk about white privilege. The majority of those who identify as “childfree” are white, highly educated, urban, secular individuals with higher-than-average incomes. The childfree community, specifically as it exists on the popular website Reddit, is often home to young parent shaming,  welfare shaming, and the propensity to call those who choose to parent “breeders,” which to me sounds weirdly… eugenicist.

Are the endless assumptions about a married white couple’s eventual fertility and the patronizing tone of a doctor trying to talk a young white woman out of voluntary sterilization a barrier to complete reproductive freedom? Absolutely. But we must remember that these barriers are a result of white privilege, and that poor, uneducated women of color continue to bear the brunt of our society’s “cultural reproductive coercion” not to reproduce.

A few weeks ago while spending my usual weekly morning at Planned Parenthood as a clinic escort, an older, friendly, liberal, all-around “good person” who is a fellow clinic escort said something that made me very uncomfortable. We were standing together watching one of our usual protestors who frequently chases passersby down the street to hand out anti-abortion pamphlets. Many of the escorts have noted and remarked that this protestor seems to run harder and faster after people of color, particularly young women of color, and especially young women of color accompanied by children. As we watched this fold out in front of us, the clinic escort I was standing with began to shake her head and said something similar to this: “You know, I live in [the city] so I often see these young black women walking around with three, even four kids in a stroller, and I think ‘Why don’t you just go to Planned Parenthood!’“.

Defenders of reproductive justice are not immune to the subtle and not-so-subtle racism and classism that constantly influences who we (as individuals and as a society) deem fit to reproduce. Feminist and reproductive justice activists along with the childfree community need to be proactive in removing oppressive “cultural reproductive coercion” against everyone.

 

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Filed under feminism, privilege, reproductive justice, reproductive rights, sexism, sexuality, social justice

Gender, Race, and the Wage Gap: Why Intersectionality Matters

We often talk about the wage gap solely in terms of gender. From the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to the argument over whether a wage gap exists at all, we are usually only talking about men vs. women. The wage disparities that many people face, however, have more to do with the intersection of gender and race. White women, the group of people who are most talked about and targeted in the discussions of the wage gap, actually make more money than everybody except white men. Black men make less than white women, and black women make less than black men. Hispanic men make less than black women. Finally, hispanic women are most disadvantaged by the wage gap, making only $0.60 to a white man’s dollar.

Before I continue on with this discussion, I’d like to address some of the confusion that arises when we talk about the wage gap. The wage gap exists and is affected both by race and gender. However, the statistics that are used in order to locate the wage gap vary enormously. Many people argue that choices, not racism or sexism, create the wage gap¹. They argue that men work more hours per week than women and that women tend to enter lower-paying career fields. These arguments have been debunked time and time again². No matter how many outside factors you control for, women make less money than men for doing the same work.

Women are not the only demographic affected  by the wage gap. Race weighs more heavily on wage disparities than gender. But the wage gap is still seen as merely a feminist issue. This is why feminism and other movements for equality need to look at this and many other issues with an intersectional lens. The wage gap affects working women, but it also affects men of color, single-parent families, and poverty levels. Media coverage of the wage gap needs to include these groups that are affected the most, not just focus on white women vs. white men. Feminism does not own the fight against the wage gap. This fight belongs to men and women of color, families in poverty, gay and transgender workers, as well as women everywhere.

For more information on the wage gap and intersectionality, see:

Infographic: The Gender Pay Gap– See What Inequity in Earnings Costs Women and Their Families Each Year and Over Their Lifetimes

Top 10 Facts About The Wage Gap 

Pay Equity and Single Mothers of Color: Eliminating Race-Based and Gender-Based Wage Gap Key to American Prosperity

The Gay and Transgender Wage Gap: Many Workers Receive Less Pay Due to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

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Filed under feminism, gender, identity, politics, privilege, sexism, social justice, Uncategorized

On Microaggression

 

One of the more common dismissals of feminism that I hear (apart from “women already have rights” and “what about the men?!”) is: “You’re just looking for something to be angry about“. The idea that those who engage in cultural criticism, feminist or otherwise, are nit-picky, obsessive, and need to “calm down” is just another way to silence opinions that society deems too radical.

Those who believe we live in a post-feminist world typically don’t have a good grasp on the meaning of the many facets of feminism (although we can’t blame them for that, as feminism is barely included in public school curriculums beyond the first wave to begin with.) Liberal feminism, most closely associated with the movement’s first wave, worked to level the playing field in terms of legal rights, education, and general access to opportunity. Liberal feminism assumes that once women have equal access and opportunity to all aspects of society that men do, liberation will naturally occur.

So, what happened? Women got the right to vote, the right to hold jobs without discrimination based on sex, and the ability to attend any school or university. That didn’t solve everything. Women still underperformed in STEM fields, were underrepresented in the political sphere, and underrepresented in the publishing world. Despite women’s successes, magazines still told them how to be sexy enough for the office, how to snag a husband, and how to lose weight fast (because their bodies were never good enough). Women and young girls were hypersexualized in the media, suffered from poor self-esteem and body image, and began to locate their worth in their appearances.

These issues may seem “smaller” than the right to vote, but they continue to be cultural roadblocks in our fight against sexism.  These issues of identity, misogyny, and body-negativity pervade every aspect of society until we can no longer see them. One of the jobs that I assign myself as a feminist is to be the eyes that see our microaggressions.

Here is a definition of racial microaggressions that can explain the definition of microaggression in a broader context, such as gender.¹ 

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color. Those who inflict racial microaggressions are often unaware that they have done anything to harm another person.”

Microaggressions are most often discussed in terms of race, but they can involve any aspect of identity, from sexuality to gender to ethnicity. Microaggressions against feminists, against feminism, and against women in general seep through modern society, in television shows, in clothing, and in insults like “cunt,” “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore”. Rape jokes, “get back to the kitchen” jokes, and advertisements that seems to be stuck in the 1950s don’t help either.

Microaggressions work to silence discussion and prevent change in the way we talk about identity. This article from Shakesville explains how microaggressions are often used against feminism:

“… the idea that addressing “the little things,” like being told to smile or misogynistic t-shirts, somehow demeans feminism or distracts from “real” or “serious” sexism is utterly, completely, devilishly wrong.”

Now that you know what a microaggression is, call out the perpetrators. Politely let people know that while they may think something they said was harmless, humorous, or good-natured, you or someone else may find it offensive and harmful.

I also urge you to check out The Microaggresions Project, where people submit stories about the microaggressions they experience in their daily lives.

 

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Class, accessibility, and rebranding feminism

Captain Obvious has brought the news to us this weekend: abortion is not the cause of society’s ills and feminists are not all man-hating, childless, cold-hearted, career-minded bitches.

Today’s feminist movement has tackled so much, but one issue of supreme importance that is still being fought for is a more favorable view of feminism. Criticisms of feminism include the very important fact that it is led primarily by affluent, educated, white, cisgendered women. While movements to include men, women of color, and queer and trans persons have been gaining traction in modern feminism, I believe that one form of intersectionality- class – is too often ignored.

Feminism is stereotypically white and liberal, but it is also affluent. Feminism is lousy with privilege. Feminists are more likely to be college-educated, while the people who need feminism the most, those who are disadvantaged by working-class wages, high costs of childcare, and poor access to reproductive healthcare, are often misinformed about feminism. Breaking down the old stereotypes about bra-burning feminist is the first step in introducing feminism as a tool and an identity to the people who may be most affected by sexism, racism, heteronormativity, lack of representation, and abuses of power committed by our patriarchal systems of government and law enforcement.

This class divide within the feminist movement enforces a traditional binary within anthropology, where the educated, white, affluent person has more power, and therefore speaks on behalf of the disadvantaged person. This speaking on behalf of is a problem that contemporary anthropology tries to address by allowing the subaltern and the disenfranchised to speak for themselves. This is where modern feminism most often fails. The movement is dominated by white, educated, affluent, cisgendered women who are constantly speaking on behalf of the issues that most affect people of color, transwomen, and women in the “third world” or the global South.

One of the most important things that modern feminism can do is rebrand the movement. We need to make feminism not only acceptable, but cool, and cool from many different angles. Books like Jessica Valenti’s Full-Frontal Feminism and Julie Zeilinger’s A Little F’d Up address this issue for a very specific class and racial identity, but fail to reach out to people who may not be willing or even able to read. The ideals of feminism needs to be subliminally introduced earlier, on the Disney Channel, on reality television, in our schools, so that once young people hear what feminism is about, they won’t be automatically turned off by the image of a bra-burning, man-hating, lesbian feminist.

Important links:

Feminist class struggle by bell hooks

Enough middle-class feminism by Carrie Hamilton

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Filed under cultural anthropology, feminism, gender, identity, privilege, Uncategorized