Monday, November 13, 2006

The Womb Wars II

It's like the Second World War, only it takes place in the uteri of women. In this frame the First Womb Wars are over abortion, and once the fundies and other nutcases win them, the Second Womb Wars will be about fertility, the banishing of contraception and very large families for white people.

The Nation has an article on the Biblically based movement called Quiverfulls. These are Christianist families who have decided that a literal reading of the Bible requires them to have as many children as possible. Contraception is evil and large families are needed as the arrows in the next Womb War, to be waged against the Muslims and also against liberals and progressives.

In the preparations for this war the men in the family are the commanders and women are the privates who are expected to make the children who are the weapons and ammunition. It's a breeding war, and for it to work the women privates must be willing to obey the orders of their commanders. You can guess how that comes about: by telling women that God is the only power who has a right to decide when they will have children and God works in mysterious ways, largely through the sex drives of their husbands. That's why it looks like the men are in charge of all fertility.

Breeding wars. How did we come back to this way of thinking? Almost all the recent rises in the standard of living in the West is attributable to greater education and women's increased participation in the labor market. Both of these depend on smaller family size. Think about what happens to a family with, say, ten children. First, such a family is very expensive to feed and clothe and house and educate. Second, at least one parent must take care of the children full-time, so only one parent can work for money. You'll be squeezed from both ends financially, and your children are very unlikely to end up as the decision-makers of the society. Unless, of course, the society steps in and funds some of the food and the housing and the education. But such a stepping in is part of the devilish liberal/progressive plan, the plan these warriors of fertility are supposed to fight. So what is a God-fearing fundamentalist going to do?

Suffer poverty, it seems to me. But the returns are great! A future filled with nothing but little tow-headed fundamentalist white Christianists everywhere! There will be no space for Muslims in that world! Or for animals or plants, either, but God will provide a new planet when this one is used up.

I'm not making this up. Read the article, if you dare. It's scary stuff, because the number one enemy of the Quiverfulls guessed it, feminists. We are to blame for the downfall of religion and the Western culture and unhappy children and probably also my inability to find fresh yeast for my bread baking. We are so bloody powerful! It's astonishing that we have managed to get all that destruction done but still can't get paid maternity leave in this country or more than a small minority of women into the U.S. Congress or more than a token woman or two into the Supreme Court.

But attacking feminism in the Womb Wars is very rational, as feminism is the ideology which would stand in the way of this cunning plan to make every wife into a little breeding factory with the on-button firmly under the forefinger of the husband. I find it all terribly sad, to be honest. That people pick-and-choose isolated sentences from a book written nearly two thousand years ago by nomadic herders and then let these isolated sentences overrule their complete lives, at the cost of possibly great environmental degradation and personal poverty and subjugation for all women and girls, that is so sad. But then the Quiverfulls would think I'm sad and deluded and will roast nicely in their hell for an eternity. Except that goddesses don't go to hell, but I understand they wouldn't know anything about goddesses.

Where was I? Oh yes, breeding. The Evil Example of the consequences of feminism is Europe. The Quiverfulls see Europe's falling birth rates and increasing immigration as evidence of Eurabia, a place which soon will see the few remaining white women in burqas. The problem with this argument is that feminism has not been anywhere near as powerful in the European countries with the lowest birthrates (Italy, Spain) as it has been here in the United States, and that the countries in Europe with most vibrant feminist movements actually have higher birth rates than the more conservative/religious countries. And Japan, the country with one of the lowest birth rates of all, is quite patriarchal.

The Womb Wars are an odd military spectacle, because it is women who are supposed to do the fighting on both sides. Thus, not only the Quiverfulls try to make their women have many children but also some on the so-called secular side:

But how well are these arguments being received in the larger society? There are signs of denominations and churches picking up the Quiverfull philosophy, not least among these the statements made by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler last year, who wrote that deliberate childlessness among Christian couples is "moral rebellion" and "an absolute revolt against God's design." Meanwhile, Phillip Longman hardly offers a left-wing counterpoint. Instead, he's searching--at the request of the Democratic Leadership Council, which published his policy proposals in its Blueprint magazine--for a way to appeal to the same voters Carlson is organizing: a typically "radical middle" quest to figure out how Democrats can make nice with Kansas.

"Who are these evangelicals?" asks Longman. "Is there anything about them that makes them inherently prowar and for tax cuts for the rich?" No, he concludes. "What's irreducible about these religious voters is that they're for the family." Asked whether the absolutist position Quiverfull takes on birth control, let alone abortion, might interfere with his strategy, Longman admits that abortion rights would have to take a back seat but that, in politics, "nobody ever gets everything they need."

Aside from the centrist tax policies Longman is crafting to rival Carlson's, he urges a return to patriarchy--properly understood, he is careful to note, as not just male domination but also increased male responsibility as husbands and fathers--on more universal grounds. Taking a long view as unsettling in its way as Pastor Bartly Heneghan's rapture talk, Longman says that no society can survive to reproduce itself without following patriarchy. "As secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, people adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default," Longman argues, pointing to cyclical demographic upheavals from ancient Greece and Rome to the present day, when falling birthrates have consistently augured conservative, even reactionary comebacks, marked by increased nationalism, religious fundamentalism and deep societal conservatism. Presenting a thinly veiled ultimatum to moderates and liberals, Longman cites the political sea change in the Netherlands in recent years, where, he charges, a population decline led to a vacuum that "Muslim extremists came in to fill." Though individual, nonpatriarchal elements of society may die out, he says, societies as a whole will survive and, "through a process of cultural evolution, a set of values and norms that can roughly be described as patriarchy reemerge."

I'm sure you got the gist of Longman's argument: It doesn't matter which side of the ideological fence a woman might find herself; she must breed. Well, that makes the choice ever so simple for those of us who prefer to decide on the number of children we wish to have without Longman butting in. We are going to stay out of this war, because it offers us nothing. Except for the return of patriarchy, that is something Longman does offer. If I understand him correctly, liberalism is only for men, because women are the privates in the breeding wars in that army, too.

It's hard to know which is the chicken and which is the egg in the breeding wars thinking and in the great pining for more patriarchy to return. My guess is that the causes and effects are intertwined, but both racism and sexism are strong drives in those who write about this shit. But as an idea the breeding wars is about as clever as the idea of a global nuclear war.
The thread on Pandagon on Amanda's post about this shows how the discussion on this always becomes one about cultures.