Richard Nash is an amazing friend and supporter of up-and-coming authors who don’t fit the mass market mold. When he sends me a book and says I should check it out, I make a point to.
I just finished a slim little volume that rocked my world called The Seed: Infertility Is a Feminist Issue. In it, Alexandra Kimball argues convincingly that feminists have either ignored or outright shamed infertile women. Taken along with Jesus Feminist, both books tell a story of how narrow traditional feminism is from completely different points of view. (Interestingly, both are written by Canadian authors.)
There is so much packed in this 160-page volume.
In short, she argues that amid the feminist zeal for women to have “choice” in reproduction, it was only argued as a negative. The choice not to become a mother via reproductive rights. The choice to use technology to become a mother has been frequently derided by feminists who believe that to want a child that badly, surely you are being manipulated to the patriarchy. As she describes this belief: “Infertile women are at best dupes of the patriarchy and at worst its collaborators.” Feminists for whom “pregnancy is the ultimate act of female complicity.”
It strikes me that that point of view robs women of one of our great superpowers. It’s incredibly reductive to motherhood, seeing it as little more than a burden placed unfairly on women, versus a source of immense and unimaginable strength and power. It’s a way of belittling whole groups of women, and denying the validity of their choices, which should be the opposite of feminism.
To me, this belief is rooted in the “feminism” that defends the existing world and telling women to behave more like men to get equality. I’m one of those feminists who think the existing world should be dismantled. The ideal isn’t no women have kids ever so they can focus on careers. The ideal is we have parental leave, subsidized child care, and parents who carry their full share of the load.
The power unique to women (whether mothers or not) is a lot of what I spent hundreds of pages arguing in A Uterus Is a Feature Not a Bug. But even I was totally unaware of the history of infertility being derided and mocked throughout feminist history. Kimball points out that the same groups who are anti-trans are frequently also anti-reproductive technology.
I wasn’t fully aware of the shaming of surrogates as commoditizing women’s wombs and rich women exploiting the poor. I have been aware of the judgement that having more than two kids is “selfish” for a variety of reasons. I grew up the youngest of five and saw people constantly feel that it was appropriate to ask my mom what she was thinking having so many kids.
I took so many notes reading this book, and it’s too much to go into here. As many people know, I’ve spent more than four years trying to have a third child. So I’ve been one of those women who felt I needed to act like a man and not have kids to get ahead, I’ve been one of those women who felt the awesome power of motherhood, and now I’ve been one of those women who can’t get pregnant and feels utterly betrayed by her body when I otherwise feel at the peak of my power. As Kimball puts it, “Infertility doesn’t just isolate us from each other, it isolates us from ourselves.”
Amid all the arguments, Kimball makes the astoundingly clear point late in the book that what’s missing in so much of this discussion is “they ignore the grief.” The very unique grief of death in the case of multiple miscarriages, and yet the justified magical thinking that “maybe next time…”
“Witnessing grief is a feminist act,” she argues. It’s a feminist act that defined the #MeToo movement, I’d argue, and one that has started to bring factions of feminism together in recent years.
One of the most powerful parts of the book is about the persistent messages sent to infertile women via pop culture, frequently in the name of feminism. Man, does she take Tina Fey to task on this one and does so convincingly. I was less sold that by her argument that The Handmaid’s Tale serves to vilify infertile women. I think Serena has been a complicated character in the drama, who has been humanized by her sadness and grief, in a way the infertile men have not in the show. But I can also see how it comes across that way to women like Kimball, and that had never occurred to me.
This debate is long overdue in feminism. I highly suggest you grab a copy of this book today. Because we aren’t going to change the world until we repair these kinds of fault lines in feminism. We only have the numbers when we act as one.
(Want to discuss the topic more? Check out this thread on “problematic feminists.”)
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom: