While I’m working away at my day job, go read this post by Echidne, in which she discusses the ways in which the media discuss the “fertility crisis” in some European countries without noting the extreme pressure on women who are mothers in said countries to leave the workforce. (Or in one case she cites, pregnant women and mothers are just proactively pink-slipped.) She notes that even with generous maternity leave policies, most mothers do not return to work after the birth of just one child in both Germany and Italy. This sidles up to a point that I’ve made here before (and even in my day job writing recently) about the global and apparently transhistorical resistance to see women as rational economic actors who make decisions about their lives that respond directly to their political, cultural, and economic environments.
This is directly related to the conversation we had last week about that odd and offensive discussion of breastfeeding rates in Africa by Nicholas Kristof, who suggested (like many other Anglophone male commenters in the past 300 years or so) that breastfeeding is a “natural” and “free” resource that needs no external environmental, cultural, or political support beyond a woman’s free choice (or refusal) to nurse. Commenter Digger, an archaeologist with some evident anthropological chops as well, summed it all up nicely: “Women: selfish magical factories of goodness! Seriously, this works in several analyses, not just this one.”
Indeed. The presumption that women’s bodies should operate in the service of the state is foundational to the liberal state itself, so I guess that’s why so few people globally and transhistorically look to understand women’s life choices as rational or reasonable given the structural limits around them. Instead, they just assume instead that it’s pure bloody-mindedness on the part of women that they’re not having enough children, or they’re not having them under the approved conditions (heterosexual matrimony, for example), and/or that they’re not breastfeeding said children at all/long enough/long enough to satisfy the demands of the state. To borrow a turn of phrase from Digger, they’re just selfishly withholding the magical goodness their bodies can produce naturally, and for free!
Finally, you know I couldn’t resist this one: