Shock, horror, disaster: the population is exploding! Yes, the recently-over-reported demographic expansion of 1%, incidentally mitigating the encroaching pensions crisis, has kicked off a chain of explosions - explosions of racial paranoia, class hatred and misogyny. The tabloids, broadsheets and a few bewilderingly respected racist lobbying groups have lost no time in hosting a drooling orgy of dated ideology, merely because a significant portion of the babies being born are, apparently, the wrong sort of babies – babies from ethnic minorities, babies with immigrant parents and lone parents, black babies, poor babies. And according to Amanda Platell of the Mail and Melanie McDonagh of The Telegraph, what this means is that middle class, “Anglo-Saxon” women now have a duty to have more babies in their twenties. I have a spare set of sewing scissors around if anyone cares to unpick the various strands of racism, misogyny and class prejudice going on in those assumptions - let’s just say that it’s all intersectionally fucked. This is a feminist blog, however, so we’ll zone in on the feminism.
I'm going to work on the assumption that by "Anglo-Saxon...women", McDonagh is not making a complex statement on the superior genetic heritage of two of the many waves of immigrants to the British Isles in the past few millennia, the Angles and Saxons as opposed to, say, the Jutes or the Romans or the Vikings or the French, and is instead equivocating over her own racism: what she means to say is that 'white women should be having more babies.' And despite my Mediterranean-Slavic heritage, I'm fairly sure I'm one of the nice young lilywhite gels McDonagh wants to see breeding like paranoid supremacist bunnies.
To which my response is: fuck. Right. Off. I’m not going to be told when and how and with whom I may breed, by anyone, thanks. My body is mine: it’s not a tool of your crumbling kyriarchy, it’s not a self-replicating node in your future white race, and it's not a mute block to shore up a class structure contorting in the face of global migration. Fuck off with your misogynist frothings: I’m not anyone’s baby-making machine. I don’t care when I ‘should’ get pregnant. I’ll carry a child when I want, or not at all.
Moreover, the question begs itself: what precisely has been done over the past, hm, twenty-three years of my life to make it easy or attractive for me to have a child now that I’m in my twenties? Has anyone made it easier for me to combine childcare with my career? Is there a decent nursery placement system, a guarantee that I won’t be fired from my job? Can I definitely work flexibly or part-time and still bring in the money I’d need to raise a child in relative comfort? No? Then, as I may have mentioned, you can fuck right off.
The age when women had babies on everyone’s terms but theirs is dying, and when it finally dies myself and many other willing ladies will gladly line up to piss streams of contraceptive-hormone –laced urine on its sorry grave. Yes, I’m sure it was simpler when patriarchal capitalist social engineering could be affected by refusing to acknowledge a few billion women’s personal agency and capacity to say no. I’m sure it’d solve a few problems in the short term if one half of society suddenly went back to being an unpaid sub-class of slave labourers, squeezing out and raising babies of the correct class, creed and colour, all for free, for the good of the fatherland. But it’s not going to happen, and you can either accept that and work with us or you can shut up and quit your whining. Either way, you'll find yourself making space sooner or later in your boardrooms and offices and benches of justice for the children of 'foreign-born' mothers and for those mothers themselves.
The sublime irony of all this is that if women’s concerns had been taken on board back when we first started pressing for reproductive freedom, if we hadn’t had to spend the past decade fighting campaigns to defend the few precious rights we have to control our own lives and bodies, if we had a system to facilitate free, safe, legal abortion as early as possible and as late as necessary, if we had the morning after pill free and on demand and available in our own homes, if we had a decent childcare system and real, comprehensive sex education in schools instead of the piss-poor, prudish information we dribble out to our children,leaving them to get their education from pornography and television, if we had any or all of that then the right wouldn’t be finding themselves blindsided by sudden demographic change. Because what happens when one is miserly about reproductive freedom is that only certain women are able to exercise it, and those women are almost inevitably the richer ones.
It’s a staggering insult that, more than forty years after abortion was legalised and equal pay acts came into force, the commentariat is blaming women for the fact that the lucky ones amongst us are choosing to exercise the privilege of having fewer children, a privilege that should be every woman’s right. It’s insulting to blame women for exercising the limited choices they have rather than accepting the real consequences of keeping those choices limited.
Personally, I’m more than happy for the generation that comes after me to be - gasp! – over a quarter of immigrant heritage. But just for kicks, let’s go with the notion that a ‘middle class baby boom’ is actually something desirable. If this government and the next wants a greater proportion of babies born to middle-class mothers, it can start by making part-time working a real, highly paid option for men and women everywhere. Give everyone, not just parents, the right to request flexible working and home working, and end the throwback 9-to-5 working culture that’s destroying our mental health as a nation, not to mention our childcare arrangements. End discrimination against mothers and potential mothers in the workplace, and make combining motherhood and paid work a viable choice. Introduce comprehensive, compulsory sex education at every level of schooling from year 5 up – and make sure our children know more about sex and contraception than we did before we started having it. And whilst you’re at it, put some money into sorting out the damn education system so that more of the babies born to immigrant and single mothers will have a chance not to fulfil the disgusting sense of class destiny inherent in this week’s right-wing reasoning.
Reproductive freedom isn’t a fad; women are not going to suddenly get bored of pushing for emancipation at home and in the workplace. If the freedoms we have fought for continue to be restricted and distributed unequally, always with the threat of being repealed any minute, then demographic change won’t be the only surprise the socially conservative, racist right finds itself having to come to terms with. Women’s bodies can no longer be manipulated in the cause of elitist social engineering, especially not the bodies of middle-class women, who enjoy more comprehensive reproductive freedom than their less wealthy sisters. Rather than attempting to pressure and cajole middle-class women into reproducing, the right would do better to encourage education, childcare and reproductive emancipation across the board– not to prevent working-class, immigrant babies being born, but because education and reproductive freedom are every woman’s right, whatever her income, background or country of origin.