Monday 31 August 2009

Reproductive freedom and racial paranoia: or, why Melanie McDonagh can fuck right off.

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.


  1. 1) People do have the right to ask for part-time work - and employers have the right to refuse to employ them on those terms.
    Seems fair to me.

    2) If we don`t care enough or like our way of life enough to want to reproduce and see it continue, then other people with funny ideas are going to take over.

    3) Sex education; less is more. If the teachers are telling their students about stuffing gherkins up their asshole and blowjobs, all it does is make such activities seem tame and boring and force teenagers to find other, more exciting activities.
    You claim that you didn`t know much about sex or contraception before you started doing it. When did you start having sex? At the age of 7? I`d suggest that any child who has been through the British education system and is not deaf and blind would have a fairly good idea of what it`s all about before the age of 15.
    It really isn`t rocket science is it.

    4) Men are currently unable to bear children. If society believes that people are desirable, it must try to encourage women to have children. The best way to do this is for it to become a duty. The expectation that women should have children is a good thing.

  2. This is a real mixed bag.

    You'd rather not have a baby at all than have a poor one. Not sure how that fits into your class argument, but I think there are some interesting issues there pertaining to the issues you raise.

    I'd also like to see some comment on how the fathers fit into women's reproductive "choices" at different ages, classes and cultures.

    The population explosion won't mitigate the pensions crisis if the majority of it is happening among poor people, who will be burdening the welfare system as well as placing increased stress on public services which also need to be funded somehow. It's not because people don't like poor people that this is a matter of concern, but simple economics.

    The race thing is also potentially a red-herring. You don't have to dislike other races or cultures in order to like your own. And you don't have to dislike minorities to be cautious (rightly or wrongly) about becoming one in the country your ancestors have been born since time immemorial. Riding rough-shod over the fears (rational or not, but very predictable) of the relatively indiginous population makes for some very ugly racism and unpleasantness for immigrants, as history has shown.

    Oh, and questions don't beg themselves. "Begging the question" is a logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premises. Just thought I'd mention it.

  3. Newbie commenter here. Excellent post. You articulate brilliantly the rage that makes me mutter incoherently into my morning coffee.

    I'm always naively baffled by the assumption that white middle england is a sacred state that needs to be protected. Especially this idyllic world doesn't even begin to serve the interests of the women being called on to pump out the pretty white babies to populate it.

    The media obsession with how/when/and with whom we are supposed to sprog up is overwhelming. Like a lot of women of my generation, I'm not sure I want children. But if I do, it's on my terms and in a society that enables rather than penalises that decision.

  4. With only 17% of London's inner city sprogs white and with white minorities in Leicester and Brum in a few years not to mention whites being in a minority generally in the UK in 60 years then obviously some nasty white racists are asking questions.

    But don't worry about them.
    Wimmins reproductive rights are far more important than that.

    You tell 'em Penny.

  5. Actually, you've got it just about right there. What's wrong with whites being in a minority in Leicester, Brum, or the UK?

  6. An excellent post, and once again one I don't agree with. As always, it forces me to consider how to articulate my disagreement. The first step is to examine the articles you reference - which I did, and was surprised to find no trace of prejudice or hatred as you led us to believe. Melanie McDonagh describes a situation which is a cause of much distress for many people - two professional friends of mine who married last year will have to wait two or three years to have children because they just can't afford it - and they have relatively good incomes. Meanwhile, other kinds of people give no thought to their own reproduction and just make babies. Surely a feminist would be against such irresponsibility?
    You accuse Melanie of being pro- Anglo-Saxon, but she's IRISH! (like me) She is clearly using it as a euphemism for white/British and in this age of PC-lunacy who would blame her?

    Your rage is entirely misplaced, the issues regarding immigration demographics are simple. If "British" people become a minority in Britain, then those rights you speak of and hold so dear (as I do) will be eroded by a majority of, say, Muslims, for example, who are not a bit interested in your rights to choose. "White middle England" is not so sacred, but it's a hell of an improvement on the alternatives.
    I live in the "third world", and it isn't pretty. For those who say the "nasty white racists" are asking questions, maybe it's the normal nonracists who are asking questions about what will happen to, for example, women's rights if "whites" become a minority in the UK.

  7. 'in this age of PC-lunacy who would blame her?'

    Viking, what does this mean?

  8. Penny,
    I'm suggesting that it would've been unwise of the author to use the word "white" as there is an overtone of 'white-supremacy', although you do validly argue that that's what she meant.

  9. Well yes. As my own whiteness is also Irish [in part, also Maltese/Jewish...] it's clear that that IS what she means. If the author HAD come out and said 'white', the ugly racist undertones of her writing would have been clear!

  10. well, I don't see those ugly understones you speak of - I really don't.
    But, as you say yourself this is a feminist blog, and in that respect I have to say you make your point well on the women's issues you highlight here, such as the right NOT to fit in to the 'standard' family template.
    And I completely agree that the current demographic trends can in no way be blamed on women who are simply exercising their right not to reproduce.

  11. I immigrated to Israel with one small baby. I had 3 more offsprings here, where mothers have always had excellent government supervised creches and kindergartens, and are protected by labour laws which protect your job security while you take your 3 months paid maternity leave or optional year off without pay.
    Britain (despite the reign of Maggie Thatcher, who you might have expected to be helpful) has sparse and inadequate childcare arrangements. Many unlicenced childminders, au-pair arrangements where the babes have to teach nursey basic English etc.

  12. Thanks for articulating what many women feel. Sometimes child-free me muses over whether I would have made a different decision if offered practical public support with raising a child, but its a question I'll never be able to answer.

  13. Have you read More: Population, Nature and What Women Want?

    The author, after visiting several developing countries and comparing them with developed countries, makes the point that: if given the education and resources to limit family size AND the support to raise the children they do have AND no pressure to have or not have either way... tada! Women will on the whole bear what their given community/nation/continent can handle.

    Wow, it's as if he trusts women or something, the freak.

  14. If she HAD come out and said "white", she'd have been accused of ugly racist undertones, but that doesn't mean she'd have been guilty of them, not by a long-shot. It's a shame that white people aren't allowed to refer to their colour without being accused of racism. I think that's a pretty racist state of affairs in itself, Penny Red.

    The fact is that white people will be in a minority before too long, and it's a different thing to be a minority in a country where your family have immigrated to, than in a country where all your ancesters to the year dot were born. Of course, this only matters if your culture and freedoms and democratic voice are changed for the worse as a result,and of course these things are over-determined anyway, so no-one can really say. But we have a duty to understand the fear, because it's real, and it can have real (and dreadful) consequences. Shouting it down with cries of "racism" really isn't helpful.

  15. Mark:

    "You claim that you didn`t know much about sex or contraception before you started doing it. When did you start having sex? At the age of 7? I`d suggest that any child who has been through the British education system and is not deaf and blind would have a fairly good idea of what it`s all about before the age of 15."

    Perhaps if you paid attention, you'd have noticed that earlier this year Channel 4 ran a series called "The Sex Education Show versus Pornography" which revealed that your assumption is woefully misplaced. The whole point of the original Sex Education Show was in fact that 15 year olds do NOT end up with the accurate information that they need, and the second series was about countering the inaccurate sources they turn to instead.

    Apologies for this minor thread derail, back to the other points...

  16. If "British" people become a minority in Britain, then those rights you speak of and hold so dear (as I do) will be eroded by a majority of, say, Muslims, for example, who are not a bit interested in your rights to choose.

    Because, as any fule kno, ALL Muslims are fanatical Jihadist-Shariah-law-enforcing extremists, right?

    Believe it or not, there are Muslim feminists!

    Believe it or not, not every brown-skinned person is a Muslim!

    Believe it or not, there are plenty of non-white folks who are very strongly active in upholding the rights of others.

    Only a racist could possibly equate the changing complexion of British society with a shift towards fewer rights.

    As for "whites being in a minority generally in the UK in 60 years", no statistician worthy of the title could ever make such a claim in all seriousness - it's just a nonsense extrapolation, because the number of assumptions that have to be made increases exponentially with time as one projects forwards. It is just fundamentally stupid (or dishonest) to make such a claim.

  17. Mark:

    Your point 3 assumes knowing about sex will make it boring. By that logic almost the entire country would be non-smoking, consume no alcohol, and never do drugs.

    Your point 4 seems to confuse the definitions of words encourage and force. Would that also make it my duty to provide the magic semen to as many white females of bearing age as I can overpower^Wencourage to do their duty?


    We must not allow a mineshaft gap!

    Nelson Monkdela:

    I lived in Leicester a couple of years ago. It was awesome, the people were far better than the city. Stop being afraid of people that are different from you and try to see that they are capable of peaceful coexistence with you. It is not them that is the problem, it is you.

    Besides, genetic diversity is beneficial for the survival of our specie, any attempt to artificially reduce it harms our chances of long term survival...

  18. Snowdrop - blimey. I must admit I generally try not to pay attention to channel 4. Out of a matter of interest, what kind of mistakes were they making?

    Anyway - looking back on the 90`s, I honestly feel that it was a time in which racism was on the way out and that the current resurgence has everything to do with minorities (or politicians) refusing to be "colour-blind". About 10 years ago, the only people I ever heard talking about race were black people. Well, it really isn`t possible for us to all live together if you`re going to insist on being different.
    The whole idea of diversity *in one country* is utter rot - people simply won`t tolerate significantly different cultures in close proximity. The only way to have real diversity is to have different cultures geographically distant from each other and allow movement between them.

  19. Hi Penny, great blog (this is gimcrackgirl from Twitter).

    There are so many comments here I want to reply to. I'll have a think and pop back later.

  20. "Only a racist could possibly equate the changing complexion of British society with a shift towards fewer rights"

    Well that shuts down debate nicely doesn't it?
    I don't know why you mention "brown-skinned" persons, but it certainly isn't in reference to anything I've said.

    My point is that the article by Melanie McDonagh can maybe be viewed as an attempt to promote a certain ideology about families and children - but that the charge of "racism" against her comes right out of leftfield (no pun intended) and is completely unfounded.

    Her main bias, if any, is against working-class people (the title of her piece provides a good clue on this), but rather than castigate them she chooses to urge middle class people to have more children - although largely they can't afford it and/or they don't want children.

    I find it puzzling that a feminist, or "femanist" would welcome the growth of Islam in Britain in any way, having as it does a distinct anti-woman bias, at least compared to British society (and no, I don't mean "white")
    When you import or encourage the growth of a community that has such a bias, you shift the society "towards fewer rights".

    Why would a feminist choose the rights of an ethnic or religious minority over womens' rights? What choice would you make?

  21. And all this in response to what a Melanie MAcD from the Telegraph said! Bloody Hell Penny Red. Just how many knickers did you get in a twist over this one?

  22. Anonymous - actually, too much genetic diversity makes continued evolution and progress less likely - so your diversity clap-trap is dooming us to an eternity of mediocrity.

  23. Yeah but Israeli policy-makers aren't motivated by an enlightened concern for the welfare of mothers and children are they? No, they're fully invested in the "demographic disaster" politics that Penny's targets above are flirting with.

    Godwin's Law mitigates against my expanding on this point.

  24. Don't have a baby, Penny Red, get yourself a corgi instead. They make lovely pets.

  25. @ Viking, who wrote, "I find it puzzling that a feminist, or 'femanist' would welcome the growth of Islam in Britain in any way, having as it does a distinct anti-woman bias, at least compared to British society (and no, I don't mean 'white')."

    Well, Viking, IMHO the bias or lack of it would depend on which Muslim individual you spoke to. Bit like Xianity in my opinion.

  26. PS You don't unpick threads with sewing scissors, you use unpickers. I'm off to find out what a kyrarchy is.

  27. Kyriarchy is on wikipedia, in case anyone else is like me and didn't know what Penny was on about.

  28. It interesting to see that 'very core of Britishness' is being defended by Australian journalist Amanda Platell.

    Clearly she's the ideal person to judge what that is.

  29. Yes, well, Melanie McDonagh. One would prefer it if Irish exports didn't continually bring shame upon us, but if we can handle the embarrassment of Sir Bono and Sir Geldof, one McDonagh doesn't add much to the karmic tally.

    As has been said above, these two economic migrants, McDonagh and Platell, are very clearly using "immigrant" as a synonym for "non-white" - note Platell's use of favourite BNP buzzword "indigenous". But you have to tie that together with their other concern, that of the white women having babies, too many are pramfaces from the estates. In other words, not people like us.

    What a bloody hateful pair.

  30. I think that the State should regulate human reproduction much as in China. People should be tested and vetted to ensure their suitability, genetic and economic, before they are allowed to reproduce; for example, nobody with an IQ less that 100 should be allowed to breed. Women who defy the law and give birth to children without permission should be punished, possibly by means of heavy taxation, if they are monied, or loss of social security, social stigmatization and even jail for repeat offenders if they are poor.

    This would lead to a much better world.

  31. @ Vanilla Rose: Thank you for pointing out the word, 'kyriarchy'. I had a little look up and yes it does appear like you've hit the nail on the head. I think ultimately it is a question of dialogue and action and it isn't just between one set or another, it's between individuals. Somewhere down the line you've got to recognise it isn't just the colours of the magpie but there are indeed many shades of blue, a bit like Xianity.

    Cheers to you Vanilla, my ...

  32. genetic diversity is beneficial for the survival of our specie

    Anon 001

    Hmm. So you'd tell your daughter to mate with an olympic athlete to improve the stock perhaps ?
    Suppose she refused like any good feminist.
    What would you say then ?

    Choice is what Penny Red is all about .

    In that case what about the 'choice' of the long suffering long standing and long descended host population not to have genetic diversity foisted upon them ?

    Yes even if it improved them ?
    But supposing it doesn't ?
    Would that make a difference ?
    Not to the 'choice is sacred' brigade.

    To them choice is paramount.
    In that case what's wrong with a native population choosing not to change its tribal and ethnic composition whether it improved them or not.

    That's why we fought Hitler.
    That legacy has been thrown away in the mad rush to globalisation and economic collapse


  33. 'In that case what's wrong with a native population choosing not to change its tribal and ethnic composition whether it improved them or not...that's why we fought Hitler.'

    No, it's not! That's the OPPOSITE of why we fought Hitler! For Chrissake! *bangs head on keyboard*

  34. Genetic diversity hinders evolutionary progress - you need a certain amount of inbreeding for the mutations to stick.

    So it`s possible that by increasing diversity in the short term, we might actually be decreasing it in the long term.
    Which by your reasoning would be bad for our survival prospects.

  35. I fought the Germans (if it had been Hitler alone it`s have been rather easy) because they were agressive and a threat to my way of life.

    If it was a matter of the Great British Yeomen (and women) rising up to prevent ethnic cleansing and nastyness in all quarters, how do explain the supreme indifference to the kind of stuff that goes on in all corners of the world to this day?

  36. Splintered
    well the less said about Bono and Sir Bob the better, but I don't see racism in McDonagh's article - and I've just read it again. She is judging, yes, but judging behaviour not people.
    I'm not sure I've read you right, but the indifference is probably borne of frustration, and the realisation that those savage corners of the world are best left to fight it out amongst themselves without our "help".

  37. Nelson:

    Feminist or not, I doubt many children would allow themselves to be dictated who they should mate with, and it is definitely not my place to do so. Sure, I would be happy if my grandchildren had an Olympic athlete as a parent... I'd also be just as happy to simply have grandchildren.

    Of course you have the right to preserve genetic purity of your own offspring! No one is forcing you to have children with a person of a different race, your sexual preferences are yours alone, and as long as it is not illegal (e.g. involving animals/rape/children) you are free to attempt to create offspring with anyone or anything you wish without any limit. Likewise for everyone else.

    One of the reasons we fought Nazis was because of their theory of a master race, and their desire to practice that theory world-wide.

  38. On the topic of grandparents escaping persecution, I'd like to borrow this thread to request that Penny do a little mention of Sir Nicholas Winton and the Kindertransport commemoration.

  39. Only married women should have children.

  40. Penny, I love you. That was awesome. You said everything I think, but more eloquently and with greater passion. Run for Parliament. Heck, run for Queen of the World.

  41. Nelson - you're either a troll, or a complete and utter twat.

    - Halo Jones

  42. Excellent post, Penny.

    You nailed perfectly how easily the patriarchy swings between "Women! You must have children: it is your duty!" and "Women! Have children if you want, but don't expect *special treatment* at work! Step up to the plate, as defined by men!".


  43. you point is absolutly right!! What has been done to make haveing children easier for women as well as having a career? MOre women might want to have kids if it were affordable and easier to manage. But it's not. The safricic is becoming so great so ppl have fewer kids.

  44. "No, it's not! That's the OPPOSITE of why we fought Hitler! For Chrissake! *bangs head on keyboard*"

    So you admit that we fought Hitler to pave the way for the destruction of white people.

    Its nice to have one's suspicions confirmed...

  45. "What's wrong with whites being in a minority in Leicester, Brum, or the UK?"

    This one of those 'let's see if you dare disagree with me' rhetorical questions.

    If whites become a minority in Leicester and they end up being discriminated against - as minorities often are - then they can conceivably move out of Leicester to another part of the country.

    But if we end up as a minority in Britain as a whole, and we are discriminated against, where do you recommend we move to?

  46. I live in Leicester and I'm white. I've never felt discriminated against. The world isn't divided into white and non-white people, it's divided into friendly and unfriendly people. if you are friendly to people other friendly people will be friendly to you. Race doesn't come into it.
    This is a good article, I agree with everything you say, especially about the lack of incentives for women to have children in their 20s, particularly after all the cutbacks in midwifery that have taken place over the NHS now.
    I'm also glad someone has picked up on the creepy and incorrect use of the phrase 'Anglo Saxons' that has been sneaking into newspapers lately. Weird.
    Sorry if I have posted this comment twice I think I refreshed by accident.

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