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The American Legacy of Reproduction

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

To understand the motives for the expansion of State control over women in Texas and elsewhere, it may help to see how the legacy of reproduction is shrouded in a climate of injustice.

The legacy goes back to the story of Adam and Eve. The story has its purposes, of course, but it leaves us without a picture of Adam’s mother. All of us were born of a woman. That’s a fact. Fiction has its place, but when it functions to maintain a climate of injustice, it needs to be acknowledged as a symbol for a belief rather than as a sign of reality.

This privileging of men over women has been a cruel and oppressive pattern throughout Western history. I think its American legacy has an added element due to our beginning as a slave colony. The economic meaning of “reproduction” seems especially appropriate here.

Enslaved people were producers. They produced American wealth. Their labor was not theirs, but their owners. They were forced to work. Enslaved women were forced not only to labor in the fields and plantation mansions, but also forced to labor in birthing newborns that belonged to their enslaver. After the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in 1807, the primary increase in the enslaved population was through the practice of reproduction. The selling of enslaved people born of enslaved women certainly increased the wealth of white men.

This climate of injustice was not changed after the Civil War. The male privileges were recast in the story of the Lost Cause, which reclaimed their status as owners of both productive and reproductive labor. Sharecropping exemplified this pattern. Landowners provided the tools and cash, and the farmworkers provided the labor, and their production went to the landowner. The control of women’s labor of reproduction may have been less clear cut, but I think that just as the Lost Cause ideology continues to influence the red states, so does the control of women’s reproductive labor. The climate of injustice, in other words, has not changed.

So, what could be changed? Forced labor would be abolished. Most of us work or labor to provide for ourselves and others. Productive labor is necessary. Reproductive labor should be a choice. The State should protect a women’s choice to engage in reproductive labor.

Also, the language of production should be discarded. Like the “n” word, it disrespects the newborn child. In a climate of justice, the newborn is a person “born of a woman,” a woman who chooses to give birth hopefully into a loving family.

Finally, in a climate of justice, the beginning of a pregnancy would be recognized as emerging from a women’s egg, not the male sperm. If the sperm is not imposed, but invited, then the process of bringing a child into a community can give the family and the community the experience of gratitude and wonder.

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