This week, healthcare and politics have been at the fore of public conversation. With Trump’s second pick for the Supreme Court, reproductive freedom, affordable healthcare, and LGBTQ equality hang in the balance. While the President has promised his supporters that he would work to get Roe v. Wade overturned, Judge Kavaunagh’s stance on abortion is uncertain, though the fight over his confirmation will certainly be about health care.
Also in the news this week, the Trump Administration opposed a World Health Organization resolution endorsing breastfeeding, embracing the financial interests of the baby formula industry above infants’ health. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who recently became the first senator to give birth in office, said on Twitter, “Breastfeeding plays a critical role in children’s development & helps reduce the risk of diseases for children & mothers alike. It’s shocking to see the Trump Admin take the opposite position & put the interests of big corporations ahead of public health experts & families.” She then added, “This is yet another sign that under Donald Trump’s presidency, America has lost its way on the global stage and—once again—it comes at the expense of mothers and their children.”
While these issues are centered specifically around women and family health, historian and esteemed feminist critic Laura Briggs says all politics are reproductive politics. From longer work hours to immigration to gay marriage to anti-feminism and the rise of the Tea Party, our current political crisis is above all about reproduction.
“The politics of reproduction,” she says in her book How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump, “are key to understanding our shared political life in the United States. We cannot understand the rise of Trump and his administration’s policies without attention to reproductive politics.” Throughout the book, Briggs brilliant outlines how this all came to be. In the below excerpt, she points out politicians’ racist accounts of reproduction that were the leading wedge in the government and business disinvestment in families.
“Reproductive politics and reproductive labor—the work of reproducing the species, from having babies to caring for elders—animate a great deal of what we collectively talk about, from the blogosphere to talk radio to newspapers and books. Its political force is powerful, if not always transparent. We think we are talking about whether immigrants on iffy visas are (all?) rapists, and then, boom, it turns out that most of them are women cleaning our homes and caring for children or elders or disabled folks. We think we are talking about the politics of designer babies and rich ladies who don’t want stretch marks, and then it turns out that we are really dealing with the consequences of postponing children until we have earned a college degree and are established in our careers, or the barely acknowledged racial disparities in health and infant death. We listen to folks hating or defending LGBT people through the politics of same-sex marriage, and we realize that a long fight for family rights for many ultimately wound up with marriage rights for a few—and that judges did it “for the children,” so that the children of queer folks wouldn’t wind up on the public dole. We look back to the end of welfare and the demonization of Black women who supposedly had babies to increase their welfare check, and we realize it was a cover story to force them to work for Walmart or McDonald’s for minimum wage and park their kids in substandard day care. We hear conservatives blaming feminists for the work/life time crunch and realize that corporations never changed the expectation that all workers were supposed to be available to work all the time—they just expected mothers (and fathers) to adjust.
“Reproductive politics are everywhere. Virtually every demonized figure, everyone that conservative or liberals love to hate, is an emblem of our frustration with the impossibility of both finding enough material resources to support our families and households—wages, a home, reliable transportation, schools—and the huge demands on our time to get these things (if we can find a job, a loan, a pension), such that we don’t have time to care for infants, children, elders, and those who are sick or in need of care. We are persuaded to hate irresponsible breeders, welfare mothers, and “illegal” immigrants—or the imaginary figures that stand in for people—because they are compact symbols of the near impossibility of managing the money/time problem, not just for poor folks but now for a huge swath of the middle class as well. While this fear and loathing is not limited to white people, it is overwhelmingly the mobilization of whiteness that turns it into something truly dangerous.”
How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics is out now in hardcover, available in paperback August, 2018.