Birth as a feminist issue

I am a feminist and I think birth is a feminist issue. These days, feminism might be seen as a dirty word that we aren’t supposed to use for fear of offending anyone. Here is what I think:

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” ― Cheris Kramarae

I am radical enough to believe that birthing women are human beings. That women are strong, smart and capable of making their own decisions and planning their best birth: the birth of their choosing.

Kathi Valeii over at Birth Anarchy wrote this earlier this week:

“Women are, historically, the longest-standing oppressed people group. Throughout time, across cultures and races and religions and locations, women have held the least amount of rights. Telling women to do as they’re told in pregnancy and birth is an example of women’s oppression. The fact that people fail to see birth as an urgent women’s rights or human rights issue is a testament to women’s oppression today.”

For these reasons, how can birth not be seen as a feminist issue? I’m concerned about the hesitation by many feminists to embrace birthing rights in their work. I’ve listened in on women’s conferences where the extent of maternal rights is represented by a discussion of maternal mortality (which is of obvious vital importance) but there’s so much more to maternal health and well being than simply surviving childbirth.

Obviously, strong voices already exist which speak to this notion of birth as a feminist issue and the lack of strong representation from feminism in birth issues has been well noted. A quote by Hanna Dahlen comes to mind:

“There’s been an eerie silence from the feminists on the issue of childbirth and women’s rights around childbirth and I think that stems from the concern that if we associate women with birth we pull them back to the home, we pull them back out of all the advancements that we’ve made. And I think that’s a very sad comment because never before in history have we been allowed to have it all.” Hannah Dahlen, from the film Face of Birth

I feel we are on the cusp of change. Individuals and grassroots organizations are bringing awareness to maternity concerns across the world. It’s my hope that more will embrace birth as a feminist* issue.

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*I thank you for reading regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a feminist. It’s just a word after, all. What you believe and your actions based on those beliefs are what counts.

7 thoughts on “Birth as a feminist issue

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  2. Thank you for writing this! I identify as both a feminist and a birth advocate- among other things.

    Luckily, in my group of friends and peers in the birth community, “feminism” is not seen as a dirty word. Many of my friends that are birth workers identity as Conservative but their actions and views on birth reflect core feminist values (I don’t believe one must necessarily label themselves as Liberal to be a true feminist). This is very inspiring to me. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s my hope that those who don’t necessarily identify with feminism can see birth as an important issue that has in impact on us all (and, as you point out, many do).

      It’s also my hope that those who identify as feminist will not be afraid to use their voice to advocate for birth rights. When pregnant and birthing women are supported and healthy, we all benefit. The cost is high for us all when they are not.

      • Self-professed feminists who take up birth advocacy are also breaking down the harmful stereotype that feminists are anti-family and see mothers with nothing but cold distain.

        Many people still see feminism and family as opposing forces, and buy into the idea that a woman must choose between the two. I love that modern feminism is making strides towards greater inclusion and solidarity with all women.

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