Why Are Conservative Men Obsessed With Your Being Pregnant?
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In the fast-growing canon of literature panicking over the supposed fertility crisis, one alarmist feature on the declining birthrate provides an innovation: an anthropological excursion to a hookah bar in the East Village to hear from the young miscreants themselves. (“ Decadence,” thy name is hookah.)
There, amid jokes about “popping one out,” and “horrible little grubs,” was a “more serious conversation about their fears of relinquishing sole ownership of one’s own body.” At least the authors of this Daily Beast piece asked actual women how they feel about childbearing, and the tensions between making a living, getting by in a city, and being treated like a “womb on legs,” in the memorable words of one of the interviewees. Most of the other accounts have left women out of the story entirely, with the convenient but noxious result of waging backlash while appearing to change the subject.
It’s getting crowded out there among the hand-wringers over what the birthrate says about America’s imperial future or the sustainability of our social insurance programs. Ross Douthat practically lives here, though in his most-talked-about column about insufficient fertility in December, he was careful to blame “late modern exhaustion” without having to talk too much about the women who evidently were suffering from it. And earlier this month, an excerpt from Jonathan Last’s “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: American’s Coming Demographic Disaster,” under the headline “America’s Baby Bust,” was widely debated.
“The root cause of most of our problems is our declining fertility rate,” Last declared, with all of the understatement of a man with a book to sell, citing retirement programs and healthcare costs. When it came to the inconvenient question of “ownership over one’s own body” and the root causes of fertility numbers, Last hinted at it, mentioning women attending college and “branching out into careers beyond teaching and nursing,” as well as the pill and couples cohabitating. He did admit that “many of these developments are clearly positive. But even a social development that represents a net good can carry a serious cost.” When it comes to what other countries have done to make it easier for women who want to have children but face grim tradeoffs — an order in which the U.S. consistently places last — Last dismisses these policies as only producing “marginal gains.”
Not long ago, I received an 11th-hour request to discuss this topic on a public radio showwith Last, a writer at the Weekly Standard. The urgency was probably due to the fact that the lineup included, along with Last, two other gentlemen and a male host. I agreed to represent we wombs with legs. On the show, I was introduced as “someone who comes from a very different point of view from our other guests, inasmuch as she is a woman.” I said that I questioned any conversations about fertility decline without centering around the people who are exclusively bearing and primarily raising children — the ones I’d been asked to solely represent. “These abstractions, I don’t think that they really speak to the lived realities of people lives,” I said. “I think lots of women are making rational decisions about how many children to have.” I mentioned the lack of paid family leave and daycare, the stigmatization of single mothers, families separated in deportation proceedings.
Last responded as if I’d just poured my own heart out, though I’d only spoken about the impact of policy on decision-making.”When it comes to big social questions like this, big economic questions like this, I really think there is a lot of value in abstracting and looking at data, looking at numbers,” he said, “and not getting caught up in anecdotal, like, there was a story in the Washington Post that said that working mothers have it this hard because these three people were interviewed.” In other words, take your messy female-friendly policies elsewhere and let the adults in the room — all men, at least at that moment — do the math.