Have you ever considered the many ways that pregnancy, birth and early mothering supports and encourages the patriarchal / capitalist paradigm? You haven’t? Surely you have – it’s one of those big questions of the universe! I had a bit of a lightbulb moment the other day. I was thinking about the healthy baby lie and the absolute blatant hypocrisy of many who espouse it. For example: Many of the people who tell pregnant women that “all that matters is a healthy baby” and “do whatever the doctor says – they know best” then turn around after baby is born and, particularly when it comes to using formula or leaving baby to cry it out, tell women “happy mum = happy bub” or “You are the mother – you know your baby best”. Am I the only one that sees the immense hypocrisy in this? From “do as you’re told, you’re just a vessel” to “It’s really important that you feel good about things”. Of course this got me wondering and my wondering led me up the path of patriarchy and capitalism. I have no idea which came first – Does patriarchy support capitalism or is capitalism there to support patriarchy? All I know is that they are inextricably linked in their goal to keep women in their place.
Doctors are definitely an integral part of the patriarchal / capitalist machine. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
From the moment we conceive a baby we are under the thumb of the capitalist patriarchy. Well we are pretty much all the time…but I’m just focusing on pregnancy, birth and parenting. The first thing we are told to do when we think we are pregnant is to go to the doctor. Regardless of the actual gender of the doctor it is a very patriarchal notion that someone else is such an expert in my body that I need to go and see them about a normal physiological function (in the absence of evidence of a dysfunction). And the doctor is very much a part of the capitalist machine – they will recommend scans that are not medically necessary, pre-natal vitamins you may not actually need, blood tests that have questionable use and then they will refer you to a hospital or private obstetrician.
I firmly believe that that first doctor visit is there to simply set the scene – We are the experts and you are just the vessel. You will just do as you are told. The only information you will be given is from us and compliance is not negotiable. Do not question, do not argue – don’t you want the best for your baby? Well…the medical fraternity are the ones who know what is best for you and your baby. How could you possibly think that YOU know best? You’re just a vessel.
Is this a vessel? Or a girl? Or a beautiful, autonomous, pregnant woman? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
This scene is replayed several times over the course of pregnancy. Regardless of whether you see a private OB or a public hospital midwife the message is clear – You are not the expert in your body. Other people have a right to tell you what to do with your body. Other people are better able to care for you and your baby. You are weak and we are strong. To add insult to injury you will often be referred to as “girls” and will often be treated as a child. The obstetric machine does the work of the patriarchy quite efficiently.
And golly doesn’t pregnancy support the capitalist machine as well! If you read any mainstream pregnancy magazine or book you will be told that you NEED a cot, a bassinet, baby monitor, change table, pram etc etc and on into infinity. They generally won’t be recommending that all you really need is a good baby carrier (which can be bought from local WAHM’s usually) and your boobs and then to just wait and see what you think might help later.
Which brings us to how formula culture supports the patriarchal capitalist paradigm. This one seems obvious – formula feeders spend a lot more money feeding their baby. There’s formula, bottles (often several different brands before you find one that suits your baby) and steriliser machines. But I think it goes deeper. You see, a formula feeding mum can more easily pay for someone to look after her child and then go out to work. Supporting the capitalist machine by both employing someone and being an employee. How about that – two birds, one stone. We are no longer told that “all that matters is a healthy baby” but that it is now important for us to assert ourselves over the baby and to be confident and to remember that we know the baby best. But only if we are planning to do something supportive of the patriarchal / capitalist paradigm…like formula feed. You don’t often hear of women who wish to babywear and breastfeed being told to remember that they know the baby best and that they should just do what makes them happy. Because, you know, they haven’t worked out how to tax breast milk yet! Although they would have you believe that you need an awful lot of “stuff” in order to breastfeed…but that is a whole ‘nother blog post!
Formula...also an integral part of the patriarchal / capitalist machine. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
So why the hypocrisy? Why is a healthy baby all that matters during pregnancy but a happy mum is more important afterwards. It has to do with making sure you understand your place as a cog in the patriarchal / capitalist machine, but not so much that you feel oppressed. Because what’s 9 months of doing as you’re told when you know you can go back to being your normal self afterwards? How many times have you heard someone say “Surely you can sacrifice [xyz] for 9 months?” For 9 months you are a vessel, but then you are totally in charge of this new little person for 18 years. Bargain! But as mentioned earlier – the scene is set. You have learned about compliance and that stays within you. You complied with the tests, scans, appointments and did as you were told. Now you will comply with the vaccination schedule and health checks. You will comply with mainstream education where your child will learn to become a mainstream member of society and the circle will continue.
Is this the best pram? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Sound a little bit conspiracy theory? It’s not really. I don’t really think any one person went out and decided that this was how it was going to be. It’s just that capitalism is really into self preservation. How do we ensure that any group remains stable? We ensure that everyone is doing the same thing and we stamp out the anarchists. This is just one way that the patriarchal / capitalist society is preserving itself – through the undeniable oppression of women and ensuring that we remain distracted by the mummy wars. Who has the best pram is, after all, a far more important question than why the heck we are buying them in the first place!
Well, it's definitely part of the for-profit-medicine paradigm. Evidently, funding for the Australian healthcare, or at least maternity, system is quite regressive. If the top 1% had to pay for it all, they would be insisting on home-birth midwives for primary care, because it would get the best results while being cheapest.