“Nature is not a feminist”

According to Kirstie Allsopp, nature is not a feminist. On the face of it, it’s hard to disagree. Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde? Feminist. Nature – plants, trees, flowers and stuff? Not feminist. There, that was easy.

Of course, this isn’t exactly what Allsopp means. Her comment comes in the midst of an online “debate” about fertility, one of those in which you’re meant to take a position on when a woman, any woman, should reproduce. The most ridiculous thing about it is the suggestion there might actually be a right answer. Too early? You’re feckless and just won’t cope. Too late? You might have missed your chance. Somewhere in the middle? Way to piss off your poor, hard done-to employer, you traitor to the cause! Face it, would-be breeders, you’re destined to fuck it up, and besides, we haven’t even taken into account the specificity of your situation. We’re talking about this as though it’s an abstract choice, in which issues of safety, wealth, culture, interpersonal relationships etc. don’t play any part (best not start looking into those things, too, or your head would explode).

So anyhow, the debate is trundling along, with all the usual “I wish I’d done this” and “I shouldn’t have done that” confessions springing forth. Then into this barges the idea of “nature”. Allsopp’s “nature is not a feminist” comment is based on the fact that fertility declines rapidly after the age of 35, and the idea that feminism = women getting to live the same lives as men, without any changes to the conditions of said lives. By “nature” Allsopp clearly means the conditions of reproduction and the different implications these have for male and female bodies. Instead of “nature is not a feminist” she could have said “having a female body is incompatible with achieving feminist objectives”. Perhaps that would have used up too many characters for twitter but either way, this statement is plainly ludicrous.

If there’s one thing I’ve had enough of, it’s the idea that female bodies somehow don’t measure up to the requirements of feminism. All my life I’ve known this narrative: you demanded all these rights, you wanted to be equal to men, you wanted to control your fertility but look! Then you went and chose to get pregnant! Silly you! It’s a narrative that completely accepts the idea that feminism was never about changing social and economic structures, but simply about changing how women were perceived. We’re allowed – in certain circumstances, and with multiple caveats – to be perceived as equal to men, providing we don’t ever let slip that we are not men.  Do that, and you’re on your own. After all, you chose that. Biology doesn’t have to be destiny so long as there’s never any evidence of said biology existing at all.

What’s more, there’s no way out of it. Don’t have children and, as a woman, you will still be judged on the basis of your breeding potential. There’ll be a big fat cross by your name. It’s even worse if you wanted children but never had them. You will be blamed. After all, you’re not allowed to admit to situations beyond your control, right? That’s not the liberal feminist way.

Here’s what I think: nature is not failing feminists. Female bodies are not failing feminists. Female bodies are amazing, regardless of whether or not they give birth to other bodies. Here are some things that do fail us: a culture that writes off and excludes women who have babies young; an economy that does not factor in the value of unpaid caring work; the withholding, on “moral” grounds, of treatment that enables women to control their own fertility; rampant prejudice against single parents; inhumane work patterns that prevent family members from supporting one another; discrimination against women who have babies; discrimination against women who don’t.

None of these things are “natural”. All of them are fixable. We’re just choosing not to fix them.

“Nature is not a feminist”? No, but it’s not nature that is holding us back.

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