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What Does Equal Mean for Reproductive Asymmetry?
Your discussion of how to treat men and women distinctly and justly
Just a reminder, I’m still taking responses to my survey on bereavement leave for miscarriage. The survey isn’t limited to people who have lost a child—I’m also interested in whether you’d feel comfortable talking to a supervisor about this experience, whether or not it’s happened to you. I appreciate your help.
We had our biggest comment thread to date as you discussed Erika Bachiochi’s remarks on justice and reproductive asymmetry.
I want to start by thanking you all. There was thoughtful, sustained disagreement in some of the threads, and I think you did a good job taking both the stakes of the discussion and the humanity of your interlocutors seriously. The Other Feminisms community has some big divisions, and I’m pleased it can be a place to ask questions of people who are your sometimes-allies, sometimes-opponents.
Here’s a short reminder of what Erika said (emphasis mine):
[T]he most basic and consequential asymmetry between men and women is that when they engage in sexual intercourse, it is women, and not men, who may end up pregnant. A man can just walk away from an unintentional pregnancy and blithely return to the course of his life, but a now-pregnant woman, should she wish to be equally free of the deeply unequal consequence of their union, will need to engage in a life-destroying act. […]
Clearly justice calls for a societal response to reproductive asymmetry. Indeed, I think recognizing this is perhaps what makes one a feminist.
The full FCLNY symposium on contemporary feminism is now up:
Jordan spoke to how large the asymmetry is, especially relative to the modest policy proposals intended to put men and women on an equal footing:
I don’t actually think Family Leave is adequate. A baby doesn’t suddenly become easier after 12 weeks or 4 months. (If anything, it was easier to work during the potato-like first 4 months than the curious exploratory 6-12 months.) I’m not sure if the problem is that our daughter was higher needs than most, or that we are both basically only children and don’t know what to do with babies. We have only been able to keep our heads afloat with having one parent stay home and having extra babysitting support. We moved to be closer to relatives in part to get that babysitting for free / from our parents. I honestly wonder if a straight up cash tax credit would be better than FMLA because it could encourage arrangements that are long-term more sustainable. FMLA is very boom or bust - 40 hours a week off and then 40 back on. Something that would give a bit more time/space/resources to be moms without such dramatic shifts would be more useful.
And Catherine pointed out how tough it is to have benefits linked to full time work:
If medical insurance could be separated from employment, then employers might be more willing to allow both men and women to work half time or thereabouts. That would make it easier to arrange cooperative child care among a small group of parents, at no extra cost and much benefit to all.
At one time a lot of women were pushing for job-sharing employment—each mother working half time at a shared job, taking mutual responsibility for communication and organizing the work. Of course many companies did shift from full time workers to part time, but it was to avoid paying benefits. If our society provided the benefits, sharing jobs could still work well.
Many of the comments were focused on the economic impact of reproductive asymmetry, and Martha framed her disagreement with Erika through that lens:
I think a truer analysis of how our current society started failing men and women in the 60s/70s would emphasize the destruction of labor unions and the legitimizing of mass firing rather than Roe v Wade and the second wave feminism that let women publicly wear pants, work in more industries, and apply for credit.
Dave Ramsey's company just fired a woman for getting pregnant because it goes against the company's Christian 'values'. It's a great example of reproductive asymmetry! Technically they fired her for having premarital sex, and have fired 12 others for the same (potentially all pregnant women, unclear). If she had had an abortion, she would have kept her job (and healthcare). Instead she's lost her job and healthcare while pregnant. Horrific.
Claire expressed her frustration at the way women are expected to “solve” reproductive asymmetry by having children on a male-patterned timeline:
[Get] rid of the idea that delaying childbearing is an appropriate way to fix reproductive asymmetry. Whether it's pushing free IUDs on poorer women, holding up a "success sequence" of delaying childbearing until age 25 or 30, writing onerous restrictions into paid family leave laws to push women back into the labor force (cf. Isabel Sawhill's critiques of DC Paid Family Leave), or abortion, a society that looks at children as an obstacle to women's equality isn't going to effectively respond to the dependence of having and raising children.
Finally, Gemma made a number of good points, including highlighting how far we go to obscure the nature of this asymmetry:
I would like to see a society in which we don't feel we have to hide the realities of childbearing. There's real pressure to say that, no, being pregnant doesn't affect your ability to work at all (even though morning sickness hits hard, for some people, and you can get pretty exhausted, towards the end, too). We also need to acknowledge that being a birthing parent is a different experience to being a non-birthing parent—the lesson of how "stopping the tenure clock" around the birth of a child mostly just leads to a huge boost in the careers of fathers is an important one, here. Fathers can and should be taking time to help with a new baby, but there's no way to make the experience of giving birth "equal" to the experience of having your partner give birth.
If you’d like to hear more from Erika, her new book, The Rights of Women, is coming out this July. She’ll also be co-running a summer seminar on “Man and Woman, Body and Soul in the Western Tradition” for the Abigail Adams Institute, and registration is open now.