When House Speaker Paul Ryan urged U.S. women to have more children, and Ross Douthat requested “More babies, please,” in a New York Times column, they openly expressed what policymakers have been discussing for decades with greater discretion. Using technical language like “age structure,” “dependency ratio,” and “entitlement crisis,” establishment think tanks are raising the alarm: if U.S. women don’t get busy having more children, we’ll face an aging workforce, slack consumer demand, and a stagnant economy.
Feminists generally believe that a prudish religious bloc is responsible for the protracted fight over reproductive freedom in the U.S. and that politicians only attack abortion and birth control to appeal to those “values voters.” But hidden behind this conventional explanation is a dramatic fight over women’s reproductive labor. On one side, elite policymakers want an expanding workforce reared with a minimum of employer spending and a maximum of unpaid women’s work. On the other side, women are refusing to produce children at levels desired by economic planners. By some measures our birth rate is the lowest it has ever been. With little access to childcare, family leave, health care, and with insufficient male participation, U.S. women are conducting a spontaneous birth strike.
In other countries, panic over low birth rates has led governments to underwrite childbearing and childrearing with generous universal programs, but in the U.S., women have not yet realized the potential of our bargaining position. When we do, it will lead to new strategies for winning full access to abortion and birth control, and for improving the difficult working conditions U.S. parents now face when raising children.
“Jenny Brown compellingly explains the low U.S. birth rate: those primarily responsible for the labor of bearing and raising children (women) are responding as one should to lousy working conditions—by going on strike! Brown’s bold and brilliant book ventures into terrain that left and feminist thinkers have avoided for far too long. A breathtakingly accessible analysis, supported by riveting and intimate testimonials, it’s also an inspiring call to action.”
—Liza Featherstone, The Nation
“Birth Strike is a well-researched and wide-ranging analysis of how the public responsibilities of pregnancy and parenting have been privatized to benefit a capitalist for-profit system designed to minimize labor costs to produce wealth for the few. Offers fresh insight into how women's biological power may be harnessed to resist reproductive oppression.”
—Loretta J. Ross, author of Reproductive Justice: An Introduction and editor of Radical Reproductive Justice
“An audacious analysis of the falling U.S. birth rate; of the exploitive, often untenable conditions for raising children here and now; and of what might be done to change things. Feminist insight illuminates every chapter of this thoughtful book.”
—Alix Kates Shulman, author of Memoirs of an Ex–Prom Queen and A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays: Four Decades of Feminist Writing
“An astute analysis of power relations not only in the sphere of reproduction but also in the worlds of work, immigration, and government policy as they bear on women's ability to control their bodies. She illuminates the historical context of the writings of Marx and Malthus, the crusades of Comstock, and recurring elite pleas for women to supply more workers and soldiers. Brown lays bare why U.S. women who want to be mothers, and those who don't, have it far worse here than in Europe. Then she tells us how to change that.”
—Jane Slaughter, Labor Notes
“This book lays bare how U.S. politics around race and immigration are closely connected to the struggle for reproductive freedom, both in the past and today. You will never think about reproductive rights in the same way again.”
—Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in Americaand How to Be an Antiracist.
“Jenny Brown reveals to us how and why reactionary ruling interests in the United States support heavy birth rates and oppose both abortion and birth control. Also given is a good report of various other countries and their prevailing interests. In all, an excellent read!”
—Michael Parenti, author of The Culture Struggle, Democracy for the Few, and Against Empire
“Why are we still struggling for childcare and paid leave in the U.S.? Basic rights to birth control and abortion? In Birth Strike, Jenny Brown exposes the economic interests at play and shows the mighty power of women to change the game.”
—Lise Vogel, author of Marxism and the Oppression of Women
“Jenny Brown provides a compelling case that the battle over abortion and birth control is not just a religious or cultural difference of opinion. Rather, within these battles are deeper debates over the control of human labor. Capitalism cannot exist without labor, and employers have a strong interest in ensuring a steady supply. The more women can control their own bodies, the less power capitalists have over social reproduction. Filled with fascinating history and contemporary analysis, this book illuminates how women’s liberation is in fundamental conflict with capitalism. Read this book to learn how women must take their political struggle beyond what are often narrowly misunderstood as ‘women’s issues.’”
—Stephanie Luce, professor of labor studies and sociology, City University of New York, author of Fighting for a Living Wage and Labor Movements: Global Perspectives
“Birth Strike is an important contribution to the subject of women and our reproductive rights. Unlike much of the literature on contraception and abortion, Jenny Brown situates her analysis within the larger economic context of both labor and human rights.”
—Ti-Grace Atkinson, author of Amazon Odyssey and founder of The Feminists
“Jenny Brown’s rational and forthright answer to what the abortion struggles are about will surprise American women on both sides of the issue. Hint: it’s not religion or politics.”
—Peggy Dobbins, author of From Kin to Class, WITCH founder
“Jenny Brown’s book Birth Strike is a game-changer and is equal in significance to Betty’s Friedan’s Feminine Mystique in the 1960’s, which sparked a movement.”
—Carol Downer, Feminist Women’s Health Centers founder and author of A Woman’s Book of Choices
“A few years ago, statisticians discovered that the birth rate . . . in the U.S. had hit an all-time low. . . . In her provocative book Birth Strike . . . Brown jumps off from this evidence to discuss the history of birth control and right to secure a legal abortion in the face of the ruling class of men who traditionally have dictated the rules of women’s reproductive labor. This book is worth reading.”
—Susan Brownmiller, author of In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution
About the Author:
Jenny Brown is a National Women’s Liberation organizer and former editor of Labor Notes. She was a leader in the grassroots campaign to have “morning-after pill” contraception available over-the-counter in the U.S. and was a plaintiff in the winning lawsuit. In addition to Labor Notes, her work has appeared in Jacobin, Huffington Post, and Alternet, and she is coauthor of the Redstockings book Women’s Liberation and National Health Care: Confronting the Myth of America. She is the author of Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now.