Reproductive Freedom, Patriarchy, and Control

Ex VP Pence at center of table during negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus, with all the white men
Ex VP Pence at center of table during negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus, with all the white men.

By Cassandra Devereaux

In March of 2017, news media exploded when a photo was published showing Vice President Mike Pence at a White House health conference that featured a room full of white men, with not a single woman in sight. It was not lost on people that this took place in the early months of an administration that had promised to undue Roe vs. Wade. While some characterized this as a gaffe, others correctly interpreted this as it was meant to be taken. It was a statement to women: “the men are back, and in control of your health, your bodies, your destinies. The patriarchs are in charge.”

Trump promised to stack the courts, including the Supreme Court, with justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade, and this he did. In early May of this year, a draft of a SCOTUS ruling was leaked to the press, signaling their decision to rid people with bodies that can bear children of the fundamental right to reproductive self-determination. This was a ‘promise made, promise kept’ to the right-wing evangelical establishment. This is a movement that has been moving ever more toward white Christian nationalism, which is to say a white supremacist theocracy. Former general in the United States’ racist, imperialist military and National Security Advisor to Donald Trump said in 2021, “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God.”

It is unsurprising that their focus has been on removing abortion rights. It’s an end unto itself, but also a means to whip up support and devotion to their cause, and Republicans march to this tune. Yet,their stated devotion to life has never translated to providing healthcare to poor and working people, nor has it stayed their role in imperialist warmongering. Their unceasing push for austerity politics crushes human flourishing. The use of the term ‘pro-life’ is truly farcical.  As comedian George Carlin said in 1996,

“They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re preborn, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re fucked.

For their part, Democrats responded to the leak in a predictably craven and self-serving response. The solution, they said, was to simply vote Democrat. This, of course, in an election year during a Democratic administration. Since Roe v. Wade was passed, Democrats have done nothing to codify reproductive rights into law, even in years where they had a supermajority in Congress and a Democrat as President. As it stands today, the midterm in a first term presidential administration almost always sees the other bourgeois party take control of Congress. Congress has for years been incapable of anything other than symbolic gestures and signing checks to arm the U.S. military, militarized police, and the militaries of other nations. The advice to vote Democrat to save women’s reproductive autonomy will no doubt resonate with a few who truly have faith in the party. Regardless, the feebleness of the Party and its continuous drift rightward mean that the hope they float is a phantom; without substance.

As much as Dems campaign on championing oppressed genders… women, nonbinary folk, and transgender people…. their gestures are hollow. They wait until the poor, working class, and oppressed people have won a victory and then swoop in and claim credit. The moment same-gender marriage was won, they pretended this was their victory and draped their party in rainbow colors, lit up the White House in rainbow colors, even though most had been on record as opposing marriage rights previously.

After all, it was Bill Clinton who implemented the infamous “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military that drove thousands of service people out of their positions.

While many Dems have been championing abortion rights in the decades since the people won them, their devotion will only last as long as it’s expedient. Such is the reality of the U.S. bourgeois party which pretends to be two.  Red and blue, elephant and donkey, are both servants of Wall Street.  As Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania put it, “The United States is also a one-party state, but with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.” There is no hope for retaining rights through this two-faced political establishment. After all, the lover of a Senator or a CEO will always be able to get an abortion.

From the perspective of today, anti-choice control of the reproductive abilities of oppressed genders seems to have been a cause the religious right has eternally championed. In truth as recently as 1976 the seat of U.S. evangelicalism… the Southern Baptist Convention… issued a statement in favor of reproductive freedom. Until fairly recently, the prevailing sentiment among evangelicals was that they should be of the world but apart from it, meaning they should not participate in politics, sometimes to the point of not voting. However, in 1971 in a case called Green v. Connally a court ruled that private so-called ‘segregation academies’ must lose their tax-exempt status. Segregation academies were schools in which white students could study among only white peers and teachers. Many of these academies were run by Evangelical churches, and so they entered politics in defense of white supremacy. However, by the end of the decade, overt mask-off racism slipped as a means to motivate a base. As Republican strategist Lee Atwater said in 1981:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Ni…r, ni…r, ni…r.” By 1968 you can’t say “ni…r”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Ni…r, ni…r.”

With the downtick in effectiveness of White Supremacy to motivate their base to the desired degree, Evangelical leaders turned down the volume on overt racist messaging to its close cousin…. patriarchy. Specifically, the control of women’s lives, bodies, and autonomy. Patriarchy emerged in human societies with the shift from the hunter/gatherer model to an agrarian one where resources were hoarded and property handed down from one generation to another. With patriarchy comes patrilineal lines of inheritance, and thus men want to control those whose bodies are capable of child bearing. As Fredrich Engels wrote in 1884’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,

In order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore the paternity of the children, she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his rights.”

It is important to patriarchal rule to divide society into two groups, gendered along the lines of reproductive capacity. This requires a strictly policed gender binary to secure a place of dominance for cisgender males. Today, we see this impulse from executive mansions to legislatures where the number of vicious anti-trans policies and bills introduced are snowballing every year. Right wing pundits cruelly scapegoat trans/nonbinary people to vast audiences with thoroughly debunked lies. They blame the very existence of people outside binary genders for every ill, real and imagined. It is grimly ironic when they lay the failure of foreign imperialist wars on a ‘demasculinized military’ rather than correctly crediting popular resistance by the targets of their wars and occupations

After all, imperialist force has been used in attempts to impose the gender binary on  indigenous societies outside and within current U.S. borders. It is common for indigenous cultures across the world to or to have formerly recognized three or more individual genders. The United States is no exception, and its origin in genocide includes attempts to destroy any gender understanding outside of the binary.

In the U.S., patriarchy is inseparably entwined with racism, and because of this, the bourgeois ruling class of the United States of the early 20th Century giddily embraced the twisted, racist ideology of the pseudoscientific eugenics movement. As Angela Davis noted in Women, Race and Class,

In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt concluded his Lincoln Day Dinner speech with the proclamation that “race purity must be maintained.” By 1906 he blatantly equated the falling birth rate among native-born whites with the impending threat of “race suicide.” In his State of the Union message that year Roosevelt admonished the well-born white women who engaged in “willful sterility — the one sin for which the penalty is national death, race suicide.” These comments were made during a period of accelerating racist ideology and of great waves of race riots and lynchings on the domestic scene.

Roosevelt’s notion of ‘race suicide’ is close kin to the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory pushed by right wing media figures like Tucker Carlson and embraced by mass murderers such as the shooters in Christchurch or Buffalo.

While white people with bodies which might bear children were admonished for choosing when and if to bear a child, more than 60,000 sterilizations were forced upon people in the country during the 20th Century. Many victims were considered unfit to reproduce because of inherited disabilities. Their genes were unfit, eugenicists said. However, these eugenics programs were also, predominantly directed toward non-white people. Angela Davis notes that for the decade of 1964-74, 65% of people who were sterilized in North Carolina were Black. As for indigenous nations, she wrote,

“Given the historical genocide inflicted on the native population of the United States, one would assume that Native American Indians would be exempted from the government’s sterilization campaign. But according to Dr. Connie Uri’s testimony in a Senate committee hearing, by 1976 some 24 percent of all Indian women of childbearing age had been sterilized. “Our blood lines are being stopped,” the Choctaw physician told the Senate committee, “Our unborn will not be born … This is genocidal to our people.” According to Dr. Uri, the Indian Health Services Hospital in Claremore, Oklahoma, had been sterilizing one out of every four women giving birth in that federal facility.”

These sterilizations haven’t stopped: as recently as 2020, over 50 migrants detained in ICE concentration camps came forward to report forced hysterectomies. Stoking fears of a loss of hegemony due to smaller percentages of the population being white is an enduring tactic of the bourgeoisie to divide poor, working class, and oppressed peoples. The ‘solution’ they offer comes down to the birth of more white babies, and white supremacy is unwilling to leave this task to the choice of individuals who may become pregnant. While removing reproductive freedom hurts everyone, white people are especially expected to reproduce and when possible, Black, Brown, and indigenous folk and all oppressed nationalities are sterilized. And either way, even when they’re unable to sterilize them patriarchy and the cause of theocracy are served.

The overthrow of the lifesaving, human rights won by the people in the Roe vs. Wade decision and the repression of the bodies of those belonging to oppressed genders is the culmination of decades of planning by Evangelicals  and their allies. The Evangelical movement itself is a construct that serves white supremacy and patriarchy. Democrats offer no solution and have historically done nothing to defend people’s rights and autonomy while Republicans actively fight them. Both are the party of Wall Street, serving capitalism and the racism and patriarchy it rests upon. Our rights are not in safe hands when we expect members of Congress and presidents to uphold them. These people do not serve poor, working class, and oppressed peoples. They serve corporations, and rich shareholders. They serve themselves.

However, despite having the force of militarized police and the military proper on their side, they are few, vastly surrounded by the juggernaut that is a multinational body of poor, working class, and oppressed people. Our rights, our justice, and our future are in our hands. We must fight, organize, and win the power that is rightfully ours by grinding into dust the racist, genocidal, theocratic power structure and its servants. In the words of Karl Marx,

“Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Poor, working class, and oppressed peoples unite! Together we will usher in a world of respect, dignity, and the flowering of a free and thriving humanity.

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