Sunday, October 11, 2015

Patriarchy, Black Listing, and the Language of Birth | Mickey Z.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.
(Interview with Mary Lou Singleton)

Mickey Z. -- World News Trust

Oct. 11, 2015
“I desire nothing more than the abolition of gender and the final smashing of the patriarchy.” (Mary Lou Singleton)

When radical feminist mother, midwife, and nurse-practitioner Mary Lou Singleton applied to have a $500 table with WoLF (Women's Liberation Front) at the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) convention in Albuquerque, NM, she was denied.

“After a long and horrible series of emails, the VP of MANA actually stated that she believes patriarchy hurts men more than women and that women who believe there is a global brutal system of male supremacy oppressing female people are ‘dysfunctional’ and coming from a victim mindset,” Singleton explained. “I was told that the presence of WoLF in the exhibit hall would make people ‘feel unsafe.’”

Why, you might wonder, would someone who has served on the boards of directors of MANA and the National Association of Certified Professional Midwives and currently serves on the advisory board of the Stop Patriarchy Abortion Rights Freedom Ride and is the chair of the WoLF's Reproductive Autonomy task force make people at a midwifery convention feel “unsafe”?

We’ll get to that soon enough. For now, here’s what happened next:

“In the time-honored tradition of blacklisted radical groups, we will be hosting a shadow convention, a radical feminist consciousness raising open house in a suite at the hotel” said Singleton. “We are inviting conference attendees and local women and allies to see the information being censored by MANA. WoLF members who were involved in the fight for abortion rights in the 60s and 70s will be talking about the history of the women's self-help movement and how they created underground abortion services and home-birth networks. Other topics to be covered will include the growing commodification and trafficking of women's bodies in the egg, surrogacy, and breast milk markets; forced professionalization as a barrier to women's health liberation; cervical self-exam; and the multi-billion dollar gender industrial complex.” 

She added: “Chocolate and chili will be served.”

With all that as motivation, Mary Lou and I recently discussed patriarchy, equal rights, gender, violence, de-platforming, erasure, and more. Our conversation went a little something like this… 
Mary Lou Singleton. Photo credit: Mickey Z.Mary Lou Singleton. Photo credit: Mickey Z. 
Mickey Z.: What’s a good entry point to get readers to understand the role of patriarchy in everyday U.S. culture?

Mary Lou Singleton: Most people remain unaware that women lack formal constitutional rights and protections in the United States. The Equal Rights Amendment, which was first introduced in 1923 and passed by Congress in 1972, was never ratified. In 2011, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia publicly stated that the 14th Amendment does not apply to women because at the time of its passage, women did not have the right to vote and were not considered citizens. So, women are not "persons" under our federal legal system and very few people care about trying to remedy this. A large group of woman-hating politicians and activists, however, are working tirelessly to grant full constitutional personhood to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses. Fetal personhood laws effectively relegate women to the status of state regulated incubators. 

Already, women are treated as sub-human incubators on a regular basis. We could talk about the women who have been charged with murder for crimes against fetuses, including Purvi Patel who is serving a 22-year jail sentence for self-induced abortion (and the deafening silence on the left, with no collective outrage and virtually no one calling for a Presidential pardon for Ms. Patel). But I’d also like to focus on the less obvious ways women are being treated as reproductive chattel. Our country's birth practices demonstrate deeply rooted, unexamined hatred of women. 

MZ: I can only imagine that, in your role as a midwife, you’re able to occupy a unique perspective on all this.

MLS: Midwives, especially midwives who attend home births, know that in the vast majority of cases, women's bodies work very well growing, birthing, and feeding new human beings. If the females of our species were not so good at giving birth, we would never have progressed to our current state of population overshoot. Like all mammals, human beings possess innate knowledge of how to birth. Midwives know that the best way to facilitate a safe birth for mothers and babies is to provide a safe, quiet and private place for a woman to go instinctual and birth her baby. Midwives also know that an undisturbed birth usually results in a powerful awakening in females of our species and all other mammals. The biochemistry of birth and the rite of passage of labor combine and transform women into fierce and powerful protectors of their young who know deep inside themselves that they are capable of accomplishing feats that seem impossible. Knowing this truth about woman-centered birth, you can understand why a male-supremacist woman-hating society would go to great lengths to prevent women from experiencing empowering births. 

MZ: As a health coach and personal trainer, I’ve worked with a fair amount of pregnant women. Their stories and experiences have demonstrated to me how deeply “Western Medicine” loves to think it can improve on nature. 

MLS: Our hospital birth practices serve as the perfect ritualized entrance into our patriarchal, technocratic, authoritarian society. Prenatal appointments center around looking for medical problems. The message to women is clear: you are not the expert on your own body and we need to keep a constant eye on you so you don't harm or kill your baby. Routine ultrasound surveillance promotes the idea that the baby becomes "real" when we can see it on a video screen. By the time they make it to term, the majority of women willingly hand themselves over to the authorities to manage their labors and births. When women arrive at the hospital, nurses and doctors immediately apply medical restraints which prevent freedom of movement.

MZ: Is this still the case?

MLS: In the 1950s and 60s, women were lashed to the bed with leather wrist and ankle straps. In our modern world of invisible "friendly fascism" hospitals use pink and blue elastic belts to attach continuous monitoring devices to the woman's abdomen and, for good measure, also secure her firmly to the bed with an intravenous line. Once the woman is restrained, medical authorities routinely put their hands deep in her vagina to monitor how quickly her cervix is opening. These vaginal examinations are not optional. Laboring while restrained is torture, and most women in this situation prefer to be anesthetized rather than endure circumstances that would drive any other mammal to ripping the face off her captors. This is how we give birth in our culture: under constant electronic surveillance, strapped to the bed, being digitally raped while tethered to machines, numb from the waist down, and tangled in a web of tubes and wires. One third of women who enter the hospital to give birth will be cut open with knives and have their babies abdominally extracted.

MZ: Are these women given a voice in the process?

MLS: Like so many aspects of women's oppression, we are not allowed to analyze and speak truthfully about the underlying misogyny of our birth practices because it might hurt people's feelings on an individual level and could be interpreted as judging women's individual choices and circumstances. This is unfortunate. As when we discuss prostitution and pornography or high heels and thong underwear, the people critiquing the misogyny behind the practice will be vilified for "attacking women" or denying women their right to make choices. But when ritualized misogyny is normalized, most women are left with pretty crappy choices and many women have no choice at all. While there are certainly times when high-tech medicine, anesthesia, and surgery are necessary for the health and lives of women and babies, these interventions should not be the norm. For healthy women with low-risk pregnancies who desire unmedicated birth, home and birth center birth result in equal to superior health outcomes.

MZ: You’ve said, “Grassroots, woman-centered midwifery is an essential part of women's liberation.” How has the patriarchy responded to this? 

MLS: Midwives have been the target of patriarchal oppression for millennia. People can access lots of great feminist writing on the historical suppression of midwifery, the state-murders, witch trials, incarceration and defamation over the centuries. We don't need to go into that here. I do, however, want people to wake up and recognize just how seriously the patriarchal authorities are about the suppression of women who help empower other women. The subjugation of women and the global exploitation of women's bodies and labor is foundational to capitalism and must be enforced for business to go on as usual. Always remember that midwife/anarchist Emma Goldman was targeted for deportation by J. Edgar Hoover not for inciting riots and advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government, but because she was distributing information on birth control and fiercely promoting the liberation of women.

MZ: Which brings us neatly to the latest issue threatening the liberation of women. Can you talk about why MANA rejected your request for a table at their convention?

MLS: Maybe you've heard of a little problem called gender? Last year, pro-gender forces persuaded MANA to change their core competencies to erase the words "woman" and "mother" from the language of birth. The core competencies document establishes "the essential knowledge, clinical skills and critical thinking necessary for entry-level midwifery practice." By changing the language in this document, MANA is declaring that gender identity, not biological sex, is the lens through which we should view human pregnancy and birth. The people formerly known as women and mothers are now to be called "pregnant individuals" and "birthing parents." 

MZ: How did midwives, in general, react to these changes?

MLS: Many midwives disagree with MANA's move toward genderism, and some have signed an open letter to MANA explaining why the new language is dangerous and problematic and asking MANA to reconsider this change. (Many others have expressed support for the letter but told us they are too afraid to publicly sign because opposing the genderists is so dangerous in today's political climate.) I was part of the core group of women who drafted the open letter and am listed as the first signer. MANA Vice President Sarita Bennett repeatedly referenced "that letter you wrote" while lecturing me about why the Women's Liberation Front would be denied a table at the conference exhibit hall.
Apparently, genderists feel unsafe around people who disagree with them. Queer theory ideas about gender are tautological and don't hold up well to critical thought, so those who strongly identify with gender have an incentive to prevent any debate from happening. All over the left, radical feminists and women who believe female is not an identity but a biological designation in a sexually dimorphic species are being bullied, silenced, and blacklisted by the gender promoters. Radical feminists and genderists have a fundamental disagreement about the meaning of the word "woman." We believe that a woman is an adult human female. The genderists believe a woman is anyone who feels like a woman. Disagreeing with gender theory is now a thought crime on the left. And this is very, very bad for women as a class.

MZ: So, beyond the immediate issues pertaining to midwifery, you see this as part of the bigger picture of patriarchy?

MLS: Culturally erasing the reality of biological sex and codifying gender (also known as sex-role stereotypes) into law as the sole definition of male and female is the patriarchy's wet dream. Females risk losing all of the sex-based protections we have fought so hard for over the past century. We cannot allow this to happen, and we have to change the areas where it has already happened. The focus on gender identity and the silencing of all who disagree with it strip us of our ability to name sex-based oppression. And if we can't name it, we certainly can't fight it. Forced pregnancy and birth, forced cesareans, illegal abortion, child "marriage," forbidding women to leave their homes without a male relative, the list of horrors goes on and on and on. These are all sex-based oppression, not "gender oppression." Hoodwinking people into conflating sex and gender and getting us all to change our language to focus on "gender oppression" was a brilliant move on the part of the male supremacists.

MZ: It always seems to come back to patriarchy as the foundational cause of oppression.

MLS: All over the world, males as a class oppress females as a class. This is called patriarchy. When power and property are controlled by competing men and passed to male children, female bodies must be policed and controlled so men can be reassured they are not spending resources on another male's children. Patriarchal societies oppress females because of biological sex, their capacity to reproduce. Gender serves as the rulebook for this oppression. Gender dictates the dominant values in a culture which will be labeled male and the subordinate values which will be labeled female. Females are not oppressed because of their gender; it is gender itself which oppresses females.

MZ: How can readers learn more, get in touch with you, get involved?

MLS: Now is the time to be brave and start speaking out against the relentless corporate promotion of gender. Promote gender abolition. Defend women's spaces and speak up for the right of females to organize, bathe, shower, and gather in spaces free of the presence of biological males. Speak out against the marketing of gender to children and the medicalization of gender-identity: the hormones, surgery, and mind-warping of the gender non-conforming children. Speak out against male supremacy and misogyny every time you encounter them (this quickly becomes a full-time job when you commit to it). Add your name to the open letter to MANA and also to the open letter written the female veterans in Veterans for Peace who are fighting a similar battle to confront misogyny and genderism in their organization.  I also encourage women to join the Women's Liberation Front. Oh, and ask President Obama to pardon Purvi Patel and all of the women in U.S. prisons serving time for crimes against fetuses.

Mickey Z. is the author of 13 books, most recently Occupy these Photos: NYC Activism Through a Radical Lens. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here and here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.
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"Patriarchy, Black Listing, and the Language of Birth" by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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1 comment:

  1. Mickey Z says " the vast majority of cases, women's bodies work very well...birthing human beings."

    This isn't actually true. Evolution has increased the brain size of human babies while failing to enlarge the pelvic outlet in step. It's a very tight fit. And although human beings have evolved to stand upright we still face mechanical problems. This is why people get back problems and why women have a much harder time delivering than other mammals.

    In the developing world maternal death rates are still very high and for every woman who dies 20 or 30 suffer complications with serious or long-lasting consequences. (

    A retired obstetrician I know supports a charity which sends small teams round parts of rural Africa correcting birth injuries, most of which result in incontinence. It's not only in the third world that birth poses risks. In my own family 3 women in my generation would have died during childbirth without prompt emergency intervention, 2 from post-partum haemorrhage. None of us appeared high risk until we were.

    Mickey Z describes American practice as though it's universal. Practice in Europe is very different. Women are encouraged to move, with many places offering birthing rooms, pools, etc. Her constant emphasis on male oppression as the root of over-mechanised childbirth is kinda funny, as one of the most influential European thinkers is Michel Odent, a French obstetrician who introduced birthing rooms, birthing pools and is the author of a number of hugely influential books on childbirth (

    The "tied down" American births she describes are less the product of patriarchy - Europe is also patriarchal - but of defensive medicine. If doctors are fearful of litigation should anything go wrong, they will follow whatever path offers the least risk. The evil effects of defensive medicine in the American health system are well known in Europe, where natural childbirth is popular, though home births are not.

    A few days after my son was born, my childbirth teacher from the National Childbirth Trust came to visit. Her first words were "You mustn't feel you're a failure."

    "I don't feel I'm a failure," I replied. "After 3 days in labour I had to have an emergency C-section. Things could have been very different. We're both safe and well."

    The conversation went downhill from there. I was the only one of 8 new mothers who wasn't invited to share my birthing story with the group. Women treated like children, with both class and teacher encouraged to ignore anything that hinted birth wasn't always a joyful, fulfilling experience.

    Mickey Z says: The biochemistry of birth and the rite of passage of labor combine and transform women into fierce and powerful protectors of their young..."

    She makes the mistake of glorifying the process when what's key is the outcome. Do those who "fail" this rite of passage also fail as mothers? Are we not "fierce and powerful protectors" of our babies? Midwives who insist birth is risk-free do no service to women. Quite the opposite. 11 babies and 1 mother died in the UK recently when staff were "strongly influenced by a small number of dominant midwives whose "over-zealous" pursuit of natural childbirth "at any cost" caused unsafe care." ( Although I sympathise with some of her observations, I wouldn't want Mickey Z looking after a daughter of mine.


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