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Pregnancy — slave to patriarchy or ultimate feminist act?

To have a baby is something that only women can do. A man can never feel his belly growing with life inside of it, feel a kick from the inside, or feel the body-crippling nausea that comes with morning sickness. They can never give birth, nor can they have a Caesar. They can never breastfeed, or lactate or feed another person from their body. Men, apart from a number of tiny sperm have very little to do with pregnancy.

Looking at it this way, there is a huge potential for pregnancy to be the ultimate feminist act. By becoming pregnant you exude woman-power — you are the only one in control of your body and your sexuality. You become a mother — a life-giver. You are a source of growth, nourishment and life. There is no duplicate of this in men. There is no such power. It is uniquely feminine.

But, what if this isn’t the case. What if through falling pregnant you condemn yourself to being the queen in the patriarchal chess game? What if, by falling pregnant you become subject to the needs of a patriarchal society. How would this happen? Let’s consider it.

So you fall pregnant. You are then a slave to your body for nine months to produce a child that will enter into a patriarchal world. Your body is heavily regulated by doctors, physicians and gynaecologists. In this way, you become objectified. You are an object that serves the purpose of repopulating the planet. Simply a womb. By being pregnant you support patriarchal structures that make women child carers, not only child bearers. You become a mom, with all the roles that are expected of you in that role, and face sanctions when you don’t subscribe.

I don’t know which side I’m feeling is most real. As a feminist, I don’t know whether I think being pregnant and having children is good for children or not. When your child is born the chances of that child rebelling and taking a feminist stance are pretty slim — after all, patriarchy is pretty enticing with its rewards for good looks and slenderness in women and athleticism and stoicism in men. What happens if your child turns out non-feminist (or worse! what happens if they are sexist???!!!???) — the terror is almost too great to think about.

Then again, we learn a lot about how we should live our lives from our parents. It could be really rad to have your kids wearing feminist slogans on their T-shirts (imagine a bib with “Mommy when I grow up I want to help smash the white racist, homophobic, patriarchal bullshit paradigm too”), or talking to their friends about how important it is to respect and empower women. How great to start a revolution from your own home?

I don’t know. I’m not convinced either way. Just because you can reproduce doesn’t mean you should …


  • Jen Thorpe

    Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing project called 'My First Time'. It focuses on women's stories of significant first time experiences. Buy the book on the site or via Modjaji Books. Jen's first novel, The Peculiars, came out in February 2016 and is published by Penguin. Get it in good book stores, and on