I’ve written many times before that the philosophy of natural childbirth is based on racist, sexist claims, and exploits women of color.
I’ve just learned a new word that perfectly captures the racism of natural childbirth advocacy. The word is whitesplain’.
As Arthur Chu explains in an awesomely title piece in the Daily Beast, Who Died and Made You Khaleesi?:
Mansplaining, whitesplaining, richsplaining—the way you can tell someone who’s ‘privileged’ is the unconscious belief that they have something to say, and that everyone will listen.
Chu is not writing about natural childbirth, but he could be:
We repeatedly tell stories about a white protagonist who goes on a journey of self-discovery by mingling with exotic brown foreigners and becoming better at said foreigners’ culture than they themselves are.
That accurately sums up natural childbirth advocates fantasizing that they are emulating exotic brown foreigners and becoming better at birth than they are themselves, and homebirth midwives heading to countries filled with exotic brown foreigners so they can practice and learn on them before returning to care for wealthy white women.
Chu is brutally honest:
The frustrating thing about being annoyed by the Mighty Whitey trope—and there are a ton of people upset— is that it’s so frequently employed by the well-meaning “good guys.” The whole point of “going native” is that the familiar Western civilization is portrayed as inauthentic, ugly, broken, flawed. The “exotic” foreign civilization is somehow more natural, more primal, more sensual, the way people really ought to live.
That’s a perfect characterization of the natural childbirth movement, complete with Mighty Whiteys like Grantly Dick-Read who claimed that “primitive” women don’t have pain in childbirth, or Ina May Gaskin who is constantly invoking the supposed “sexuality” of birth in nature.
Is it just that we get sick of living in modern society with McDonald’s and McMansions and mandatory vaccinations so we develop intricate fantasies about how much better life would be if we had to hunt our own food, build our own shelter, and develop our own resistance to dangerous microorganisms?
When it comes to natural childbirth, the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!”
Natural childbirth is whitesplainin’ at its most self-absorbed. The Mighty Whiteys who run the natural childbirth movement (as well as the lactivist movement and the attachment parenting movement) believe that they have something to say and that the rest of us, particularly women of color, ought to be grateful that they deign to share their “wisdom.” They create appalling racial stereotypes like the one at the heart of the new reality show about unassisted childbirth. The show featuring a woman who gives birth outdoors by a stream on her yoga mat, as if any indigenous women ever did anything remotely approaching such a stunt. They are forever bemoaning the high rate of black maternal mortality or the low rate of black breastfeeding while doing precisely nothing to ameliorate the root conditions that lead to poor outcomes for black mothers and babies.
At the heart of natural childbirth, from its inception to this day is the elaborate, racist fantasy that life would be so much better if we could just emulate our “primitive” ancestors; in other words, whitesplainin’ at its finest.