What does radical midwifery have in common with radical conservatism? Intuition.


Patching up False Dichotomies in the Birth Subculture by anthropologist Jessie K. Tougas should be required reading for all midwifery students.

Some birth scholars (Melissa Cheyney, Robbie Davis-Floyd, and Elizabeth Davis) have argued that there are two models of birth that value different kinds of knowledge. They assert that the “technocratic” model has been adopted by “mainstream” culture, which values reason and scientific knowledge. Meanwhile, the “countercultural” birth subculture, which has adopted a “holistic” model, values intuition and “body knowledge” instead…

Beware anyone who promotes intuition over empirical facts — in politics or in midwifery.

But it’s a false dichotomy:

…[T]he dichotomy between reason and scientific knowledge on the one hand, and intuition and “body knowledge” on the other, is also inaccurate. Feminist epistemology also warns that this dichotomization undercuts a diversity of thinking styles by limiting them to just two.

Moreover radical midwifery theorists do not behave like they value women’s intuition over their own education and training which they presume to be empirical knowledge.

…[A]lthough birth activists use their connection to the “alternative health arena … to position themselves as avant-garde, counter-cultural and discriminated against,” they nonetheless “make appeals to science in order to stress the benefits of their preferred practices” and their ideas have become hegemonic since the introduction of “normal birth” campaigns in the U.K. and North America …

That’s especially true when it comes to making money:

While birth activists perceive “women requesting birth interventions as being conditioned by consumerist values,” they themselves profit from … “natural birth” product placement and … commercial support services…[B]y presenting a certain kind of birth as radically different from the mainstream kind of birth, the “natural birth” industry can profit from various products and services that are deemed necessary to “achieve” the counter-cultural birth, since it cannot be easily learned through free mainstream sources. This in turn may also explain why the birth subculture is largely composed of white, middle-class women who can afford these products and services.

Midwifery hypocrisy is a real issue. In my view, however, there’s an even deeper problem with privileging intuition, a problem best illustrated by contemporary radical conservatism.

Radical conservatism also privileges intuition over facts. Although racism is still endemic in the US, conservative white people “feel” that people of color get better treatment than they do. Although Black people are under-represented in the professions, on corporate boards and among tenured faculty, many white conservatives “feel” it is white people who face discrimination. Although Black men are literally being shot to death in the streets and are merely trying to survive, it is white conservative men who “feel” that people of color are trying to replace them.

Contemporary radical conservatism has hit upon a incredibly powerful way to privilege intuition over facts. They label facts as “fake news.” Simply put, if something doesn’t “feel” to them to be true, it simply can’t be true. Intuition reigns supreme.

They’re not the only ones.

Anti-vaxxers trust their “intuition” that vaccines are dangerous and treat vaccine science as fake news bought and paid for by Big Pharma.

Wellness charlatans trust their “intuition” that disease can be cured by eating right and buying supplements and that contemporary medicine is fake news bought and paid for by the medical industry.

And midwives trust their “intuition” that childbirth is inherently safe, their “intuition” that pain relief is harmful and their “intuition” that unmedicated vaginal birth is best.

But as even a cursory investigation of contemporary radical conservatism shows, “intuition” is just another name for prejudice — often ugly and almost always unjustified.

We should be very wary of anyone who promotes intuition over empirical facts. That’s just as true for midwifery as it is for politics.