Admonishing women to pursue the natural has always been a hallmark of misogyny

29673417 - eraser changing the word unnatural for natural

In 1558, John Knox penned The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Knox, a Protestant, was lamenting the fact that the Protestant Reformation was being stymied in both England and Scotland by Catholic monarchs. Yet it wasn’t their Catholicism that he blamed; it was the fact that they were women.

Knox used “monstrous” and “regiment” in an archaic sense to mean “unnatural” and “rule,” arguing that female dominion over men was against God and nature. He lamented that the future of the Protestant faith lay solely in the hands of a female monarchy largely hostile to its precepts. Echoing the era’s widespread assumption that women were inferior to men, capable only of domestic acts such as bearing children, Knox placed blame on the “abominable empire of wicked women” for the trials and tribulations of the Reformation.

No doubt it made perfect sense to Knox and his readers, but from our vantage point in the 21st Century, it’s easy to see that it was misogyny pure and simple. Women who dared seek more out of life than reproduction (or, as the in the case of queens, were forced by circumstance to do so) were unnatural and therefore monstrous. “Natural” women were meant to be home pregnant, breastfeeding or both.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There is a gathering backlash to the philosophies of natural childbirth and lactivism that condemn women who make different choices as “unnatural.” [/pullquote]

Curiously, the injunction to limit oneself to natural pursuits applied only to women. Men who sought to do more than reproduce and hunt to feed themselves and their families — men who sailed ships, waged technological warfare, built cathedrals, wrote religious tomes — were to be praised for rising above their base, animal nature.

Sadly, contemporary midwives and lactation consultants are the intellectual heirs of Knox’s misogyny. Women who refuse to be limited by biology in giving birth to and feeding their infants in the “natural” way are portrayed as monstrous — either lacking in feminine feeling, possessing deficient bodies, too stupid (in need of “education” and “support”) to know better or all three.

Knox meant The Monstrous Regiment of Women as a marketing tool. He was selling his services as a Protestant reformer by tying the old religion of Catholicism to the “unnatural” rule of women. Those who let themselves be led by women were being led to Hell. Better to be led by men who know the way to Heaven.

Midwives and lactation consultants are also selling their services. They do so by tying the lifesaving technology of modern medicine — epidurals, C-sections and infant formula — to “unnatural” women. Indeed the technology itself is portrayed as male and patriarchal despite the fact that in 2018 the majority of obstetricians are women and the majority of women happily avail themselves of that technology. In other words, those who let themselves be led by technology are being led to the hell of a traumatic birth or a child sickened by lack of breastmilk. Better to be led by women, midwives and lactation consultants, who know the way to the heaven of empowering birth and empowering breastfeeding.

When midwives claim that the only healthy, safe birth (and not coincidentally the only one they can provide) is birth as nature intended, they are implying that women who choose otherwise are monstrous. When lactation consultants insist that we can’t improve upon breastfeeding (not coincidentally the only form of feeding they are selling) because it’s natural, they are implying that women who choose otherwise are monstrous.

Things didn’t turn out well for John Knox. Shortly after The Monstrous Regiment of Women was published, the Catholic, English Queen Mary died and was succeeded by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. She was familiar with his condemnation of “unnatural” women and she wasn’t amused.

Though not the intended target of Knox’s First Blast, Queen Elizabeth took great offense at the publication, and in 1559, repeatedly refused Knox passage to Scotland through England. Knox attempted to apologize to the queen …

Ultimately he was allowed to return and he had learned his lesson:

Having endured the controversy of The First Blast, Knox went on to play a key role in Scotland’s opposition to the Catholic monarchy, solidifying Scotland as a Protestant, and Presbyterian, nation for centuries to come. As for his second and third blasts, it would seem that the “Trumpet of the Scottish Reformation” learned an important lesson. Neither was ever sounded.

He never stopped being a misogynist, but at least he stopped writing about it.

Midwives and lactation consultants need to learn the same lesson. It’s a very bad idea to criticize the people on whom you depend for employment. There is a gathering backlash to the philosophies of natural childbirth and lactivism, philosophies that condemn women who make different choices as “unnatural.” That backlash comes as women recognize that midwives and doulas aren’t leading them to heaven, but rather to a hell of excruciating labor pain, frustrating breastfeeding attempts that harm their babies, and being relegated back into the home.

Elizabeth, a subtle and brilliant queen, resented the misogyny of labeling her as “unnatural” because she chose to rule rather than to marry. Similarly, ever more women are coming to resent the misogyny of midwives and lactation consultants who seek to control women by labeling those who use and even choose technology by labeling them as “unnatural,” too. Admonishing women to pursue the natural has always been a hallmark of misogyny; it was true in 1558 and it’s just as true in 2018.