Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Only women breed

There are times when conservatives seem positively Victorian in their attitudes toward women. Their furrowed-brow frown on much of sexuality is obvious, but it’s women in particular who suffer conservatives brutalising lash.

We see this in the USA, where Republicans are waging a war on women, and also here in New Zealand where the National Party-led government is planning to offer free “optional” long term contraception to women beneficiaries, including teenagers and also the daughters of beneficiaries aged 16 to 19. The government believes these women are at risk of being remaining on benefits long term. Naturally, they haven’t said a single word on men’s role in the making of little baby beneficiaries.

This whole thing is just creepy.

The plan stems from a widely held belief among Tories that there are beneficiaries who use childbirth as a way to stay on benefits, though there’s no evidence I’ve seen that their folk wisdom is actually true. It’s far more likely that such women are trapped in a poverty cycle due to life choices, yes, but also class, upbringing, etc., and not because of some nefarious plan to sponge off the taxpayer.

The Tories’ condescending attitude, says, basically, that women beneficiaries are either crafty bludgers, or they’re too stupid to understand contraception or family planning, but either way, they’re not to be trusted with such decisions. Better to decide for them and reduce the likelihood of more lower-class children being born.

However, National’s other “reforms” include requiring mothers on a benefit to return to work when their child is only one year old—even though the jobs simply aren’t there (the jobless rate inched up again in the last quarter). There’s no incentive for mothers on a benefit to have more children.

The original proposal was even worse: Contraception was to be mandatory. But how “voluntary” will it really be when women have to deal with caseworkers who alone will decide whether she gets a benefit or not? There will be many women who believe they have no choice, even if it is supposedly “voluntary”.

And what of the men in these women’s lives? Do they have no responsibility at all in this? Or does male privilege mean they can make as many little baby beneficiaries as they want to, with no consequences?

Instead, National is singling out poor women to try and get them to stop breeding, and that’s why this is so creepy: It’s little more than eugenics dressed in respectable clothing.

Still, there’s a glaring difference with conservatives in the US: Here, government wants poor women to have contraception, not prevent them from having it. New Zealand’s extreme christian right lobby is having it both ways: They support giving contraception to teenage beneficiaries as being “common sense”, but oppose giving it to teenage daughters of beneficiaries, arguing “The message we should be sending these teenagers is to promote strong relationships, and delaying sexual activity until they are ready for the consequences.” What, they think their abstinence message is too late for teenage mothers on the benefit? Why is it okay to help mothers “prevent future pregnancies until they are ready for having another child,” but teenage daughters don’t get such support? Logical consistency has never been their strongest feature.

Helping poor women to avoid having children may help them to ease out of poverty and into work, but only if the men in their lives are held responsible, too, and only if there are actually jobs for these women to go to. As it is, it’s just another National Party policy of going after beneficiaries, and treating women badly. National’s Victorian ancestors would be pleased.

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