Taking Womb Envy One Step Further

I was reading one of Amanda Marcotte’s recent posts over at Pandagon. It’s about the misogynistic language used by the anti-choice movement, and this passage jumped out at me.

What they fail to understand is that “life begins at conception” is a misogynist statement. It’s the erasure of a woman’s role in making new people, and a claim that the only effort that counts is the effort a man put into ejaculating.  Abortion is horrifying because it’s a reminder that men do not actually make babies, but that women do through a 9 month process, and that if a woman chooses to interrupt that process, there will not be a baby.  Which is pretty conclusive proof that men don’t make babies.  Which directly contradicts the misogynist belief that only men are capable of really doing jobs worth doing.

What Marcotte is describing here is the phenomenon that psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1885-1952) called “womb envy.” Basically, boys and men are jealous of women because women have the ability to go through pregnancy and nursing. Women can find fulfillment from creating new life and from enhancing their own lives through work outside the home. Since men can’t give birth, they can only turn to the outside world for personal fulfillment. She believed that the womb envy that is experienced by males is the source of denying women equal rights, blaming women for the perceived downfall of society, and demonizing women’s sexuality. Whatever your feelings about pregnancy, I think Horney makes a clearly pro-choice, pro-woman point. “Life begins at conception” is a way for anti-choice men to claim a piece of the womb they secretly covet by claiming sole responsibility for the creation of the next generation. I think Marcotte applies the concept of womb envy beautifully in the passage I quoted, even if she didn’t mean to. 

But what about anti-choice women? They have wombs, so do they experience womb envy too? I think so, but in a different way. On the subject of misogynistic women, Marcotte explains the benefits of hating your own gender, like moral superiority and being one step closer to being part of the powerful patriarchy. But to be a misogynistic woman, one has to sacrifice the ownership of one’s own womb. Anti-choice women are caught between gaining a slice of the patriarchy pie and having control of their own reproduction. I’ll give anti-choice women the benefit of the doubt and say that they haven’t been completely brainwashed and don’t really like having more children than their bodies, minds, and budgets can handle. Most anti-choice women don’t have “as many children as the good Lord gives,” and they’ll explain away the dozens of kids they would have if they practiced what they preached by pushing abstinence. So, the womb envy that anti-choice women feel is directed toward feminist women who have managed to find social influence and personal fulfillment while feeling entitled to control their own wombs. How do we do it?

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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