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Jenny Brown


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Jenny Brown is a women’s liberation organizer and former editor of Labor Notes. She was a leader in the grassroots campaign to have “morning-after pill” contraception available over the counter in the U.S. and was a plaintiff in the winning lawsuit. In addition to Labor Notes, her work has appeared in Jacobin, Huffington Post, Monthly Review, and Alternet, and she is coauthor of the Redstockings book Women’s Liberation and National Health Care: Confronting the Myth of America. She currently writes, teaches, and organizes with National Women’s Liberation.

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Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work
Author: Jenny Brown
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-62963-638-2
Published: 03/01/2019
Format: Paperback
Size: 6x9
Page count: 240
Subjects: Feminist Studies/Labor Studies
$19.95
When House Speaker Paul Ryan urged U.S. women to have more children, and Ross Douthat requested “More babies, please,” in a New York Times column, they openly expressed what policymakers have been discussing for decades with greater discretion. Using technical language like “age structure,” “dependency ratio,” and “entitlement crisis,” establishment think tanks are raising the alarm: if U.S. women don’t get busy having more children, we’ll face an aging workforce, slack consumer demand, and a stagnant economy.

Feminists generally believe that a prudish religious bloc is responsible for the protracted fight over reproductive freedom in the U.S. and that politicians only attack abortion and birth control to appeal to those “values voters.” But hidden behind this conventional explanation is a dramatic fight over women’s reproductive labor. On one side, elite policymakers want an expanding workforce reared with a minimum of employer spending and a maximum of unpaid women’s work. On the other side, women are refusing to produce children at levels desired by economic planners. By some measures our birth rate is the lowest it has ever been. With little access to childcare, family leave, health care, and with insufficient male participation, U.S. women are conducting a spontaneous birth strike.

In other countries, panic over low birth rates has led governments to underwrite childbearing and childrearing with generous universal programs, but in the U.S., women have not yet realized the potential of our bargaining position. When we do, it will lead to new strategies for winning full access to abortion and birth control, and for improving the difficult working conditions U.S. parents now face when raising children.

Praise:
“Jenny Brown compellingly explains the low U.S. birthrate: those primarily responsible for the labor of bearing and raising children (women) are responding as one should to lousy working conditions—by going on strike! Brown’s bold and brilliant book ventures into terrain that left and feminist thinkers have avoided for far too long. A breathtakingly accessible analysis, supported by riveting and intimate testimonials, it’s also an inspiring call to action.”
—Liza Featherstone, The Nation

“An astute analysis of power relations not only in the sphere of reproduction but also in the worlds of work, immigration, and government policy as they bear on women’s ability to control their bodies. Brown illuminates the historical context of the writings of Marx and Malthus, the crusades of Comstock, and recurring elite pleas for women to supply more workers and soldiers. Birth Strike lays bare why women who want to be mothers, and those who don’t, have it far worse in the United States than in Europe. Then she tells us how to change that.”
—Jane Slaughter, Labor Notes

“A serious contribution to the debate around women’s reproductive labor and its vital place in women’s liberation. A must read for those seeking to understand and carry on the struggle.”
—Carol Hanisch, women’s liberation pioneer and author of the 1969 article “The Personal Is Political”

“Jenny Brown’s rational and forthright answer to what the abortion struggles are about will surprise American women on both sides of the issue. Hint: it’s not religion or politics.”
—Peggy Dobbins, author of From Kin to Class, WITCH founder

“Jenny Brown’s book Birth Strike is a game-changer and is equal in significance to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which sparked a movement in the 1960s.”
—Carol Downer, Feminist Women’s Health Centers founder and author of A Woman’s Book of Choices

Birth Strike is a well-researched and wide-ranging analysis of how the public responsibilities of pregnancy and parenting have been privatized to benefit a capitalist for-profit system designed to minimize labor costs to produce wealth for the few. Offers fresh insight into how women's biological power may be harnessed to resist reproductive oppression.”
—Loretta J. Ross, author of Reproductive Justice: An Introduction and editor of Radical Reproductive Justice

“An audacious, wide-ranging analysis of the falling U.S. birth rate; of the exploitive, often untenable conditions for raising children here and now; and of what might be done to change things.  Feminist insight illuminates every chapter of this thoughtful book.”
—Alix Kates Shulman, author of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen and A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays

“Jenny Brown provides a compelling case that the battle over abortion and birth control is not just a religious or cultural difference of opinion. Rather, within these battles are deeper debates over the control of human labor. Capitalism cannot exist without labor, and employers have a strong interest in insuring a steady supply. The more women can control their own bodies, the less power capitalists have over social reproduction. Filled with fascinating history and contemporary analysis, this book illuminates how women’s liberation is in fundamental conflict with capitalism. Read this book to learn how women must take their political struggle beyond what is often narrowly misunderstood as ‘women’s issues.’”
—Stephanie Luce, Professor of Labor Studies and Sociology, City University of New York, author, Fighting for a Living Wage and Labor Movements: Global Perspectives

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What Others are Saying

birthWith Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, How Far Will the State’s Attacks on Women Go?
By Liza Featherstone
The Nation
October 25th, 2018

"...In Birth Strike, Brown argues that the crackdown on women’s reproductive rights is a response, on the part of US policy-makers, to our declining birth rate. The ruling class worries that when women stop having babies, the smaller workforce will mean rising labor costs. Instead of improving the conditions for parenthood through universal child care and health care, free college tuition, more generous family leave, and higher wages, our elites have seized on what is, for them, a far less expensive solution: forced procreation."

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birthRational Actor
By Jenny Brown
Jacobin

"White, black, and Latina, immigrant and native born, US women are having fewer children — by some measures, the birth rate is the lowest it has ever been. In the United States, the costs and work of childbearing and child-rearing are pushed onto parents, women in particular, while employers increasingly avoid contributing anything to the raising of their future workforce. Other countries have responded to plunging birth rates by providing free childcare, paid family leave for both parents, and shorter work hours. But here in the United States, we face a cheaper, meaner strategy to prop up the birth rate: make it harder to get abortions and birth control. The result is that one in four of our births is unintended, roughly twice the rate in countries with robust reproductive rights."

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