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Jenny Brown is a National 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, and Alternet, and she is coauthor of the Redstockings book Women’s Liberation and National Health Care: Confronting the Myth of America. She is the author of Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now.

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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
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.

“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

“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 cofounder 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 and 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 of Fighting for a Living Wage and Labor Movements: Global Perspectives

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What Others are Saying

birthAmerica's Reproductive Slaves: Birth Strike, A Mention
by Chris Hedges
May 20th, 2019

“The effort to block birth control and abortion is not about religion nor about politicians pandering to a right-wing base, nor is it a result of prudery, nor is it to punish women for having sex,” Jenny Brown writes in her book “Birth Strike: Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work.” “It is about the labor of bearing and rearing children: who will do it and who will pay for it.”

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birthBirth Strike: A Review
By James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
May 19th, 2019

Written from a feminist perspective, Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women's Work examines why birthrates have plunged in America since the Great Recession of 2008. Are American women deliberately going on a "birth strike" because financial reality requires them to work while society expects them to primarily shoulder the burden of child-raising? Could America's population replacement rate dip so low as to precipitate a demographic and economic crisis, similar to the ones currently happening in Japan and Europe? And if this risk is present, then why isn't there a greater national effort to help families with universal childcare, or other parent-friendly programs beyond the occasional tax credit? Birth Strike boldly claims that American women need to demand more family-friendly government policies, and to contest the myth that children are a "luxury", like an exotic pet or an expensive car. Instead, children should be valued as a public benefit and a necessary component of society, and therefore supported with measures such as universal childcare. Sharp yet sobering, Birth Strike is a "must-read" about a keystone American social issue. Birth Strike is highly recommended, especially for public library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Birth Strike is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

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birthBirth Strike: A Review
By Seth Sandronsky
The Progressive Populist
May 1st, 2019

"Brown calls for increasing the social wage versus payments in cash, taxations benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or allowances for kids, e.g., taxable deductions. Why? Upping the social wage allows chronically underpaid women and their families to disconnect from the tyranny of the “family wage system” where the boss does not have to be right; s/he just has to be the boss and by force of power rules the increasingly union-free workplace..."

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birthBirth Strike: A Review
By David Rosen
New York Journal of Books
April, 2019

"...Drawing on the experiences of other advanced Western society, Brown recommends that the U.S. needs to introduce a national health care program, free abortion on-demand and birth-control, universal free childcare (and eldercare), parental leave for all, and a shorter work week. It’s unlikely that a birthrate strike will do much to realize these important goals..."

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birthJenny Brown interview on Letters & Politics
By Mitch Jeserich
Letters & Politics
April 3rd, 2019

As states around the country are moving to enact abortion restrictions hoping to get their cases challenged in court, eventually the Supreme Court to take over Roe vs Wade.  Today we are in conversation about issues around abortion in a different light, not one about morality and sexuality or even religious issues, but one that is related to political economy and a woman’s right to behold her labor in every meaning of the word.

Guest: Jenny Brown is a National 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. She is coauthor of the Redstockings book Women’s Liberation and National Health Care: Confronting the Myth of America, the author of Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now and her latest Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work.

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birthJenny Brown interview on Against the Grain
By Sasha Lilley
Against the Grain
March 27th, 2019

The birthrate in the U.S. has hit a historical low, with fewer babies being born than that necessary to replace the existing population.  Organizer Jenny Brown argues that that’s because the social support for women and families is so meager, that women have stopped having children or have reduced the number of kids they’re having.  And this informal birth strike, she argues, has the business class worried — and points to a hidden source of power.

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birthJenny Brown interview on Behind the News
By Doug Henwood
Behind the News
March 28th, 2019

Doug Henwood interviews Jenny Brown about Birth Strike for his radio show Behind the News (March 28). They talk about the history of population panics—both about too much and too little population—and the implications of the U.S.’s record-low birth rate for feminist organizing.

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birthBirth Strike: Socialism and the Women's Movement in 2019 w/ Jenny Brown
By Ann Schneider
The Indypendent
April 3rd, 2019
Issue 245

Birth Strike supports its arguments with facts culled from a vast historical survey of the changing legal status of abortion, contemporary interviews, economics and germinal feminism — such as that of the Redstockings, the 1970s New York radical women’s group. In keeping with tried-and-true radical-feminist principles, it relies on testimonials of women who have faced the choice of whether to reproduce or not, and at what price.

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birthHow Childless Adults Are Secretly Protesting for American Parents: Jenny Brown Q&A
By Patrick A. Coleman
March 11th, 2019

The economic strain of parenthood has increased. The social strain of parenthood has increased. The professional strain of managing multiple incomes has increased.

Jenny Brown has watched both these trends and family planning trends. As a National Women’s Liberation organizer, Brown led the campaign to make the “morning-after pill” available over-the-counter and discovered that couples were putting off having children not out of disinterest but out of fear. They understood the difficulty of providing for and educating a child in a hyper-competitive culture. They understood they would receive minimal government support. They were making informed decisions to either not have kids or to have fewer kids. The un-childing of America was underway. 

In her new book Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work, Brown documents this phenomenon and posits that until the government starts supporting families with social programs that help make child rearing easier, adults will eschew parenthood and parents will skip the second or third kid. Fatherly spoke with Brown about this emerging dynamic and what fathers can do to navigate what is, in a literal and figurative sense, a confounding labor market.

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birthBirth Strike: Socialism and the Women's Movement in 2019 w/ Jenny Brown
Dead Pundits Society
March 5th, 2019

Joining us this week to take us back to the materialist, class struggle roots of the women’s movement is Jenny Brown, National Women’s Liberation organizer and former editor of Labor Notes. In this episode, we discuss her important new book, Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work, and how it relates to the growing socialist wave in the United States and beyond. 

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birthNew Book: Corporate Agenda Moves into the Maternity Ward
By Pam Martens
Wall Street On Parade
February 25th, 2019

"Jenny Brown has cracked the code that few writers, outside of analysts trained by the CIA, has cracked. In her new book scheduled for release on March 1 by PM Press, Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work, Brown performs a brilliant forensic examination of the money and people behind the stealth agenda to raise the low birth-rate in the United States. That agenda includes concerted campaigns against abortion, the “morning-after pill” and other forms of contraception. Using exhaustive research, Brown convincingly makes the case that it’s a well-financed corporate agenda implanted in Washington with an end goal of putting more American women in the maternity ward."

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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

"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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