Making Babies

Poems on Gender


Imagine you’re back in the Middle Ages in a room where a peasant woman is giving birth. She’d be in good company: the midwives, her mother, sisters, other women from the village… 
Notice what’s missing?

Capitalism, to keep on ticking, requires two things 
One, making profits 
Two, making babies 
No profits without workers 
No workers without babies 
No babies without mothers 
You can’t make babies in a factory, yet 
So to control the rate of reproduction  
You have to control women’s bodies 

This is an old trick, an ancient trick  
Goes way back as the beginning of class society  
Capitalism didn’t invent patriarchy 
It took it over 
And intensified it 

It drove women out of the birthing room 
Put men in charge 
Brought in the death penalty
Not just for abortion – for contraception 
A hundred thousand or more were burned as witches 
Midwives were a big target 
But mostly it was the aged, the homeless, the poor 

The old feudal order was collapsing 
Jacquerie, peasant rebellions 
Were ripping across Europe  
Heresy was a crime 
You could die for it 
But it kept rising up 
Challenging the power of the Catholic church 
Daring to dream of a heaven on earth 
And ready to fight for it 

Gunpowder was bad news for castle walls 
Muskets were bad news for knightly armour 
And the plague was bad news for everybody 
Especially for the peasants, for the working poor  
But as their numbers diminished, their power grew 
Because they were necessary 
Not just the work they did, but the land they occupied 
They didn’t own it, yet 
But they’d worked it for hundreds of years 
And kind of thought they should 
Things were getting tough for the hard charging robber baron 
There were banquets to be catered, wars to be fought 
And even more wars as time went on 
Because the slimmer the pickings, the more they scrapped over it 

Meanwhile, trade was increasing 
Manufacture had become a thing 
Cities were getting richer, gaining independence
And they were hungry for bodies 
But it was a new kind of body that was needed 
Not tied to the land 
Something you could buy and sell 
Move it around as necessary 
Teach it to tell time by the clock not the sun 
Discard when not needed 

This was the rise of the nation state 
The Kings, the Lords, the Church 
All fighting against each other 
But united against the poor 
It was a match made in hell 
Cities needed wool for the textile industry 
The wool needed sheep, the sheep needed land 
And the robber barons needed a new source of income 
So the sheep ate the farms 
The peasants were forced off the land 
The Bloody Laws – that’s what they were called
Made vagrancy a crime 
Repeated vagrants got deportation or death  
Men, women and children were driven into the factories 
Into a poverty and degradation that made village life 
With all its injustice and cruelty, look almost like paradise 

And women were the biggest losers 
Because only a woman could give birth 
But it took a whole village to raise a child 
Cooking, washing, spinning 
These were all communal tasks 
There was a power in this 
But it was broken, when the people of the field  
Were driven out of the commons and into a world 
Where bodies on the job were paid by the hour   
But making new bodies was a private affair 
Hidden away, unpaid, disrespected 

And right from the start, capitalism was a global disease 
Witch burning was a pandemic on both sides of the ocean 
Genocide in the Americas went hand in hand with the African slave trade 
Welcome to the Industrial Revolution, where human life is just another commodity  
Where they dump slaves into the ocean at the first sign of storm or disease   
Lloyds of London will cover the loss 
And if you’re a woman – and you survive the crossing 
They don’t just work you to death – they breed you like an animal 

Making babies 
From the hard cold point of view of evolution 
Making babies is what life is all about 
Love, this god-like emotion that binds us together 
Grows up out of a simple biology 
It’s rooted in the core of what we are 
In every gender, in every sexuality 
The milk of human kindness 
To be a mother, to nurture 
To carry a tiny bit of tissue
That grows, that multiplies, that complexifies 
Until it comes out into the world as a new creation 
A human individual 
My god, what a gift, what a blessing it should be 
And what a curse it is 

The female body carries a double load 
No matter how cruel we are to our fellow humans 
Women get that little bit extra 
Because they are nailed into their bodies 
Not by any law of nature, but by man-made laws 
In a capitalist world, witch-burning 
Is the other side of motherhood 

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This poem was greatly informed by Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch