From the Archive: Missing: The 'Right' Babies
To Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, the profamily movement's new demographic focus is a logical extreme. "To me, it was obvious that they'd reach this point. It just seems early," she says. The worrying thing is that whether countries push pro- or antinatalist policies, "the first thing down the drain is a woman's ability to control her body."
And this, of course, is the (largely unacknowledged) rub with the profamily movement's focus on procreation: it requires a world of women to dedicate their lives and wombs to demographic battle. "The shadow of Fascism still hovers over demographic science," Krause tells me, and lends a chilling factor to "moralizing" language that pathologizes the childless as sick or, in Italy, as anorexics refusing to eat. Indeed, when Pope John Paul II raised his demographic concerns to the Italian Parliament, it was unprecedented since Fascist years, evoking a painful social memory of Mussolini's fertility project, which attacked bachelors, rewarded mothers of many children, criminalized abortion and banned contraception.
Of course, such programs weren't limited to Italian Fascism. A similar trajectory occurred in wartime Germany, writes historian Claudia Koonz, author of Mothers in the Fatherland. Other nations in Depression-era Europe grew concerned about falling birthrates, but under Fascism's extreme gender divisions and the escalating sense of crisis pervading the country, early eugenic motherhood schools and rewards for fertile women morphed by war's end into the brutalizing demographic demands of the Lebensborn breeding program. Designed to mass-produce more Aryan soldiers and factory hands as part of the "motherhood crusade," Lebensborn castigated "selfish" women who weren't doing their part to guarantee the increase and preservation of the race.
The implication of current pronatalist policies, that women are the source of population problems, may be less extreme, argues Krause, but it is still deeply troublesome. "To state that women's interests are at odds with those of babies is to stake out a moral ground on which women's primary role is as a biological reproducer for the nation--much as it was during the Fascist years." Furthermore, Krause says, calling for Italian women to begin having three or four children "erases the trauma of peasant women who've historically borne large families in crushing poverty" and labels women's decisions to limit their families a disease in need of a cure.
These things are quickly forgotten in the panic for more white babies.
As for cultural identity, Krause delivers a salient reminder that some multicultural liberal truisms hold and that what unifies a population is often a deliberate decision to welcome and integrate new elements into society rather than clinging to ever-shifting notions of "true" European heritage and race. To wit, the very insults hurled at today's Muslim immigrants in Italy are themselves repurposed echoes of old slurs that Northern Italians made against their Southern countrymen up to a short decade ago, deriding them as too dark and too foreign to qualify as "authentically" Italian. The population that is being banded together against a new outsider was, until very recently, fractured within itself, still struggling after more than 150 years to forge a common identity out of the many regional groups that make up the state. "One of the famous quotes from [newly unified] Italy in the 1860s," Krause recalls, "was, 'Now that we've made Italy, we need to make Italians.' Making Italians, Russians, Americans is a constant project."
But such slow-slogging and fragile projects of community-building are jeopardized by the hasty purity standards implied by the Great Family "cure" for demographic winter, in which belonging is defined by ethnicity alone and demographic winter itself begins to seem just a prelude: for a new cold war, a "clash of civilizations" to be fought through women's bodies, with the maternity ward as battleground.