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By Dr. Kate Brannum
Program Director – International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies
American Military University
Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) recent statement: “You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies. You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values,” should not be discussed in isolation as if it is not part of a wider far-right philosophical viewpoint. It is critical to understand this comment and the intent behind it because – in addition to its overtly racist message – it also positions women as objects of society whose purpose is best understood as vessels through which other more important security-related issues impact societies.
How women are asked to understand their own security is often shaped by the idea that their health needs and control of their own reproduction may be a threat to the culture or even to the very survival of their communities. This relegation of women’s value to their ability to produce and raise the right kind of offspring for the good of the state is not new. Women in Nazi Germany were awarded medals such as the Cross of Honour of the German Mother for bearing and raising children in accordance with the dictates of the state. More recently, women in Russia and Italy have also been encouraged to use their reproductive abilities for the benefit of the state. While this message can be seen in multiple settings across cultures, it is has become particularly popular among some far-right Christian and many alt-right groups within the United States.
Where is Steve King’s Western Civilization?
Such groups are propagating the idea that American Christian woman, particularly white women, need to have more babies in order to preserve Western Civilization. The fact is: their version of a pure “western civilization” has never once existed and is rarely discussed. While there is a long history of state appropriation of women’s bodies to propagate racist ideology, the fact that a U.S. Congressman can so blatantly make this assertion – and that many members of his party have remained silent – sends a message to women across the country that their health and their value in society is seen as secondary to political notions of civilization and security.
Take as an example one of the films that is frequently referred to in some American fundamentalist Christian movements, Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family. The basic argument of the film is that there will soon not be enough children born in Western states to support an aging population and maintain a thriving Western civilization. However, the subtext is clearly that the solution is to for women to breed the proper type of people. For instance, one speaker notes, “You could say that certain kinds of human beings are on the way to extinction. In particular people who for lack of faith do not go forth and multiply.” This aligns with the goal of some Christian movements to gain cultural victory by out populating non-Christians. For women in particular, this means sacrificing their own health to give birth to large numbers of children that will not only stop an imagined demographic winter, but will also raise up a Joshua generation – a generation who “will be victorious warriors, dependent on God’s Spirit for supernatural victory.”
In these circles, women who wish to seek individual advancement via education and careers are seen as overly materialistic and selfish. In the movie Demographic Winter, one speaker – when bemoaning women’s desires for material success – opines, “Affluence doesn’t just mean that we buy more stuff, it means that we want to live our lives as individuals as opposed to being in large groups.” Women who focus on their individual needs are seen as threatening to community security.
America is at a crossroads. The past weeks alone we have seen some on Capitol Hill suggest that it was unfair for men to pay for prenatal care and those women should not have access to proper health care via Planned Parenthood and through health care requirements to cover birth control. These seemingly disparate trends all have one common purpose: requiring women to sacrifice personal decisions about health security for the good of the community, state, or even all of Western Civilization.
There are those who seek to return it to some mythical place of racial purity where white privilege is secured through the machinations of the state. It is into this climate that Rep. Steve King can so brazenly comment about ‘other people’s babies.’
About the Author
Dr. Kate Brannum is the Program Director, International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies at American Military University (AMU). In 2011 and 2013, Dr. Brannum was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award for the School of Security and Global Studies. Kate received her bachelor’s degree with a concentration in international relations from James Madison College of Michigan State University. She earned her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focused on international compliance with norms against torture. Dr. Brannum has been working as an instructor and administrator for more than 20 years. Her current interest is international norms and human rights. She loves to teach online courses and is committed to helping her students succeed in their endeavors.
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