In college I was taking a seminar on Latin American Thought – basically a philosophy class with the added twist that we were required to read and speak in Spanish – taught by a feminist. I loved it, but it was hands down the hardest class I’ve ever taken. At one point our discussion turned to the subject of genius, and how there are so few women recognized as geniuses in our history. The class discussion turned to the possibility that female genius is childbearing. Despite my fluent Spanish, I was struggling to follow, but the suggestion that childbearing is genius struck my 21 year old self as false. “How can childbearing be genius?” I questioned. “The male contribution to babies is hardly considered genius, and how demeaning to women to say that we cannot contribute intellectual genius to the world. That our genius is limited to a biological function.” My professor was respectful of this viewpoint, though perhaps she was surprised to hear me talk in class.
A decade later I listened to Krista Tippet of “On Being” interview Frances Kissling, a former president of Catholics for Choice. In the middle of a thoughtful interview, she said something that has stuck with me. She said, being a woman – a bearer of life – is a serious thing. How true that is. As women, as the bearers of new life, we are forced to own a host of choices and lifestyles that men can never hope to participate in in the way we do.
From the issue of preventing pregnancy to the way a baby is fed, women are the primary decision makers in the first few years of a new person’s existence. Women are the ones who carry the consequence in their body of the choice of birth control. Women make the choice to continue or discontinue a pregnancy; they choose how to feed the baby and care for it in the womb. Women suffer pregnancy symptoms, birth the baby, and heal from birth. Women choose whether or not to breastfeed the baby. In an ideal world a woman experiences the support, love, and help of a partner but the weight of decision rests on her alone.
When I got home and told my husband about it, he asked if I had recanted my former position that childbearing is not genius. I haven’t – genius and being a bearer of life are two different things. Women are fully capable of being intellectual geniuses. Women also possess an anatomy that forces very serious choices on us.