Let’s stop equating reproductive futurity with socially reproductive labour

Nicki Smith

… For they are, quite simply, not the same thing. I keep on spotting this conflation and I find myself stomping at the words with my finger, like a tiny elephant foot on some (highly reproductive) ants. If there should be any doubt that socially reproductive labour is not the same thing as reproductive futurity, then one need look only so far as the figure of the single mother on benefits, for she is about as closed off from discourses of ‘the future’ as I can think of. As I’ve argued in a recent piece on queering crisis, the family is valorised but it is also the family – and, in particular, the ‘troubled family’ – that is being asked to bear the symbolic weight of economic and social crisis. The single mother on benefits is reviled, blamed, and constructed as a ‘drain’ on ‘the system’ that ‘we’ all have to ‘hold up’. I keep on hearing these discourses, and it makes me want to stomp on them with my tiny elephant fingers.

For the single mother on benefits to be routinely erased in queer theory is problematic, but for her socially reproductive labour to be collapsed into reproductive futurity – which she is simultaneously excluded from in dominant discourses – is the proverbial straw. Indeed, I am struck by how several of my queer friends refer to parents as ‘breeders’ and – in a culture where one must become a parent in order to become a fully-recognised liberal subject – I do understand their point. But I’m also conscious that such discourses can’t be removed from, but are part of, the same systems of meaning that construct single mothers on benefits as ‘breeders’ and her children as feral animals (not even worthy livestock).

Put another way, if queer can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to ‘the right to marry’ or ‘the right to have children’, then it can’t just be used as shorthand for not being married and not having children, either. If, as Lee Edelman notes, queer is a ‘structural positioning’, then we need to continue to think long and hard about precisely who is being positioned as ‘queer’ in queer theory too.

2 thoughts on “Let’s stop equating reproductive futurity with socially reproductive labour

  1. Having children and getting married are two separate activities. The status quo insists not only that they’re linked but are of overwhelming symbolic import (“Children should have a Mother and a Father” the Fundie Freaks whine) In actual life this is not at all the case. This March I married my lover of 43 years. We have no plans to have children. We have over the years been very close the child of a friend of mine — a single-parent adoption.

    This may be of “theoretical” consequence, but for us it’s just Life.


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