Participating in local geek spaces (like gaming groups and book clubs) requires a time commitment and very often it requires money. As one lone person, this can be difficult. A person with children faces even more hurdles. Will the convention be child friendly? Can I find child care during or at the convention? Can I afford childcare so I can participate in local geek groups and events? Can I afford to feed myself, my child, and still participate in the geek cultural activities that are important for my own identity and well-being?
These questions are just one way in which geek culture intersects with something called reproductive justice. The reproductive justice movement seeks to facilitate a social discourse around the reproductive choices all people have, and works towards a world where people are free to make and follow through with those reproductive choices, rather than having outside forces and oppression force them one way or the other.
I recently joined a group of folks from the local Rocky Horror Picture Show cast that attended a class to learn more about reproductive justice and talk about how it relates to our lives as geeky people of varying identities. For Minnesota’s Pro-Choice Resources (PCR), inclusion is a fundamental theme woven into the discussions it fosters. PCR frequently offers classes to educate people about how reproductive oppression affects all people, the resources available to them, and their rights concerning reproductive choices including pregnancy, adoption, raising children, and remaining childfree.
We started out the class by introducing ourselves and sharing one of our identities. These included “science-fiction writer,” “insomniac,” and “queer as fuck,” among many others. After each person listed an identity, we moved on to a group activity in which we listed a variety of big life decisions.We then listed the different identities, relationships, and institutions that inform our reproductive choices. This activity tied in closely with the identities and life decisions we had just listed. It illustrated how our identities and life events interact with the relationships in our lives and how we make our decisions regarding reproduction. The new list included mental health, socioeconomic status, culture, family members, housemates, intimate partners, employers (for things such as paid time off and benefit information), political leaders, laws, health-care providers, friends and other support networks, clubs, and many others.
The group discussed how all of these identities, relationships, and institutions impact our decisions regarding reproduction. Your community’s political leaders, for example, can influence your reproductive decisions by making laws regarding contraception, reproduction, and even adoption. Your community, including your geek community, can also influence your decisions—be that because of the resources available in that community, or the culture the community cultivates towards pregnancy, morality, parenting, and children. This activity opened up the class’s discussion about reproductive justice in an intersectional, highly analytical way that I hadn’t seen in other reproductive-justice settings.
One of the most exciting things about the way PCR structured this class was that the discussions were all very question-based. This format gave the participants a chance to reflect, speak from their lived experiences, and come to their own conclusions organically rather than being talked at or told. It lent a cohesive and collaborative atmosphere to the class as well: this helped foster an environment of learning from one another’s stories instead of debating concepts and hypothetical situations. (Debating can certainly be useful, but it is refreshing to see collaboration in learning.) The approach made the class especially relevant to a group of self-identifying geeks. It helped keep the class focused on issues that were relevant to our lives, as well as helped us understand how those same issues can affect others both inside and outside of the geek community.
After the class activity, the discussion veered from factors that influence reproductive decisions to how some of those very factors make reproductive resources inaccessible. We talked about laws that restrict abortion access by mandating extra hurdles like forced ultrasounds (intended to shame women into carrying a pregnancy to term) and “crisis pregnancy centers” that purposely misinform pregnant people about their options. We also talked about the ways in which American sex education fails to adequately prepare and inform young people and how that poor education creates a barrier to resources for healthy sexual relationships.
But reproductive justice isn’t just about abortion and sex ed. Reproductive Justice is so named because it encompasses all aspects of child bearing and rearing and all aspects of choosing not to do so.
One important aspect of reproductive justice that is near and dear to many a geek is child care. Finding someone to care for your child so that you have time and freedom to attend conventions, gaming groups, and other geeky activities is costly. The average child-care facility costs between $200 and $300 weekly. (I don’t think I’m the only person who did a double take when reading that.) Another factor is education, specifically higher education. While putting a child through primary school is costly and time consuming as a parent (helping with homework, attending student-teacher conferences and extracurriculars), many parents worry about how to put their children through higher education. The cost of a university education has increased by factor of 12 in the last 30 years, and you would be hard pressed to find a millennial who isn’t trying to stay afloat in a sea of student loan debt.
These aren’t exactly great circumstances in which to bring up a kid. When it comes to choosing between participating in the things you love, the things integral to making you “you”—conventions and geeky community building, gaming, cosplay, all that nerdy goodness—and being able to afford to bring a kid into the world (hello, rising medical costs and unpaid maternity leave), let alone putting that kid through school, it really is kind of a rock and a hard place for a lot of geeks. Many decide that having and raising children is a priority and end up cutting back on their participation in geek communities, or struggle to find a balance between financial challenges and limited time that must be allocated to children—not uncommonly at the cost of their short or long term physical or mental health. Many also decide that staying childfree is right for them. That’s legit, too. Some choose to stay childfree for other reasons, such as mental health, or personal preference. And some people just aren’t great with kids; there’s no shame in that.
Whether a person chooses to stay childfree or not, the point is that it’s important for the choice to be there, and we have the resources and ability to make that choice without being forced one way or the other by circumstances (read: systems of oppression like classism, racism, and sexism).
Reproductive justice is when all people and communities have the economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction. This includes the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.
If you are struggling with these choices yourself or are in need of resources—parenting classes, child care information, contraceptive and abortion information, etc.—here are some awesome places to start:
- Pro-Choice Resources: A grassroots organization in Minnesota, PCR helps people leverage their power to create change through community and grassroots organizing. It also seeks to provide people who can get pregnant with information and access to their options (parenting, adoption, and abortion, as well as secular abortion aftercare, a service that is one-of-a-kind in the nation). PCR also works to educate people about sexual health and reproduction and break down the stigmas and misinformation around sex and sexuality.
- Family Tree Clinic: Located in the heart of St. Paul, Minnesota, Family Tree Clinic has provided low-cost, patient driven health care and education services since 1971. Family Tree Clinic’s mission is to cultivate a healthy community through comprehensive sexual health care and education, and to eliminate health disparities through innovative, personalized sexual health care and education for diverse needs. In addition to their medical clinic, they provide comprehensive community education services and education services for the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing community.
- Planned Parenthood Minnesota: For almost 100 years, Planned Parenthood has been an organization that is passionate about three things—sexual and reproductive health care, education, and advocacy. Its unwavering commitments include providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care for all, regardless of ability to pay, to support people in making healthy choices throughout their lifetimes.
If you are interested in learning more about reproductive justice, check out these organizations:
- Forward Together: A multiracial organization out of Oakland, California, Forward Together works toward building leadership; creating community networks; and making sure women, youth, and families have the information and resources they need to thrive.
- Sister Song: A collective of women of color from the South, Sister Song builds networks through communities of color to empower women, destroy systems of oppression and reproductive oppression, and support women of color. The organization integrates reproductive justice into other areas of social justice, creating an intersectional lens through which the lived experiences of women of color can be seen and validated. They also emphasize the importance of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in their training of young activists.
The above are just a handful of the many great organizations that work to empower people who can get pregnant, educate people about sexual health, and break down systems of oppression.
Working towards reproductive justice as a geek community means creating circumstances that give us all the ability to choose whether or not we want kids instead of having our circumstances choose that for us. As geeks, these issues are not solely of our making, nor solely ours to bear, but they definitely affect us and our community. And we should at least be aware of that so we can support each other and empower our reproductive decisions. Some ways we can do that include:
- Offering affordable childcare options opposite organized geek events, so those who choose to have and raise children can still participate.
- Making contraceptives such as condoms available at events—especially events that can include an overnight stay.
- Designing our gatherings to be welcoming and accessible to all types of families, including pregnant people, and including childfree people.
- Seeking out ways to keep our gatherings affordable for all types of families.
- Deliberately cultivating a culture in our clubs and events that is equally friendly and accommodating for people who choose to have and raise children and for those who choose to be childfree, regardless of their circumstances.
What are some other ways you can promote reproductive justice in your geek community?
Lastly, if you have a group of friends, or a club, that would like to take one of PCR’s classes on reproductive justice (I highly recommend the experience), go fill out this form on their website and select “Host a Reproductive Justice Education Gathering.”