Commentary Maternity and Birthing

‘Man Pregnancy’ and Other Harmful Notions That Prevent Inclusivity

Lydia Dickerson

Our society polices which bodies are supposed to reproduce—everything that falls outside of these expectations becomes a spectacle or public property.

Cross-posted with permission from Choice Words.

Remember Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man who appeared on Oprah, claiming to be the first? Well he wasn’t. He was the first post-transition, transgender man to “go public” about keeping and using his female reproductive organs but by no means the first pregnant man. In going public and naming himself an anomaly, he attracted audiences much like a circus freak would.

More recently, author Benjamin Percy was interviewed on The Today Show about his experience being “man pregnant,” as he called it.

Percy’s definition of “man pregnant”: “[Wearing] a pregnancy suit for nine weeks in an effort to be a better father by gaining an understanding of what women go through when they’re pregnant.”

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There are so many things wrong with this.

First off, Percy’s reasoning assumes that the experience of pregnancy makes a person a better parent. It also assumes that parents who do not experience pregnancy practice bad parenting. That idea is obviously false, and it reinforces the notion that women are natural mothers, whereas men are not. This kind of thinking is a product of the patriarchal system we live in, which harms everyone.

Secondly, Beatie and Percy show us that our society strictly polices who can and who cannot bear children. More specifically, society polices which bodies are supposed to reproduce—everything that falls outside of these expectations becomes a spectacle or public property. The majority of our society sees reproduction as a women’s issue, when in reality many women cannot reproduce and many men can (and do!).

Meagan Morse, a writer for National Women’s Health Network, discusses these misconceptions in relation to inclusive language. She critiques the phrase “war on women,” noting that it is catchy and helpful in many realms but not a category under which reproductive justice should fall. She writes, “Although they do overlap, the categories of ‘women’ and ‘people who can get pregnant’ are not the same. Some trans men, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming folk can and do get pregnant and are therefore directly harmed by legislation that restricts their access to abortion.” In other words, not only does operating under the assumption that only women reproduce and unintentionally using marginalizing language erase people from the reproductive justice conversation, but it also adversely affects groups that already face countless barriers to accessing reproductive health care.

Both Beatie and Percy show us that if your body cannot be found on the short list called “who is allowed to be pregnant,”* your body and your pregnancy become laughable. And although Beatie’s five minutes of fame were half a decade ago, he still serves as an example of our society’s misconceptions about who can get pregnant and reminds us why the reproductive justice movement must continue to make strides toward inclusivity.

*That list would look something like this:

1. Women

The “who is not allowed to be pregnant” list would be much longer.

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