One of the reasons I haven’t blogged very much recently is that I’ve been so damn busy. I went away for a while to a lake up north, where I worked on the story in this subject heading as well as a couple of others (I even did some foresighting work, if you can believe that). The good news is that all of the stories I was working on were requests from other people — this one came from Rudy Rucker. In his words on the story, Rudy called it “a profound and richly felt piece so closely rooted in reality that it barely feels like SF,” and “an important story-essay on women’s rights.”
This story actually came about as a consequence of my involvement in the Strategic Foresight & Innovation program at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Initially, I wrote a fictional essay about the fall of Shenzhen from a systems theory perspective, invoking Donella Meadows and Jamshid Gharajedaghi and Clayton Christensen. It was an interesting exercise, one that I delayed starting for too long because I was stymied and had been working on my novel re-writes. I was in desperate need to write some short fiction, so (as I have done before) I turned in some instead of turning in a straight paper.
The story linked above has been cut significantly from that first essay, and a new subjectivity has taken the POV position within the story because the footnotes and bibliography and conceptual framing for systems theory has been removed. It took me a long time to re-frame the story appropriately, but I finally settled on a woman in the Quiverfull movement. Quiver-minded people follow Psalm 127:3-5:
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD:
and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man;
so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
they shall not be ashamed,
but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
I felt that a Quiver-minded woman would be uniquely positioned to speak to China’s only child policy, because while she eschewed any form of birth control, the women of China are legally obligated to embrace it. I’ve always been fascinated by reproductive policy, and I thought it would be interesting to bring this dichotomy into focus. I also knew it would mean delving into two worlds that I knew very little about: the factories of Shenzhen, and the farms and households of Quiver-minded families.
Conditions in both environments can be terrible.
The reasons for this should be obvious. In the worst of both cases, rigid patriarchy oppresses women who live almost barrack-style, endlessly performing the same tasks during their sixteen-hour days for very little reward and with little opportunity for open communication or self-expression. I recommend reading No Longer Quivering for insights into the consequences of the Quiverfull lifestyle, and this Fortune City post about working conditions in Shenzhen. (Or you could just read Cory’s latest, For the Win.)
This isn’t to say that I’m some sort of moral authority on either subject. I’m typing this on a Mac, which means I’m a consumer of Foxconn products, products made in factories where conditions are so awful that suicide is a regular occurrence among employees. I also don’t think that the entirety of the Quiverfull movement needs to die. Mary Pride, the author who in many ways began the movement, has since spoken out against Biblical patriarchy. Some might see this as a reversal, but to me it’s a more nuanced understanding of one’s own opinion and its consequences. I felt that I hadn’t really nailed the voice of this story until I read Pride’s post.
I also think that there are a surprising number of connections between the Quiverfull lifestyle and the DIY maker/crafter one espoused at BoingBoing and elsewhere online by avowed atheists. Having a lot of children (some Quiverfull families can have more than twenty) means learning how to stretch a dollar (that’s putting it mildly) and learning how to make consumables as cheaply as possible. In particular, I was fascinated by the women of the West family, who have turned their DIY expertise into a profitable video series for the Christian market. (Their blog is great, too. Warning: music.) Here’s a taste:
This isn’t a lifestyle that I can see myself living, but it is one that I can respect, and it’s part of how I found my way into the story. Personally, I find the idea of life without birth control horrifying, in a screamingly awful “I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream” kind of way. But part of being pro-choice is believing in the sanctity of the choice. Our bodies are ours to do with as we will. Anything less is slavery. And slavery takes more forms than we know.