I read an interesting article by anthropologist and birth activist, Robbie Davis-Floyd, in the summer issue of Pathways Magazine. It was an excerpt from a longer article that appeared in Anthropology News, titled “Anthropology and Birth Activism: What Do We Know?” In the conclusion, Davis-Floyd states the following:
“Doctors ‘know’ they are giving women ‘the best care,’ and ‘what they really want.’ Birth activists…know that this ‘best care’ is too often a travesty of what birth can be. And yet on that existential brink, I tremble at the birth activist’s coding of women as ‘not knowing.’ So, here’s to women educating themselves on healthy, safe birth practices–to women knowing what is best for themselves and their babies, and to women rising above everything else.” –Robbie Davis-Floyd
I believe that every woman who has given birth knows something about birth that other people don’t know. I also believe that women know what is right for their bodies and that mothers know what is right for their babies. I’m also pretty certain that these “knowings” are often crowded out or obliterated or rendered useless by the large sociocultural context in which women live their lives, birth their babies, and mother their young. So, how do we celebrate and honor the knowings and help women tease out and identify what they know compared to what they may believe or accept to be true while still respecting their autonomy and not denigrating them by characterizing them as “not knowing” or as needing to “be educated”?
Additionally, with regard to education as a strategy for change, I’m brought back to a point I raise in my community organizing class: People often suggest “education” as a change strategy with the assumption that education is all that is needed. But, truly, do we want people to know more or do we want them to act differently? There is a LOT of education available to women about birth choices and healthy birth options. What we really want is not actually more education, we want them to act, or to choose, differently. Education in and of itself is not sufficient, it must be complemented by other methods that motivate people to act. As the textbook I use in class states, “a simple lack of information is rarely the major stumbling block.” You have to show them why it matters and the steps they can take to get there…