The criminalization of women’s control over procreation is a phenomenon whose importance cannot be overemphasized, both from the viewpoint or its effects on women and its consequences for the capitalist organization of work. As is well documented through the Middle Ages women had possessed many means of contraception, mostly consisting of herbs which turned into potions and “pessaries” (suppositories) were used to quicken a woman’s period, provoke an abortion, or create a condition of sterility. In Eve’s herbs : A History of contraception in the West (1997), the American historian John Riddle has given us an extensive catalogue of the substances that were most used and the effects expected of them or most likely to occur. The criminalization of contraception expropriated women from this knowledge that had been transmitted from generation to generation, giving them some autonomy with respect to child-birth. It appears that, in some cases, this knowledge was not lost but was only driven underground; yet when birth control again made its appearance on the social scene, contraceptive methods were no longer of the type that women could use, but were specifically created for use by men. What demographic consequences followed from this shift is a question that for the moment I will not pursue, though f refer to Riddle’s work for a discussion oft this matter. Here I only want to stress that by denying women control over their bodies, the
state deprived them of the most fundamental condition for physical and psychological integrity and degraded maternity to the status of forced labor, in addiction to confining women to reproductive work in a way unknown in previous societies. Nevertheless, forc­ing women to procreate against their will or (as a feminist song from the 1970. had it) forcing them to ” produce children for the state,”62 only in part defined women’s function in the new sexual division of labor. A complementary aspect was the definition of women as non-workers, a process much studied by feminist historians, which by the enf of the 17th century was nearly completed.

Silvia FEDERICI, Caliban and the Witch, p. 92
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