Sex & Destiny – Part 2 – Reproduction
With the female components of biological reproduction, the final chapters of reconstruction are almost complete with the introduction of assisted reproduction technologies and associated laws governing them. Childbirth was one the first to be reconstructed by males into an institution for male benefit, leading to the tortured deaths of millions of women over more than two centuries in Europe, as pointed out in Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born .
Birthing had to be at male convenience, and by male design, whether of domesticated animals or of women. It was treated by men as similar to a stubborn bowel obstruction, as that is how their bodies work. Males can’t do it – therefore it is an aberration, a ‘Misfit’ piece of awkward non-male and therefore non-human biology that needs some sort of surgery to ‘fix’. If physical surgery/reconstruction won’t fix it – then social surgery will have to do.
As Mary Daly pointed out in her discussion of the characteristics of the Sado-Ritual Syndrome, such torture rituals usually start in the upper and middle-classes, become fashionable and spread downward over time. Just like marriage did. The first women to submit to the knives and torture of the man-midwives in the middle-ages, were the royal wives of European nobility.
No wonder women welcomed and demanded the introduction of chloroform by the 19th Century. Women in modern Western hospitals of 1999, still routinely have their genitals mutilated during hospital childbirth. British feminists have established support groups for women who have suffered major genital damage as a result of such mutilations, as damaging as rape and often more so. It is exactly the same as FGM, it is just another long historical cultural tradition of cruelty to women. It is no wonder then, that many women having been mutilated in one childbirth, or fearing such mutilation after hearing the stories of their sisters, mothers, friends – would prefer, request, choose and even demand aneasthetised Caesarian section. By late 20th Century, we have midwives charged with child endangerment, or in some places, midwifery is even illegal with heavy criminal penalties attached. But we don’t burn them at the Stake anymore. For even amongst other primates, and many other higher mammals on earth, the oldest female profession is midwifery, not prostitution, that came much later in human (ie male) social constructions.
Less well known is a similar Sado-Ritual Syndrome surrounding lactation. Although many women will continue to whisper their testimony to the whole-body not-quite-sexual eroticism of breastfeeding in kaffee-klatsches and suburban play-group centres, most Western women still don’t breastfeed or if they do, not for very long. ie. “the minimum necessary”. One friend of mine, said “Don’t ever tell men how you feel, or they will force us to cut off our breasts at puberty.”
Its like women are not allowed to enjoy any bits of their bodies, that do not conform or correspond to a male biological counterpart.
Mothers who breastfeed for too long, too often, or in public (ie male spheres) are seen as an aberration. Despite a push by women’s health-workers in recent decades to reverse this process, it has been less than successful. As with childbirth, males can’t do it – therefore it is an aberration, a ‘Misfit’ piece of biology that needs some sort of surgery to ‘fix’. If physical and medical surgery/reconstruction won’t fix it – (as in remove it like an “unneccessary”intestinal appendix), then social surgery will have to do.
Previous generations, in the middle-ages and through the nineteenth century saw upper-class women abandoning breastfeeding of their own children or forced and coerced to by their menfolk, and so it was left to servant and slave-women to do it, the invisible ‘wet-nurses’. In the 20th century, the removal of breastfeeding by the formula-bottle, allowed many more women in all socio-economic classes to abandon such stigmata of lower-class slavery.
With recent technological advances, we are just beginning to see the beginnings of the removal of pregnancy. Upper-class wealthy women can hire a surrogate womb, just as previous generations hired wet-nurses. Like the wet-nurses, the gestational mother, or surrogate ‘womb-for-rent’ is the least paid, the least visible, the least valued and is given at best, token respect for her altruism. So is the nanny or au-pair, and the day-care creche workers, and the pre-school kindy teachers, who are amongst the lowest paid and lowest-status workers. With high-profile trials of murderous and incompetent nannies, we can’t even trust our servant classes to be mothers anymore. But not to worry, within 30-50 years, maybe earlier or later, it can be taken over by machinery for all socio-economic classes and that mythical all-powerful, pregnant, child-feeding, child-tending, or child-teaching woman can be completely dispensed with. And good riddance, is heard by all.
Its interesting with the recent splits of biological ‘mothers’ – ie. genetic mother, the gestational mother and the social mother. Men of course, can also be genetic parents, and social parents, hence these roles are socially valued accordingly.
However, the mental gyrations that masculinist biologists had to go through to ‘reconstruct’ the process of female ovum donation to be conform and be parallel to male sperm donation is mind-boggling. Young, healthy, pretty American and British women can now sell their ova via the internet. ‘Its no different to sperm donation’, they say.
Excuse me? When women can donate their ova via a 5-minute wank, I’ll believe that.
So men and women are ‘equal’ as genetic parents, in this social reconstruction, if you can reconstruct the ovum to sperm as directly equal and equivalent pieces of biology. This Erases the critically important organelles of the ovum, including its own DNA separate to the cell nucleus.
We can of course socially and surgically minimise and remove that from the equation, in order to force the concept in our brains that they indeed are exactly the ‘same’. Again, human (ie male) reconstruction of the facts of biology, physics and chemistry, in order to make it “fit” the way male bodies function.
But males can’t gestate at all, or even come close, so the gestational female is the least valued, and worse for her, she can’t be reconstructed to fit a male biological ‘norm’. A Total Misfit. As with lactating women, she must reconstruct herself to do it the way males can do it, or if that’s not possible, rendered invisible in a backroom in purdah, or held in social limbo, until such time as we can dispense with her altogether.
The legal ramifications are the most mind-boggling on pregnant women, for 9 months they are in legal limbo, ie not human, because there is no male biological counterpart. Courts scratch their heads. She doesn’t “fit”. Especially surrogates. Therefore she/it does not exist, is not human, and hence logically, no human rights.
As with Daly’s analysis about how such mechanisms are enforced – we could argue that the USA as a dominant world cultural force. The “upper-class” of all nations and cultures, so to speak. The adoption of commercial surrogacy, and its legalisation and promulgation in the USA during the 1980’s and 1990’s is not universally followed by other countries as yet – but the pressure is building, and will obviously be adopted by the rest of the world sooner or later, as it becomes more successful and cheaper.
Every psycho-analytical theory from Freud onwards, including some feminist theory, has claimed that mother-child bonding is somehow detrimental to humans. Particularly if prolonged beyond the ‘minimum necessary’, which is defined at the limits of masculine biological/social capability.
So it should be discouraged, and de-valued to that male-defined ‘minimum necessary’ for the maintenance of physical health of the infant, and no more. Women have been encouraged for generations to ‘separate’ themselves from the child/infant at younger and younger ages (just like men do). Eventually, we all hope, the minimum necessary will be nothing at all. The feminist theorists however, go on to say that it isn’t the mother’s fault – its just a by-product of primitive biology and sexism, and technology and greater participation in ‘real-life’ (ie male or ‘human’ lifestyles) will get rid of the whole messy business eventually.
So we forgive the mother for her sins, whilst still calling motherhood itself a sin, and biological motherhood, the most sinful of all. At best, we support the inclusion of fathers in the social parenting role, to try and rid parenthood of its all-powerful bad-mother female image. But even men who do take an active participatory role in parenting their children – are considered “lesser” men by others. Men who do find enormous joy and meaning in their parental role, rarely ‘come out’ about it.
It’s not important or valuable to men. Probably because most men can’t identify with the earth-fathers doting on their babies, anymore than they can identify with a lactating or menstruating woman. Male mothers aren’t considered any more important than female ones – but at least they aren’t biological Misfits and deserve respect for that. Of course, Big Daddy will “prove” through his retroactive reconstructed scholarship that he was better at it all along, once he ‘liberated’ all that messy Misfit female biology.
After thousands of years of enforced motherhood, where women didn’t even have the choice of which male sired their children – I can empathise with Shulamith Firestone’s cry of ‘Pregnancy is barbaric!’ and some women’s desire to abandon motherhood and its attendant biology altogether. I get it. I do understand and empathise with why many women would feel this way. Pregnant and breast-feeding mothers are a reminder of the cruelty, the physical and psychological rape heaped on our mothers for generations. Biological motherhood is also a symbol of our greatest powerlessness, our bodies are taken over by forces beyond our control – and the masculine value-system of “power-over” is eagerly sought to replace the value-system of “power-to”.
Perhaps throwing out female biology and replacing it with masculine techno-porn processes designed to imitate and conform to masculine biology, will liberate women, as depicted in Marge Piercy’s popular utopian novel Woman on the Edge of Time.. Nonetheless I was uncomfortable when a main character justified this with ‘We all had to give up our power-bases’ like it was some kind of direct one-to-one ‘equal’ exchange or trade-off of equivalent commodities-– men sharing their power-bases is considered equivalent to women sharing their mythical ‘power’ of biological reproduction. Just like the ova is somehow equal to a sperm cell. They are not equivalent, they are different, they are chalk and cheese.
When I first read this, my initial response was “What powerbase have mothers ever had?” and “How is it considered equal to male power-bases?” The first thing patriarchy did was expropriate reproduction, and keep mothers under very tight control. Mothers are still, and have always been, the most vulnerable, the most controlled, and most powerless of all women. When they do have any little power, it is DELEGATED authority, they can only exercise what they are allowed to, or given permission to do.
In the search for an androgynous solution to the gender wars, some women seem to agree with patriarchy that female biology is the root of all evil and social oppression. Get rid of the Misfit female biology and problem solved.
May those Mad, Mad Women, those Misfit Mothers, Rest in Peace.