Monday, July 10, 2006

Feminist response to "artificial" reproduction

On Alternet, June 6, Annalle Newitz posted an article, "Artificial Wombs and Pregnant Men".

The reason I want to bring the article up on this site is the tone of the responses to the article.

After all the reading I've been doing on various TP/TL sites, I found her position reasonable and intriguing. I agree with her view that feminists must engage in the discussion and decision making around reproductive technologies and I believe we need to view those possibilities with open minds. If we don't explore new concepts intellectually and think through the complexities without preconceived barriers, decisions will be reached without the voices of feminists being heard.

I am distressed by the reactionary responses to Annalee's article and realize my own focus, trying to grapple with new concepts and ethical conundrums, caused me to forget how entrenched most people are within the "natural" belief system. How do we reach intelligent, thoughtful women and get them to set aside their initial aversion long enough to realize they must become constructively engaged in the discussion?

If one were to take the least invasive of Annalee's manipulate hormone levels to enable men to lactate.....subtle shifts in parenting and gender roles would be possible without having to wait for tremendous advances in technology. I'm really fascinated by the possibilities that one small change might precipitate in society.

Linda Wallace


Dale Carrico said...

I think that there is a long history in which the costs and risks of technoscientific development have been borne disproportionately by the most vulnerable people in society. The "initial aversion" of many women to really radical discussions of genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification of the kind Newitz does testifies in a significant measure to their awareness of this long history.

I think people who fear (often rightly) that they will bear costs and risks in different measure than they will garner benefits, and who fear (again, often rightly) that they will have little or no voice in public decisions about technodevelopment that will affect them profoundly often turn to bioconservative ideologies that ultimately have sexist and racist implications that do them extraordinary harm.

Newitz tries to make these points but they are extremely difficult to get a hearing for. People want to be reassured that technoprogressives aren't simply corporatist Uncle Toms and Daddy's Girls, caught up in uncritical hype-nosis, unaware of the lessons of history, and so on.

But the problem is that the time it takes to provide these reassurances often leaves little time and room to explain what is promising, and potentially emancipatory in emerging technoscientific developments in the first place. By the time you establish credibility it no longer have the stamina to testify to the facts and possibilities you discern in the world that we might opportunistically turn to emancipatory uses.

It doesn't help when we turn in frustration to the shorthand language of "inevitability" to make technoprogressive cases. We say the genie is out of the bottle and then argue that since bans are impossible radical politics demands instead that we take control of the forces afoot. This is an argument that is compelling to me sometimes, but I worry about the way it seems first to disempower us before we even try to make our case for how our own strategies would empower us.

I also worry that many technoscientifically knowledgeable people tend to dismiss the concerns of the vulnerable as ignorant or sentimental. There is often a kernel of truth in such observations -- but rarely quite so much truth as those who make the charge seem to think -- and this form of dismissal distressingly restages some terribly familiar racist and sexist (etc.) strategies for denying vulnerable people expression of their concerns in general.

Even more generally, I sometimes think people give up hope so that they can get past despair. They become so endlessly skeptical that they may be relieved of the burden and heartbreak of critical engagement with history.

Thank heavens Newitz is in the trenches fighting this good fight! I felt very much as you did when I read her piece and the responses to it...

Mike Treder said...

Linda, thanks for posting this. For years, I've experienced difficulty trying to reason with people who start from a position of faith -- whether that be faith in supernatural deities, or in the intrinsic goodness of nature. Often I end up so frustrated that I just want to lash out, which is, of course, guaranteed not to achieve positive results.

I don't have any brilliant answers, but I do think that over the next several years, the importance of obtaining effective dialogue with people from different perspectives will become ever more crucial. How to do that without alienating believers is a tall order indeed.

Linda Wallace said...

I believe the response is more in tune with Dale's evaluation of perceived incursion on those things that define one's sense of self. Up until now, gestation of an embryo, birth and breast feeding have been roles exclusive to women and I have the impression of an underlying fear in the protective response to the possibility of losing that vital capacity.

My tapestry, "Promethean Dreams" was created to express my own concerns with reproductive technology removing gender barriers. What I began to worry about was the export of that technology to traditional, patriarchal societies where the only value women seem to have is their ability to provide the next generation of men. If they are no longer needed for that....what value will they have within that society? So, perhaps the fears are justified and we should understand the reasons beneath them...and make sure we're addressing those issues while reaching for the stars.

But, I'm right with you on the blind faith without rational grounding and the frustration resulting from trying to discuss issues with those whose minds are closed.

Linda Wallace