Friday, 23 May 2008

Lesbian mums and the end of patriarchy

Medical technology is an awesome thing. It can save lives, cure terrible diseases, rebuild bodies. It can prolong and improve the lives of the chronically ill and disabled beyond the wildest dreams of sufferers even fifty years ago. It can reattach limbs, restore sight, cure depression, return the manic to health and sanity. But can it be used to give women control over whether and when they have children? Only if male doctors and MPs say so.

Whoever your parents are, they're going to fuck you up to some extent. I make no apologies for assuming that gay women and single women are just as likely to make good parents as anyone else, if not more so, as children conceived via the arduous process of IVF are slightly more likely to be wanted and treasured infants. For the purposes of this post we shall assume that one's sexual orientation has no bearing on one's likelihood of raising an unfucked-up child, nor on one's right to attempt to do so. With that one out the way, let's tuck in to a tasty breakfast of radical feminism with a gin chaser.

Throughout the wholesale technological reworking of the cultural landscape in the 20th and 21st centuries, laws remained in place to prevent new medical technologies and increased understanding liberating women’s reproductive choices. Even now, a woman must gain the permission of two doctors and undergo stringent ‘checks’ before she can access safe medical abortion. Until recently, women seeking IVF needed to declare a father and use a named man’s sperm despite the existence of plausible alternatives. But this week, in an impressive feat of anti-Luddism, MPs voted to allow single female parents and lesbian couples the right to reproductive self-determination: the right to have children, if they choose, without mandatory male interference.

‘Fathers are no longer needed!’ screamed the headlines as the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill passed through the commons on Tuesday. Well, we could have told you that. Millions of us grew up without fathers at home, without fathers at all. Millions more of us have loving and productive relationships with our fathers, but it is categorically not the case that any father at all is better than no father. The work of pregnancy, labour and the majority of childrearing still falls upon women, and it is inhumane to insist that that work be anything other than a sphere of self-determination. Men do not go through the physical trauma of conception, pregnancy and labour; men can have no right, as such, to insist upon any control over the process. It might be hard for individual men to swallow, but until medical technology enables them to conceive, incubate and bear children themselves, fatherhood will remain a privilege to be earned, rather than a right to be insisted on.

Reproductive rights campaigning goes far deeper than individual instances of choice. It’s a powerful cultural fascination, an issue that is woven into the very fabric of the stories that make us modern. From the rape of the Sabine women to Europa, ancient myth and precedent is obsessed by violent male control of feminine reproductive potential. From Brave New World to 1984 to the Culture, fables and fictions of the future are replete with paranoid speculation over the reorganisation of reproductive control.

The power to continue – or not to continue – the human race is quite simply the biggest social loaded gun on the planet. Since the dawn of patriarchy, male control over reproductive rights has been essential to the furtherance of patriarchal power, just as the ancient matriarchies ended when men’s involvement in human reproduction was realised.

This is why the rights of women to have children without ‘declaring the father’, to terminate pregnancy and to raise children alone, are such emotive and important legal sticking points. Women’s right to decide whether and when and how they have children is the ultimate threat to the rule of men, the ultimate insult to the divine supremacy of the father, and this week’s Commons vote is a milestone in the erosion of political patriarchy whose significance we will be debating for years to come.

Conservative MPs such as Ian Duncan Smith have made "impassioned pleas that the Government plan would "drive another nail into the coffin of the traditional family"" (DailyHate, 21.05.08). The assumption of the Tories is that the vacuous notion of the 'traditional family' ever had any relevance. The organisation of human love has little to do with how children are raised and everything to do with the maintenance of the bourgeois state - and excuse me for coughing communism onto this keyboard, I've got this little marxist tickle that just won't quit.

The Embryology Bill marks a turning point in the history of patriarchy, and all of us -men and women and transpeople, feminists and libertarians and trade unionists - can congratulate ourselves on beating back the tide of fundamentalist reactionism at extremely short notice. But, since this is a fight we're going to be called to again and again, we will have to spend the meantime coming to terms with the radical systemic social change that must be the end-point of our ideology. The rights of women to biological self-determination, the rights of mothers to bear or not to bear children without mandatory male interference, must remain fixed points on the agenda of the British left. Men have a right to stand alongside women, a right to care for their children, a right to take up the responsibilities of fatherhood once that privilege has been granted them. Fathers have their place. But that place is no longer at the head of the table.


  1. I agree totaly on what you say about bringing up children, that it doesnt matter who does it, how many people are doing or what the family structure is but I do think its really important for children to be able to accses inoformation on thier biological history and have the right to know who their biological parents are.I know a lot of people who are either adopted or born by various forms of IVF/Donor/surogacy and the not knowing who your biological parents are can be really wounding for some people

  2. not knowing who your biological parents are can be really wounding for some people

    But how much of that is simply because of socialisation under the patriarchal schema, to consider those things as important? Yet another way of reintroducing the importance of the male figure as Father.

    Inasmuch as biological parenthood can have real medical consequences, then yes, it's important to have that information available. But I'm not sure you even need to consider it as parenthood, although there isn't an easy form of language to describe the relation where genetic origins are completely distinct from family relations.

  3. So we ignore peoples woundings because it comes out of a patriarchal construct?

    Thats like saying LGBT people shouldnt have the right to get married because marriage is a patriarchal construct.

    I am not sugesting the genetic parents have any legal say in bringing up the child, just its important for the child to know who they are.and to have the right to have contact with them if they want it.

    most people take knowing their genetic/cultural history for granted, most people take genetic mirroring for granted so they dont know how much the absence of that influences and often wounds peoples lives

  4. I like how this article really brings out the radical potential of biological self-determination for women, Laurie, & I have to say I agree. That's why I've never found motherhood to be an appealing or desirable part of either my personal destiny or of the future of feminism - it is, stupidly (given that it all comes back to our cunts) the most powerful weapon women have against patriarchy. Just think if all the classy businesswomen refused to have children. Just think of Children of Men, ridiculous fear-baiting film that it is. What I'm saying is, fuck the bourgeois family & all that it entails. Go grrrl.

  5. I can follow this reasoning only insofar as it relates to sperm donation and the like.

    If you extend much of this thinking to the realm of conception via intercourse (regardless of intention), exclusion of willing fathers merely substitutes one alleged oppressor figure for another.

    Vaguely related link on that matter that I stumbled upon researching DNA and paternity matters:

  6. I am not sugesting the genetic parents have any legal say in bringing up the child, just its important for the child to know who they are.and to have the right to have contact with them if they want it.

    The idea that it's important for a child to know who their biological parents are is assumed to be intrinsically true by modern society, but I'm not convinced.

    Children who grow up being told that they need to know this in order to know who they are will (may) grow up believing it and, therefore, be wounded by not having such knowledge. If we grow up understanding that the answer to who we are can only be found inside our heads, we don't need information about genetic parents at all. Imo, it's only because identity has become so malleable and unknown for so many that this is an issue at all.

    I guess, the question for me is whether an adopted child who is never aware that they are adopted has been harmed in any way. I would argue not.

  7. What then do you say to the imminent arrival of the 'artificial womb'? Technology sweeps on and soon men will enjoy equal reproductive autonomy. There will always be 'eggs' available and science will answer that hiccup soon enough.

    Do you have an objection to a child born in this way?

    Anecdotally speaking, I have met many who do.

    Is it wrong somehow for men to have a stake in the biological future of humanity?

    ...Of course, any objection to the above will be mere hypocrisy and rightly derided...

    A side note:

    You do, I assume, realise that biology (and technological inadequacies) dictated the majority of historical mating rules and not some clandestine patriarchal scheme. (And I said 'majority'... the world still harbours those who disguise 'power' as need).

    I know it's easier to blame a tangible group but that is hardly a good argument. The specifics of any society are immaterial as nature is ambivalent to personal choice. Then again, maybe you do think it was all "deliberate oppression" and not circumstance. How do you think women would have cared for children without male help? In some matriarchal clan... then how do you get men to take part? Ah, men are only interested in sex, eh? You have no idea what you are talking about if this is your belief... stop projecting. If you think this is all we care for the question arises: Is that all you have to offer? In this false dichotomy one or both sides will be vilified.

    [Apologies for the 'strawman' overtones above...]

    Back on topic: ...face it...

    In truth, Fathers are not needed.
    In truth, Mothers are not needed.

    I say again: Mothers are NOT needed... absurd reductions will work on all parties.

    If you don't need one then you need neither and all too soon that will also be an option. The state can be either parent and indeed both parents... this will go far beyond orphanages...

    If you think this is nonsense then you need to re-read your own blog. Change the pro-nouns and all will be revealed... oh, and try having a little empathy. You seem to want it but fail to give it.

    It might also pay you to think of what will happen when you convince a large number of men that they have no part to play in the future... 'cause if you think it's bad now then just wait and see.

    This is the law of unintended consequences at play and dancing with an oft missed placed belief the law of scarcity.

    And to address an underlying presupposition prevalent in your posts... My gain is NOT necessarily your loss. As your gain is NOT necessarily my loss.

    In other words, it is merely a "contingent truth" that one persons gain is another's loss. It is NOT a "necessary truth".

    Men's rights sites miss this point because they are a mirror reflection of feminist sites that also fail to address this meme.

    All groups also conflate 'good' with 'need'... I don't need a woman, you don't need a man... I don't need much but what I do know is that women are good and men are good. I know this despite evidence to the contrary.


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