Friday, March 09, 2012

Anna Smajdor: pregnancy is unjust

Dr Anna Smajdor lectures in ethics at the University of East Anglia. She has written a paper ("The moral imperative for ectogenesis") on the issue of fertility. She begins by observing that fertility rates are declining in Western societies due to many women delaying family formation until well into their 30s. She recognises that "the obvious response to this is to persuade women to reproduce earlier." But she cannot endorse this obvious response:
Encouraging women to curb their other interests and aspirations in order to have children at biologically and socially optimal times reemphasizes that it is women who take on the risks, whereas society in general profits from these sacrifices. This, I suggest, is a prima facie injustice.

She believes that pregnancy is unjust, because it might impede women's "other interests and aspirations". So, rather than encouraging women to have children in their 20s, she believes a more just solution would be for scientists to develop "ectogenesis" - childbirth through artificial wombs:
In short, what is required is ectogenesis: the development of artificial wombs that can sustain fetuses to term without the need for women’s bodies. Only by thus remedying the natural or physical injustices involved in the unequal gender roles of reproduction can we alleviate the social injustices that arise from them.

And again:
The fact that women have to gestate and give birth in order to have children, whereas men do not, is a prima facie injustice that should be addressed by the development of ectogenesis.

Having gotten this far, Anna Smajdor then lets loose on pregnancy itself:
Pregnancy is barbaric

There has been a conceptual failure in medical and social and ethical terms to address the pathological nature of gestation and childbirth

Inevitably, part of her argument against pregnancy is the loss of autonomy experienced by women in having to consider the well-being of the foetus:
The final point to make here is the well-known one that, for expectant mothers, the fact of encompassing another life in their bodies often takes a serious toll on their autonomy. Pregnant women are routinely expected to subsume their appetites and desires into those that would be in keeping with the well-being of the fetus. ...Respect for one’s bodily integrity, something that most men may take for granted at least in a medical setting, is by no means assured for women even in societies that pride themselves on concern for ethics and autonomy.

But don't women choose to have children? Yes, concedes Anna Smajdor, but men who choose to have children don't suffer this loss of autonomy and therefore there is inequality and injustice. Anna Smajdor is realistic enough to recognise that her call for ectogenesis won't get much public support right now. But she thinks it is a justice issue that will one day prevail:
People need to be persuaded. Probably the “yuck factor” will be too strong for it to prevail as yet. But just as it was thought absurd that women should vote or ride horses astride, so it may come to seem absurd that they were chained to the degrading and dangerous processes of pregnancy and childbirth simply because of our inability to get our heads round the possibility of an alternative.

I was curious after reading Anna Smajdor's article what my wife had thought about her two pregnancies. So I asked her and she replied "They were the best years of my life".

So there is a vast gulf between how my wife experienced pregnancy and what Anna Smajdor holds it to be.

How did Anna Smajdor arrive at such a negative view of childbearing? Clearly, she looks on pregnancy more as a threatening impediment to female aspirations than as a fulfilment of them. If you take autonomy as your standard, that can make sense. There have been liberals who have criticised motherhood as a merely "biological" rather than self-determined destiny. They see careers as offering more autonomy to women as careers can be uniquely chosen and can bring financial independence.

If you accept the above, then you'll probably think of men as being advantaged in life, as men have traditionally focused on careers, whilst women had children and focused more on home life. So justice comes to mean equalising the opportunity for career, by having men and women adopt the same work and family roles.

Anna Smajdor has taken this one step further, by objecting even to the biological distinction that it is women who bear children (and who therefore potentially might have their careers interrupted) rather than men.

Alternatively it could just be that pregnancy is an unbearable reminder to Anna Smajdor of the reality of sex distinctions that are given to us as part of our nature rather than self-determined.

Lawrence Auster wrote recently:

As I and other traditionalist conservatives often point out (though our respective ways of putting it may differ slightly), the highest thing according to liberalism is the self and its desires. Only that which we personally choose has moral validity. That which is given to us by God, nature, and society without our personal choice and desire--our upbringing, our culture (along with the transcendent moral order it represents), our genetic inheritance, our race, even our very bodies and our sex--has no reality or value and should have no power over us.

But look what that liberal approach leads to. It leads to the idea that a woman bearing a child, nurturing a child within her, is barbaric, pathological, degrading and unjust. The moral thing becomes the artificial womb.

22 comments:

  1. Your wife says it was the best years of her life; what does the author say about her own pregnancies? has she ever HAD any?

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  2. With regards to the question "How did Anna Smajdor arrive at such a negative view of childbearing?" my gut reaction upon initially reading your description of her paper is that she read it in Shulamith Firestone's "The Dialectic of Sex". Firestone too argued that artificial means of reproduction need to be developed to free women from the injustice of pregnancy. I was not surprised therefore, when I looked at the paper itself, that Firestone's book is one of her sources. The phrase "Pregnancy is Barbaric", which is one of her subheadings, is a direct quotation from "The Dialectic of Sex".

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  3. Look on the bright side: the Anna Smajdors and Linda Hirshmans will eventually die out without having passed on their genes, while the rest of us will continue and celebrate life.

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  4. Gerry T Neal, I think you're onto something. I just had a quick look at "The Dialectic of Sex" and found the following quote:

    the end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud's 'polymorphous perversity' - would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.

    That was written back in 1970, but it's now being taught in a serious way by a lecturer in ethics at an English university.

    Shulamith says it openly: the aim is to overcome the sex distinction between men and women and that involves removing women from the motherhood role altogether.

    In this view the biological family and our existence as men and women are oppressions (tyrannies) from which we need to be liberated.

    How tremendous is the gap between that view and the traditionalist aim which, if anything, is to free individuals to fulfil themselves as men and women within the biological family.

    We are aiming at opposing things.

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  5. It might be worth noting that Shulamith Firestone wasn't able to build a life for herself on the world view she put forward in The Dialiectic of Sex. By the 1980s she was under psychiatric care and she refused the offer to republish her book on the basis that it had brought her harm.

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  6. The thing that I find deliciously ironic about all of this is that the very vehicle which Smajdor sees as a revolutionary implement of female empowerment was (and I believe still is) viewed by some within the feminist movement as a horrific device that should never come into existence:

    http://www.antifeministtech.info/2011/05/feminist-paranoia-about-artificial-wombs-and-other-reproductive-technologies/

    http://www.antifeministtech.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/dworkin_gynocide.jpg

    http://www.antifeministtech.info/2011/06/women%E2%80%99s-role-as-child-bearer-is-rapidly-becoming-unnecessary-and-in-many-cases-even-harmful/

    Perhaps, for once, Dworkin may have some semblance of a point. Take away the one exclusive province of women and what do you get?

    -We've already seen the dehumanization campaign directed at fathers. What happens when that flamethrower of hatred and alienation gets directed at mothers?

    -Will we have angry children of incomplete families who look at the female half of their biological heritage and say: "F**k that woman. She's not my mom, she's just an egg donor." ?

    -What happens if/when the procedure becomes cheaper and safer than biological childbirth?
    --"I have three beautiful children. All without the stress and aggravation of finding a suitable mother! I highly recommend other men use the eggtank service."
    --"9 months of effort. Whoop de doo. Tell me why you didn't use a tank, again?"
    --"You either use the tank to bear your child, or we fire you, Mrs. X"
    --"I'm sorry, but the state has found you unfit as a mother, so we are taking custody of the fetus."

    The more I think about this, the more I see another Faustian bargain made in the name of "liberation".

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  7. I remember a John Stossel interview of Bella Abzug from the mid-90's where the issue of women's physical capacity to be firefighters was discussed. Ms. Abzug asserted that it was the responsibility of the fire companies to come up "with some sort of hydraulic assist device" or some such so that women who couldn't pass the test but who wanted to be firefighters could do so.

    I suppose if I wanted to be a brain surgeon but wasn't smart enough it would be up to the hospital to accomodate me somehow. But what I really always wanted was to be an NBA star, so I guess the NBA needs to make that happen.

    Now we have progressed to the point where it is society's responsibility to come up with a way to dispense with the need for pregnancy.

    The silliness of these ideas aside, the core of feminism is an all consuming narcissism capable of demanding anything in service to the desires of the Self.

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  8. Yes just the other day in the newspapers we heard from:

    'Catharine Lumby, a pro bono adviser to the National Rugby League on gender issues, that the low level of employment of women in Defence was "appalling"'.

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  9. Ever since Simone de Beauvoir (at least) feminism has defined itself in rebellion against nature. This is just working out the conclusions of that rebellion.

    What is needed is not a techno-utopia, but an defence of the natures of the sexes as valuable and fitting - a sort of theodicy, one might say.

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  10. Can't wait for the Liberal academics to be kicked out of society as the masses reject this foolishness.

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  11. Thanks for writing on this stuff, Mark. I've got a post-Lenten post coming up referencing this article. Have you seen this about underage sterilizations proposed in Australia?

    http://www.naturalnews.com/035185_Australia_sterilization_children.html

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  12. "Shulamith says it openly: the aim is to overcome the sex distinction between men and women and that involves removing women from the motherhood role altogether."

    It's another example of the feminist hatred of women and of femaleness. They're misogynists. They want to be men, and they want all women to become men. Maleness is their ideal. They hate themselves for being female and they especially hate women who are happy about being women.

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  13. Mark Richardson, quoting "The Dialectic of Sex", wrote,

    "genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud's 'polymorphous perversity' - would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.)"

    Wow, that's an amazingly forthright statement.

    I used to wonder how the Left thought they could ever achieve that. After all, it seems leftists are always forgetting how much most people like good, i.e. "heterosexual", sex.

    And then along come the Rosenburys of the world. That post from last week, I think, puts out the most realistic plan from the leftists I've ever seen actually to execute their demented aims.

    Do you think, Mark, it might be worth linking theoretical, supposedly "far-out" academic books that liberals can easily dismiss like "The Dialectic of Sex" with the mainstream op-eds like Rosenbury's? At the very least, it would force leftists to acknowledge the influence of their supposedly "fringe" cousins in academia.

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  14. Perhaps this is the reason why liberals screech about "unwanted pregnancies". Often they talk about contraception supposedly reducing the number of "unplanned pregnancies" but their goals will not benefit the family and is more about a disdain for pregnancy itself. Instead their views will lead to seeing pregnancy as a disease that needs to be prevented by healthcare through the use of contraception. Perhaps Catholics were right. Recreative sex is evil. Why else do you have scores of young men in their 20's and 30's sterilizing themselves because they wish for a life of hedonism and nihilism?

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  15. Here is a post I made about this particular screeching.

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  16. Have you seen this about underage sterilizations proposed in Australia?

    We also have the sexualization of children and "sex change" operations offered to people as young as 11. I'm exhausted of liberals arguing for evil in the name of good. Their "good intentions" aren't good at all.

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  17. I think there are potential benefits to artificial womb technology, as I think it might improve treatment for premature babies. But I don't think that it should be the default means of reproduction.

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  18. It should also be noted that pregnancy does not automatically disrupt a woman's career, unless she's an athlete, fashion model, or something like that.

    The biggest disruption comes when the child is born and needs to be cared for intensively.

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  19. It should also be noted that pregnancy does not automatically disrupt a woman's career, unless she's an athlete, fashion model, or something like that.

    The biggest disruption comes when the child is born and needs to be cared for intensively.

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  20. Do you think, Mark, it might be worth linking theoretical, supposedly "far-out" academic books that liberals can easily dismiss like "The Dialectic of Sex" with the mainstream op-eds like Rosenbury's? At the very least, it would force leftists to acknowledge the influence of their supposedly "fringe" cousins in academia.

    Definitely. Though it has to be said that books like The Dialectic of Sex were widely read and influential when they were first released.

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  21. My mother had 6 children.
    She loved every second of it.
    She would have had more if she could have.
    This article was hard to read as a 21 year young women who can't wait for the day were i can be a wife and mother i find these kind of attitudes very degrading and devaluing to women.
    To say pregnancy is barbaric? What is the world coming to?!

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  22. Mark Richardson

    More original thinking from ethic faculties

    How Engineering the Human Body Could Combat Climate Change

    A new paper to be published in Ethics, Policy & Environment proposes a series of biomedical modifications that could help humans, themselves, consume less.

    Some of the proposed modifications are simple and noninvasive. For instance, many people wish to give up meat for ecological reasons, but lack the willpower to do so on their own. The paper suggests that such individuals could take a pill that would trigger mild nausea upon the ingestion of meat, which would then lead to a lasting aversion to meat-eating. Other techniques are bound to be more controversial. For instance, the paper suggests that parents could make use of genetic engineering or hormone therapy in order to birth smaller, less resource-intensive children.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/how-engineering-the-human-body-could-combat-climate-change/253981/

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