Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Laurie Penny: "We need technological alternatives to pregnancy"

Laurie Penny is a radical British feminist. For some reason, she has become popular in Germany. A recent interview with a leading German newspaper went as follows:
Interviewer: Your recent book is called Making Babies. So do you want one?

Laurie Penny: For me to be able to imagine having babies, the circumstances would have to change dramatically and I don't know if they ever will. It is a shame that women still have to choose between motherhood and everything else. Apart from that I'm not at all keen on pregnancy. There should really exist technological alternatives for that.

Interviewer: That's a joke, right?

Laurie Penny: No, I mean that entirely seriously. We need technological alternatives to pregnancy. Why aren't there any? Modern medicine can reattach limbs and transplant faces. Today so much is possible, that was unthinkable a few decades ago. Egg cells are already fertilised in test tubes. Why shouldn't babies be created in laboratories? Why is a technological alternative to the womb so inconceivable?...I don't understand at all, what is crazier about this than the idea of transplanting an arm, a heart or a face.

Interviewer: Wouldn't it be a disadvantage for women, if machines took away from them the bearing of children? After all, the ability to bear children is a unique characteristic of women.

Laurie Penny: It is a female superpower! But women with superpowers have to be controlled and criticised. Therefore motherhood is on the one hand so elevated, that women who decide against it are seen as odd. Women who have an abortion are expected at some time to regret it. The woman who never became a mother must be sad about it in old age. At the same time mothers are blamed if they achieve the aim of becoming solo mothers, even though they in fact do something wonderful and selfless for all of us. To define pregnancy and motherhood as work and also to pay it as such would actually be the least thing to do.

What can you say? Laurie Penny is probably right that one day scientists will come up with an artificial womb. But her lack of connection to the idea of physically bearing a child is telling. So too is her primary concern that women be able to have their children without the support of a male partner - that instead motherhood should be commodified - treated in market terms as a productive activity - and paid for, presumably by the state.

She doesn't state it directly, but it seems that Laurie Penny doesn't want to have a child together with a man. She wants the child developed in a lab by scientists and then she wants to be paid for the work she does to bring it up as its mother.


  1. Western society has always had a role for childless, unmarried women. Paul wrote it was a legitimate, if not preferred choice.

    Certain other societies treat such women as a horrible burden to be despised. Hinduism, Islam, And Chinese society have no place for them.

    Penny doesn't want children so she is incapable of seeing that most women view artificial wombs as icky or at best a last resort for infertility.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I suspect that Penny is a genuine intellectual in the sense that she takes the ideas themselves seriously (rather than just seeing them as a means of getting things). So she really does want to maximise individual autonomy by not having pregnancy interfere with her other work/interests and by not wanting to have to rely on a male partner for support. She is no longer looking to family and to a culture of family life but to a relationship between individual and state.

      It is a cold vision of the future - a "cold freedom" for the individual. Not a mentality that fits well with motherhood.

    2. Indeed, for the rootless feminist flake is there a more egregious offence to their warped sense of individual autonomy than the carrying of a child to term (and then having to care of 'it'!)

  2. "Laurie Penny doesn't want to have a child together with a man."

    I dare say quite a few men would have kids via the artificial womb, with no real woman involved, just to avoid the possibility of divorce and loss of custody.

  3. Higher IQ and more intellectualism sharply, sharply decreases the likelihood that a woman wants to have any children, once you get into the high IQ categories:

    Intellectualism/higher IQ increases the likelihood that one is capable of conceiving of the difference between their subjective individual interests and the interests of their genes. And high IQ also sharply increases the likelihood that one decides to serve their own subjective interests rather than mindlessly and slavishly serving the interests of their genes, like all other animals.

    It's no surprise that men are less likely to recognize the discrepancy between their own interests and the interests their genes have in reproducing, since they're not generally at odds. A man experiences an orgasm and thus replicates his genes, thus serving both his subjective interests and the interests of his genes in reproducing in the same action, with no conflict.

    On the other hand, reproducing and serving the interests of her genes is extremely detrimental to the individual female. She risks death, drastically decreases her future ability to attract mates, becomes extremely sick and physically vulnerable, and suffers a whole host of detriments.

    In all species, investing in the individual comes as a cost trade-off with investing in reproduction, and in some species reproduction automatically means death, imposing the highest possible cost. Luckily that is not so for humans, but there is a HUGE difference between the natural costs imposed for men versus women. The law tries to even it out a bit, but it's clear that most women, when given the choice, choose to invest the minimum possible amount in reproduction in order to get one set of genes into the future, which is exactly what we would expect given the high costs nature imposes on her. Men are naturally capable of investing the minimum amount and therefore we don't see the same strong drive to avoid reproduction. The more intellect a woman has and the more self-awareness and control over her destiny, the more likely she is to not want to have children at all, and why should she?

    Serious question for the author: would you still be so enthusiastic about serving the interests of your genes in replicating, if doing so would make you very weak and ill for months or years at a time, make you MUCH less attractive to women, present a 25% chance of death (we're talking pre-modern medicine), require a day of excruciating pain and ripping open your genitals, and require your constant attention and investment of resources and energy for two decades? I'm guessing you would not.