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Transformations: Gender, Reproduction, and Contemporary Society

Transformations: Gender, Reproduction, and Contemporary Society

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Transformations: Gender, Reproduction, and Contemporary Society

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  1. Transformations: Gender, Reproduction, and Contemporary Society

    Lecture 3: Who Owns Women’s Bodies? Who Needs Children?
  2. Structure Origins of claim to own one’s body Links between claim and social theory Reproduction and biological difference Other stakeholders in women’s reproductive bodies Pro-natalism Anti-natalism Which women? Conclusions
  3. A Woman’s Right to Choose Slogans of the 1970s women’s movement Political demands for reproductive rights Framed within discourse of modern individualism
  4. The Right to Own One’s Body A claim with a history Rests on new concept of ‘the self’ in 18th century Europe ‘Possessive Individualism’ (Macpherson, 1962) Separates self from body, where self becomes owner Owner has sole rights over body Imagined subject is male Commodification of labour replaces feudalism Macpherson interested in role PI played in capitalism and unequal property relations
  5. Example and Limits ‘To be free is to be an individual - in the first instance, an owner of one's own person and capacities, but also what one acquires through the use of one's capacities. To be free is to be an owner. Freedom is defined in terms of independence from others, and one is independent only when one has the right to use one's property, including one's abilities, as one chooses.’ Carens, Joseph (ed.) (1993) Democracy and Possessive Individualism: The Intellectual Legacy of C.B. Macpherson, Albany, New York: State University of New York, p. 2 What rights did employers have over worker’s bodies? Did male citizens owe rights over their body to the state in times of war? Were slave contracts valid? What about women?
  6. Social & Sexual Contracts Carole Pateman: women did not own their own body and capacities These freedoms were for citizens only (Propertied) men had formed a social contract with the state, accepting to live under the rule of law in exchange for protection of rights This contract is between men only, women are framed as all that men must master Original social contract relies on a sexual contract establishing patriarchal rights over women’s bodies and property Sexual contract privatized, obscured
  7. Richardson’s Pamela Concept of PI created the terms for women to claim rights over their bodies Eg. Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela Widower Mr ‘B’ seeks to claim sexual rights over Pamela, a servant Pamela resists via discourse of PI Pamela hides her writings on her person Richardson puts then revolutionary claims in Pamela’s mouth Mr ‘B’ reforms in the end to respect Pamela’s rights over her body and her writings
  8. Reproduction and Biological Difference Equality vs Difference Biological gender differences generally played down But key in human reproduction: women’s bodies play major role and their reproductive capacity is a scarcer resource Men’s reproductive bodies more dispensable than women’s Even though men aged 30s+ are scarcer than women Elstain argues in Women and War (1987) that women should be excluded from combat roles because: ‘The bodies of young females are not expendable: they are what re-creates and holds forth the promise of a future’. Biological difference results in competing claims for control over women’s reproductive bodies, between a woman herself and society/ other stakeholders in reproduction
  9. Stakeholders in Children: Activity Are children a private good (or bad) or a social one? Consider the following statements: Falling birth rates means fewer tax-payers and threatens the capacity of the welfare state to pay living pensions. She chose to have the child, so she is responsible for it. Higher rate tax-payers just don’t need child benefit, it’s a waste of tax-payers money. Universal child benefit is symbolic as well as material, acknowledging the work of having and raising children in our society and the benefits of children to us all. Talk briefly to your neighbour about how the statements construct children.
  10. Why do we need children? Avoid species extinction At the national level children determine: labour force taxation military power cultural reproduction At the community level children: maintain viability maintain asset base maintain political position For working classes children: - are economic resource, labour Brenner and Ramas (1987) Rethinking Women’s Oppression For elite classes children: - inherit property - continue family name Fertility Rates UK = blue France = orange USA = green
  11. Pro-natalism Family/Community level (Browner) Husband’s preference for large family predominates Cultural norms stigmatize women having few or no children Religious opposition to certain contraception and to abortion State Level (King) Carrots Sticks Financial incentives Time incentives Service incentives Propaganda Banning abortion Unavailability of contraception Financial penalties
  12. A Woman’s Duty? Singapore: well-educated women are not fulfilling their function of having families Romania: one of the most important duties of women, mothers and educators is to devote themselves to the raising of new generations in the spirit of ardent patriotism Israel: Any Jewish woman who, as far as it depends on her, does not bring into the world at least four healthy children is shirking her duty to the nation, like a solder who evades military service. Women’s bodies constructed as state property Increasingly unacceptable, so see shift from sticks to carrots
  13. Which Women? Nationalist and religious discourses may generate racist and eugenicist controls to try to ensure: - women don’t reproduce with ‘wrong’ type of man - ‘wrong’ type of women don’t reproduce at all Ethnic nationalism: shared ancestry Only women from national ethnic group encouraged to reproduce, with men of same ethnicity Cultural nationalism: shared civic and cultural commitment All nationals encouraged to reproduce; migration Disabled women have been seen as ‘unfit’ mothers: - Assumed to be asexual - Assumed would have children with disability - Assumed would be ‘bad’ parents
  14. Anti-Natalism State attempts to limit number of children Works in interests of reproductive rights where contraception and abortion services available May be coercive eg. China’s one-child policy Sticks Propaganda Surveillance Financial penalties Social sanctions Compulsory sterilization
  15. Conclusions Women’s unique capacity to reproduce makes women vulnerable to the appropriation of their reproductive power by others Possessive individualism provides a language for women to claim rights over their reproductive bodies These claims are contested because various groups need children Struggles to possess and control reproductive capacity are socially, historically and geographically contextual ‘If all women have the right to choose not to bear a child, then all women must also have the right to choose to bear children’ (Kallianes and Rubenfeld)