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The Artificial Womb

The Artificial Womb Patriarchal Bone or
Technological Blessing?

Carl Hedman
Every area of technological innovation has an idea that can serve
as a kind of ‘Rorschach Test’ for revealing some of our deepest
intuitions.l Consider, e.g., the idea of a fully automated factory.

This idea can be used to bring out a person’s intuitions as to the
progressive potential of cybernetics. Some people will share
David Noble’s view that we are already heading in the direction
of such factories and that workers should militantly resist present
uses of automation before it is too late. 2 Others will follow Andre
Gorz who sees automated factories as playing a key role in the
liberation of workers via a ‘society of free time’. 3 My own view,
developed in another place,4 is that this focus on how present uses
of technology will affect traditional worker constituencies needs
to be supplemented with an equal concern with how present uses
of automation will affect other non-privileged constituencies. In
particular, we need to relate our critique of present uses of
automation to the interests articulated by the contemporary
movements for racial and sexual equality.

In what follows, I will be suggesting that the idea of ectogenesis
– the complete gestation of the human fetus in an artificial womb
– can serve as a kind of ‘Rorschach Test’ regarding what have
been called ‘the new reproductive technologies’. That is, it can be
used to bring out radically different intuitions regarding the
progressive potential of this influential scientific-technological
project. I will begin by contrasting the generally positive reaction
of Peter Singer and Deane Wells5 with the highly critical reaction
of Patricia Spallone.6 I will then go on to suggest that Shulamith
Firestone’s early remarks on ectogenesis add an important dimension to a critical discussion of the new reproductive technologies. 7 I will argue that Firestone should be read as being
primarily concerned with the problem of ‘false consciousness’ as
it arises in this context. That is, I will argue for a reading of
Firestone’s work that takes her to be primarily concerned with
getting women to reflect critically on their present attitudes
towards such things as infertility, motherhood and biological
parenthood rather than naively trying to set out a blueprint for
‘post-revolutionary society’. This is not to suggest, however, that
I will be endorsing all aspects of Firestone’s position. Indeed, I
will stress that her vision of political struggle needs to be expanded
to give an equal role to all of the contemporary movements for
equality (racial and economic as well as sexual). Only then, I will
argue, will we be able to develop a truly critical and historically
effective response to problematic features of the new reproductive technologies. I will conclude by noting how the novelist
Marge Piercy deals with the idea of ectogenesis. 8 I will suggest
that we would do well to follow her lead and relate our thinking
about ectogenesis not only to the concerns addressed by the

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990

movement for sexual equality but also to the concerns addressed
by the various movements for racial and economic equality. In
this sense, what follows should be seen as providing another case
where a successful challenge to a new technology will require a
difference-respecting coalition between the various movements
for equality.

A final introductory note: Ectogenesis can no longer be
dismissed as ‘just science fiction’. As the editors of Test-Tube
Women point out, 1988 saw ‘the officially published beginning of
ectogenesis’ .9 Nor can it be dismissed as still too far in the future
to merit serious consideration here and now. Whether we like it or
not, the idea of ectogenesis is implicit in the ‘logic’ of the new
reproductive technologies as they are presently being developed
and deployed. Indeed, ectogenesis is sometimes referred to as the
‘back end’ of a project the ‘front end’ of which is in vitro
fertilization. This means that, insofar as people support such
things as in vitro fertilization (in a quest, say, for a solution to a
‘fertility’ problem), they can’t simply ignore the more remote
techniques implicit in the larger scientific and technological

Peter Singer and Deand Wells give a number of arguments for
seeing ectogenesis as a progressive development. One of the most
interesting, given our aim of bringing out the differences between
their view and the view of people like Patricia Spallone, is the

Ectogenesis could at some future time make right-to-life
organizations drop their objections to abortion; for it is
only our inability to keep early fetuses alive that makes
abortion synonymous with the violation of any right to life
which the fetus may have. If we could keep a fetus alive,
outside the body, abortion could be done using techniques
that would not hann the fetuses, and the fetuses, or newborn babies as they would then be, could be adopted – if
there were enough willing couples …

Would those who now argue for the permissibility of
abortion object to this development? If the feminist argument for abortion takes its stand on the right of women to
control their own bodies, feminists at least should not
object. Freedom to choose what is to happen to one’s body
is one thing; freedom to insist on the death of a being
capable ofliving outside one’s body is another. At present
these two are inextricably linked, and so the woman’s


freedom to choose conflicts head-on with the alleged right
to life of the fetus. When ectogenesis becomes possible
these two issues will break apart, and women will choose
to terminate their pregnancies without thereby choosing
the inevitable death of the fetus they are carrying. Prochoice feminists and pro-fetus right-to-lifers can then
embrace in happy harmony. 10
To those who ask what could possibly motivate a society to
develop ectogenesis to the extent where all this could happen,
Singer and Wells suggest that a benign ‘invisible hand’ will be at

… the present gap of a little over five months during which
the natural womb is absolutely essential will certainly be
reduced, and may end up being eliminated altogether. This
will occur almost by accident, because the ability to keep
the immature fetus alive outside the womb will not be
developed by researchers deliberately seeking to make
ectogenesis possible, but rather by doctors attempting to
save the lives of premature babies. II

In an article where he considers Robyn Rowland’s objection that
ectogenesis is part of a larger project that would lead to a situation
where women will be ‘fighting to retain orreclaim the rightto bear
children’ , 13 Singer adds the following points. First, he suggests
that woman researchers have figured ‘quite prominently’ in the
initial stages of this project. Thus, it would be hard to say that it
is simply a product of male researchers’ biases against women.

Second, he suggests that women have a greater interest than men
in overcoming the infertility problems addressed by this project
and that, therefore, ‘it is hard to see why a feminist should
condemn it.’ Third, he suggests that, even if this project leads to
ectogenesis, the latter could expand the reproductive options
available to women. Here he appeals to an ahistorical reading of
Firestone that I will reject below:

Ectogenesis will, if it is ever successful, provide a choice
for women. Shulamith Firestone argued … that this choice
will remove the fundamental biological barrier to complete equality. Hence, Firestone welcomed the prospect of
ectogenesis. 14
Singer concludes by suggesting that Rowland’s fears rest on an
overly pessimistic belief – the belief that if women lose control of
reproduction they will necessarily be condemned to unequal
status in other areas of life:

I am not so pessimistic about the abilities of women to
achieve equality with men across the broad range of
human endeavor. For that reason I think women will be
helped, rather than harmed, by the development of a
technology that makes it possible for them to have children
without being pregnant. 15

To Patricia Spallone, ectogenesis has no progressive ‘potential at
all; for it is part and parcel of an inherently sexist project:

‘Technical’ techniques such as IVF exist in the context of
a whole technology of reproduction which also includes
egg and embryo freezing, superovulation of women, artificial wombs, genetic selection of embryos, genetic engineering, and more. We understand that the scientific
approach via high technologies is ‘logical’ in a world
where women’s bodies are considered expendable. We
understand that this world view can only exist in sexist
cultures, a contemporary affront to women’s human dignity.16

To the objection that a woman has the right to decide what
happens to her embryo (‘ She may not wish to keep it, and yet she
may not like the idea of it being handed over to another coupld’),
Singer and Wells respond by drawing an analogy with the case of
a newborn child:

We do not allow a mother to kill her newborn baby because
she does not wish either to keep it or to hand it over for
adoption. Unless we were to change our mind about this,
it is difficult to see why we should give this right to a
woman in respect of a fetus she is carrying, if her desire to
be rid of the fetus can be fully satisfied without threatening
the life of the fetus. 12


Thus, it is not only false to say that these new technologies
presently serve the interests of women; it is also false to say that
they could serve women’s interests some time in the future. Thus,
feminists should completely reject the new reproductive technologies and develop their own, women-centred approaches to
reproductive issues:

Feminist resistance to the new reproductive technologies
is not a negative stance, but a positive one, where we can
re-assert women’s power and knowledge and experience
to ask our own questions about fertility, problems, childbirth, childrearing, motherhood, abortion. The women’s
health movement, reproductive rights activists, feminist
historians and critics of the new technologies, while demystifying the politics beyond the myth that reproductive
technology is neutral, are fighting for this. Feminism seeks
a world where women’s lives will be different. While
resisting eugenic technologies, we can explore what other

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990



kinds of research and medical approaches will serve women’s needs.’7
Spallone has many interesting things to say about what such an
alternative approach might involve. Most basically, it would be
part of the women’s health movement which has led to ‘feminist
health centers and clinics around the world’. That is, it would
stress prevention rather than rely on a ‘technological fix’ for
patriarchically defined ‘problems’:

… on a most basic level, technological ‘solutions’ are not
solutions. A great deal of reproductive health problems,
including fertility and congenital conditions, can be
eliminated with a woman-centered approach to reproduction: with better primary health care, and changes in
social and economic relations. IS
Spallone acknowledges, by the way, that such an alternative
approach will require active struggle on the part of women:

… resistance must take the shape of community organizing
and local protesting, debate over what these issues mean
for the women on whom they are used, exposing activities
going on in our own backyards, calling for public accountability on these issues, and demanding our right as individuals and communities to say ‘no’ to these technologies. 19
One way to get clearer on Spallone’ s basic position is to focus on
her critique of the ‘reproductive technology is neutral’ position.

After documenting sexist and eugenic dimensions in past and
present work in reproductive technology, Spallone considers the
objection that she has not established that the new technologies
are inherently regressive:

… many social activists, including feminists, incorporate
the ‘technology is neutral’ belief into a use/abuse analysis
of reproductive technology. Those who adhere to the use/
abuse argument believe that IVF technology is neutral and
can be used for either good or for bad. So, a sensitive IVF
advocate might argue that IVF is bad when it exploits
women, or is restricted to heterosexual women living with
men, but that IVF is good when women choose it ‘freely’

and are not discriminated against. 20
To Spallone, this argument makes the mistake of thinking that
‘the pursuit of science (“biological facts”) does not incorporate
moral/political decisions’ and the mistake of thinking that ‘IVF
and genetic engineering do not occur in a particular ideological
context’ .21 Notice that Spallone indicts ‘pure science’ along with
the ‘engineering’ or technology to which it gives rise. With this
move she blocks the suggestion that a neutral’ scientific’ dimension
can be pried away from the new reproductive technologies and put
to use in a new, woman-centred approach to reproductive issues.

Her basic reason for this further move is that ‘basic scientific
research’, like its technological applications, ‘imposes an aggressive, confrontational relationship to nature, in this case to woman’s reproduction’:

Scientific control of ‘human reproduction’ requires that
some women be posed as ‘Other’, as clinical and laboratory object of study for the scientist-observer. Such an
approach could only proceed in social conditions which
allow them. If scientists asked different kinds of questions
about biology, if medical scientists recognized women as
the active social subjects of reproduction, not as passive
breeders, if they respected women’s reproductive freedom
and autonomy, then they would not be pursuing IVF and
human embryo research. 22

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990

Spallone grants that this is a ‘radical’ position in that it impugns
the neutrality not only of technology but of ‘pure science’ as it is
currently practised. Thus, she goes beyond Gordon Taylor’s
suggestion that we should put some of our biological science in an
‘ice box’ until society is ready for it. 23 Instead, we should recognize that current biological science and the technologies they
spawn (such as ectogenesis) are based on a world view that ‘can
only exist in sexist cultures, a contemporary affront to women’s
human dignity’. 24 And so women must categoric~lly. reject this
project’s approach to knowledge:

To change our relationship to science and technology in
the most woman-respecting, life-respecting way, we must
start from the recognitin that we are our bodies, we are
ourselves. We do not have to accept man-made paradoxes
and the splitting up of women into parts (eggs, embryos,
wombs, placenta) which has been so ingrained as to seem
natural. We can overturn the dualities of mind/body,
rational/emotional, science (what men do)/not science
(what women do), and the ancient conceptual split embryo/woman. Knowledge of women’s fertility and procreative powers must have to do with our bodies, and be
grounded in experiences in the world, in feeling and doing
(which also includes thinking and observing), not what
scientists find for us in laboratories after they have taken
our insides out. Mainstream scientists’ ‘out there’ is our
‘here and now’ .25

Here it might be well to pause to consider a crucial difference
between the two approaches we’ve considered so far. As we noted
above, Singer and Wells see ectogenesis coming about as a result
of the non-problematic desire to save premature babies. 26 To
Spallone, however, ectogenesis will be developed as a result of
the patriarchal desire for’ scientific’ control of human reproduction. In short, the two approaches see ectogenesis as arriving

under radically different auspices and thus having very different
potentials. For Singer and Wells, effective ectogenetic techniques
will be developed as a result of a non-problematic motive and so
there is no reason why they can’t be turned to the progressive end
of increasing reproductive options for women. For Spallone, such
a progressive potential is ruled out because ectogenesis will arrive
under patriarchal auspices which will cast a regressive shadow
over any future use. Notice that their account of what is presently
motivating the push to develop ectogenesis allows Singer and
Wells to avoid resting their case for ectogenesis on a naive
‘technology is neutral’ position. They can claim a progressive
potential for this technology by pointing to its non-problematic
roots rather than by claiming that a technology’s roots don’t
matter. In this sense, they can challenge Spallone’ s negative
assessment of ectogenesis on empirical grounds (by challenging
her account of what is in fact motivating present research) rather
than by appealing to an abstract thesis about technology (by
challenging the claim that a technology that is developed for
problematic reasons must necessarily be used for problematic
ends). The problem, of course, is that it is not at all clear that
Singer and Wells’ account is correct. Perhaps the desire to save
premature babies will play some role, but that does nothing to
show that the less acceptable motives stressed by Spallone won’t
also be present and, in fact, much more influential.

It is important to note that this issue cannot be resolved simply
by pointing to ways in which women themselves support the new
reproductive technologies. (As, e.g., Singer does when he points
to the role of female researchers and to women’s interest in
overcoming fertility problems.) Women themselves could be
caught up in attitudes that support patriarchal values. Were this
the case, their support would not go any way at all towards
showing that these new technologies can be put to progressive
ends. It would only be further evidence of the hegemonic status of
patriarchal ideas and attitudes.

To be sure, Spallone is aware of this problem. Thus, she
concludes her book by quoting a group of Japanese women to the
effect that women have to ‘struggle not only against the State and
men but also against the eugenic ideal within women themselves’ .27
Her concluding remarks also include a call for women to begin to
deal in their own way with such things as the ‘social stigma of
infertility’ .

There will always be cases of women who are not able to
bear a child. ‘Technical’ solutions to fertility problems do
not solve the social pressures women experience with
respect to fertility, motherhood, and biological parenthood. 28
It is here that the work of Shulamith Firestone takes on a special
relevance; for, I now want to argue, she saw more clearly than
most how difficult it would be for women to overcome these
‘social pressures’ .

There are, I think, two readings of Firestone ‘s The Dialectic ofSex
that should be resisted. The first, reflected in the remarks of Singer
quoted above, takes Firestone to be suggesting that ectogenesis is
an inherently progressive notion. 29 The second takes Firestone to
be putting forward the naive, ahistorical version of the ‘technology
is neutral’ position criticized by Spallone. My contention will be
that neither of these readings does justice to Firestone’s position;
that, instead, we need to pay special attention to those passages
where she stresses that a feminist position on such things as
ectogenesis must ‘arise organically out of the revolutionary


action itself’ .30 On this reading, Firestone is suggesting that one
simply cannot resolve this issue in the abstract. Everything
depends on whether or not a ‘feminist revolution’ takes hold in
history and on how it affects women’s attitudes. That is, apart
from an historically-unfolding feminist struggle, one simply
cannot say whether ectogenesis is a progressive or regressive
notion because the attitudes of women themselves may be changed
in presently unimaginable ways through such a struggle.






To be sure, there are passages that seem to· support the
‘ectogenesis is inherently progressive’ and the ‘ectogenesis is
neutral’ readings. In fact, the following passage seems susceptible to both interpretations:

… the misuse of scientific developments is very often
confused with technology itself…. As was demonstrated
in the case of the development of atomic energy, radicals,
rather than breast beating about the immorality of scientific research, could be much more effective by concentrating theirfull energies on demands for control of scientific discoveries by and for the people. For, like atomic
energy, fertility control, artificial reproduction, cybernation,
in themselves, are liberating – unless they are improperly
On the one hand, the phrase, ‘in themselves, are liberating’ might
seem to support the claim that artificial reproduction techniques
are on the side of progress and that we can readily identify the
forces that are blocking this progressive dynamic. On the other
hand, the analogy with atomic energy – where abuses were due to
the fact that the use of ‘scientific discovereies’ was not controlled
‘by and for the people’ – suggests that Firestone takes the new
reproductive technologies to be neutral. The first reading is
easiest to discredit. Firestone always makes itc1ear that under
present auspices, ectogenesis will be a nightmare:

Cybernation, like birth control, can be a double-edged
sword. Like artificial reproduction, to envision it in the
hands of the present powers is to envision a nightmare. We
need not elaborate. Everyone is familiar with Technocracy, 1984: the increased alienation of the masses, the

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990

intensified rule of the elite (perhaps cyberneticians), baby
factories, increased government efficiency (Big Brother)
and so on. In the hands of the present society there is no
doubt that the machine could be used – is being used – to
intensify the apparatus of repression and to increase established power.32
The second reading is harder to dispose of. Indeed, in the very next
paragraph Firestone seems to give an even more explicit endorsement of the ‘technology is neutral’ position:

But again, as with the population explosion, and birth
control, the distinction between misuse of science and the
value of science itself is not often kept clear. In this case,
though the response may not be quite so hysterical and
evasive, we still often have the same unimaginative concentration on the evils of the machine itself rather than a
recognition of its revolutionary significance. 33
Let me try, then, to show how other passages from The Dialectic
of Sex can be used to give the above passage a different import.

Very roughly, I will be suggesting that for Firestone the ‘value of
science’ (which she wants to distinguish from the ‘misuse of
science ‘) lies in its ability to expand the imagination here and now
rather than in its ability to provide us with a blueprint for a
liberating future. On such a reading, to say of ectogenesis that
there needs to be a ‘recognition of its revolutionary significance’

is not to say that women here and now should embrace ectogenesis
and try to take it away from patriarchal forces. Rather, it is to say
that in the struggle against patriarchal practices, women should
see their own present attitudes toward reproduction as contingent
– as not marking-off once and for all what is involved in genuine
sexual equality. This reading of Firestone ‘s approach to ectogenesis
is supported by her claim that she is trying to ‘stimulate thinking
in fresh areas rather than to dictate the action’ .34 Notice also that
she grants that fully artificial reproduction will be an ‘unrealistic’

idea for the foreseeable future:

Childbearing could be taken over by technology, and if
this proved too much against our past tradition and psychic
structure (which it certainly would at first) then adequate
incentives and compensations would have to be developed
– other than the ego rewards of possessing the child – to
reward women for their special social contribution of
pregnancy and childbirth. 35

It seems, then, that we should not assign too much weight to those
notorious passages where Firestone seems to suggest that women
here and now would gladly embrace ectogenesis if they were
honest with themselves; if they admitted that “Pregnancy is
barbaric … the temporary defontlation of the body of the individual for the sake of the species’, that ‘childbirth hurts. And it
isn’t good for you’. 36 In fact, on the reading I’m proposing, it’s
crucial to note that Firestone follows the above comments on
pregnancy with something far short of a naive endorsement of

Artificial reproduction is not inherently dehumanizing. At
the very least, development of an option should make
possible an honest examination of the ancient value of
motherhood. 37
I have focused on passages from Firestone’s work that seem to
support a more dialectical approach to determining the progressive potential of ectogenesis. I believe, by the way, that such a
reading does not detract from what is surely a key feature of
Firestone’s position, viz., the need for a ‘feminist revolution’ .38
All I have tried to do is to suggest that her remarks on ectogenesis
are designed to stimulate a revolutionary consciousness here and
now rather than to dictate how babies should be made ‘after the
revolution’. This is not to deny that many feminists in the early
1970s took her to be giving such a blueprint for a post-revolutionary society. 39 It is only to suggest that there is another way of
reading those passages like the following where Firestone is
‘speculating about post-revolutionary systems’:

We’re talking about radical change. And although it cannot come all at once, radical goals must be kept in sight at
all times. Day-care centers buy women off. They ease the
immediate pressure without asking why that pressure is on

At the other extreme there are the most distant solutions
based on the potentials of modem embryolbgy~ that is,
artificial reproduction, possibilities still so frightening that
they are seldom discussed seriously. We have seen that the
fear is to some extent justified: in the hands of our current
society and under the direction of current scientists (few of
whom are female or even feminist), any attempted use of
technology to ‘free’ anybody is suspect. But we are speculating about post-revolutionary systems, and for the purpose of our discussion we shall assume flexibility and
good intentions in those working out the change. 40

Does Firestone’s approach to the new reproductive technologies
provide an adequate basis for a successful challenge to present
uses? I think not; for several reasons. First, it relies too heavily on
the notion of a ‘feminist revolution’. Although a woman-led
resistance against patriarchal features of our society will surely be
a key element in any successful challenge to the forces that
presently control the new reproductive technologies, it won’t be
sufficient. A more multifaceted resistance will be needed. The
black feminist Pat Parker puts the general point as follows:

Another illusion that we suffer under in this country is that
a single facet of the population can make revolution. Black
people alone cannot make revolution in this country.

Native American people alone cannot make revolution in
this country. Chicanos alone cannot make revolution in
this country. Asians alone cannot make revolution in this
country. Women alone cannot make revolution in this

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990


country. Gay people alone cannot make revolution in this
country. And anyone who tries will not be successful.4l
What needs to be added to Firestone’s analysis, then, is a recognition
that a critique of the new reproductive technologies must also tap
the historical forces and critical perspectives represented by the
various movements for racial equality and the more traditional
movements for economic equality.

The second shortcoming of Firestone’s approach is related to
the first. It has to do with Firestone’s goal of stimulating the
imagination of women here and now so that their vision of the
future won’t simply be a projection of attitudes they have as a
result of their daily life in a patriarchal social order. As we have
seen, she tries to do this by ‘speculating about post-revolutionary
systems’. For some people such speculation can be a powerful
mechanism for looking critically at their present situation. For
example, Nancy Breeze reports that she ‘felt encouraged’ by
Marge Piercy’s vision of ‘a loving, child-centered environment
for the babies of non-womb procreation’ .42 But for many women
it has the opposite effect. Radically new visions of the future can
be so threatening that people cling even more tenaciously to the
status quo. Also, they can seem to be a diversion from more
immediate problems. 43

Here again Firestone’s project could be helped by incorporating’ as equal partners, the movements for racial equality and the
more traditional movements for economic equality. Indeed, I
suggest that an honest, difference-respecting coalition between
the various movements for equality would generate mechanisms
that would maximize the likelihood that all non-privileged constituencies will reflect critically on their present attitudes. That is,
it would provide a non-idealist basis for self-criticism.

Combining these two criticisms of Firestone’s approach we
could say that what is needed is a coalition between the various
movements for equality that places equal weight on the present
interests and attitudes of each constituency. Such a coalition
would not only greatly increase the historical force of any resistance to the new reproductive technologies but it would do so in
ways that force each constituency to reflect critically on how its
vision of the future has been influenced by the very social order
it would challenge.

Here it might be helpful to pause to ask why Firestone herself
didn’t make such a move. In fact, I think that this is where one can


begin to see the importance for radical politics of ‘post-modernist’ themes. Firestone herself seems to be caught up in what Donna
Haraway has called an ‘unreflective participation in the logic,
language and practices of white humanism’ which has led orthodox Marxist and radical feminists to ‘Annex other forms of
domination by expanding its basic categories through analogy,
simple listing, or addition’ .44 That is, in seeking a ‘single ground
of domination to secure our revolutionary voice’ ,radical feminists
have overlooked features of our present social order that make
‘cross gender and racial alliances on issues of basic life support
(with or without jobs) necessary not just nice. ’45 Thus, Haraway
argues that those of us who are deeply unhappy with the status quo
need to abandon the enterprise of trying to sort ‘consciousness
into categories of “clear-sighted critique grounding a solid political
epistemology” versus “manipulated false consciousness”‘. Instead, we should capitalize on new opportunities for ‘new kinds
of unity across race, gender, and class as these elementary units
of socialist-feminist analysis themselves suffer protean transformations’ .46 It seems to me that this last suggestion – that the
categories of race, gender and class may themselves undergo
transformations – is the key to a successful challenge of present
uses of the new reproductive technologies. For suppose that we
grant that, while history has generated and will continue to
generate a fragile unity around the oppression of women, it has
also done something similar for the oppression of traditional
workers and for the oppression of racial minorities. Suppose,
further, that we grant that there will be situations which call forth
an alliance or coalition between these fragile unities. Haraway’s
point is these unities may change as a result of such a coalition.

Still, these fragile unities must be the starting point. Catherine
MacKinnon’s eloquent case for the methodology of ‘consciousness raising’ must be extended to all of the contemporary movements for equality;48 but at the same time these unities must
engage each other in a difference-respecting coalition. Bernice
10hnson Reagon captures this two-way process .when she says:

Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the
success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good
when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition;
they’re looking for a home! They’re looking for a bottle
with some milk in it and a nipple, which does not happen
in a coalition. You don’t get fed a lot in a coalition. In a
coalition you have to give, and it is different from your
home. You can’t stay there all the time. You go to the
coalition for a few hours and then you go back and take
your bottle wherever it is, and then you go back and
coalesce some more. 49
To be sure, such a coalition won’t be easy; but it will become
necessary as each oppressed constituency insists that “this is our
world” and “we are here to stay”. As a black woman, Reagon says
to other oppressed constituencies:

You must make sure you understand that you ain’t gonna
be able to have an ‘our’ that don’t include Bernice 10hnson
Reagon, cause I don’t plan to go nowhere! That’s why we
have to have coalitions. Cause I ain’t gonna let you live
unless you let me live. Now there’s danger in that, but
there’s also the possibility that we can both live – if you can
stand it. 50
Notice how all this differs from the literal position where one tries
to criticize the status quo on the basis of a vision of the future that
abstracts from historically-conditioned differences due to race,
class, and sex. On the view we’re proposing, one begins by
affirming one’s historically-constituted identity as a black woman,
or a white male worker, or as a white middle-class woman, etc.

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990

But one goes on – due to the need for a coalition if any critical
project is to succeed – to reflect critically on how this fragile intragroup unity might change as a result of such a coalition.

How does all this bear on ectogenesis, the topic of this paper?

Recall that I suggested in my opening remarks that ectogenesis
could serve as a kind of’ Rorschach Test’ of our thinking about the
new reproductive technologies. We now are in a better position to
characterize the different responses to the idea of an artificial
womb. Some, like Singer and Wells, see it as a potential blessing
to women; as increasing their reproductive options even, if – and
this is crucial for understanding their position – things go on pretty
much as they are. That is, no feminist revolution will be needed
to actualize this progressive potentiaPl Others see ectogenesis as
the end result of evils inherent in the new reproductive technologies
as they exist here and now; as the perfect symbol for a project that
sees women merely as a collection of body parts, or as an
inevitable result of a project driven by capitalist greed. Still others
see it as playing an essential role in maintaining the privilege of
white people of European descent. What I want to suggest in these
final remarks is that each of these reactions to ectogenesis can
make an important contribution to an effective and critical resistance to present directions in the new reproductive technologies. 52
Suppose it was granted that there is no single critique that
captures the ‘basic’ problem with ectogenesis; that, instead, each
emphasis is ‘rational’ given the historically-conditioned interests
of the various non-privileged constituencies. How might this
diversity be turned to progressive ends? The answer, it seems to
me, is to grant that each non-privileged constituency has become
a kind of ‘specialist’ in certain forms of distrust. That is, due to
their different collective histories, the various non-privileged
constituencies bring quite different critiques to bear on the new
reproductive technologies. For example, the white working-class
male could contribute – due to his daily struggle with capital at the
point of production – a special distrust of economically exploitative dimensions of the new reproductive technologies. Blacks of
both sexes and various classes could be ‘specialists’ in detecting
racist dimensions of the project. Gays of both sexes and all races
could be specialists in detecting heterosexual biases. And white,
middle-class women might – due to their daily interaction with
white middle-class males – serve as ‘specialists’ in detecting how
white middle-class males use patriarchal notions of ‘scientific
progress’, ‘individual rights’, etc., to preserve their multi-dimensional privilege. 53
The problem with admitting this diversity of distrust is, of
course, that it threatens any easy unity between the various
contemporary movements for equality. For example, when we
take such historically-conditioned diversity seriously, it begins to
look as though not all women share a generalized distrust of men.

Thus, Gloria Joseph urges white feminists to recognize that
‘Black women in America have at least as much in common with
black men as with white women. ’54 But, as Bernice Johnson Reagon
has suggested, perhaps these differences are something the various non-privileged constituencies will have to learn to deal with
if they want to mount an effective challenge to key institutions and
projects of the status quo. Furthermore, this may be something
they will have to learn to deal with if they want to develop a truly
critical vision of the future.

Just here is where Marge Piercy’s novel, Woman on the Edge
ofTime , is helpful. At the beginning of the story, Piercy’ s heroine,

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990

Connie, is deeply suspicious of the utopian society she is allowed
to ‘visit’ through her ‘contacts’ with Luciente. Furthermore,
Connie’s doubts about the way they do things in Mattapoisett the name of the future community to which Connie ‘time-travels’

– take place on all of the dimensions we have canvassed above.

For example, at first Connie distrusts the artificial reproduction
and communal parenting arrangements on the basis of traditional
attitudes toward motherhood:

How can men be mothers! How can some kid who isn’t
related to you be your child? … How could anyone know
what being a mother means who has never carried a child
nine months heavy under her heart, who has never borne
a child in blood and pain, who has never suckled a child.

Who got that child out of a machine the way that couple,
white and rich, got my flesh and blood. All made up
already, a canned child, just add money. What do they
know of motherhood?55
Connie also distrusts the Mattapoisett society from the point of
view of people of colour. Thus, she says the following about Bee,
a black man who works in the ‘brooder’ room:

What could a man of this ridiculous Podunk future, where
babies were born from machines and people negotiated
diplomatically with cows, know about how it had been to
grow up in America black or brown? Pain had honed Claud
Keen. This man was a child by comparison. 56
Connie also had serious doubts about the de-urbanized, ecologically
responsible, self-sufficient nature of Mattapoisett. Thus, in response to Luciente’ s boast that every region tries to be ‘ownfed’,
Connie says:


Forward, into the past? Okay, it’s better to live in a green
meadow than on 111 th Street. But all that striving and
struggling to end up in the same old bind. Stuck back home
on the farm. Peons again! Back on the same old dungheap
with ten chickens and a goat. That’s where my grandparents scratched out a dirt-poor life! It depresses me. 57
But – and this is what makes Piercy’s approach to the future
relevant to our discussion, she does not simply juxtapose Connie’ s
present attitudes (and the doubts they generate) with the radically
different attitudes of the inhabitants of Mattapoisett. Rather,
Piercy tries to show how contradictions in Connie’ s present
attitudes lead her to develop radically different attitudes towards
such things as motherhood, racial identity, sexuality, work, etc.

This process is especially evident when Connie admits for the first
time that her own child, Angelina – who had been taken from her
by the welfare establishment and given to a rich Scarsdale couple
– would be better off in Mattapoisett:

Suddenly she assented with all her soul to Angelina in
Mattapoisett, to Angelina hidden forever one hundred fifty
years into the future, even if she should never see her again.

For the first time her heart assented to Luciente, to Bee, to
Magdalena. Yes, you can have my child, you can keep my
child. Even with your obscenities and your talking cats.

She will be strong there, well fed, well housed, well taught,
she will grow up much better and stronger and smarter than
r. I assent, I give you my battered body as recompense and
my rotten heart. Take her, keep her! She will never be
broken as I was. She will be strange, but she will be glad
and strong and she will not be afraid. She will have enough.

She will have pride. She will love her own brown skin and
be loved for her strength and good work. She will walk in
strength like a man and never sell her body and she will
nurse her babies like a woman and live in love like a
garden, like that children’s house of many colors. People
of the rainbow with its end fixed in the earth, I give her to
Piercy also explicitly affirms the need for a vision of the future
that is based on a multi-dimensioned struggle against a multidimensioned system of privilege. Thus, though she has Luciente
say at one point that the system of artificial reproduction and
communal parenting was ‘part of women’s long revolution’ ,59 she
also stresses that Mattapoisett will come into history only if all
powerless constituencies of Connie’ s time unite to work for it:

The powerful don’t make revolutions … No, Connie! It’s
the people who worked out the labor-and-Iand intensive
farming we do. It’s all the people who changed how people
bought food, raised children, went to school! … Who made
new unions, withheld rent, refused to go to wars, wrote and
educated and made speeches. 60
Toward the end of the book, when it has become clear that the
people of Mattapoisett have ‘contacted’ Connie so that their
possible future can in fact be realized in history, Bee gives Connie
the following bit of advice:

vision of the future that arises out of a multi-dimensional resistance here and now.

In this sense, how Piercy argues for her position on future uses
of the new reproductive technologies is more important than the
details of that position. To be sure, it is important to entertain the
possibility that we may have to transcend our present attitudes
toward genetic parenting. But even more important is the recognition that how these attitudes get transcended must be the result
of a coalition that brings together all of the forms of distrust
canvassed above. In this sense, Firestone was on the right track
when she said that our position on such things as ectogenesis
should ‘arise organically out of the revolutionary action itself’.

All that needs to be added is that this ‘revolutionary action’ cannot
be seen as an attack on some ‘basic’ or ‘primary’ form of
privilege. Rather, it must be seen as a multi-dimensional attack
that builds on the insights and historical force of all non-privileged constituencies.




Andre Gorz develops this position in Farewell to the Working
Class: An Essay in Post-Industrial Socialism (Boston: South End
Press, 1980) and Paths to Paradise: On the Liberation from
Work (Boston: South End Press, 1985).



Carl Hedman, ‘Luddites, Hippies and Robots: Automation and
the Possibility of Resistance’, Prometeus, Vol. 7, No. 2 (December 1989).

Singer and Wells develop their basic position in their book, The
Reproduction Revolution: New Ways ofMaking Babies (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1984), Chapter 5.



Spallone develops her general critique of the new reproductive
technologies in Beyond Conception: The New Politics of Reproduction (Granby, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, 1989).

To supplement her remarks on the specific issue of ectogenesis,
I will also draw on things that she has written with feminists who
share her general critique of the new reproductive technologies.


Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic ofSex: The Casefor Feminist
Revolution (New York: Bantam Books, 1971).

Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge ofTime (New York: Ballantine
Books, 1983). (This book was first published in 1976.)


Rita Arditti et aI, Test-Tube Women: What Future for Motherhood? (London: Pandora Press, 1989), p. xvi. They describe this
breakthrough as follows: ‘In May, 1988, the US journal Fertility
and Sterility reported a ‘first’ from Italy: in Bologna, researchers
had connected a living womb (extracted from a woman in a
hysterectomy) to a so-called perfusion machine which provided
it with oxygen and nutrients similar to the conditions of an early
pregnancy. They injected a spare embryo from a woman on IVF.

The embryo developed normally for 52 hours (Bulletti et aI,


Peter Singer and Deane Wells, The Reproduction Revolution:

New Ways of Making Babies, p. 135.


Ibid., p. 133.

There’s always a thing you can deny an oppressor, if only
your allegiance. Your belief. Your co-oping. Often even
with vastly unequal power, you can find or force an
opening to right back. In your time many without power
found ways to fight. Till that became a power.61
This all-too-brief review of one of the main themes in Piercy’s
novel is not meant to suggest that Piercy’ s vision of a better world
is the’ correct’ one for those of us who reject racist, sexist, classist
features of present society. It is simply to suggest that we need a


Here I am indebted to Brian Barry who once suggested that John
Rawls’ A Theory of Justice can serve as a kind of philosophic
‘Rorschach Test’. (,Critical Notice of Wolff, Understanding
Rawls’, The Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. VII, No. 4,
1978). In what follows, I will be focusing on different reactions
to a particular idea rather than to a particular thinker’s written
work. But I will move closer to Barry’ s use of this simile when
I discuss various reactions to Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex.

David Noble develops a case for a new Luddism in this connection in Automation: Progress Without People (San Pedro, CA:

Singlejack Books, 1989).

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990




Ibid., pp. 135-36. It should be noted that this argument presupposes that ectogenesis won’t involve serious risks to women’s
health. But as David N. James points out in ‘Ectogenesis: A
Reply to Singer and Wells’, Bioethics, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1987),
‘fetal transplantation would … require general anesthesia as well
as a surgical incision through the abdominal wall and uterus,
with all the risks of medical complications which accompany
these more invasive procedures’ (p. 87).

Robyn Row land, ‘Reproductive Technologies: The Final Solution
to the Woman Question?’ in Test-Tube Women, p. 368.

Spallone, Beyond Conception, pp. 189-90.


Ibid., p. 190.

Ibid., p. 32. An example of a ‘problem’ that could be better
addressed by a preventative approach is Pelvic Inflammatory
Disease: ‘A World Health Organization study showed that
among women diagnosed as infertile, 50.9 per cent of those with
a previous history ofPID [[ salpingitus]] had an infection-related
diagnosis …. Why are all those governments and doctors who are
so concerned about infertility not calling for a concerted screening
effort for women most at risk? The World Health Organization
1978 Task Force on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Infertility
identified infections as preventable causes of fertility problems
globally’ (p. 71).


Ibid., p. 191.


Ibid., p. 186.


Ibid., p. 186.

Ibid., p. 187.


Taylor makes this suggestion in The Biological Time Bomb
(London: Thames & Hudson, 1968). It is interesting to note that
even in 1968 it was beginning to look like ‘The development of
the “perfect” artificial placenta can only be a matter of time’ (p.



Ibid., pp. 189-90.


Ibid., pp. 192-93.


The claim that artificial wombs will be developed as a result of
the desire to save premature babies is not new. Gordon Taylor
made this claim in 1968 in The Biological Time-Bomb, p. 39.

Spallone, Beyond Conception, p. 192. Here she challenges
women to look closely at how present attitudes discriminate
against disabled people.



Ibid., p. 200.

Ibid., p. 227.

Ibid., p. 228.


Ibid., p. 199. And of course there is the famous parenthetical
remark: ‘(Like shitting a pumpkin, a friend of mine told me when
I inquired about the Great-Experience-You ‘re-Missing. What’ swrong-with-shitting – shitting-can-be-fun says the School of
Great Experiences. It hurts, she says. What’s-wrong-with-alittle-pain-as-Iong-as-it-doesn ‘t-kill-you? answers the school. It
is boring, she says. Pain-can-be-interesting-as-an-experience
says the School. Isn’t that a rather high price to pay for interesting experience? she says. But-Iook-you-get-a-reward, says the
School: a-baby-all-your-own-to-fuck-up-as-you-please. Well,
that’s something, she says. But how do I know it will be male like
you?): p. 199.


Ibid., p. 199.

The central passage goes as follows: ‘Just as to assure elimination
of economic classes requires the revolt of the under-class (the
proletariat) and, in a temporary dictatorship, their seizure ofthe
means of production, so to assure the elimination of sexual
classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and the
seizure of control of reproduction: not only the full restoration
to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their
(temporary) seizure of control of human fertility – the new
population biology as well as all the social institutions of
childbearing and childrearing’ (pp. 10-11). Some interpretations of Firestone’s position completely ignore her call for a
‘revolution’ . (Singer is an example.) Others seem to dismiss it as
unrealistic. Thus, Catherine MacKinnon wonders’ How women,
who have not been permitted to control their own bodies or
existing technology, could control reproductive technology
remains a mystery’ (Toward a Feminist Theory of the State,
Boston: Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 56).


Hillary Rose puts this as follows: ‘For some feminists the
Utopian promise of Firestone’s work was sufficient – she
seemed to solve the problem central to radical feminist theory of
how to guarantee the continuation of the species without needing
men’ (,Victorian Values in the Test-Tube: The Politics of
Reproductive Science and Technology’, in Reproductive
Technologies: Gender, Motherhood and Medicine, ed. Michell
Stanworth, pp. 151-52).


Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, p. 206.

Pat Parker, ‘Revolution: It’s Not Neat or Pretty or Quick’ ,in This
Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color,
ed. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (Watertown, Mass.:

Persephone Press, 1981), p. 241.


Nancy Breeze, ‘Who is Going to Rock the Petri Dish? For
Feminists Who Have Considered Parthenogenesis When the
Movement Is Not Enough’, in Test-Tube Women: What Future
for Motherhood, ed. Rita Arditti et aI., p. 400.


As I noted above, Hillary Rose worries that ‘Firestone’s unrealistic Utopian hopes have made it more difficult for women to
see the political threat flowing from some of the fast -developing
techniques of reproduction – not the least the test-tube baby.’

Donna Haraway, ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’, Socialist Review 15,
80, 1985, p. 78.

Singer, ‘Creating Embryos’, in Ethical Issues at the Outset of
Life, ed. Martin Benjamin and William B. Weil (Boston:

Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1987), pp. 48-49.

Ibid., p. 49.




It should also be noted that in the prologue to Made to Order: The
Myth ofReproductive and Genetic Progress, ed. Patricia Spallone
and Deborah Lynn Steinberg (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1987),
Spallone and Steinberg note that ‘pronatalism is part of the
context in which women decide to “choose” reproductive technology’, and they go on to ask: ‘How are we to understand this
growing emphasis on motherhood?’ (p. 9).

Hillary Rose seems to accept this reading of Firestone when she
blames Firestone for deflecting women’s attention from present
abuses of the new reproductive technologies: ‘I realized that
Firestone’s unrealistic Utopian hopes and the theoretical naivety of her analysis has made it more difficult for women to see
the political threat flowing from some of the fast-developing
techniques of reproduction – not the least the test-tube baby’ (my
emphasis) (,Victorian Values in Technology’, in Reproductive
Technologies: Gender, Motherhood and Medicine, ed. Michelle
Stanworth [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987],
p. 151).


Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, p. 226.

Ibid., p. 196.


Ibid., p. 200

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990



Ibid., p. 76.


Ibid., p. 79, pp. 87-88 (my emphasis).

Ibid., p. 91.


Catherine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State,
Chapter 6.


Bernice Johnson Reagon, ‘Coalition Politics: Turning the Century’, in Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, ed. Barbara
Smith (New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1983),





Ibid., p. 365.

It should be noted that Adrienne Rich also grants that artificial
reproduction could add to a woman’s reproductive choice – but
only if controlled by women. Rich puts her point as follows:

‘Ideally, of course, women would choose not only whether,
when, and where to bear children, and the circumstances of
labor, but also between biological and artificial reproduction … ‘

(‘The Theft of Childbirth’, in Seizing Our Bodies: The Politics
of Women’s Health, ed. Pam McAllister, Philadelphia: New
Society Publishers, 1982, p. 268).

It should be noted that Spallone stresses the need to take
seriously the needs of women who are economically nonprivileged and women who are not of white European ancestry.

(See especially Chapter 9 of Beyond Conception). My point here
is that an effective challenge to the new reproductive technologies must also take seriously non-privileged men of all races.




I develop this notion of ‘specialists’ in detecting various forms
of privilege in Uses of Distrust.

Gloria Joseph, ‘The Incompatible Menage a Trois: Marxism,
Feminism and Racism’, Women and Revolution, ed. Lydia
Sargent (Boston: South End Press, 1981), p. 95e.

Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time, p. 106.


Ibid., p. 104.

Ibid., p. 70.

Ibid., p. 141.


Ibid., p. 105.

Ibid., p. 198.

Ibid., p. 328.



During the nineteen eighties the dominant mood of left politics in
Western Europe and North America has grown less and less confident.

The resurgence of nationalism and religious fundamentalism around
the world, and the reassertion of authoritarianism in the UK, China and
elsewhere, have shaken beliefs in rational progress. At the same time,
the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communist
power in Central and Eastern Europe have removed some of the
familiar landmarks of half a century of political debate.

Some observers have speedily concluded that the left is discredited,
and that “post-modernist” scepticism about the very idea of progress
and shared values has been vindicated by history. Others, however,
think that the left has lost nothing except a handful of distracting
illusions, and that it is now in a position to reaffirm its fundamental,.

perspectives. Is it the landscape that has changed, or just the landmarks?

Against this background, ancient philosophical issues are being investigated anew. What are the relationships between ethics, morals and
politics? Is it vain to stand up for ideals in a situation which gives them
no chance of being realised? What is education for? How valid is the
idea of universal human goods? Or of individual rights? Does progress
lead beyond religion? What is a culture, and does respect for othe
cultures imply relativism? And what is the point of philosophical
thought anyway?

Polytechnic of CenlrQltondon
Marylebone Road
London NWl


Baker street

£5 (£2 cons)

Sessions are planned on the
follOWing. areas:







Advanced ~gistr~ti9n

andfUrthet details write to:

PererQsborne(RP Conference)
Middlesex .Polytecbnic
Faculty of Humanities
Enfield EN34SF

Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990

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