Genesis of Eden Diversity Encyclopedia

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Return to Genesis of Eden?

Stone, Linda 1997 Kinship and Gender,
Westview Press, Harper-Collins, Boulder.
ISBN 0-8133-2859-4

NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.

Linda Stone is associate professor of anthropology at Washington State University.

Exogamy and Exchange: Manipulating Women?

In Chapter I we examined the idea that rules of exogamy would force groups to look beyond themselves for spouses and develop alliances with other groups. Exogamy would thus help promote peaceful relations, or at least prevent groups from forming only hostile relationships and killing each other off. Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1969) took this line of thinking one step further. First, for societies practicing descent group exogamy, he distinguished between those with "complex" marriage systems and those with "elementary" marriage systems. In the former, there is Just a rule that one one must marry outside the descent group. Most societies that practice descent group exogamy are of this type. In the latter, there is not only a rule of descent group exogamy specifying whom one cannot marry but also rules specifying whom, or into what groups, one should marry. Levi-Strauss then said that early human groups were of this "elementary" type. These groups were not just marrying out, they were systematically intermarrying with other groups; they were not just practicing descent group exogamy, they were exchanging women. By exchanging women over the generations, these early groups were essentially setting up forms of enduring and perpetual alliances with one another. The gender implications of this view will be discussed later, but first we need to look at how systematic exchange of spouses works on paper. The simplest place to start is to imagine two sets of brother-sister pairs who intermarry. As illustrated in Figure 6.3, these pairs represent two descent groups, A and B. Let's also assume that the two groups are patrilineal.

FIGURE 6.3 Spouse Exchange Between Groups A and B. Members of Group A are shaded.

To clarify who belongs to which descent group, I have shaded in the circle and triangle symbolizing the members of patrilineal descent group A. Here, a man of A is marrying a woman of B and a man of B is marrying a woman of A. This exchange may be kept up over the generations, such that the children of these first two unions intermarry, their children also intermarry, and so on. Figure 6.4 shows what happens. In short, every male ego is marrying a FZD who is also a MBD-in other words, a double cross cousin. Likewise, every female ego is marrying a MBS who is also a FZS. Thus cross-cousin marriage (or in this case, double cross-cousin marriage) is a systematic way of perpetuating the alliance between groups A and B over the generations. Another way to put this is to say that if A and B decide to systematically exchange spouses in each generation, the result will be a case of systematic double cross-cousin marriage. Figure 6.4 is highly idealized. What it shows, in the simplest way possible, is that two unilineal descent groups could practice exogamy, link up through marriage, and perpetuate their alliance over and over. Real societies, of course, deal with much larger numbers of people and greater numbers of descent groups. It may help to look again at this diagram and imagine that the triangles and circles represent not individuals but whole lineages or clans.

FIGURE 6.4 Systematic Spouse Ex change Between Groups A and B over the Generations. Members of Group A are shaded.

It is sometimes the case that a group of people is divided up into clans, which in turn are clustered into two moieties, or halves; the marriage rule is then that one must marry Into a clan of the moiety opposite one's own. These types of exchange marriages are no longer common on a world scale, but they have been found, with many variations, among some hunting and gathering peoples. For example, Australian aborigines developed highly complex forms of spouse exchange (sometimes called "section systems") that are variations of the idealized model in Figure 6.4. Levi-Strauss (1969) interpreted all these versions of spouse exchange among remote hunter-gatherers as evidence of similar kinds of marriage exchange among early humans. Other ways of arranging marital exchanges between groups are also possible. For example, Group A could give women systematically and in each generation to Group B, which in turn could give its women to Group C, which could then give its women to Group A. A simplified version of this type of exchange is illustrated in Figure 6.5; in real life, of course, many more groups would be involved, and the situation would be far more complex. The diagram focuses on the circulation of women, but a circulation of men could 'ust as easily be represented. Note that the broken circles represent the women of C who are marrying the men of A. In this type of system, every ego winds up marrying only one type of cross-cousin. A male ego marries his MBD and a female ego marries a FZS.

FIGURE 6.5 Systematic Marriages Among Three Groups. Women of A marry men of B; women of B marry men of C; and the women of C (shown in broken circles) marry men of A. Arrows indicate the circulation of the women.

An example of a society that practices this form of marriage is the Purum, a tribal group in India (see Keesing 1975: 85-88).

I could go much further in this vein, showing all sorts of spouseexchange marriages that entail different kinds of cross-cousin marriage. These systems have preoccupied anthropologists and provoked many arguments. Thus far, in fact, there is no consensus as to exactly how these systems work or what precisely they mean to the groups who practice them or what they should mean to the outsiders who study them. Some theorists who attempt to account for cross-cousin marriage focus on social structure and discuss the implications of this type of marriage in terms of the maintenance of marital alliances between groups of people. Against this approach, however, Margaret Trawick (1990) has offered a novel interpretation of cross-cousin marriage among the Tamil people of South India. She suggests that cross-cousin marriage in this society is in part related to the culturally patterned emotional dynamics between certain kin. In particular, she points out the highly affective bond between brothers and sisters in Tamil culture. A sibling, then, "may become like a desired but forbidden mate" (Trawick 1990: 183). A kind of "longing" between brother and sister cannot be directly fulfilled, but it can be indirectly expressed through the marriages of their children to one another. What makes Trawick's approach all the more interesting is that she discusses marriage practices not as abstractions of social structure but in terms of the emotional lives and cultural experiences of real people. This having been said, we can now return to Levi-Strauss' ideas about exogamy and the origin of spouse-exchange. Even more important than what Levi-Strauss said about marital exchanges is the way in which he phrased his original proposition: Early human groups exchanged women. Needless to say, for those interested in exploring the origins of female subordination, this was a very powerful idea, the implications of which were drawn out by Gale Rubin (1975). It suggested that very early in human adaptation, women became subordinated to men because they were, in a sense, the first items of trade between men of different groups. In other words, males were playing a political game with women as the pawns; they were in control of allocating female sexuality and reproductive capacity, whereas women were merely the allocated. This idea concurs with Fox's (1980) view, discussed in Chapter 2, that older males maintained power over the allocation of females to others and used it to recruit other males as allies and build up their followings. Fox (1989: 179) has also suggested that the custom of bridewealth emerged when men, in order to acquire wives, started offering goods instead of their own sisters and daughters as exchange. If women appear somewhat passive in Levi-Strauss' scheme, it is certainly not because he intended that they be seen as lacking in value. On the contrary, he saw a woman as the "total gift" between men. At some point, he said, human men emerged from a state of primitive promiscuity and incest. They renounced sexual access to their own women in order to trade with one another and so become allies. They bonded together precisely because their items of exchange, live women, were valuable. Thus was alliance born between men-and thus was marriage born, too. But according to L6vi-Strauss, marriage was primarily a relationship between men and only secondarily involved a union between a man and a woman. Women were valuable, but valuable in the world of men as items of exchange between them. Is any of this true? It's hard to say, because so little is known about the actual behavior of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. As for modern groups, some anthropologists have criticized the idea that males exchanged women (in elementary systems), or merely farmed them out to form alliances (in complex systems), in order to play their own political games. Karen Sacks (1979: 114-115) wrote that marriage exchanges in hunting-gathering societies do not involve exchanges of women, who in these societies are economically and socially equal to men. And Diane Bell (1980) showed that, among one group of Australian aborigines, although spouse exchange was ceremonially in the hands of men, women had also directly participated in the selections before the ceremony. We have seen, too, that among the Beng (Case 5), a group with double descent, husbands arrange the marriages of the odd-numbered daughters, and wives, the marriages of their even-numbered daughters. Finally, my own study has shown that, among Nepalese Brahmans (Case 2), women actively work to set up their children's marriages. For their daughters, women maneuver to arrange marriages to men from the villages of their own brothers in order to secure some source of support for the new brides. In all these cases, marriages are definitely "political" in that they establish alliances between groups, but matchmaking appears to be a game that both women and men can play. Marriage alliances may have helped early humans to develop cooperative intergroup relationships, but they did not (and still do not) always work to maintain peace between groups. It is probably true that if two descent groups systematically intermarried over the generations (as illustrated in Figure 6.5), they would be unlikely to attack one another, since each group would encompass one another's sisters, daughters, and grandchildren. But in any looser arrangement, marriage bonds are not enough to prevent war. In some groups, such as the Huli (Case 7), much warfare took place between male affines, and there was the saying that "we fight where we marry." In addition, alliances can be terminated through acts of divorce when need be.

Kinship, Gender, and the New Reproductive Technologies:
The Beginning of the End?

"Home, home-a few small rooms, stiflingly overinhabited by a man, by a periodically teeming woman, by a rabble of boys and girls of all ages. No air, no space; an understerilized prison.... Psychically, it was a rabbit hole, a midden, hot with the frictions of tightly packed life.... What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group! Maniacally, the mother brooded over her children ... brooded over them like a cat over its kittens; but a cat that could talk, a cat that could say, 'My baby, my baby' over and over again" (Huxley 1946 [orig. 1932]: 24). This passage from Huxley's science fiction novel, Brave New World, gives a society's comment on its past, a despicable past when humans reproduced their own offspring and lived in families. In this brave new world reproduction is entirely state-controlled and carried out in test tubes and incubators. There is no kinship whatsoever in this new society. There is also no marriage. Women and men are equally expected to be sexually promiscuous, and sex is solely for pleasure. But apart from this, rather amazingly, there are few changes in gender. Women of the brave new world appear passive and fluffy-headed. Men apparently run the new society and hold all the prestigious or powerful jobs. In real life, meanwhile, new modes of reproduction are very definitely challenging conventions of both gender and kinship, as this chapter will show. In 1978 the first "test-tube" baby, Louise Brown, was produced in England. Human conception had taken place inside a petri dish, outside the womb, and without sexual intercourse. By now, thousands of babies have been created in this way. About a decade after Louise Brown was born, we began to see cases of "surrogate" mothers and complex legal battles over the fate of their children. In 1987 Mary Beth Whitehead sought custody of a child, the famous Baby M, whom she had borne through a surrogacy contract. She had agreed to bear a child for William Stern, using his "donor" sperm. Stern's wife, Elizabeth, felt that because she had a mild case of multiple sclerosis, a pregnancy would be too great a risk to her health. The case went through two New jersey courts. Both awarded custody of Baby M to Stern, although the higher court ruled that the surrogacy contract was invalid. Surrounded by controversy, these and other New Reproductive Technologies (NRTS) have raised thorny legal and moral issues. They also present a challenge to our deepest ideas and values concerning kinship, and carry profound implications for gender. What are these NRTS, how do they work, and what implications do they have? In this chapter I discuss the new technologies and trace their overall impact.

The New Reproductive Technologies

Reproductive technologies, as such, are not new. Various forms of contraception, abortion, fertility-enhancing concoctions, cesarean surgery, and so on have existed for a long time. As far as I know, every human culture in the world offers local techniques for assisting conception as well as some methods of contraception, effective or not. But the NRTs go beyond promoting or preventing conception, or inducing or ending pregnancy. Some, for instance, provide knowledge about particular reproductive acts, knowledge that humans have never had before. Other NRTs open up new reproductive roles that humans have never played before. What follows is a listing of the new technologies along with explanations of how they work. The first two are technologies that give us new-and, in some contexts, problematic-knowledge.

Determining Biological Fatherhood

Throughout most of human history biological motherhood was taken for granted, but an equivalent "paternal certainty" did not exist. Then, around 1900, some techniques were developed that were capable of specifying, with certainty, who could not have fathered a particular child. Thus these tests could exclude individuals from a group of potential fathers but could not determine which particular individual was the actual father. The most common test performed back then was based on the well-known ABO blood group system. All humans are phenotypically either A, B, AB, or 0. The A phenotype corresponds to an IAIA or IAIO genotype; B corresponds to an IBIB or IBIO genotype; AB is always IAIB; and 0 is always IOIO. Let us assume that a child belongs to the A blood group and that its mother is in the 0 group. This means that the mother is IOIO and the child is either IAIA or IAIO. We know that this child could not possibly have inherited the IA gene from the mother and, therefore, that the IA gene had to have come from the father. Let us then assume that a particular man is thought to be the father and that the mother is suing him for child support. The ABO blood test is performed and the man is found to belong to the B group. In other words, the man's genotype is IBIB or IBIO, meaning that he could not have contributed the IA gene. This man could not possibly be the father, and he is excluded. But even if the suspected man turns out to belong to the A blood group (making it possible for him to have contributed an IA gene), he is not proven to be the biological father. Indeed, since the whole human population is subdivided into only four blood groups, hundreds of millions of men can be found in each category. But obviously not all A-type men should be suspected, as it would be impossible for the mother to have had sexual intercourse with hundreds of millions of men from all over the planet. The new so-called DNA fingerprinting technique has considerably altered this situation. The technique relies on amplifying portions of human DNA in a test tube using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and identifying DNA fragments based on restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP). DNA can be isolated easily from a small quantity of blood taken from the individual in question. The general principle here is that human individuals differ in their DNA in many subtle ways and that no two individuals (except identical twins) have exactly the same DNA patterns. The PCR and RFLP techniques are capable of discerning these subtle variations and thus can provide a genetic (DNA-based) "fingerprint" of an individual that corresponds to that individual only, to the exclusion of all others. Genetic fingerprinting is now widely used to determine paternity with a very high degree of certainty, up to 99.99 percent or better. It has also been used to trace the parentage of orphans whose parents were killed and buried in known locales during wars. Under proper conditions, DNA can survive, even in bones, for thousands of years. Had DNA fingerprinting existed during the life of Anastasia, who claimed to be the sole surviving daughter of Tzar Nicholas 11, her bluff would have been uncovered at the time. Recently, DNA analysis applied to bone material showed that Anastasia was indeed an impostor. Determining biological fatherhood may be of great interest or advantage to many individuals in a variety of situations. But what are the broader implications of the fact that this determination can now be made so easily, and so "scientifically"? Many people have argued that paternity uncertainty in many ways shaped human culture around the globe. They suggest that a whole host of practices in different regions of the world-having to do with female seclusion, restrictions on female behavior, medieval chastity belts, and so on-were all predicated on the principle of paternity uncertainty.

But such uncertainty is now a thing of the past. We do not yet know what the long-term consequences of this may be for women or men. As noted in Chapter 6, the polyandrous Nyinba are very concerned with biological fatherhood. But culturally they have constructed a rather efficient and normally satisfying way of designating paternity to husbands. Wives simply announce which husband is the father of a given child, even though in some cases this could not have been "scientifically" known; or husbands and wives together determine which brother the child most closely resembles. The process of designating paternity gives women a lot of power and, in cases of successful marriages, serves to equitably distribute children to husbands. But what will happen to this system when "real" paternity can be easily and quickly determined through a simple blood test? Will it bring discord between brothers? will it result in the loss of power and influence for women? And what will happen to women in societies where the accepted punishment for proven infidelity is severe beating or death?

Determining the Sex of the Unborn Child

Sex determination techniques are by-products of a technology first developed to screen for genetic defects. These defects are detectable at the chromosomal level. The basic procedure involves harvesting fetal cells in utero (from inside the uterus), preparing their chromosomes, and looking at them under a microscope. The resulting chromosome spread is called a karyotype, and the process of characterizing chromosomes from an individual is called karyotyping. It turned out to be the case that, while karyotyping chromosomes to detect for genetic defects, technicians found it also very easy to see what sex the fetus was going to be. Karyotyping readily identifies the sex of the fetus since the Y chromosome (unique to males) is very small whereas X is large. Two techniques are used to sample fetal cells. One is amniocentesis, the process of inserting a needle into the uterus (through the abdomen) and harvesting fluid from the amniotic sac that surrounds the fetus. Fetal skin cells are normally shed into this fluid. Usually only a few cells are present in the fluid, so it has to be cultured in vitro (i.e., in an artificial environment outside the living organism) to allow for cell manipulation. These cells are then karyotyped. Amniocentesis cannot be applied before the twelfth week of pregnancy since sufficient amniotic fluid is not present until that time. The other technique, chorionic villus sampling, is less invasive because the abdomen is not punctured. In this case, a sample of chorion is taken by introducing a tube through the vagina into the uterus. The chorion is fetal tissue that lines the uterine cavity and surrounds the amniotic sac. Since this tissue is abundant, no cell culture is necessary and karyotyping can be done right away. There is enough chorion to allow the procedure as early as the eighth week of pregnancy. In societies that do not express a cultural preference for male or female children a couple's knowledge of the sex of a fetus is without much consequence. But, as we have seen, there are some societies that strongly prefer male children. In India, for example, amniocentesis is a major social issue. When the test became available, female fetuses were aborted at a very high rate. Many women underwent amniocentesis, either voluntarily or at the insistence of husbands and in-laws, with the idea that their pregnancy would be terminated unless the fetus was male. Many Indian women's organizations have fought to protect women and unborn females from this abuse. In some Indian states amniocentesis is now illegal (except in cases where genetic defects are an issue), but the test is still widely used illegally. In the United States amniocentesis is a common procedure used to detect genetic defects. Rayna Rapp's (1990) study of amniocentesis in New York City showed that this test carries cultural meanings that vary among the people involved in it. Biomedical personnel discuss amniocentesis using an abstract, authoritative, impersonal language that contrasts sharply with the personal, emotional discourse of many women undergoing, or refusing to undergo, the test. Rapp also found that women talked about amniocentesis in ways that varied according to their class and ethnic backgrounds. For example, compared with others, white middle-class women spoke about amniocentesis in much the same way that biomedical personnel did, supporting a positive image of science assisting reproduction. Yet the same women spoke about their experiences with great ambivalence and self-criticism, especially when tests indicated a genetic defect and thus brought up the issue of abortion. Rapp's study relates these and other findings to the changing constructions of womanhood and motherhood among the diverse groups of women who consider technological reproductive interventions.

Artificial Insemination and In Vitro Fertilization

Certain NRTs are used in cases of infertility of an individual or a couple. In males, infertility is usually caused by either sperm defect (low count or immotile sperm cells) or impotence (physiological or psychological). In females, the situation is more complicated. A woman may be sterile, meaning that she is unable to conceive a child, due to absence of ovulation (either no eggs are produced or the egg cannot travel through fallopian tubes that are blocked). However, a sterile woman may still be able to carry and bear a child. Another problem is that a woman may be fertile (i.e., able to conceive a child), but the fertilized egg fails to become implanted in her uterus. Some reproductive problems can be corrected by surgery, drugs, or, in some cases of male impotence, psychotherapy. But if these treatments do not work, there are two other procedures that can allow an individual or couple to have a child. These procedures are artificial insemination (AI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Artificial insemination can be used when a couple seeks to have a child but the male is infertile. In this case the biological father may be an anonymous sperm donor whose sperm is stored in a sperm bank. The sperm bank categorizes sperm according to the physical characteristics of the donors (skin, eye and hair color, height and general body features) so that the future parents can roughly determine the looks of their offspring. For example, the parents may seek a child who will look something like its legal father. Artificial insemination is a simple technique. Donor sperm is simply placed into the uterus of the female at the proper stage of her menstrual cycle. Nature does the rest. Artificial insemination has long been routinely used in animal husbandry to ensure production of animals with desired characteristics. Its average cost ranges from $200 to $400, and its success rate is about 30 percent if fresh sperm is used and about 15 percent if frozen sperm is used. Artificial insemination can also be used by women who seek pregnancy without sexual intercourse. For example, a single woman may wish to have a child without involvement of the biological father beyond anonymous sperm donation. Or a woman may wish to serve as a "surrogate" mother for a married couple who cannot have a child of its own due to the wife's infertility. In this case the surrogate is artificially inseminated with the husband's sperm. The sperm donor is obviously not anonymous, but sexual intercourse between the husband and the surrogate is unnecessary. The technique of in vitro fertilization (IVF) is much more complicated and expensive (about $25,000); it also has a lower success rate than AI with fresh sperm (about 14 percent). It was developed for humans in the late 1970s. In this case, oocytes (immature eggs) are surgically removed from the ovaries of a woman and incubated with sperm in a sterile petri dish in the presence of a nutrient medium. After fertilization occurs, the embryo is allowed to undergo cell division for a few days. The embryo is then removed from the dish and implanted into the uterus of a woman, where, if all goes well, it will grow to term. Usually, several oocytes are removed, fertilized in vitro at the same time, and implanted together. Often only one embryo, or none, will continue to develop. However, cases of multiple birth have occurred. Excess embryos resulting from IVF and not implanted can be frozen and used at a subsequent time, even many years later. One current problem concerns the fate of all the frozen embryos now in existence and the question of who has rights over them. In the United States alone there are tens of thousands of frozen embryos; and throughout the world, hundreds of thousands.

With both IVF and AI, the biological father can also be the would-be legal father of the child, or the biological father may be a sperm donor. With AI, too, one woman may be the legal mother while another woman is the biological mother. But with IVF, something altogether new happens to 11 motherhood." The woman who contributes the oocytes may or may not be the woman who carries the child and gives birth. Once the eggs of one woman are fertilized outside the womb, they may be implanted back either into her or into another woman. This is an important point to which we will return later. Table 8.1 summarizes the different forms of AI and IVF, and shows what options are available depending on the reproductive problem involved. Note that the "father" (F) is designated as either fertile or sterile, whereas the "mother" (M) may exhibit different combinations of sterility (unable to conceive) or fertility, and be either able or unable to bear a child. The table indicates the circumstances under which a couple would need a "donor" egg, sperm, or womb. It also shows what genetic connection the child will have with either or both parents, given the various options. In preparing this table I have assumed that it is a couple, rather than an individual, who is seeking a child; that to the extent possible the couple seeks to have a child genetically related to at least one of its members; and that, if possible, the mother seeks to give birth. In real life, some alternative possibilities may also exist. For example, in case 1 of the table, the mother cannot conceive but can bear a child.

TABLE 8.1 NRTS: Contributions of Egg, Sperm, and Womb, with Genetic Outcomes

  1. Donation Needed  Problem Egg Sperm Womb Technique Genetic Result
  2. F fertile, M sterile E IVF child = 1/2 F but can bear child
  3. F fertile, M sterile E W AI child = 1/2 F and cannot bear child
  4. F fertile, M fertile W IVF child = 1/2 F but cannot bear + 1/2 M child
  5. F sterile, M sterile E S IVF child = 0% but can bear child parents
  6. F sterile, M fertile S AI child = 1/2 M and can bear child
  7. F sterile, M fertile S W IVF child = 1/2 M but cannot bear child

Note: F stands for Father; and M for Mother.

Although the table specifies the use of IVF, an actual couple in this situation might elect to avoid the expense and trouble of IVF and use AI instead (as in case 5). The table also shows three different circumstances under which a socalled surrogate mother might be used, along with the different outcomes involved. In case 2 the surrogate not only carries the child but is the genetic mother, whereas the father is also genetically contributing to the child. In case 3 the surrogate has no genetic relation to the child, and the child is the genetic product of both of the parents. Finally, in case 6, the surrogate has no genetic connection to the child, and the child is genetically related to only one parent, the mother. As this table clearly shows, IVF can be used to assist reproduction in a greater variety of situations than AI. At the same time, however, it is more problematic than AI. For one thing it Is not always safe for women. Depending on her particular role in the process, a participating woman may have to take fertility drugs, some with possible side effects. If she is using or donating her eggs, these must be removed from her through invasive laparoscopy; and if the IVF procedure falls to result in fertilized eggs, it must be performed again. Some women argue that the real beneficiaries of IVF are the highly paid medical professionals who exploit the desperation of childless couples and offer them false hope (Raymond 1993). Based on her own experience, one woman asserted that IVF programs encourage couples to seek their identity in genetic reproduction rather than considering other options for their lives. As she put it: "I look back in amazement at the person I was, traversing the country from one IVF program to another, in search of an infertility 'fix.' . . . I found IVF an extremely arduous, lifedominating experience, involving some eight unsuccessful attempts" (Bartholet 1992: 254).

Some Additional NRTs

Among the NRTs available, a few are not widely used as yet but may become more prevalent in the future. One, called embryo adoption, would apply to the situation of case 1 in Table 8.1. Here, the mother cannot conceive but can bear a child. Instead of using IVF with donor eggs, the husband could artificially inseminate another woman who serves as a very temporary surrogate. After a week, the embryo is flushed out of the surrogate's uterus and inserted into the uterus of the mother. Another type of reproductive technology is called oocyte freezing, a procedure in which oocytes, or eggs, are taken from a woman and frozen for later use. So far this procedure has not proven very successful; but if perfected, it could open a whole range of reproductive options. For example, a woman could freeze her oocytes when she is young and healthy and use them later in life when her fertility would otherwise be lower. Technically, she could use them even past menopause. Alternatively, a much older woman could take oocytes donated by a young women. These could be thawed, fertilized in IVF, and then implanted in the older woman. Already one woman aged fifty-nine has given birth through oocyte donation. Some people are repulsed by the image of very old women giving birth or becoming mothers. Others point out that men have all along been able to reproduce at any age.

Social, Legal, and Moral Implications

NRTs are becoming available just when other options for reproduction seem to be diminishing. Fewer children are now available for adoption both because effective contraception has decreased unwanted births and because a more accepting social climate has allowed more single women to keep their children. At the same time, natural fertility has been decreasing-at least in the United States, where about one in six couples suffers some fertility problem. The sperm count of the American male has fallen by 30 percent over the last fifty years and continues to decline (Blank 1990: 13-14), possibly due to environmental pollution. Female fertility is also decreasing. Although NRTs clearly assist the infertile, they are also bringing about some new kinds of social relationships. Some ramifications of these technologies are easy to imagine-and many of these have already occurred. For example, through the use of frozen embryos, two genetic twins could be-and, indeed, have been-born years apart. By means of the same technology, a woman could give birth to her own genetic twin, or to her own genetic aunt or uncle. In 1991, a forty-two-year-old woman in South Dakota, Arlette, gave birth to twins who are her genetic grandchildren. Her own daughter could not bear a child, but she and her husband desperately wanted children. Through IVF, the daughter's eggs were fertilized with the husband's sperm, and later the pre-embryos were implanted into Arlette's uterus. Another woman, Bonny, donated an egg for her infertile sister, Vicki. Bonny's egg was fertilized with the sperm of Vicki's husband and implanted into Vicki's uterus. A male child, Anthony, was born. In this case the genetic mother, Bonny, is a social aunt; her sister, Vicki, gave birth to Anthony who is her social son but her genetic nephew. Even more disconcerting, through the use of frozen embryos it is also possible for dead people to reproduce. As confusing as these and other cases may be, they have had some happy results, at least for those couples blessed with children they desperately desired. Usually all of the participants in the making of a baby fully agree about its social and legal status. But as we know from the many cases covered in the media, this does not always happen. Baby M was just one such case. Other problems have emerged with the use of frozen embryos. In a famous case of 1989, Davis v. Davis, a Tennessee couple attempted IVF because Mrs. Davis was able to conceive but could not bear a child. Nine eggs were fertilized. Two were implanted, unsuccessfully, in Mrs. Davis' uterus, and the remaining seven were frozen for a later try. But then the couple divorced. They went to court over the fate of these embryos. Mrs. Davis wanted to have them implanted, but Mr. Davis wanted them destroyed. He argued that he had a right not to be a father. In the end, Mrs. Davis remarried and requested that the embryos be donated to some other infertile couple. Thus the case was resolved; but it opened the difficult question: Who should have rights over frozen embryos? Or, for that matter, should frozen embryos have any rights, protected by the law? In another interesting case from Australia, a woman's eggs were fertilized in IVF by an anonymous donor. One of these was unsuccessfully implanted in the woman and the other two were frozen. This woman and her husband then died in a plane crash. It turned out that the couple left a sizable fortune. Should the embryos have rights of inheritance? This was a question that troubled the couple's adult children. Even more pressing, morally speaking, are the larger questions of whether frozen embryos should have rights to be born, or who should decide if, when, and under what circumstances human embryos are to be donated to medical research. Should frozen embryos even be produced in the first place? Certainly, embryo freezing is a useful NRT for infertile couples; and in the case of IVF, a woman is spared repeated laparoscopies through the option of freezing the extra embryos produced the first time. But is embryo freezing a form of irresponsible reproduction? What kind of society, with what views of human life, are we constructing? How should we even think about frozen embryos? Sarah Franklyn (1995: 337) argues that the frozen embryo straddles the boundary between science and nature, giving it an ambivalent status such that its identity and meaning will be contested:

The embryo is a cyborg entity; its coming into being is both organic and tech nological. Though it is fully human (for what else can it be?) it is born of sci ence, inhabits the timeless ice land of liquid-nitrogen storage tanks.... At once potential research material (scientific object), quasi-citizen (it has legal rights) and potential person (human subject), the embryo has a cyborg liminal ity in its contested location between science and nature.

Moral and legal difficulties also surround the practice of surrogacy, particularly "contract" or "commercial" surrogacy. This form of surrogacy, though permitted in the United States, is illegal in most countries that have laws regulating the NRTs (Blank 1990: 157). Some people have severely censured surrogates, calling them "baby sellers." Others have merely wondered what sort of woman would contract to carry a baby for another woman or couple. Surrogates typically receive a fee of about $10,000 for their service. Yet most surrogates insist that they do it not for the money but because they're genuinely motivated to provide a child to an infertile couple. Apparently some women also enjoy the experience of pregnancy and seek to experience it again after they have had all the children they want for themselves. Helena Ragon6's (1994) study of surrogate motherhood in America shows how the surrogate role gives women confidence and a sense of self-importance and worth. These women, she says, are adding meaning to their lives by going beyond the confines of their own domestic situations or their unrewarding jobs to do something vital for others. Other studies have shown that surrogates are usually not poor women in desperate need of cash but, rather, working-class women. According to Ragon6's (1994: 54) study, the personal income of unmarried surrogates ranged from $16,000 to $24,000, and the average household income of married surrogates was $38,000. Still, in the context of surrogacy the issue of social class and economic inequality is easily raised. The couple seeking a surrogate is generally wealthy, at least wealthy enough to be able to afford a surrogate plus the other expenses ($20,000 or more) that they will pay to doctors and a fertility clinic. But surrogates, though not poor, are not of this privileged social class. They may feel rewarded by the attention, care, gifts, and positive social treatment they receive from the couples they are assisting (Ragon6 1994: 64-66). Is this all well and good, or is contract surrogacy enmeshed in a new type of class exploitation? In a discussion of surrogacy, Sarah Boone (1994) invokes both racial and class inequality by drawing some disturbing cultural parallels between contemporary surrogate motherhood and the former practice of slavery in America. Boone describes black slave women as "bottom women" in the gender and racial hierarchy of earlier American society, a hierarchy that placed white males on top, followed by white females and black males. One measure of the "bottom" status of black slave women was wide sexual access to them, for in their position in slave society white male slaveholders could easily exploit them sexually. In addition, black women were themselves considered property and had no legal rights to their children. Meanwhile, "the white woman as top woman became the physically delicate asexual mother/wife, subordinate heipmate" (Boone 1994: 355). Boone asks whether the surrogate mother is another kind of "bottom woman," one whose status is measured not by sexual access to her but by reproductive access to her body: After all, "CCM [commercialized contract motherhood] allows men and privileged women to purchase or rent the gestational capacities of other women in order to produce a genetic heir" (Boone 1994: 358). A new "top woman" thus emerges here too, but she is still a wife and the member of a privileged class. Yet this is a "top woman" with a new twist:

"Now a career woman in her own right but naturally drawn to motherhood, she is fully appropriate for the more refined roles of genetic contributor and rearer of children," whereas the "bottom woman" surrogate is given "the 'unrefined' work of gestation and childbearing for men and more privileged women who are incapable or unwilling to do this work" (Boone 1994: 358). We may argue that, unlike slave women, surrogates choose their "work" and, as we have seen, are not poor or disadvantaged persons. Still, Boone's observations suggest that surrogacy occurs not in a vacuum but in a sociocultural context where it is inseparable from issues of gender and social inequality. Moral concerns, debates, and controversies rage on over the NRTS. But it is on kinship and gender that these new technologies may yet have their greatest impact.

Kinship and Gender

We have already seen how the use of frozen embryos confounds some conventional notions of kinship relation. Is the woman who gives birth to her genetic uncle his niece or his mother? What happens to our kinship system when the boundaries of our core concepts of "kin," set long ago by our ancestors and taken for granted for so many centuries, are blurred? Even more 'olting, perhaps, is the fragmentation of motherhood that results from the technological ability to separate conception from birth and eggs from wombs. Robert Snowden and his colleagues (1983: 34) claim that, with the advent of NRTS, we now need a total of ten different terms to cover the concepts of "mother" and "father." The terms they propose are as follows:

  1. Genetic mother
  2. Carrying mother
  3. Nurturing mother
  4. Complete mother
  5. Genetic/carrying mother
  6. Genetic/nurturing mother
  7. Carrying/nurturing mother
  8. Genetic father
  9. Nurturing father
  10. Complete father

The first three terms cover the distinct stages of conception, gestation, and care for a child. These three aspects of motherhood can be carried out by one, two, or three different women. If one woman does all three, she is the "complete" mother. Note that a child could conceivably have five different persons as "parents" in this system (1-3 as mothers and 8 and 9 as fathers), even without including stepparents (Blank 1990: 10). But it is really only motherhood that has fragmented as a result of the NRTS, since we have long been accustomed to the idea that a child can have one man as its 41 genetic" or "biological" father and another as its "nurturing" (or perhaps a better word here might be "legal") father. Similarly, we are familiar with the idea that "legal" or "nurturing" mothers can be different from "natural" or "biological" mothers. What is new is the division of biological motherhood into two parts: conception and gestation. In comparison to our society, a people like the Nuer (Case 1) would perhaps have had different conceptual problems with kinship in relation to the NRTs. For them, legal rights to children were held by fathers (and their patrilineal kin groups), not by mothers. Also, these rights were clearly established by cattle payments, not by concerns with biological fatherhood. Recall that Nuer culture constructed kinship such that children belonged to fathers, defined as the men who paid bridewealth for the mothers. In American society, however, ideas about kinship have been based on cultural notions of biology (Schneider 1968). Americans have strongly defined "real" parenthood as biologically based. And they have taken for granted that this way of thinking about kinship is in line with "science." But now science itself has thrown a wrench into the American system of kinship by showing that unitary "natural" motherhood is actually divisible. In the courts and in our own minds we thus face the challenge of reconstructing motherhood and, hence, reconstructing kinship. Will we need to devise a nonbiologically based definition of the mater as the Nuer have done for the pater? Marilyn Strathern (1995) discusses how the NRTs challenge Euro-American notions of "nature" itself as well as fundamental ideas about what constitutes personal "Identity." We do not know what the future may bring. But what seems to be happening at present is that those involved with the NRTs are not discarding the old American ideas about kinship but, on the contrary, are making every effort to preserve the cultural notions of "real" biological parenthood. Toward this end, they are reinterpreting the NRTs and their tricky implications so as to reconcile them with these core cultural notions of biological parenthood and the resulting American family ideal. This process has played out in two very interesting contexts. One context concerns lesbian couples. Those seeking to have children and to become a family in the conventional sense have of course benefited by the NRTS. At a minimum, one member of the couple may become impregnated with donor sperm. Corinne Hayden's (1995) study of American lesbian couples shows that some lesbian couples with children are constructing something truly new in kinship: double motherhood. They are raising their children to perceive that they have two mothers. One way to support this perception is to have the children call both of them "mother."

Another way is to hyphenate the co-mothers' names to form the children's surname. In short, these couples seek to raise their children in an environment of parental equality-a process that, in their view, constitutes a true challenge and alternative to the conventional husband-dominant household of broader American society. Of course, the creation of equal, dual motherhood is confounded by the fact that only one woman can be the biological mother. Even if the lesbian couple themselves perceive their motherhood to be equal, the surrounding society, and courts of law, may not. In trying to create new forms of kinship and family, lesbian couples are not so much rejecting biology as a basis for kinship as making use of the NRTs to bring their situation into line with biologically based kinship. For example, they may strive for a more equitable double motherhood by getting pregnant by the same donor. In this way, each partner becomes a mother, their children are born genetically related to one another, and they all more closely resemble a family in the conventional American sense. Another possibility is for one woman to be artificially inseminated using the sperm of the other woman's brother. Each woman would then have some genetic relation, as well as a conventional kinship relation, to the child. Even more creative is what Hayden (1995: 55) refers to as the "obvious and 'perfect' option for lesbian families: one woman could contribute the genetic material, and her partner could become the gestational/birth mother." Thus even the idea that homosexual unions are "Inherently nonprocreative" (Hayden 1995: 56) is challenged, now that a woman can give birth to the genetic child of her female partner. Going a step further, a lesbian couple could combine the last two options: One woman could contribute an egg to be fertilized by the brother (or, for that matter, son) of her lesbian partner, after which the egg would be implanted in her partner. The other context in which efforts are being made to reconcile the NRTs with core cultural notions, especially American ideas about kinship, concerns surrogate motherhood. As Ragon6 (1994: 109) concluded from her study of surrogate mothers in America, "Programs, surrogates and couples highlight those aspects of surrogacy that are most consistent with American kinship ideology, deemphasizing those aspects that are not congruent with this ideology. Thus, although the means of achieving relatedness may have changed, the rigorous emphasis on the family and on the biogenetic basis of American kinship remains essentially unchanged." One way in which surrogates and their couples maintain this emphasis is to downplay the relationship between the husband and the surrogate in cases where the surrogate has been impregnated with the husband's sperm. Indeed, since the surrogate is carrying the husband's (and her) child, there are disturbing parallels with adultery. In some surrogate programs the relationship that is given priority and becomes strong is that between the surrogate and the wife. This arrangement is obviously more comfortable for the surrogate; it also allows the wife to feel that she is participating in the process of creating the child. In addition, the wife, or the adoptive mother, in such cases may emphasize her role in the creation of the child as one of intention, choice, and love: "One adoptive mother ... described it as conception in the heart, that is, the belief that in the final analysis it was her desire to have a child that brought the surrogate arrangement into being and therefore produced a child" (Ragon6 1994: 126). The NRTs have spurred debates among women in general and feminists in particular over how these technologies are affecting women and relations between the sexes. Some feminists approve of the NRTs precisely because they fragment motherhood and in many ways distance women from "nature" and "natural" reproduction. Their argument is that women have been trapped by their reproductive roles, that their lower status has been due all along to their entrenchment in reproduction and motherhood. According to this view, the NRTs not only expand reproductive choices for individual women and men but can help to liberate women from the inferior status that their biological roles have given them. Other feminists have argued that the legal use of NRTs supports women's right to control their own bodies. They also approve of contract surrogacy because it allows a surrogate to use her body as she wishes for her own economic benefit. Yet another argument is that the NRTs are potentially good for women but need to be subjected to proper controls and approached with caution (Purdy 1994). Thus, for example, regulations should be implemented to ensure that surrogate mothers retain control of their pregnancies and, by extension, that contracting fathers not be given rights to say how a surrogate should behave while pregnant, to decide whether she should have a cesarean, to sue her for miscarriage, and so on. With such controls in place, according to this argument, contract pregnancy can considerably benefit infertile women or women with high-risk pregnancies. As for accusations of "baby selling" by surrogate mothers, those taking this position raise an important question: Why are there no parallel objections against the payments made to men who donate their sperm? Laura Purdy (1994: 316) also questions the view that "women can be respected for altruistic and socially useful actions only when they receive no monetary compensation, whereas men-physicians, scientists, politicians-can be both honored and well pal 'd. Perhaps the strongest feminist criticism of the NRTs has come from Janice Raymond (1993). In her book, Women As Wombs, Raymond describes the NRTs as a form of "violence against women": Since a male-dominant "medical fundamentalism" defines both the problem (infertility) and the cure (the NRTS), application of the new techniques entails "appropriation of the female body by male scientific experts" (1993: xx). Raymond argues directly against the position that NRTs liberate women by freeing them from their previous reproductive roles. On the contrary, she says, the fragmentation of motherhood, the conceptual wedge that the NRTs place between a woman and a fetus, results in the loss of women's control over reproduction. When the fetus is seen as so separable from a woman, the fetus itself becomes the focus of attention, and, in the process, male rights over reproduction are increased: "Reproductive technologies and contracts augment the rights of fetuses and would-be fathers while challenging the one right that women have historically retained some vestige of-mother-right" (Raymond 1993: xi). Raymond notes that in the case of Baby M, even though William Stern and Mary Beth Whitehead were equally the genetic parents and Whitehead was also the birth mother, Stern was continually referred to in the media as 11 the father" whereas Whitehead was always "the surrogate." The courts also awarded custody to Stern. About this situation Raymond (1993: 34) wrote: "A woman who gestates the fetus, experiences a nine-month pregnancy, and gives birth to the child is rendered a 'substitute' mother. On the other hand, popping sperm into a 'ar is 'real' fatherhood, legally equivalent, if not superior, to the contribution of egg, gestation, labor, and birth that is part of any woman's pregnancy." Of course, one could retort that the genetic/birth mother in the Baby M case did sign a surrogacy contract, thus bringing about the whole trouble in the first place. But Raymond's point is that the NRTs are changing our society's perceptions of motherhood and fatherhood, conceptually and legally, and that women may be losing out in the process. Legally speaking, what Raymond (1993: 30) calls "ejaculatory fatherhood" does appear to be gaining ground-in part, perhaps, because ideas about biological fatherhood have not been fundamentally changed by the NRTs whereas ideas about motherhood most definitely have been. In the American biogenetic ideology of kinship, fatherhood is still simple, but motherhood is no longer so. And what of future reproductive technologies? Cloning and the growing of a fetus outside a uterus may be a tong way off. Much closer, and possibly far more radical in terms of the implications for gender, is male pregnancy. As Blank (1990: 29) notes, "There is increasing evidence that the embryo might be transferred to the abdominal cavity of a male, thus enabling mate pregnancy. The birth of a baby from a New Zealand woman who had no uterus, and successful male procreation in other species, contribute to the expectation that IVF will soon permit human male pregnancies."


In th'ts book we have examined a variety of ways in which kinship and gender are culturally constructed and interrelated. This analysts has involved us in discussions of sexuality and reproduction, and of the interests of many people and groups in exercising control over women's reproductive capacities. We have seen cases, specifically among the Nuer and the Nyinba, in which female sexuality is largely unrestricted but cultural rules allocate a woman's children to her legal husband or husbands and their kinship groups. And among the matrilineal Nayar, female sexuality is unrestrained (except for sexual intercourse before the tall-tying ceremony and at any time with a lower-class man) but children are allocated to a woman's own kinship corporation under the leadership of her senior matrilineal kinsmen. In all three societies, female sexuality and female fertility are separate social concerns. We have also seen cases in which a woman's sexuality is, or was, ideally restricted to one man, her husband: Examples include the Nepalese Brahmans, the ancient Romans, and early Europeans and Americans. In these societies, a woman's "inappropriate" sexual behavior (premarital sex or adultery) could result in devaluation of her person, dishonor to her family, and, among the Nepalese Brahmans, devaluation of the woman's future fertility. The Nayar, sharing some of the Hindu caste ideas related to female purity and pollution, also showed this connection between female sexuality and fertility, inasmuch as sex with a lower-caste man would expel a woman and her future children from her caste and kin group. In all of these Eurasian cases we have seen that the concern with female sexual "purity" is interwoven with concerns over property and its transmission, as well as with the maintenance of class and caste divisions; in other words, they are bound up with larger issues of socioeconorric inequality. Many of the cases discussed in this book have dealt with male-led kin groups seeking control over women's reproduction. We have also seen a few cases where a woman's reproduction was not of much concern to larger groups of kin. Among the Navajo, for instance, although a woman reproduces for her own and her husband's matriclans, clan continuity is not a strong concern. Navajo culture venerates women for their reproductive powers, but it does not punish women for childlessness. Another group, the early Christians in Europe, valued celibacy over reproduction and held that sexuality was equally unspiritual for women and men. As noted, one historian argued that early Christian women found in Christianity a welcome liberation from both marriage and reproduction. By and large, white, middle-class Euro-American women have not had to contend with the interests of kin groups in their reproduction, nor have they been under pressure to reproduce for anyone but themselves and their partners. Furthermore, over the centuries, restrictions on their sexuality have relaxed. Yet, paradoxically, these Euro-American women have expressed problems and tensions of their own in the process of trying to reconcile their sexuality, fert'I'ty, and personhood in a meaningful and satisfying way.

With the emergence of the NRTS, we cannot fail to ask ourselves who we will become, as women, as men, as persons, and as kin. But this is not a new question. All human groups throughout history have continually constructed kinship and gender, seeking meaning and identity within these cultural constructions. And along the way, the constructions themselves have been contested between men and women, young and old, powerful and powerless. Now, as we face the development of new (and newer) reproductive technologies, the struggle continues. In this way, perhaps the NRTs are not taking us into a brave new world so much as dealing out new cards in an older dynamic human game of self, kin, and gender definition.


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  2. Blank, Robert H. 1990. Regulating Reproduction. New York: Columbia University Press. Boone, Sarah S. 1994. Slavery and Contract Motherhood: A "Racialized" Objection to the Autonomy Argument. In Helen Bequaert Holmes, ed., Issues in Reproductive Technology, pp. 349-366. New York: New York University Press.
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  7. Raymond, Janice G. 1993. Women As Wombs: Reproductive Technologies and the Battle over Women's Freedom. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
  8. Schneider, David M. 1968. American Kinship: A Cultural Account. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
  9. Snowden, Robert, G. D. Mitchell, and E. M. Snowden. 1983. Artificial Reproduction. London: Allen and Unwin.
  10. Strathern, Marilyn. 1995. Displacing Knowledge: Technology and the Consequences for Kinship. In Faye D. Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp, eds., Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction, pp. 346-363. Berkeley: University of California Press.