All Reproduction Is Assisted

Merve Emre in Boston Review:

It was not until 1970 that radical feminist Shulamith Firestone imagined a future in which technologies of artificial insemination, test-tube fertilization, artificial placentas, and parthenogenesis (“virgin birth,” she calls it in her manifesto The Dialectic of Sex) would liberate women from reproductive work. In the right hands, Firestone insisted, artificial wombs and other reproductive technologies could dismantle hetero-patriarchal sex roles. They could make the grinding work of pregnancy—nausea and exhaustion, labor and delivery, postnatal recovery and postpartum depression, nursing and around-the-clock childcare—just one option among many for how to create and care for children. The problem, as Firestone saw it, was that research on reproductive technologies was performed only incidentally in the interests of women. The development of the artificial womb, for instance, had to be justified as a lifesaving device for premature babies and not as a laborsaving device for women who simply did not want to do the work of gestation. “Until the decision not to have children or to have them by artificial means is as legitimate as traditional childbearing, women are as good as forced into their female roles,” she warned.

Firestone’s enthusiasm for new reproductive technologies was met with incredulity, scorn, and outrage among many of her fellow radical feminists. Some criticized her techno-utopian naïveté; others doubled down on the “natural” as the feminist antithesis to technological dehumanization. In The Dialectic of Sex, Firestone dismisses the natural as part of a “reactionary hippie-Rousseauean Return-to-Nature,” a dangerous ideology that transfigures discomfort and risk into an essential female experience, one women can harness as a source of personal empowerment and political emancipation.

More here.