“whether the end-product of any given uterine activity is a cancer, a miscarriage, a termination or a live newborn infant, the very best of technological assistance should – clearly – be freely available to all.“
Late last year, Society & Space (affiliated with Antipode Journal) published an essay I wrote on Kalindi Vora’s bookLife Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). It is archived here at Radical Antipode. (My thanks to the excellent editor Andy Kent.)
Kalindi Vora, Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. ISBN: 9780816693948 (cloth); ISBN: 9780816693962 (paper).
The last two paragraphs of my essay:
“How is a fetus produced?” (p.41)–and how should it be? Babies, insofar as they take the form of commodities, do not command the same political freight as isolated organs, or computer programming, or the affects of personal telephonic support. Yet the practice of transferring embryos and entire pregnancies to settings where “life” is cheap (the better to nurture the lives that are extracted there) forces us to reckon with a workplace politics of gestation which necessarily points beyond surrogacy as an “exception”, towards the work of so-called natural gestation (see Lewis 2015). Meanwhile, to come at denaturalizing the matter from a different angle: the development of methods of mitochondrial splicing now promises the possibility of increasing, beyond two, the number of a baby’s direct genetic parents. It is more pertinent than ever before, then, to further weaponize gene biologist’s Richard Lewontin’s already political claims that “DNA is not self-reproducing…it makes nothing…and organisms are not determined by it” (quoted on p.41).
Within this struggle for a liberatory mode of reproduction, it may not always be strategic to argue that care-based livelihoods are comprised of “labour” rather than something else (“vital energy”, “biology”) in order to win victories. In surrogacy, gestators may develop their challenges to “the assumption that the end product is a form of contract-protected property belonging to the originators of intention and DNA” (p.41) in different vocabularies. The Indian open-source programmers in Chapter 3 of Life Support had a collective notion of authorship at the same time as “the desire to keep the fruits of their labour ‘at home’” (p.101); as such, it would be interesting to inquire into possible analogous desires on the part of Indian gestational surrogates vis-à-vis the newborns they hand away; desires that may already have helped shape the 2015 ruling against private transnational “outsourcing” in their domain. What is “home”? How can we remake this world as a life-support for all its inhabitants? Might a demand to keep the strange fruits of hi-tech gestational labour “at home” articulate favourably with Haraway’s (2015) call to “make kin, not babies”?
Plan C Manchester has been compiling a tumblr of radical demands – most of them formulated by ‘guests’ or fellow-travellers – imagining a liveable future. With my Feminist Fightback hat on, I helped to contribute to Demand No. 21 – Reproductive Justice for All! – and also wrote another one by collaborating with @takkaria, namely, Demand No. 23 – Stop allocating social resources on the basis of marital status. The latter in particular is merely a sort of sketch of a call for experimenting with more conviction, as communists, in materially otherwise forms of social reproduction, by building nurturing alternatives to the couple-form somehow, some sort of anti-families. Whatever you may think (I’m ambivalent myself) about the meaning of formulating demands in the relative absence of a corresponding social struggle, you can check these respective (differently styled) texts out, here and here, along with the entirety of the excellent Demanding the Future project/experiment, which (incidentally) will be written up thoughtfully by my Manchester comrades in short order.
Demand #21: Reproductive Justice For All!
Guest demand by Feminist Fightback
Reproductive justice consists of the social conditions necessary for people to enjoy the freedom to “have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments” (SisterSong). As UK-based intersectional anticapitalist feminists in solidarity with the SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Justice collective in the USA, we in Feminist Fightback demand: reproductive justice for all.
There has recently been a significant increase in the number of anti-choice pickets occurring outside abortion clinics, with picketers becoming increasingly aggressive. Earlier this week, Lord Bates, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, suggested that immigration needed to be decreased, as migrant women were having ‘too many’ babies. In London, a group of single women with children, the Focus E15 Mothers, are defending their right to stay in social housing near their friends and support networks, as Newham council wants to ‘re-house’ some of them as far away as Sunderland.
While the phrase “reproductive justice” itself is relatively new, dating from the 1990s, in both theUS and UK, racialized women, low-income women, disabled women, and their allies have long supported the need to legalise abortion while also challenging the limitations of focusing exclusively on the ‘right to choose’. Reproductive justice places the ‘right to choose’ within the wider social context in which choices are being made. It asks us to think about the conditions necessary for genuine reproductive autonomy, and the intersecting systems of oppression that pervade our lives, preventing these conditions from being realised. It asks us to consider why some women have more options than others, and why some babies are seen as more ‘valuable’.
Conditions necessary for reproductive justice might include (but are not limited to):
● Free abortion on demand for anyone, without the need for doctors’ signatures, everywhere in the UK, including Northern Ireland.
● Access to contraception, abortion and ante-natal, peri-natal and post-natal care for ALL people, regardless of immigration status.
● A welfare state that provides adequate financial support for all parents and children, with extra support provided for children and parents with special needs.
● A fully public and well-funded NHS to ensure free, excellent, reproductive health care for all.
● An end to immigration detention, which is especially difficult and detrimental for children and pregnant women
● Adequate training for all medical personnel on the reproductive health needs of trans* people, intersex people, and any other non-binary people.
● An end to all ideologies and policies that paint some children and parents as ‘less valuable’ or less capable of making ‘good choices’ than others; obvious examples would be capitalism, sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, trans*phobia, and xenophobia.
These are by no means the only conditions. What would you add?
March 31, 2015.
Demand #23: Stop allocating social resources and privileges on the basis of marital status
This demand has been put forward, on the basis of a provocation by Laura Kipnis in the polemicAgainstLove, by members of Plan C Manchester andFeminist Fightback North: @takkaria and @lasophielle.
We demand that societies stop allocating social resources and privileges on the basis of marital status. By ‘marital status’ we are referring to whether people are publicly recognised as a couple, the couple form being, to quote Hannah Black, that “thing or experience or lifestyle or belief” that, despite the many and storied joys it brings, is nevertheless “the most reductive, exclusionary and precarious imaginable method of meeting the probably universal need to feel close to and recognized by others.”
Everywhere, the state promotes and gives recognition to various kinds of couples, the most infamous such measures being, perhaps, the provision of tax breaks and joint benefits to couples. Universal Credit also promises to glue poorer couples together financially in a gruesome recapitulation of 1960s middle-class life, making one benefit payment, once a month, to one person – despite the obvious potential for abuse this opens up. As such, the state also encourages society to treat people in couples as a unit, and their relationship as the basis of a household with special legitimacy. When you get a divorce in this country, still today, you are pleading with the Crown that your life “has become intolerable”. It is this state of affairs, to us, that is intolerable.
And while this unit (the basis for “family values”) undergirds what we call public, interactions between its constituent parts are private, creating an environment ripe for abuse – the brunt of which is borne by women. Those of us outside the unit are reluctant to intervene: what happens in the family is private and, after all, ‘we don’t really know what’s going on’. Legally, too, marriages have been the place where, rich or poor, one is least protected from the violence of rape by one particular person (incidentally, places where marital rape is still legal are largely using penal codes devised by ex-imperial powers, but that’s a story for another time). Despite this, gaining and maintaining marital status remains synonymous with good citizenship: we must do it because we must – ethically, economically – ‘think of the children’, whether or not they have been created yet.
We demand a less precarious system of social reproduction, and a far wider horizon for our legitimate desires, than the couple form. We are wondering, as Kipnis puts it: “What if luring people into conditions of emotional stagnation and deadened desires were actually functional for society? … Note that the conditions of marital stasis are remarkably convergent with those of a cowed workforce and a docile electorate.”
We acknowledge that marriage has historically been sought, in particular,by members of a socio-economically vulnerable sex class, to whom it offered certain protections, even though the institution originally managed their exchange as reproductive chattel. We acknowledge that a great many people flourish in marriage. But this is no basis for predicating the allocation of social resources on this institution. Nowadays, especially for the poor, marriage is supposedly a ‘soft’, aspiration-forming mode of social ordering, yet it often takes on a coercive and punitive function.
Individual parents (overwhelmingly women) who try to leave abusive situations with their kids find their benefits sanctioned; immigration rights are, barbarically, tied to marital status; and even sleeping over at your boyfriend’s dis-entitles you to certain single person’s benefits. As such,Mumsnet is full of stories detailing ways one can snitch on neighbours who might be faking their couple-form, or failing to declare lifestyles that ought to be legally and economically coupled, given our era’s prevailing logic of austerity. “Who needs a policeman on every corner,” asks Laura Kipnis, “when we’re all so willing to police ourselves and those we love, and call it upholding our vows?”
So let’s abolish the apparatus that makes marriage, both gay and straight, a quasi-imperative (as well as every girl’s ultimate dream). Let’s have uncivil partnerships instead. Let’s stop policing ourselves, confusing commitment with property logic. Let’s stop letting the state police our intimate domain. We can decide for ourselves what a family is, and what resources it needs.