Louise Bourgeois, 2008
Belatedly announcing the fact that I am part of a forum at Boston Review, Issue 7.43(3), Once and Future Feminist, sharing space with the likes of Silvia Federici and Andrea Long Chu while responding to an article by the brilliant writer Merve Emre that surveys American infertilities.
The gender of gestating is ambiguous. I am not talking about pregnancy’s deepening of one’s voice, its carpeting of one’s legs in bristly hair, or even about the ancient Greek belief that it was an analogue of men’s duty to die in battle if called upon. I am not even thinking of the heterogeneity of those who gestate. Rather, in a context where political economists are talking constantly of “the feminization of labor,” it seems to me that the economic gendering of the work itself—gestating is work, as Merve Emre says—is not as clear-cut as it would appear.
Read it here.
Read my blog post – ‘Gestators of all Genders, Unite!’ – here. It is part of a whole series Verso are doing around the International Women’s Strike, which, as I suggest in the post, could also (perhaps more generatively) be called the gender strike.
Gestators of All Genders Unite
Say it loud: we can affirm our non-desire to work even if we don’t work hard. Even when it comes to making babies who will die if we stop working. Though much bodily reproductive work ends up not being productive for capital (in either the immediate- or long-term), we can deploy the term ‘gestational labour’ literally. The particularity is that, just as gestation’s products take a while to emerge (babies have to grow up), work stoppages in this sphere generally don’t have any immediate impact. Their blows are delayed. Omit to bathe, feed and clothe your dependents on March 8th, and cynics may well snigger: nary a capitalist seems to be quaking in her boots. Extend that strike just a few more hours, however, and workers needed for the production of profits today and in the next decade start to sicken and fade.
Academic publishing is slow, but I might as well flag, here, the fact that two parts of my PhD were published in the last six months:
Sophie Lewis, “International Solidarity in reproductive justice: surrogacy and gender-inclusive polymaternalism,” Gender, Place & Culture (2018). https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2018.1425286.
Sophie Lewis, “Defending Intimacy against What? Limits of Antisurrogacy Feminisms,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 43, no. 1 (Autumn 2017): 97 125. https://doi.org/10.1086/692518
They’re both archived here at Humanities Commons, which I urge you to join (perhaps deleting your Academia dot edu account).
There are twitter threads summarising their contents here and here.
Head’s-up: the brilliant Marxists at Viewpoint magazine published my essay on Donna Haraway. It’s received a hell of a lot of eyeball traffic and even prompted an email from the great DH herself, so, in light of all this engagement, there are likely to be further developments, refinements or perhaps retractions of this critique! Stay tuned.
I remain for reading Haraway against Haraway. For all her chastisement of “bitter cynicism”, and for all her talk of mud and piss and worms, the chanting goddess who has displaced the earlier cyborg, at least in the pages of Staying with the Trouble, is too much of a clean-living misanthrope – and above all, too much of a pessimist – to be a comrade. Meanwhile, her neglected (if not disavowed) framework of cyborgicity becomes a more and more potent heuristic for thinking class composition and embodying its struggles every day. Cyborgs for Earthly Survival! was the slogan Haraway submitted to Socialist Review. That spirit still lives in the interstices of Staying with the Trouble. Part of our task is indeed “not to forget the stink in the air from the burning of the witches, not to forget the murders of human and nonhuman beings in the Great Catastrophes named the Plantationocene, Anthropocene, Capitalocene”. Part of it is, indeed, to “move through memory to represencing;” to grow capable of response; to become kin; and to “stay with” trouble. But the main thing is to make an altogether bigger kind of trouble.
“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.“
re-blogging from movements@manchester:
Should we be doing more to link the issues in the struggle for reproductive justice?
Society & Space (affiliated with Antipode Journal) has published an essay I wrote on Kalindi Vora’s book Life 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.)
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 – formulated by ‘guests’ or fellow-travellers – with the goal of imagining a liveable future. With my Feminist Fightback hat on, I helped write Demand No. 21 – Reproductive Justice for All!.
I also wrote another one by collaborating with Anna Sidwell, a.k.a. @takkaria: Demand No. 23 – Stop allocating social resources on the basis of marital status.
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.