New Reproductive Technologies

Towards Assisted Gender Relations

Klavs Sedlenieks
Set essay for MPhil degree Department of Social Anthropology University of Cambridge 1999, by Klavs Sedlenieks, Department of Sociology, University of Latvia
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The main focus of this essay is on the new reproductive technologies as an arena in which the changes in gender relations find their explicit manifestation. The confusing possibilities highlighted by the development of the technologies make a large spectrum of society to question their assumptions about gender relations in a direct way and finally retrieve answers, ‘draw lines’, establish boundaries and consciously assist their cultural constructions. Through analysing how the new reproductive technologies enter the official social discourse and the anthropological discourse, I want to show that the development of the technologies has contributed to changes in assumptions about the basis of gender relations. The main actors that I look at are feminists, as the ones that have introduced the concept of gender and traditionally paid much attention to the new reproductive technologies and gender; United States courts and British parliament as bodies that directly contribute to the shaping of the official definition of the basis of gender relations; and anthropologists who have attempted to solve the problems imposed by the new reproductive technologies largely in the same way as the courts and the parliamenaries. On the basis of this analysis I will argue that the new reproductive technologies have contributed to shift theoretical orientation from looking at differences among genders to understanding of intra-gender differences and cross-gender similarities. I also argue that contrary to some anthropological assumptions social dimension has always been important in Euro-American construction of kinship. The technologies have made the social aspect more important and visible than it used to be. If one would use strictly biogenetic assumptions for defining one’s kin in the framework of the technologies, a woman could be simultaneously mother and daughter of a child or even the biological father of it. The technologies therefore have made ‘biological’ assumptions about kin roles and therefore also gender relationships redundant. Explicit social constructions of these assumptions step in. By implication, this process also may lead to changes in construction of gender identities among larger spectrum of the society.

Let me remark that this essay is not an attempt to create a complete account of all the implications of the new reproductive technologies for all the aspects of gender relations. Neither the task of the essay nor its size allow me to do so. Therefore in what follows I have consciously selected a very limited set of implications that I discuss. Also some of the concepts have been narrowed down in order to make my argument clearer. In some cases I have put additional information in footnotes to inform the reader about some other possible interpretations. Since I discuss implications, I do not want to make an illusion that I speak about the actual consequences which only the future might show.

The concept of gender was first used by psychologists in 1930s (Oakley 1997: 32) but found its wider use in social sciences only after the publication of Oakley’s Sex, Gender and Society in 1972 (ibid.: 34). Since then the concept formed the core of feminist ideology and was their ‘essential political tool’ (ibid.: 51). As the basic feminist agenda was to illuminate the inequalities between the sexes, the concept of gender was used primarily for this task. It allowed the separation of “natural” basis of the differences among sexes from the social constructions which were identified as the causes of the subordination of women. Reproduction occupied a significant place in the feminist discourse as one of the most important fields of the subordination of women in patriarchal societies (Franklin 1995: 323). Therefore the development of new reproductive technologies[1] logically opened a new ground for feminist critique. It must be noted here that feminist attitude towards the new reproductive technologies has changed significantly through years. In the early 1970s Shulamith Firestone (Firestone, 1970) argued that the technologies would take the burden of motherhood away from women and therefore would contribute to their liberation. Later, however, feminists criticised such an approach and insisted that the new reproductive technologies would rather lead to further oppression of women (Zipper and Sevenhujsen 1985: 120). If the old reproductive technologies were the source of subordination of women, the new ones were treated by the latter division of feminists accordingly: as new technologies for the creation of gender inequalities. As a result, virtually all the procedures that were used in the new technologies came under feminist scrutiny and critique. Without going into detailed descriptions of critiques, let me just name the most significant points stressed by the feminist discourse[2]. The technologisation of the process of childbirth and concentration of knowledge about the technologies was thought to remove control over the process of reproduction from women. Assisted conception was treated as an extension of the process of medicalisation of childbirth, which, on its turn, was a result of the patriarchal thinking and aimed to put more and more control into hands of medical professionals. Professional medicine itself was identified with men. As a result of this process of medicalisation, women, feminists claimed, were put into a position of mere reproductive mechanisms[3].

Despite this latter feminist critique, the belief that the new reproductive technologies could bring some beneficial effects to women, continued to exist. This view was represented by infertile women and men, homosexual couples, single women and medical professionals[4]. The first three categories, I want to argue, are the ones that challenged the feminist argument described above. On the one hand this was a direct challenge - new reproductive technologies were not here only to subordinate women but also could give them otherwise unobtainable source of power. On the other hand, this opinion demonstrated that the interests of women are not uniform and can be even radically different thus contributing to the change of feminist understanding of gender differences as embedding intra-gender similarities.

According to Lewin (1993: 2), the new reproductive technologies appear as

‘(..)apparently expanding options and even permitting older and unmarried women whether they be heterosexual or lesbian - more easily to contemplate not only motherhood but pregnancy and childbirth.’ (Lewin 1993: 2)

Thus issues of male dominance and control over women are marginalised, giving way to the opportunities that new reproductive technologies offer to women. From the feminist point of view described above the intention of lesbians to become mothers may seem contradictory: if motherhood is a source of oppression, why many women are willing to become mothers (ibid.: 6)? As Lewin argues, the answer might be that

‘(..) motherhood indirectly enables women (whether lesbian or heterosexual) to claim a specific location in the gender system’ (1993: 16).

Thus motherhood transfers lesbians from a stigmatised position of being

‘decadent, selfish [and] nonprocreative’ to a more socially appreciated position of a mother which is associated with nurturance and altruism (ibid.).

The image of nonprocrativeness is not confined to external view about lesbians. In the sense of gender identity many lesbians also perceive motherhood as a very important aspect of their femininity. The wish to become a mother is considered by both heterosexual and lesbian women as being driven by elementary, probably biological forces that are not under control of the individual. (ibid.: 11).

The wishes of the other two mentioned groups to enter parenthood demonstrate, I believe, the same two points: access to larger social resources and accomplishment of gender identities. Weston, for example, writes about gay-men who associate their adult manhood with having children (Weston 1991:166).

All of the opinions discussed above (including the rhetoric used by medical professionals), however are based on a gender model that identifies women with motherhood and men with fatherhood[5]. The development of the new reproductive technologies has challenged this assumption and, as we will see, has contributed to the re-evaluation of the concept of gender. The challenge, I want to argue, comes from the influence of the new reproductive technologies on the conventional family roles and kinship relations. Gender identity in western societies is based mostly on the prospective family roles. As Oakley puts it,

‘... in an important sense the family ‘is’ gender: mothers, fathers and children may stand in a biological relations to one another, but their behaviour is largely shaped by cultural factors’ (1997: 29).

To a very great extent (though not entirely) to be a woman means to be able to reach motherhood and to be a man means to be able to be father. Actualisation of these capabilities thus is actualisation of the gender identities. Prior to the time when new reproductive technologies entered the discourse, it was believed that kinship in western societies is in Schneider’s terms “biogenetic”. The way the technologies challenge the concept of gender is through changing these direct links between particular gender and roles in parenting and family. At the same time the validity of basing the concept of kinship on the “biogenetic” terms should be questioned.

I use two main sources of data to ground my argument: first, the practices (such as court cases involving consequences of artificial insemination, surrogacy or in vitro fertilisation; or parliamentary debates regarding new legislation). Second, the public debate (including anthropological ones).

Long before the emergence of the technologies of assisted conception, courts in Britain and the United States treated social parenthood as more important than biological. Up to the mid-19th century children born out of wedlock were treated under the common law as having no relationships to what we today would call “blood relatives”. The situation started to change from 1841 when ‘mothers were entitled to sole custody’ (Smart 1987: 101). Fatherhood, however, still remained based purely on social (legal) grounds. At the same time all children born inside wedlock were supposed to be children of the spouses. As Smart puts it

‘[i]t is marriage and not the blood tie that confers automatic paternity on men and creates a legal relationship between children and their fathers’ (1987: 101, original emphasis).

Contemporary cases in the United States courts reveal a similar picture. Cases about unwed fathers who want to acquire custody of their children clearly show that preference is given not to “biological” fathers but to the ones that are socially more like fathers. It means that the chance to get custody is far greater for those who are able to demonstrate that their behaviour and social relationships are more similar to the role of father in the society. Biological fatherhood is treated as irrelevant if the social relationships are inadequate[6].

Let us look at some of the cases reported by Dolgin in Defining Family (1997) which support my argument.

Peter Stanley had intermittently lived with Joan and their three children for 18 years. When Joan dies the state wants to withdraw custody rights from Peter because unwed fathers are supposed not to be suitable for parenting. The court later decides that on the grounds that he has practically raised the children, i.e., like a “real” father. (ibid.: 101) he can adopt the children

Leon Quillon and Ardell Walcott did not live together after the birth of their daughter. Leon has financially helped Ardell from time to time after their separation. When the daughter is three years old, Ardell marries another man and they want to legitimise the husband as the father. The court overrules Leon’s request for veto rights because biological paternity is not sufficient for fatherhood. The family unit that is created by Ardell and her husband is more adequate (read: traditional, nuclear). (ibid.: 102)

In these and several other cases the court decided that fatherhood ‘does not spring full-blown from the biological connection between parent and child’ (Justice Stewart cited in Dolgin 1997: 107). At the same time, it the courts contrasted it with motherhood that allegedly does ‘spring full-blown from the biological connection’. If one looks at these two cases of unwed fathers isolated from other cases, the decisions made by the courts may seem to support the traditional idea that mothers are closer to the children and their motherhood is biologically determined. This was also the position of the courts in these cases. The court cases that involved consequences of assisted conception demonstrated that it was not only the traditional assumptions about the biological proximity of mothers to the children (as contrasted to the fathers): motherhood was also perceived as being based on other principles than the physical, biological or genetic contact.

Crispina and Mark Calvert were unable to conceive a child due to the fact that Crispina had had hysterectomy. Her ovaries, however, were intact and capable to produce valid ova. Therefore they drew up a contract with Anna Johnson who agreed to be a surrogate mother and later relinquish the child to the Calverts. Calverts agreed to compensate Johnson $10 000 in three instalments part paid before and part after the birth of the child. After successful in vitro fertilisation and transfer of the embryo to Johnson’s womb, Anna required full payment of the sum threatening that otherwise she would keep the baby. Three successive courts decided in favour of Calverts. The basis of the decision was different in different courts: two courts relied directly on genetic relatedness of the Calverts to the child and invoked the assumptions of other possible ways of determination of parenthood. The third and final court based its decision purely on the concept of ‘intent’ of the parties, i.e., what was the intent of them when they entered the contract (Dolgin 1997:126-7).

At the first glance, this case seems to prove the idea about the biogenetic kinship in the Euro-American culture. Another case, however, seems to show an opposite trend.

Olga and Robert McDonalds unable to conceive a child, sought help from an infertility clinic. An IVF was achieved from Robert’s sperm and a donated egg and twin embryos implanted in Olga’s uterus. Shortly after the conception Robert filed for a divorce and ‘sought sole custody of both children’ (Dolgin 1997:150). Despite the obvious fact that Robert was the only one that had any genetic connection to the children the court did not support his request ‘and affirmed the trial court’s grant of custody to Olga’ (ibid.).

Although these two cases seem to be contradictory, the court’s final decision was based on the same reasoning: the intention of the woman. In case of Johnson it were the Calverts who had the intention to become parents. The connection of gestational mother Johnson was therefore of minor importance. In the McDonalds’ case it was Olga who had the intention. Her position was strengthened by the determination that she had shown during her pregnancy which at some point was seriously endangering her health and even life (Dolgin 1997: 154). Both of the cases show the great stress that has been put on the social aspects of the parenthood. Biological ‘facts’ became insignificant and were treated as no longer relevant. Some of the ‘biological facts’ became merely an extension of the social facts. Gestation was compared to foster parenting and thus from biological became social. The emotional links, intentions and decisions made by the parents were more important than the biological proximity.

The discussions in the courts show the judges’ awareness about the uncertain gender roles caused by the new reproductive technologies. Not only did ‘biological’ facts cause confusion in attempts to define who is who in these cases, they proved itself to be unreliable in attempts to implement them. The sides in Johnson v. Calvert started with using biological claims (since both had what previously was perceived as the ‘biological’ basis for parenthood: one provided genetic material, the other - gestated the baby). But Dolgin notes that

‘as the arguments proceed, each side’s claims are confused with, and ultimately become substitutable for, those of the other’ (1997: 147).

As a consequence, the parents' sex did not have any role in definitions of parental roles. Johnson argued that

‘[b]oth appellees [the Calverts] stood in the shoes of an expectant father, as each provided genetic material which impregnated Appellant’ (ibid.: 148).

Other sides expressed a more traditional opinion (in sense that the sex of “father” did not change):

‘the very same biological facts on which Johnson relied, were used by other parties to suggest that Christopher [the child] had not one mother (Johnson) and two fathers (the Calverts) but two mothers (Anna Johnson and Crispina Calvert) and one father (Mark Calvert)’ (Dolgin 1997: 148).

Such interpretation was based on two assumptions of what makes parents “fathers” or “mothers”. All are based on biological assumptions. According to the first, mother is the one that receives the genetic material and gestates the child while father is the one that provides (a part of) the genetic material and does not gestate. According to the second, the mother is the female who gives the genetic material and/or gestates the child, while the father is the male who provides the sperm. The courts, however, held a third view: legally the parents have to be determined according to social roles (ibid.). All the three approaches are based in Euro-American culture, all can be considered equally valid. There is no reason why an anthropologist should give preference to any one of them (what has been indeed the case when Euro-American kinship was treated as purely biogenetic). The question rather should be how can the tree while being clearly contradictory exist side by side.

These court cases reveal two aspects of the impact of the new reproductive technologies in defining kinship and gender. First, they demonstrate that due to the new reproductive technologies society is forced to re-evaluate its assumptions about what is the basis of kinship and gender relations. Second, they show that the “biogenetic” basis, although perceived as the basis, can not be applied in the real situations. The procreative act, marriage, donors of genetic material and the ones that engage in the nurturing of the new creature (embryo and later the child) can all now be separated. Prior to the new reproductive technologies they all were supposed to be parts of the same biologically grounded process. Since these roles can be delegated now to different people, one can not use the biological processes as the determining factor to identify the kin persons. The intention of the courts to put more emphasis on the social seems to be logical since it still can identify one person. While the ‘biological facts’ have become confusing, the social ones remain the same as before. Schneider’s assumption, that the basic cultural assumptions do not change under the influence of NRT (Schneider 1992) seems to be said specifically about this process. What matters now is not who is the father or mother, but who will perform the appropriate role (ibid.).

What is changing here is the idea about the differences between sexes. Where do they lie now when one can step in the ‘shoes of a father’ regardless of the sex? The dichotomies that have initially formed the basis of the concept of gender become blurred and interchangeable, thus loosing their importance as analytical tools. Not only the dichotomy of nature/ culture (or natural vs. socially constructed parenthood) becomes less visible but also one between male/female. The most important aspect here is that this uncertainty is visible in all the three levels that I analyse here: the legislative, the public (Anna Johnson as a representative). In anthropology, Strathern argues much along the same line when saying that surrogacy puts the egg donor in a position formerly associated with father (1991: 27).

The debates held in the British parliament regarding the British Government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill analysed by Franklin (1993) lead to similar conclusions. Franklin writes about the interest of anthropologists in the debates about the new reproductive technologies. The interest, however, lead to the confusion among anthropologists about the sound basis of their theories of kinship. The debates exposed all the key elements of anthropological discourse of kinship such as

‘beliefs about conception and personhood; prescriptions concerning marriage, inheritance and descent; the symbolic significance of shared bodily substance; and the social construction of natural facts’ (1993: 100).

Anthropologists found themselves comfortable in this environment since they had the ‘conventional wisdom’ that allowed them to ‘translate moral panic into an ordered proceeding, through naming ... and defining it...’ (1993: 101). The comfort, however, proved illusory. There were two reasons of this discomfort: first, anthropologists saw a process in which the people studied were themselves in the role of anthropologists. More than this, they were uncertain about what the kinship was to the same extent as anthropologists were. The parliamentary debates were started specifically because of this reason: there was a strong need to redraw the ideological picture of kinship. Second, the kinship that the parliamentarians were speaking about was ‘kinship yet-to-be or future kinship’ (Franklin 1993: 126, original emphasis). Thus the debate demonstrated a conscious attempt to construct the idea of kinship. The English kinship was not just biogenetic. It became social (or legally defined) kinship with a clearly emphasised ideological attempt to present it as ‘biological’. Franklin argues that the more legislation there is imposed to define kinship, the more obvious it is that it is not ‘natural’ or ‘biological’ kinship and thus ‘[w]ith assisted conception comes also assisted origins, assisted relations, assisted genealogy and assisted futures’ (Franklin 1993: 128).

Franklin’s conclusion about the “assisted kinship” comes as a surprising revelation. It gives the impression that anthropologists previously were convinced that kinship is not assisted, that it is simply another kind of ‘natural facts’, as if it were natural itself. It has, however, always been assisted by somebody but there was some implicit notion that the western kinship as being based purely on the natural facts and being ‘biogenetic’ was also ‘natural’. Such an idea, although ideologically sustained during at least the last century, seems to have never been true for Euro-American culture. The court cases as well as the parliamentary debates (although in less explicit way) described above and the history of legitimising the children born outside legal marriage demonstrate this point. The parliamentary debates were especially interesting in this aspect, since they demonstrate that the kinship that matters was not somehow directly retrievable natural fact but the future one, the one that the society will choose to be its kinship. Thus the ‘conventional wisdom’ proved itself to be wrong in the new circumstances. Although Franklin concludes that

‘[t]he possibility that both anthropologists and parliamentarians are on unfamiliar territory in terms of what is meant by ‘kinship’ or its foundations raises an intriguing question. In order to explore this question further, we would have to return to anthropology itself to rework our understandings of kinship’ (Franklin 1993:128),

she does not reveal what is this important question and what are the ways in which one has to rework the understanding. Perhaps my previous arguments may shed some light on this. The parliamentarians and anthropologists equally shared the ‘conventional wisdom’ of natural, biological basis of kinship while the conclusions that they had to make were contradicting to these assumptions. They showed that in practice they have to abandon the ‘biological’ facts and use the social ones almost exclusively.

The court cases and the parliamentary debates demonstrate the confusion that the new reproductive technologies have brought in the public discourse of gender. I would not like to separate this one form the discourse of social sciences since in the western society both are part of the same culture and both influence each other (hence Franklin’s indications on similarities between the work of parliamentarians and of anthropologists). The discussions of social scientists can not be separated from the public one. In a sense not only anthropologists are anthropologists here but also each member of this society that tries to find out what the kinship really means and what is the basis of gender identity. Therefore the critique of the concepts of kinship and gender from the side of social scientists are also a part of cultural construction of the concepts.

Let me just briefly touch two aspects of study of gender that illustrate the crossfire to which the concept of gender has been exposed. Schneider in his challenging critique of kinship studies (1998) questions the tenability of the theory. One of his main arguments is that anthropologists have not been willing to recognise that their ideas of what kinship is are no less social constructs based in their own culture than they are supposed to be culturally constructed in the local societies. The “biological” basis of the western understanding of the “real” kinship therefore itself becomes fully socially constructed. Moore argues along a similar line:

‘... it became obvious that these categories [dichotomies] were a feature of anthropological discourse rather than of the social or symbolic systems of the societies studied by anthropologists’ (1993: 194).

The dichotomies like culture/nature, public/ private, production/reproduction are ‘... western folk model, anthropological imports rather than natural facts’ (ibid.). The whole anthropological discourse of gender, however, has been based on dichotomies of some kind (e.g. gender vs. sex). As a result of recognition of these problems Schneider questions validity of the theory of kinship, Moore concludes that the difference between the sex and gender disappears and suggests to pay more attention to similarities among persons and groups; while Oakley has to agree that ‘[g]ender becomes as useless as sex’ (1997:52).

This process of blurring boundaries between concepts of sex and gender can be, I argue, better understood looking at the choices that one has to (or can) make while dealing with the new reproductive technologies. One of the conclusions of the judges in the court cases described above was that mother’s parental rights come directly from the physical contact (biology) with the child while fathers are left to decide whether to be fathers or not. Thus fatherhood is defined by the choice the father does, not by their “biological” links to the child (Dolgin 1997: 108). In some cases such an approach could be applied successfully while in others (like these involving surrogacy) it made it even more difficult to make a decision. The person that was supposed to be a mother became like a father because her motherhood had to be defined by her choice to be the mother. The court saw the intention of the Calverts to become parents and that shaped the verdict. Almost the same was true in McDonalds’ case: the woman that had no genetic connection to the child was given custody partly because she had made the choice, and demonstrated the persistency of the choice throughout her difficult pregnancy. Thus, for the courts, the kinship was built on the choices not on biological facts.

The new reproductive technologies allow choosing more than just to be a father or mother of the child. In vitro fertilisation if combined with lengthy cryopreservation of the embryos prior to the implantation into a woman’s womb can create a multiplicity of relationships if looked strictly from the genetic or biological point of view. A woman may gestate her own siblings (if they were created from gametes of her parents) or her “uncles” or “aunts” (if - from the gametes of her grandparents) (Dolgin 1997:136). According to another approach cloned children are not children of the person whose genetic material was used: they are siblings of the person[7] (Warnock, lecture given in Cambridge, January 29, 1999). Similarly one could gestate her cloned mother or father and thus become mother of herself. The choices contained in these possibilities opened by the new reproductive technologies offer another choice. One can choose to perceive the persons born as a result as children, uncles, siblings etc. Kinship becomes not only legally but also socially a matter of choice. The genetic links may not loose their significance but may become too burdensome and too confusing to be used[8]. One of the possible interpretations for the courts’ use of social roles and behaviour rather than the biological grounds may be that it was not contradictory. It was easier to define who was the real parent by looking at their behaviour than to judge by the confusing biological “facts”.

Gender, at least in the western society, has been mostly constructed on the assumptions of the potential parenting roles. To be a woman means not only to have female body, it means the possibility of becoming a mother. For men it would be the possibility of becoming a father that defines the basis of gender identity. Assuming it to be a universal characteristic of gender has lead anthropological analysis of other cultures into problematic conclusions. For example, Samoa sisters would have a very different gender identity from the wives. Gender roles would refer only to the ones that actively participate in sex (Tcherkezoff, cited in Moore 1993: 200). Another conventional assumption about gender was that it was, although socially constructed, also a “given” i.e. unchangeable, based on the sex of a person which is itself basic. In the light of assisted conception, however, these assumptions are challenged. If choice determines whether one defines her/himself as mother or as father, or even daughter or niece, the gender identity can not possibly become based on the possible role of parenthood in the biological sense. The social parenthood, as in the case with fathers, has always been perceived as a matter of choice. At least legally women, some may argue (see Johnson’s argument above), can become very similar to fathers. The present development of the technology does not offer the same range of choices for men. It is, however, more important, that parenthood itself becomes less gender-specific. It is based on the chosen roles and behaviour rather than on the physical givens of the bodies of the particular parents. In a gay family a child may have two male parents or two female parents. They, of course, do not therefore automatically assume a role of mother or a father (Weston 1991: 173). This, however, is closer to my point: kinship, paternity, parental roles, in the age of new reproductive technologies are not natural givens but subjects to choice.

The aim of this essay was to show how in the frame of debates about the new reproductive technologies the gender relations are being transformed. The process, as we have seen consists of more that only the gender relations themselves. The concept of gender is being endangered at several different levels, namely the public discourse and practice as well as in the discourse of social sciences. The new reproductive technologies have provoked society to redraw popular understanding of what is in the very grounds of their society: of what is the family, what is kinship, gender and what it means to be a mother or father. Although this has not been explicitly stated, the attempts to apply practically traditional understanding of Euro-American kinship and gender constructions fail. Courts and parliamentarians, which are faced with the difficult task to achieve clarity in these questions have found solution only when clearly social constructions have given priority to the ‘biological facts’. The differences between the sexes as they were perceived up to now thus fade away forcing us to look more closely to the aspects of intra-gender similarities. I have argued that through the discussions that were caused by development of new reproductive technologies the gender differences themselves become more problematic than they used to be. Together with this process also the idea of the biological facts on which the differences themselves are based loose their significance. The identity of a person in the Western society, some argue (Moore 1993: 201), is primarily based on the gender identity. What happens if the significance of the gender itself is questioned? I would not suggest that the identity would change because of this. What is going to change is the significance and opposition of gender identities. A woman may become her own grandmother by gestating her biological mother or she may become the biological father of her children by donating her eggs. The actual kin roles (mother - child) then become purely and explicitly socially constructed. Some of the examples that I have used also suggest that the ‘biogenetic’ basis of Euro-American kinship and hence gender relations is a fiction or at least a 20th century invention which up to the present day co-exist with understanding of kinship that is based purely on social facts. What I also have tried to demonstrate in this essay is that these changes in public understanding (or elaborations on the old cultural facts (Strathern 1995: 348)), go hand in hand with changes in the social theory of gender. As a result understanding of gender relations similarly to understanding of kinship from ‘social constructions of biological facts’ becomes ‘social constructions of social facts’.


Corea, G. 1985. The Mother Machine: reproductive technologies from artificial insemination to artificial wombs. Harper and Row.

Dolgin, J. L. 1997. Defining the Family. Law, Technology and Reproduction in an Uneasy Age. New York University Press.

Firestone, S. 1970. The Dialectic of Sex. William Morrow and Co.

Franklin, S. 1993. Making representations: the parliamentary debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. In M. Strathern and al. (eds.) Technologies of procreation. Kinship in the age of assisted conception. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.

Franklin, S. 1995. ‘Postmodern Procreation: A Cultural Account of Assisted Reproduction’ in Faye D. Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp (eds.) Conceiving the New World Order. The Global Politics of Reproduction. University of California Press.

Lewin, E. 1993. Lesbian Mothers. Accounts of Gender in American Culture. Cornell University Press.

Moore, H. 1993. The differences within and the differences between. In Teresa del Valle (ed.) Gendered Anthropology. London: Routledge.

Oakley, A. 1997 A Brief History of Gender. In Ann Oakley and Juliet Mitchell (eds.) Who’s Afraid of Feminism Seeing through the Backlash. London: Hamish Hamilton

Schneider, D. M. 1992. Current Anthropology Vol. 33, Number 3. pp 307- 309

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Smart, C. 1987. ‘There is of course the distinction dictated by nature’: Law and the Problem of Paternity. In Michelle Stanworth (ed.) Reproductive Technologies. Gender, Motherhood and Medicine. Polity Press.

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Strathern, M. 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. University of California Press.

Weston, K. 1991. Families We Choose. Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. Columbia University Press.

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[1]Since this essay deals mostly with gender related issues in the light of new reproductive technologies, I do not include lengthy discussion of what the technologies themselves are. It will be enough to say that they comprise a very large selection of different practices from artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation, and surrogacy to cloning. The history of the technologies (artificial insemination) goes back to third century AD (then conducted on animals). First AI for humans was applied in 1790 by Scottish anatom and surgeon John Hunter, first artificial insemination with donor sperm - 1884. First successful in vitro fertilisation is marked by birth of Luise Brown in 1978 (Lewin 1993: 48). For a detailed account of the multiplicity of the NRT see Stanworth (1987). The contemporary discussion, however, is mostly dedicated to cloning: reproduction of either complete human beings or cloning of human tissue - parts of human bodies, e.g., blood, bone marrow.

[2]It is, I believe, impossible to write about only one feminist approach. Both of the approaches described above represent certain feminist approach. Both of them have been criticised by other feminists. The range of feminist ideas about the new reproductive technologies thus is extremely large. For the sake of clarity and because the size of this essay does not allow me to look at all the feminist approaches in details I speak in this essay mostly about the radical feminists that treat the technologies as source of further oppression when I use terms ‘feminism’ and ‘feminists’.

[3]For insight into this feminist approach see Jocelynees A. Scutt’s edited book The Baby Machine. (1990) or Gena Corea’s The Mother Machine.(1985)

[4] I will not elaborate here on the last category since the essay is not about marketing which is, I believe, influencing the opinion of the medical professionals much more than the patriarchal values they have been allegedly defending.

[5]Hence the term of patriarchy that while meaning ‘rule of a father’ in wider discourse means ‘rule of men’.

[6]For the same conclusions see Smart 1987:114: ‘in ... cases where there is both a biological and a social father (as with AID [artificial insemination by donor]) the tendency is to ignore the biological father and to invest all the rights of paternity in the social father...’

[7]The logical conclusion from this approach would be that parents can be only the ones that provide a half of the genetic material.

[8]Consider, for instance, a situation when a child receives modified genetic material from both of the patents. Is it still biologically connected with the parents? In a strict sense, the idea that children are made of two parts of exact copies of their parent’s DNA’s, is a fiction: mutations occur also without intrusion of genetic engineers. But if a child is only to a certain percentage an exact copy of combination of its parents’ genes, where do we draw the line? After all, we all share more than 99 per cent of genetic material.