Feminists: We are the sum of our parts (or possibly just that one part)*

This is a very old article, but I’ve just found it and am astounded by it. So let’s discuss it.

In February 2002, the Observer reported that two different groups of scientists have (had) now (then) had limited success with ectogenesis–in layperson’s terms, growing a fetus in a jar. Well, I say jar, but in fact the group that was growing human fetuses (to 6 days gestation) did so in artificial wombs that they ‘grew’ out of endometrial tissue from real live women, and enriched with oestrogen and the like. How cool is that? The other group grew goat fetuses to 10 days gestation, and actually did use jars. Less cool. More amusing, but less cool.

Now obviously, this technology raises HUGE ethical questions: what happens to my right to abort? (JJ Thomson says I lose it, as I’m sure we all remember.) If I retain my right to abort (I think, contra Thomson, that I do), does my conceptive partner now acquire the right to abort? And so on.

But the worries cited by [Quoted Bioethicist] are far more amusing than mine. First, [Bioethicist] worries that, if it’s possible to gestate in a jar, women will be denied maternity leave, on grounds they don’t strictly have to be pregnant to have a family.

They would mean that women would no longer need maternity leave – which employers could become increasingly reluctant to give.

(a) (not that any of this actually needs saying) We already live in a universe where women don’t have to be pregnant to have a family. and (b) how in the world do you make it right the way up the academic ladder, even earning a PhD in ethics, specialising in reproductive ethics and yet not know the purpose of maternity leave?** And anyway, if you did think that maternity leave was simply time to be pregnant and give birth, then why would it be an ethical worry that women who don’t gestate or give birth might not be granted maternity leave?

Another: if babies can be grown in jars, this will mean that gay couples can have babies, and that will ‘horrify’ right-wingers. -This is an ethical worry?

But this worry is the real gem. It well and truly made my day:

There are going to be real problems,’ said [quoted conference organiser and bioethicist]. ‘Some feminists even say artificial wombs mean men could eliminate women from the planet and still perpetuate our species. That’s a bit alarmist. Nevertheless, this subject clearly raises strong feelings.’


Every time I read it, I enjoy it a bit more. Those silly feminists! They’re all the time thinking they have no worth outside of their ability to gestate. That’s just what feminists think!

*The bioethicist quoted in this article is a working academic philosopher. I decided I needed to be more careful about being flippant with respect to this person. So you’ll simply have to follow the link and do your own googling if you’re keen to see who’s said such silly things.

**Last night as I was falling asleep, it occurred to me that perhaps it’s rather easy to misunderstand maternity leave when you live in one of the only two countries in the western world that doesn’t have manditory maternity leave. Especially when, when women are given leave, it’s for a few short weeks. It’s not so ridiculous that one might be confused and think that the purpose of it was simply recuperation from childbirth.