Posted on Leave a comment

Sociological Perspectives on ‘Renting a Womb’  

Kim Kardashian and Kayne West are apparently expecting a fourth child, employing a surrogate mother to carry their fertilised eggs. This will be the second surrogate child, following the birth of their first surrogate child, ‘Chicago’, born in January 2018.

Paying someone to be a surrogate mother, or ‘renting a womb’ is legal in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, surrogacy is legal, but parents are only allowed to pay the surrogate expenses related to the pregnancy, rather than paying them a fee for actually carrying the child.

The reason Kim Kardashian and Kayne West have opted for surrogates recently is because Kim has a medical condition which means that becoming pregnant again carries a higher than usual risk of her dying, so this isn’t just a lifestyle choice, but an interesting ethical/ sociological question is whether or not paid for surrogacy should be legal in the U.K. (NB – there’s a chance that it will be, as the surrogacy law is currently under review.

This topic is clearly relevant to families and households and especially social policy, and it’s quite useful to use it to explore different Feminist perspectives on the family….

Liberal Feminism

From a liberal feminist point of view, renting a womb should be acceptable because it would enable career-women to avoid taking time off work to pregnancy and child birth, and thus prevent the kind of career-breaks which put them at a disadvantage to men.

In fact, as far as the couple hiring the surrogate are concerned, this puts them on an entirely equal footing in relation to the new baby, meaning that it would be practically possible for them to share maternity/ paternity leave equally, rather than it ‘making sense’ for the woman to carry on taking time off after she’s done so in order to give birth.

Paid for surrogacy also provides an economic opportunity for the surrogate mothers, an opportunity only available to women.

Marxist Feminism

From a marxist feminist point of view renting a womb is kind of paying women for their labour in one sense, however it’s a long way off providing women a wage for ‘traditionally women’s work’ within the family, such as child care and domestic labour.

Ultimately renting a womb does little to address economic inequality between men and women because it’s only available to wealthier couples, meanwhile on the supply side of the rent a womb industry the only women likely to enter into a surrogacy contract are those that are financially desperate, i.e. they have no other means to make money.

Radical Feminism

From a radical feminist perspective renting a womb does nothing to combat patriarchy more generally. If paid for surrogacy was made legal in the UK, the only consequence would be to give wealthy couples the freedom to pay poor women to carry their children for 9 months.

This does nothing to combat more serious issues such as violence against women.

In conclusion…

While it’s an interesting phenomenon, renting a womb, rather than just voluntary surrogacy, will probably do very little to further the goal of female empowerment. However, it will obviously be of benefit to potentially millions of couples (in the long term) who are unable to have children.

Advertisements
Posted on 10 Comments

Feminist Theory: A Summary for A-Level Sociology

Introduction – The Basics

  • Inequality between men and women is universal and the most significant form of inequality

  • Gender norms are socially constructed not determined by biology and can thus be changed.

  • Patriarchy is the main cause of gender inequality – women are subordinate because men have more power.

  • Feminism is a political movement; it exists to rectify sexual inequalities, although strategies for social change vary enormously.

  • There are four types of Feminism – Radical, Marxist, Liberal, and Difference.

5-feminism

Radical Feminism

  • Blames the exploitation of women on men. It is primarily men who have benefitted from the subordination of women. Women are ‘an oppressed group.

  • Society is patriarchal – it is dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class, and women the subject class.

  • Rape, violence and pornography are methods through which men have secured and maintained their power over women. Andrea Dworkin (1981)

  • Radical feminists have often been actively involved in setting up and running refuges for women who are the victims of male violence.

  • Rosemarie Tong (1998) distinguishes between two groups of radical feminist:

  • Radical-libertarian feminists believe that it is both possible and desirable for gender differences to be eradicated, or at least greatly reduced, and aim for a state of androgyny in which men and women are not significantly different.

  • Radical-cultural feminists believe in the superiority of the feminine. According to Tong radical cultural feminists celebrate characteristics associated with femininity such as emotion, and are hostile to those characteristics associated with masculinity such as hierarchy.

  • The various alternatives suggested by Radical Feminists include separatism – women only communes, and Matrifocal households. Some also practise political Lesbianism and political celibacy as they view heterosexual relationships as “sleeping with the enemy.”

Marxist Feminism

  • Capitalism rather than patriarchy is the principal source of women’s oppression, and capitalists as the main beneficiaries.

  • Women’s subordination plays a number of important functions for capitalism:

  • Women reproduce the labour force for free (socialisation is done for free)

  • Women absorb anger – women keep the husbands going.

  • Because the husband has to support his wife and children, he is more dependent on his job and less likely to demand wage increases.

  • The traditional nuclear also performs the function of ‘ideological conditioning’ – it teaches the ideas that the Capitalist class require for their future workers to be passive.

  • The disadvantaged position of women is seen to be a consequence of the emergence of private property and their lack of ownership of the means of production

  • They are more sensitive to differences between women who belong to the ruling class and proletarian families. Marxist Feminists believe that there is considerable scope for co-operation between working class women and men and that both can work together

  • In Communist society, Marxist feminists believe that gender inequalities will disappear.

Liberal Feminism

  • Nobody benefits from existing inequalities: both men and women are harmed

  • The explanation for gender inequality lies not so much in structures and institutions of society but in its culture and values.

  • Socialisation into gender roles has the consequence of producing rigid, inflexible expectations of men and women

  • Discrimination prevents women from having equal opportunities

  • Liberal Feminists do not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure.

  • The creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

  • Liberal feminists try to eradicate sexism from the children’s books and the media.

  • Liberal Feminist ideas have probably had the most impact on women’s lives – e.g. mainstreaming has taken place.

Difference Feminism/ Postmodern Feminism

  • Do not see women as a single homogenous group. MC/WC ,

  • Criticised preceding feminist theory for claiming a ‘false universality’ (white, western heterosexual, middle class)

  • Criticised preceding Feminists theory of being essentialist

  • Critiqued preceding Feminist theory as being part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project

  • Postmodern Feminism – concerned with language (discourses) and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities’

  • Helene Cixoux – An example of a postmodern/ destabilising theorist

Criticisms of Feminist Theories

Marxist

1. Radical Feminists – ignores other sources of inequality such as sexual violence.

2. Patriarchal systems existed before capitalism, in tribal societies for example.

3. The experience of women has not been particularly happy under communism.

Liberal

1. Based upon male assumptions and norms such as individualism and competition, and encourages women to be more like men and therefor deny the ‘value of qualities traditionally associated with women such as empathy.

2. Liberalism is accused of emphasising public life at the expense of private life.

3. Radical and Marxist Feminists – it fails to take account of deeper structural inequalities

4. Difference Feminists argue it is an ethnocentric perspective – based mostly on the experiences of middle class, educated women.

Radical

1. The concept of patriarchy has been criticised for ignoring variations in the experience of oppression.

2. Some critics argue that it focuses too much on the negative experiences of women, failing to recognise that some women can have happy marriages for example.

3. It tends to portray women as universally good and men as universally bad, It has been accused of man hating, not trusting all men.

Difference

  1. Walby, women are still oppressed by objective social structures – namely Patriarchy

  2. Dividing women sub-groups weakens the movement for change.

Related Posts 

Feminist Perspectives on the Family

Sources Used to Write this Post 

  • Haralambos and Holborn (2013) – Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Eighth Edition, Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597479
  • Chapman et al (2016) – A Level Sociology Student Book Two [Fourth Edition] Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597495
  • Robb Webb et al (2016) AQA A Level Sociology Book 2, Napier Press. ISBN-10: 0954007921