Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Slate's Fix for the Pesky "Lost Productivity" of Maternal Love

Oh friends. Oh stupid, biologically-fettered friends. Let the brights at Slate show you the glorious path to the future
In affluent societies at least, paternity uncertainty is a thing of the past, thanks to genetic testing and the Maury Povich Show. And while men continue to dominate our economic and social lives, that dominance is being contested. Among younger cohorts, women are pulling ahead of men in educational attainment, a disparity that is already having powerful social and economic consequences. A large and growing number of women are raising children without men, for whom the drive to accumulate property to pass on to their heirs has attenuated, if not vanished entirely. Roles that had once been limited to men, by law and custom—it was not so long ago that female doctors, lawyers, engineers, and managers were vanishingly rare—are now open to women, and women are excelling in them. They are excelling in them to such an extent that the opportunity costs associated with motherhood (the foregone wages, the lost productivity) are becoming unacceptably high not just for individual mothers, but for their employers. 
These are new historical developments, and we’re still struggling to adapt to them. So, here’s a prediction: Instead of adapting our jobs to accommodate the demands of biology, we will adapt our biology to accommodate the demands of our jobs. The fact that only women can give the gift of life is an enviable distinction, yet it is also a burden that can make it harder for working mothers to reach the pinnacle of their professions. One way to ease this burden would be to move away from pregnancy as we know it and toward a reliance on artificial wombs. 
For now, artificial wombs are the stuff of science fiction. Those of you who read Brave New World in high school will recall its chilling portrayal of the “Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre,” where vast numbers of identical children spring from the same genetic soup. If ectogenesis, a fancy word for the use of artificial wombs, ever happens in the real world, it will be a more banal next step from the technologies that already keep premature babies alive. Ectogenesis will start out as a way to allow older women to have children or to abet pregnancy for women who would otherwise be unable to carry children. Eventually, it will be considered safer to have children via ectogenesis than the old-fashioned way, and the practice will spread far and wide.
Let's examine the terms of our discussion. Motherhood -- the bearing and rearing of the next generation, in the most practical, most desirable, most easily accomplished sense -- is "lost productivity". Carrying a child in your own womb: "lost productivity". Giving birth: "lost productivity". Keeping an infant alive, feeding it, responding to its cries, holding, nurturing, loving it: "lost productivity". Children, in short, are "lost productivity", little time sinks best outsourced to the world's indigent and uneducated, who have nothing better to do with their bodies or their lives but serve as incubators and nannies to those wealthy enough not only to buy a child, but a womb to put it in. Nothing is too good for our unborn children -- no drop of alcohol safe enough for a pregnant woman, no raw cheese healthy enough, no breath of second-hand smoke pure enough -- because the earliest intervention matters, the safety of the womb matters, unless someone really reeeeally has a good reason to buy a pregnancy, and then it's okay that some poor woman in India sell her body as a surrogate, because the person with the money just wants it so much, right?
I don’t doubt that we’ll see some of this, particularly if such shifts save employers money. Yet the most elite jobs are also the least susceptible to change. “There will always be 24/7 positions with on-call, all-the-time employees and managers, including many CEOs, trial lawyers, merger-and-acquisition bankers, surgeons, and the U.S. Secretary of State,” writes Goldin. Apple and Facebook are keen to retain female employees who can take on these 24/7 positions, which don’t lend themselves to the kind of flexibility that parenting demands. And that is why they’re taking egg freezing seriously.
Apparently the one 24/7 job that women shouldn't have to sacrifice for is that of bearing and raising a child. A job with Facebook! A job with Apple! These are positions that are so important that even a woman's biology must be molded to fit their demands. Nurturing life isn't nearly so vital as making sure that Facebook's servers don't crash. Connectivity before children! Let's remake nature in the image of Apple's corporate structure, because parenting is now an option, while the development of a new iPhone is a societal imperative.
And if we want to achieve gender equality by changing attitudes, it can’t just be male attitudes that change. Men will have to become more interested in spending time with their children, but women will also have to become less interested. If the miracle of childbirth is a central component of what bonds women to their offspring, and pregnancy envy is a force that drives men to accumulate wealth, outsourcing pregnancy might be the best solution.  
In August, Zoltan Istvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager, touted the potential benefits of artificial wombs for women, from the most obvious (“females would no longer have to solely bear responsibility for childbirth”) to the less obvious (“ectogenesis could unchain women from the home”). Even some of the criticisms of ectogenesis—that it will reduce the intimacy between mother and child—could be a good thing if your concern is that when it comes to raising children, the attitudes of women and men are too different. 
And there you have it: women must become less interested in spending time with their children. If pregnancy has the inconvenient side effect of bonding a woman to her child, pregnancy must be discarded. If the attitudes of men and woman toward raising children are too different, the solution must be that everyone must become more detached from children. Needy little beggars, children, so oblivious to money, so ungrateful for fancy nurseries and expensive nannies and celebrity strollers, so high-maintenance that they cry for their mothers. So biologically unadvanced that they bond with the woman who bears them in her womb, so pathetically, so impractically satisfied at her breast, as if they had some kind of claim on her body, that body which so inconveniently alters to give them life! Don't babies know that adults mean well by stowing them in artificial wombs? Shouldn't they be grateful for existing at all, summoned to life like Frankenstein's monster? Don't they realize how liberating it is to women not to want to love them? Don't they realize that their mothers have more important things to do than them?

Think I'm exaggerating the Slate author's opinions? Let's have his last words:
Yet, artificial wombs still seem inevitable. The powerful, feeling-filled bond between a mother and her child is a big part of what leads working mothers to take their child-rearing responsibilities more seriously than working fathers. If this essential difference is the problem, if it is the root of gender equality in the workplace, and if our highest priority is to eliminate gender inequality, then ectogenesis offers a way forward.
Nothing must stand in the way of gender equality. No woman must be allowed to take her child-rearing responsibilities more seriously than a man, and of course child-rearing responsibilities must look exactly the same for both sexes. "If our highest priority is to eliminate gender inequality": yes, inequality must be eliminated, even to the tamping down of any impudent maternal sentiment that might rear its medieval little head. This is what contempt for women looks like: the denigration of their very biology, the devaluing of a gift they alone can give, a role they alone can fill, so that they can become more useful cogs in the wheels of industry. Women are for work, and for sex, but certainly not for mothering. We wouldn't want to treat them like objects, for God's sake.


Bob the Ape said...


Brandon said...

That was a well-deserved fisking. I find it somewhat entertaining to have a Slate author all but admitting to shilling for faceless corporations.

And, of course, you are exactly right: the whole argument is a an expression of contempt for women. Our highest priority being to eliminate gender inequality, women will apparently just have to be manipulated to fall in line, no matter what. Unfortunately, I expect we will see a lot more of this in years to come.

Jenny said...

How I wish the original article was satire and yet I know better.

Foxfier said...

Kind of reminds me of some of the paperwork I got when I was first pregnant, about how to help my husband deal with jealousy at the baby... same response: seriously?

I know they try to be outrageous to get attention, but oy.

Michael said...

I already see this attitude among the women (and men) I work with (at a large silicon valley tech company.)

One of my coworkers, in a conversation after announcing she was pregnant, remarked that she wished she were having twins, because "then you get it over with all at once."

Of course no one would consider having more than two children — they're seen so much as a burden to be gotten over with that I'm afraid the Slate author's argument would actually be taken seriously by many.

mrsdarwin said...


No, you are not allowed to "go there", plumbing or no plumbing. Keep it polite and keep it relevant, or keep it elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

How is the bond between a mother and her child something inconvenient and wrong? If we remove a human element from the birth or growing of a child, then our world becomes no better than the Matrix.

Anne said...

Makes me want to throw up and panic about the end of the world. But maybe I'll just reread That Hideous Strength.

Finicky Cat said...

Makes me want to reread That HIdeous Strength, too (good remedy, Anne!), AND go have another baby. Just because I can, dammit. Because I have MAGIC SUPER POWERS thanks-be-to-God.

This was a great post, MrsDarwin.

Joseph said...

Zoltan Istvan has made far more preposterous suggestions.

cminor said...

These folks are always quick to remind us of the hazards of pregnancy while conveniently forgetting that never going through one has health risks of its own.
Read off some excerpts of this to the husband, which led to the following exchange:
Me (frustratedly breaking off narrative): I wonder if this guy has a wife?
Hub: No. He has a blow-up doll.

Gail Finke said...

I read somewhere recently (wish I could remember where) that "free" contraception became a big deal because the default condition for women is now sterility. I thought that hit the nail on the head -- and I say this as someone who thought that way for a long time. It's just the way I was taught to think -- babies are entirely optional (and it's in very bad taste to "opt" to opt for more than two), and that when women don't opt for one gettting pregnant should be impossible. I didn't see this as exploitative until, probably, I was in my mid-30s. Now that we are celebrating (on TV and in magazines like "People") gay and "older" celebrities having babies manufactured for them, this would seem to me to be the next thing.Why should you have to be an international male superstar to hire a womb? Any woman should be able to farm her baby out to another, poorer woman, and a machien would be even better! No worries about her feelings or morals. Just go pick up the baby when it's "done." I hate to think what that will do to people, but I think I already know...

Kristin said...

Ugh. I want equality between the sexes in the workplace, too, but the solution isn't eliminating what makes the sexes distinct.

Domenico Bettinelli said...

The highest priority. Think of everything in the world today, every problem, every nagging insufficiency, every way in which this world is a vale of tears. Gender inequality in the workplace doesn't even make the top 10.

If you want to be scared at how seriously some will take this piece, talk to anyone who provides day care, not to families who need two incomes just to get by or struggling single moms, but to the affluent and educated. The stuff I heard from my sister-in-law makes my toes curl. In some cases, I think the daycare provider may the only person in these kids' lives showing them actual love.

mandamum said...

Gail, I know Dr. J at the Ruth Institute has been talking about how people view sex now as normatively sterile. She said she was in a debate and said, "sex makes babies" and her opponent disagreed: "UNPROTECTED sex makes babies," apparently. To uphold the fiction, we must all have free contraception easily available.

Sparky said...

"Think of everything in the world today, every problem, every nagging insufficiency, every way in which this world is a vale of tears. Gender inequality in the workplace doesn't even make the top 10."

It does when feminism is your religion.