Last week, I wrote about commercial surrogacy and how women are often exploited in the industry. However, Dr. Roy’s lecture brought up another aspect of commercial surrogacy that perhaps is a more underlying problem for motherhood and birth- the idea of genetically modified children.
Roy explained that another aspect of commercial surrogacy is being able to pick your eggs and sperm from candidates to fit certain features. This can allow you to hand select the traits you want your child to have- such as white skin, blue eyes, blonde hair. It is essentially a form of eugenics. Eugenics is the theory and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population- most commonly noted with Nazi Germany. We place a value on babies that are sought after, and it seems most commonly that ends up being white children. So while the parents paying for the child craft these perfect fetuses, they are placed in the bodies of brown women- devaluing them and having them birth the “right kind” of babies.
The link can be seen too in the rise of commercial surrogacy rather than leading toward adoption. Many couple who have the economic means to have a surrogate child want it to look as perfect as possible- a designer baby- instead of kids who are not “right” for them, indicating the need for a certain aesthetic look. Dr. Roy in her lecture even mentioned that sperm and eggs are sometimes labeled with that individual’s SAT scores or athletic achievements (as if that is really passed down genetically).
This all made me think about designer babies and how they have become a birth trend outside of surrogacy. Parents expecting a child can modify the child’s DNA to change their health, appearance, and abilities. Now while some couples have approached it from a health stance (which in my opinion can be a whole other topic) others have taken a problematic approach of focusing on modifying their child’s looks, intelligence, agility, you name it! Lee Silver, a professor at Princeton University, stated “Mother Nature is a metaphor- and it is a bad metaphor, because in reality inheritance is a game of craps … It won’t have to be that way in the future.” However, it was here in this the article that really started getting me to think about the rise of commercial surrogacy, designer babies, and the attempt to control birth on feminism. What does that do for feminism when we view Mother Nature as a beast cursing people with inheritance? Do we then begin to blame the mother figure in the role of birthing the child into an imperfect existence?
Science has begun to bleed into the world of the natural body in an attempt to control it. Women are then looked at as inadequate because their natural bodies cannot reach perfection. We focus on the external pressure to be perfect, but imagine the pressure to create a “perfect” child? Genetically modifying fetuses also takes away from the importance of birth given to women. Instead, a woman’s body becomes a factory, producing whatever predesigned object is desired.
Also, I worry about genetically modifying fetuses could lead to sexist eugenics. We have seen past incidents in other cultures about the preference for male children, what if parents could just decide to not have a girl? This could be drastic for girlhood and the othering of women.
What kind of impact do you think commercial surrogacy policing genetic qualities in children could have on the women’s movement and young girls? I’d love to hear other’s perspectives on the issue.