What’s Motherhood Got to do with it?

This week’s readings are interconnected by their discussion of the carefully calculated decisions that are made before and during motherhood. Broadly, all of the readings beg the question of the acceptance of reproductive technology in altering conventional motherhood. Surrogacy, for example, is considered an alteration to motherhood by challenging the long-established idea that a child delivered from a woman’s body is in fact her child. Before reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy were introduced, there was little question of who the mother of the baby is. Both Rothman (1992) and Meilaender (1992) give careful thought to the question of the role of surrogacy and artificial insemination and blurring kinship lines in human reproduction from a feminist and Protestant perspective, respectively. Seeman et al. (2016) address motherhood from a slightly different angle, investigating poor women’s’ reactions to their unintended pregnancy. The ethnographic study raises the concern of abortion as an alteration to one’s experience as a (potential) mother, and specifically addresses how women perceived their decision to continue the pregnancy or not long after the fact, and how religion and spirituality have roles in their autonomous decisions. With the discussion of these three readings, I highlight the important themes that are central to each article as well as motherhood in a broad sense.

Barbara Katz Rothman, a self-proclaimed feminist sociologist whose work is central to birth and motherhood, wrote her article as a personal stance on surrogacy given her feminist perspective that takes issue with patriarchal norms and control of women. Rothman is quick to point out that although her opinion might lie “on the same side of this particular fence as the religious leaders, we are coming from a very different place, and we are going to a very different place” (1599). She separates her argument from religion and focuses instead on the overarching patriarchal view of motherhood that puts women and mothers in a subordinate place. Careful not to conflate “patriarchy” with “sexism” or “men’s rule,” Rothman distinguishes between the concepts and emphasizes that her focus is on the “rule of fathers” in a patriarchal society, and not sexist claims. She argues that in the United States, a “contemporary patriarchal society,” the defining relationship is the father and son, from which derivations are formed, such as children being referred to as “the children of men out of the bodies of women” (1600). When a man loses control of his reproductive autonomy by allowing his child to grow in a woman, he therefore must control the woman to maintain a sense of power and certainty of his kin. Rothman accounts for the differences in societal determinants of kinship, but acknowledges the general American perspective that consanguineal kin is true kin. “Seed,” or gamete, is the “essential underlying concept of patriarchy,” thus, because America recognizes the gamete of a woman to be half of the genetic makeup of the reproductive cycle, some patriarchal privileges are extended to women.

It is through this lens that Rothman opposes surrogacy for a number of reasons. Even with extended rights, surrogacy perpetuates class differences, as there is often a large payment from the woman who cannot carry the fetus to the woman who can. She argues that surrogacy is hardly different than adultery with respect to the case of “Baby M”, claiming that if a man impregnate a woman who was not his wife then sued for custody, the same goal would be accomplished because the courts favor paternal custody (1603). Through this point, we see a connection to past class conversations of the father providing the seed for the mother who is simply fertile soil, which is how Rothman argues that women are used and perceived as houses for the seed to grow. Although Rothman spends some time emphasizing her separation from religious opinions of surrogacy and argues that it is instead the patriarchal norms that are reinforced through society (and commonly religion) that feminists should take issue with, I found one specific part of her argument to be challenging to her views. Rothman emphasizes that reproductive technology is perceived as a threat to “the family and natural order” (1604). Although the paper is twenty-seven years old, Rothman indicates that feminist discourse is concerned with maintaining the natural sanctity of the family, which I argue would be challenged heavily today by the disapproval of the dichotomy of natural and unnatural that her argument suggests. This concern Rothman raises seems to coincide with Catholicism and Natural Law, therefore I would argue that this claim is not distinct from religious influence or opinion.

Rothman’s conclusion emphasizes that all of this would look very different from a woman’s perspective. She particularly caught my attention with her discussion of reproductive autonomy and the control of reproduction for the benefit of society, which infers that women are mechanisms that support what society needs, stripping away the woman’s autonomy. Rothman concludes her paper with a call to action of others to oppose surrogacy because it is a violation of autonomy, emotionally and physically exhausting, immoral, and “unnatural” for a woman to give birth to her kin just to hand it over to the father. This closing thought is “regardless of the sources of the egg and or the sperm,” which allows the reader to infer that Rothman is arguing pregnancy and birth are the most determining factors of motherhood, and that “any woman cannot be a mother of a child who is not her own” (1607). With this powerful conclusion, how well do you feel Rothman’s thoughts are constructed? Do her arguments support or refute one another? Would you consider them to be feminist if this was written today?


In his paper, Meilaender (1992) outlines the various Protestant interpretations and opinions of reproductive technology, giving credit as well a critique to the arguments. He clearly explains how many Protestant views of reproductive technology are entrenched in the self and obligation of the self to God among other common values. Through this understanding, artificial insemination and other reproductive technologies are often but not always disapproved of for their dehumanizing nature. This is described by different Protestant scholars to have consequences for different individuals. For example, Ramsey argues that the union of the biological and the personal is essential for moral parenthood, and their separation through technological intervention would prove to be dehumanizing and cause enslavement to “whatever new technological advance becomes possible” (1641). Smith, however, argues that surrogacy or artificial insemination by donor (AID) should be prohibited for its dehumanizing of the child’s world, as well as the unequal parental representation. He argues that if only one partner in marriage has their genetic information passed to the child of AID or surrogacy, there is unequal representation of the marriage in the relationship, which is argued to be destructive to the self (1640).

In my opinion, the most important concept from the reading is that while the same religious influence can be considered with respect to an ethical issue, very different outcomes and thus opinions can arise under the same denomination. Meilaender portrays this with a contrasting opinion under Protestant reason that does not condemn AID. Fletcher argues that “kinship is essentially a matter of human intention and will, of love and not blood” (1642). This interpretation is rooted in Fletcher’s greater value in freedom of self than reproduction. While Ramsey and Smith condemn this very idea, Fletcher celebrates it as “‘rational and human choice’ over ‘blind worship of raw nature’” (1643). In conclusion, Meilaender claims that although these opinions of reproductive technology are different, it is the theological approach and use of the Bible in Protestant theory that is systematically followed to address controversial issues that one should practice in human society, in order to maintain the ideals of what is truly human. I cannot say that I agree that the fundamental Christological understanding of Jesus as the son of God to be a starting point for this discussion moving forward, especially after reading Rothman’s critique of contemporary patriarchal society and its stripping of women’s autonomy. As a woman, I cannot help but wonder how different these conversations would look if one’s ability to identify as male or female was not so telling of their rights and privileges in American society. I also begin to wonder how much of the American contemporary patriarchy is truly rooted in religious text or values…please feel free to share your thoughts on this.


More recent literature has investigated the nature of altering motherhood from a woman’s perspective. The authors of Blessing Unintended Pregnancy study how poor African American mothers who experienced unintended pregnancies now perceive their decision to raise their child(ren). The woman in the ethnographic study were all staying at a homeless shelter, which many found comfort in because it offered a new beginning. Regardless of their financial state, the majority of the women who carried unintended pregnancies to term regarded their pregnancy to be “meant to be” or “a blessing.” (Seeman et al. 2016, 34) This tribute to a higher power than oneself can be seen as a denial of some human control over pregnancy. The authors attribute the ambivalence of human control of reproduction to be rooted in an “existential tug between human and divine agency” (34). Throughout the study, the authors unpack the personal accounts of women who most often attributed their unintended pregnancy to something beyond their control.

While some women struggled to gain approval of family and community members, others took the opportunity to move out and “start over,” commonly escaping habits or situations that might pose consequences for their child such as drug use or physical abuse from their partner: “Each of these women described motherhood as the primary reason that they managed to reframe their lives around achievement and success rather than endless struggles and disappointment” (36).  Being able to make a drastic change for oneself by attributing something like unplanned pregnancy as a “gift” cultivated impactful change, which these women felt empowered by. The authors proceed to portray that coming to the homeless shelter was more than a place to temporarily raise their children, but it also provided some shelter from male dominance that many of them felt subordinate to.

The use of “blessing” and “meant to be” can be seen as a religious comfort offered to explain unintended pregnancy; however, many of them women who were most involved in local religious groups declined that they were religious and instead felt that “spiritual” better described their faith. The authors argue that to woman at the homeless shelter, spirituality is not posed as an alternative to religion, but as a part of “Christian discourse that includes a critique of some institutional Christian practice” (41). In the context of this study, this definition of spirituality made great sense to me and helped to understand personal experiences of these women and what’s at stake for them in their local moral world. Arguably the most important port of this paper is the call to action of further studies to not assume that “religious conceptions always mediate against planning discourse” (42). It is therefore not our place in academics to assume that “we know what religion means in reproductive settings,” and instead to pay close attention to how perspectives are shifted and where agency lies through different contexts of reproductive decisions.

This paper serves as a call to action for public health discourse to consider ethnographic studies of the local moral world instead of abstract debate regarding fetus and maternal rights or when life begins in the womb. Ethnography holds great validity, and through ethnographic study research can unpack the role of more than just religion in order to understand personal accounts of reproductive autonomy in order to shape public health policy moving forward.

20 Replies to “What’s Motherhood Got to do with it?”

  1. Hi Paige,

    I really appreciate that you tied the three readings together under the idea that they all “discussed carefully calculated decisions that are made before and during motherhood.” I would actually push back on your statement because to me, Rothman was more concerned about the often unquestioned patriarchal nature of our society and patriarchal nature of pregnancy despite it being women who primarily go through the physicality of pregnancies. I would say that she was concerned with status quo, which is not something that is often carefully discussed or calculated in most communities. I would also argue that in Blessing Unintended Pregnancies, the reactions of women who had unintended pregnancies is not something that is calculated. To me, it is a authentic, uncalculated response to their circumstance. To that end, yes, I see how we could reason that the opportunities to start anew or leave bad situations were instigated by pregnancies.

    I think you’re absolutely right to highlight Rothman’s argument that control and power are often that of men rather than women when it comes to pregnancy. I have personally experienced this feeling within my own household. In my culture, males/sons are expected to produce children, inheritances are exclusively passed to the eldest son, and women in marriages are expected to produce children. Because this was a cultural norm for me, I didn’t give it much thought before college. Women from my culture are traditionally expected to have children and ideally before the age of 30 in order to serve not only the husband’s purpose, but also families from both sides of the marriage. I love that you stated “ Rothman distinguishes between the concepts and emphasizes that her focus is on the “rule of fathers” in a patriarchal society, and not sexist claims,” because I do think this is true, patriarchal society does not necessarily equate to sexism. To me, it sometimes feels more like a cultural phenomenon. Another point that Rothman makes is about kinship and genetics. I do not believe 50% DNA justifies 50% split, but I also do not think gestation and experiencing pregnancy should necessarily provide women more ownership, especially if/when we consider kinship that is not consanguineal. In this day in time, we see the ability of mothers to adopt and love children who are not their own. I do not believe Rothman’s conclusion of “any woman cannot be a mother of a child who is not her own” is valid because how we define “natural” and “unnatural” is more fluid. With the development of more and more advanced technology, the concept of natural becomes even more complex.

    I have spoken much about Meilaender’s article because while I understand what arguments are made, I still am unable to follow how the arguments are made. The logic hasn’t seemed to quite click with me, so I look forward to hearing more about it in class.

  2. Hi Paige. Thank you for the summary and commentary on the readings. The reading by Rothman surprised me because I feel that feminist views are typically in support of the liberal stance on issues, including reproductive technologies. However, as pointed out, this article is not recent, and it makes me wonder if her viewpoint today would be different. Her argument is interesting in that it does not support surrogacy because men will exert more power in order to maintain control of this unnatural occurrence. The point you brought up of the parallels between her ideas of natural kinship and the Catholic churches emphasis on natural law, I agree are too similar to just be a coincidence. I thought the argument that reproductive technologies control reproduction for the benefit of society, although interesting, ignores the very possible and prevalent fact that many women simply cannot carry a child. The desire for motherhood for many women is strong, and therefore I believe that instead of stripping away the women’s autonomy, reproductive technologies highlight the extraordinary abilities of the women’s autonomy and medicine. Furthermore, from the point of view of the surrogate, I do not believe surrogacy treats them in an unjust manner, because the decision to carry another person’s child is voluntary.
    The readings by Meilaender and Smith, I thought proposed an argument that we have seen before in Donum Vitae, of the dehumanizing nature of reproductive technologies towards the child. The idea of religion in pregnancy is demonstrated by the authors of Blessing Unintended Pregnancy. I think because pregnancy concerns concepts of chance and human life, many look to religion, as a way to explain ideas and occurrences that are not completely black and white.

  3. Hi Paige,
    Thanks for a great post. You eloquently tie themes from each reading together and carefully select main ideas to discuss. I personally found the readings this week to include some of the most thought-provoking topics yet this semester, and am still developing my thoughts on the articles. As you note, Rothman’s flow of logic is somewhat intense and leads to a powerful conclusion in a feminist perspective of reproductive technology. I struggle with her logic as you do, especially with the fact that she does stress that a woman has “half rights” to her child and the father the other “half,” yet she then makes points that the experience of pregnancy affects kinship relations between mothers and children (Rothman 1603). If a woman were to truly have “half rights” to a child, would the experience of pregnancy even be relevant in discussions of kinship? I wonder what others think of this interpretation of her points.

    I especially like your summary and thoughts on Dr. Seeman’s article. Reading this ethnography reminded me of the importance of not generalizing opinions or contexts to larger groups, especially those of religion, when everybody’s experiences are so drastically different. Thinking about the terminology surrounding pregnancy in this article as “blessings” or “meant to be,” I cannot help but wonder if that in turn affects kinship attitudes towards children. After studying surrogacy and other forms of reproductive technology so far in class, I am curious how attitudes towards a pregnancy in general then manifest in kinship relations, rather than how biological methods of conception and birth alone define kinship. If a woman believes a child was given to her out of generosity and goodness from a higher power, how might that woman approach motherhood versus a woman who had to use reproductive technology to conceive?

  4. Thank you for a great post, Paige. I appreciated that you connected all three readings together and formed common themes and ideas from them. I found Rothman’s work interesting and I enjoyed reading about how she tied assisted reproductive technologies, specifically, surrogacy with patriarchy. While providing many opportunities for women to conceive is beneficial to most families, I can understand why Rothman feels that surrogacy is just another method for women to be subordinate to men. Women are paid to carry another family’s child, a period that is not exactly easy for 9 months, and after birth, the surrogate is not part of that family. Rothman suggests that this method is not unlike adultery, another reason why it should not be allowed. Furthermore, surrogacy and how people view it raises many questions about kinship. Rothman seems to believe that surrogate mother is the child’s “true” mother since she carries and delivers the baby. However, if one were to think that kinship is purely based on genetic make-up, they may not find a problem with surrogacy because they know that the child is theirs.

    Additionally, I appreciated that you added in Rothman’s point that surrogacy “perpetuates class differences.” Surrogates can cost anywhere from $90,000 to $130,000 and the family must also pay for doctors appointments and procedures (West Coast Surrogacy). Like all assisted reproductive technologies, only those who can afford to have a surrogate are able to go through with this method of reproduction. Not only does this decrease options for poor women, but it can also be racially and socially discriminatory.

    Lastly, I wanted to comment on your last point on the importance of ethnography in understanding cultures and ideas, specifically on assisted reproductive technologies. Ethnographic research allows for more personal and diverse accounts to be considered in bioethical debates and it can stay up-to-date with the societal changes and worldviews.

  5. Hi Ash,
    I really enjoyed your post as it did a great job summarizing the readings of this week. I also have to disagree with Rothman’s argument. A key concept of Rothman’s argument was that the gametes of males and females were weighted differently such that male gametes were worth more. From a biological standpoint, I would argue the opposite as the female gametes play a larger role in development. The entire mitochondrial genome of the child is determined by the mother’s mitochondria while male gametes only donate chromosomal DNA. Additionally, we have discussed several times in class how America is a contractual society so the argument that kinship plays a role is also invalid in the case of surrogacy. The contract not only invalidates any relationship between the surrogate with the child, but also validates the relationship between the child and the father and mother.
    In regard to Meilanders’s piece, I found it interesting comparing and contrasting Protestant views with Catholic views. Catholic views were universalized in Donum Vitae whereas Protestant views were no universalized and thus often conflicting. On the other hand, both Protestant and Catholic views were centered on the same ideas within the Bible such as the concept of having many children. Lastly, I found the Seeman ethnography to be very interesting. As someone who follows sports, there have been several instances of single parent athletes becoming pro. The most well known example would probably be LeBron James. I thought that reading this ethnographic piece gave me a better understanding of how and why James makes his decisions. Thus, this piece not only showed me the effect of pregnancy on homeless mothers but also how it could shape the identity of the child.

  6. Hi Paige. Thanks for writing such a comprehensive post about the readings this year.

    The reading that really got my attention this week was Rothman’s. Although she is a self-proclaimed feminist, many of the comments that she made seemed anti-feminist to me. Specifically, I’d like to comment on this point of your analysis: “Rothman indicates that feminist discourse is concerned with maintaining the natural sanctity of the family.” This reinforces the patriarchy that she writes about. The natural sanctity of family is something that many religious and nonreligious persons try to use in order to put women into a submissive role: that because they are biologically predisposed to have children, parenting should be their burden. This argument obviously goes beyond just the scope of reproductive technology and has large implications for women in the workplace. For surrogacy specifically, I can understand where she’s coming from in the idea that it is another way for a man to make a subordinate out of a woman… but I disagree. Most of the time, it is the woman in the relationship who pushes for an option like surrogacy in order to gain a child by any mean’s necessary. There are issues with perpetuating class differences as pointed out, but for some women, the opportunity to act as a surrogate has a huge financial benefit even if it is a massive commitment. Some of Rothman’s viewpoints can be placed on the fact that the article is older, and it’s clear that her perspective is outdated. I don’t think it can be considered as a feminist article in today’s world.

    Meilaender’s article reminded me of what we have discussed thus far in class about the Catholic Church’s views. One interesting thing that struck me at the end of your discussion on this reading was the idea of Jesus as the son of God to be the starting point. Could Mary not be considered a surrogate mother to Jesus? I’m unsure if there is clear biblical evidence on either side, but it’s worth considering. Finally, I thought the article by Dr. Seeman was an uplifting one compared to some of the other things that we’ve read in this class. Ethnographic accounts like this highlight a portion of the population that is often underserved in research.

  7. Paige,

    Thank you for your in-depth analysis of the articles and identification of the central arguments in each section. As I discuss in my response to Ash’s blog post, I disagree with Rothman’s arguments both in terms of how she interprets her evidence, and her position on surrogacy given her interpretation of her evidence. I believe that the autonomy that allows women the choice over whether or not to participate in surrogacy is more significant with respect to feminist ideals than banning or condemning those who participate surrogacy based on the belief that surrogacy is inherently limits women’s autonomy.

    Looking at the protestant opinions of surrogacy, several of the opinions also claim that surrogacy should not be performed. These opinions are however based in natural law, and I feel as if these authorities have a stronger argument. They argue that the technical intervention of surrogacy and artificial insemination interfere with natural law by limiting the woman’s role in marriage. Other views from this paper by Meilaender argue that kinship should be based in emotional relationships and not genetic relationships so suragossy should be permissible.

  8. Hi Paige! Thanks for a great post! You wrote that “Rothman is arguing pregnancy and birth are the most determining factors of motherhood,” which I agree with, especially in light of her conclusion, which stood out to me specifically in regards to her view that a mother’s “nurturing that child with the blood and nutrients of her body establishes her parenthood of that child” (1607). Like many of the articles we’ve read this semester, I feel that Rothman fails to acknowledge in her own the significance of the parent-child relationship gained through adoption. There seems to be a hierarchy of “good” or more “real” kinship bonds between parents and children, with natural conception, birth, and upbringing being at the top of the hierarchy with little to no emphasis placed on the way people become real and legitimate parents of adopted children that have no genetic relationship to them. Genetic relationships are always at the top of the hierarchy, and Rothman’s article emphasizes this in her insistence that women who have children by a surrogate mother are not the child’s “real” mother. The “real” mother is the woman who carried and gave birth to the child, regardless of the fact that this kinship bond formed from consanguinity will not extend into the actual care of upbringing of the child. I think this view of motherhood is logical, certainly, at first glance – it’s natural to view the woman who carried and gave birth to the child as the mother. But in an ever-evolving world of reproductive technology and the subsequent evolution of kinship bonds, it is foolish to hold consanguinity as the end-all, be-all of determining “real” motherhood.

  9. Hi Paige,
    Great job on the post. I really enjoyed how you gave a brief synthesis of the three readings together before discussing the readings on their own. Additionally, I enjoyed how you briefly incorporated your own ideas and questions at the end of each summary in order to guide a discussion for each reading. One really important point that you make is that the paper is 27 years old. In Ash’s response, I argue against Rothman’s claim using the concept that the United States is a contractual society. I wonder how Rothman would respond to the argument of a contractual society since contracts regarding reproductive technology were still new and changing every day 27 years ago.
    In regards to your question after the Meilaender summary, I feel that American contemporary patriarchy is truly rooted in religious texts or values. While there is a separation of policy and religion in the United States, the original pilgrims that colonized the United States were Christians. These same Christian beliefs then become the basis for a societal structure that ultimately has the same core issues on inequality in both the past and present.

  10. Hey Paige,

    Thanks for a great blog post. Like others, I liked how you provided a brief summary of the readings together and how they tied into one another. In addition, adding your own opinion was refreshing to read and didn’t take away from the summaries.

    I think Rothman’s views are very strong and would resonate with many feminists today. Even for a paper that is very old, I think her viewpoints are what many Americans (especially feminists) have when they think about this issue and about how “natural” something may be. This may resonate less with the younger generations, as technology develops and more and I suppose more people recognize that family can be outside of your traditional biological kin. This includes loving children who are not your own. I automatically think of Angelina Jolie, who has adopted so many children and treat them and love them as her own. I don’t agree with everything Rothman has to say, but I can see where she’s coming from, as I see these types of strong personalities and opinions that self-proclaimed feminists have today.

    I think contemporary American patriarchy is absolutely ruled by religious texts. You can see this prevalent with Obama, Islamophobia, and how ordinary Americans speak on religion today. The claims about Obama being a Muslim is plain stupid in my opinion because this country was founded in part on religious freedom. Yet, you can’t help but feel a little cringey if the President doesn’t say “God bless us, and God bless the United States of America” and have these leaders in our government proclaim their faith (preferably Christianity) at all times. When I check comments on my local news channel, I always see “traditionalists” commenting things like “I support Chick-fil-A. We should have Sundays closed because we should go to church. Our society is straying further and further from God every day”. For me, it’s clear that although there is an explicit separation of church and state, there is still an implicit agreement that those who work for the state should worship a God and preferably a Christian God. That isn’t very surprising to me, as our Founding Fathers were all Christian and so was most of America during that time. Even the term Founding Fathers has patriarchy written all over it.

    I also liked your summary on Dr. Seeman’s ethnography, as it shows provides at least myself with a bit of a different viewpoint. As someone who hasn’t yet (hopefully never) had an unexpected pregnancy and a male, I viewed the abortion debates kind of how our government, news, and popular culture viewed it. It’s obvious through this ethnography that not all people share this viewpoint, and there is evidence to show that a large number of women who get unexpectedly pregnant don’t think about these “big picture” issues at all. That’s why ethnography is important, and this is something that should be brought up in policy discussions.

  11. Hi Paige,

    Thank you for such a thoughtful response. You did a great job summarizing the readings while also providing your own thought and analysis of the subject.

    Personally, I loved the reading by Rothman. I love readings with a feminist perspective. I found it extremely important how she separated herself from the religious perspective as you mentioned. It reminds me of how we have discussed in class about how many religious perspectives are dismissed because of how they are rooted in religion. It makes me wonder though if some people might dismiss her view because it is a feminist perspective. I also liked how Rothman’s text brought back the idea of kinship. The way she discussed the topic was by focusing on parenthood and who the child belonged too. As you talked about a little above, depending on the culture of the time, a different emphasis is placed on who gets more custody, mother or father. One view is that the father provides the sperm which is the child, and the child just grows inside the mother. Thus the child is ultimately the father’s. On the other hand, if the child grows for 9 months inside the mother, the child is more so the mother’s.

    I did not get as much out of Meilaender’s text. I found it interesting as another Christian perspective to reproductive technologies, that is not Catholic. You mentioned the quote: “kinship is essentially a matter of human intention and will, of love and not blood” (1642). I thought this idea was interesting when he discussed adoption and how this technology kept the partners equal. Other technologies might seem to give one parent more connection to a child, but adoption appears to keep both parents equidistant to the child.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the final reading by Seeman et al. I thought the short quotes and stories of different women did an excellent job in showing the theme of a child as a “blessing.” Overall, the paper made me wonder how this theme does not seem to be reflected in wealthier populations. I feel as though a wealthier population views an unplanned child as getting in their way when trying to achieve personal success. It would be interesting to interview women of a wealthier status and compare their responses with those of the population interviewed in Seeman et al.

  12. Thank you for your post! It gave some valuable insight into the readings and posed some interesting questions as well. By far the most interesting article this week for me was Dr. Seeman’s ethnographic article for reasons that I outlined in my midterm essay and you mention in your last article. After a lot of careful deliberation, I have realized how much emphasis we give to using religious or theological accounts of an individual to explain a decision; however, for a decision as important and personal as having a child, considering each man, woman, or couple and the local moral world around that individual is very important. I also found it to be optimistic and cheerful that the African-American mothers studied in the sample described their children as a “blessing” whether they considered themselves religious or not.

    Also, Kevin’s comment about how only mothers pass mitochondrial DNA is an interesting one that I have considered before. Although it is argued in many of the readings and examples that Rothman uses that consanguineal kinship is of primary importance, mothers do pass on more DNA to their children if both chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA are considered, and it is surprising to me that I don’t hear this argument being used more frequently by today’s feminists. On a separate note, I found Rothman’s view on surrogacy to unique, but I disagree with most of the points she brings up. Rothman sees surrogacy as another way for men to control and dominate women, but most women today choose to use surrogacy by their own will to have a child. I would therefore say that Rothman’s ideas have not withstood the test of time, and it would be difficult to find such arguments used by a modern feminist.

  13. Hi Paige,

    Thank you for your post. Very informative, concise, and interesting. I think you put some extra though into it, and interjected your opinion smoothly and appropriately. The paper that we read was very intense in my view and hit a lot of strong points that I believe feminist would echo as of today. One of the points that many other people have brought up is the argument that surrogacy is a way for men to control and dominate women, which I just disagree with like many of my classmates Women use surrogacy now willingly to be able to have the ability to have their own child. Like many other people posting blogs, I do think that although a moral decision is usually based around religion or theological accounts, it is very important to be able to look at individual cases to access true morality and how the situation should be handled. Dr. Seemans ethnography (again like most others) was the most interesting for me. I think it introduced me to accounts that I have not previously been introduced to before. I have not been around unplanned pregnancy before and haven’t really thought of how the situation would work, but this gave some insight on at least one population of the United States, again that I am not apart of. I think when looking at policy changes and determining right or wrong, these personal accounts should have just as much weight, if not more than logical accounts. As an economics person, I have learned many times that there is a difference of what something is in practice and what something is in theory.

  14. Paige,
    Thank you so much for an excellent blog post. I appreciate that you analyzed each of the readings not just by providing a synopsis, but also backing that up with a personal interpretation as well. In my first reading of the Rothman paper, I did not consider the religious undertones of her article, as you point out. In the context of Rothman’s conclusion, I think your final question is quite poignant. While her agency argument is still compelling, I believe that in the landscape of the modern day, women have more agency now than ever. I once heard a trailer for a podcast about a gay couple whose neighbor served for them as a surrogate mother. Adoption was not a viable option for them because of the million bureaucratic hoops they had to jump through, and this woman enjoyed being pregnant but was not in a situation in which she was financially stable enough to support another child. This woman expressed her agency to give the greatest gift she could to these deserving people (according to her perspective). While this example seems on one hand, to fall right into Rothman’s trap of men exerting their privilege of patriarchy to essentially buy a child from a woman, I see this situation in quite a different light. This is an example of a woman deciding to bear a child, on her own accord, because she desires to, for the sake of being in a state of joy herself and to provide a gift because she wants to.
    And, despite your pointing out the religious undertones of Rothman’s argument, this whole discussion of surrogacy through a feminist lens is largely independent of religion as a primary player in the debate. So, I wonder about today, in contrast with 1992; what are both the feminist and religious pro-surrogacy arguments? See you tomorrow!

  15. It was interesting reading about how Rothman identifies as a feminist yet opposes surrogacy. However, her argument against surrogacy about women just being “fertile land” and promoting a patriarchal society is hard to see, though I agree with some of her argument that surrogacy may promote class differences.
    In addition, like you pointed out, she mentions that reproductive technology is perceived as a threat to “the family and natural order”. I agree with your point that this seems very hypocritical with her feminist perspective, and it is hard to see differences between her argument and those made from a religious standpoint. I was also thinking that because the paper is so old, we must take that into consideration. I would argue that she is something of a second-wave feminist, and women rights advocates of today would disagree with her viewpoints.
    The Ramsey and Smith arguments you provided were interesting because to me, both their viewpoints seemed to be making the same argument, that a child must be a part of an equal relationship (most likely marriage), which is considered parenthood.

  16. Hey hey Paige,

    Wonderful job hitting the high points of the readings and using them to effectively flow into your thoughts and interpretations. I think the Seeman article is a great place to bring up this idea that cultures are not monoliths and that if debates are going to stem from a place of “culture” or “religious ethic” then it must be done so with the understanding that this is either a personal determinant and may not necessarily reflect a cannon policy or vice versa- which is why I do agree that ethnography does have a role in public policy- but to what degree? Let’s take the Rothman argument which seems to have two important predicates: the existence of a “modified patriarchy” and the idea that the collective conscious is running into some great, new beyond it is having to tackle (1600). At twenty some odd years old I’m not questioning that both of these predicates were true, but I am asking if they are true currently. An argument can be made that some modified patriarchy still exists in one form or another, but let’s say that we have moved on to a perfect world and the collective consciousness has come to terms with each parent having an equal and fair stake in reproduction, does her argument still hold true? If we are then basing policy on personal argumentation- or the aggregation of argumentation- then does the exist an academic duty to “check in” with these people to see if their stance still holds. Unlikely doctrine decisions such as Donum Vitae which are unlikely to be changed, so much of the ethnographic data is based off a lived experience which is a more volatile thing (comparatively, I will admit that lived experiences are fairly stable on the yearly level but with as little as one generation we see the lived experience changing massively). As such, to answer one of your questions, we can say the existence of a contemporary American patriarchy is rooted in religious text and values, but in determining what is maintaining such views in a society where this idea of spirituality, individuality, and autonomy permeate is a much, much harder question and is one where the answer might not be the same 15 years from now, though the problem may persist.

  17. Hi Paige! Thanks for your great overview of the readings for this week. I particularly enjoyed Dr. Seeman’s article and found it really fascinating. The idea that these women are viewing pregnancy as a favorable outcome of the unpredictability of their lives is interesting, as it totally subverts the “social pressure in favor of predictable action” like the shelter tries to instill in these women. In another class that I and many other students in our class are in, we just read a paper about HIV positive drug users and how they form their identities. One topic that was brought up often was one that was also cited as reason for babies as “blessings;” a baby/an HIV diagnosis was a key turning point and allowed individuals to reshape their lives and identities. The HIV diagnosis was often what made drug users pursue recovery, similarly to how these women used their pregnancies and children as a motivating factor to make positive changes in their lives.

  18. Hi Paige,
    Your blog post is incredibly well thought out and clear when discussing Rothman’s argument for surrogacy through her “feminist” view. I agree with her argument that reproductive technologies must be looked at through a woman’s perspective, especially since by understanding a female narrative is the only way in which to understand her complex conception of reproductive autonomy. However, I also agree with your view that Rothman’s arguments seem to challenge each other and challenge what we understand to be feminist thought. While she claims that her feminist thought is separate from religious thought that tends to be patriarchal, many of her arguments tend to be framed around ideas that portray surrogacy as adultery, betraying husbands, and that it threatens family social structure. These arguments line with Catholic beliefs of family structure and understanding of a relationship between a man and his wife. As a result, I felt that this diminished her arguments. I also found it very interesting what she considered a feminist perspective. To her, by having a child that is not your own, surrogacy took away a woman’s autonomy, but today the feminist view is seen that by not allowing the option to participate in surrogacy, it is this act that takes away a womans autonomy.

  19. Hi Paige!

    I thought you post was excellently well-written. Thank you for taking the time to flush out the arguments and provide an intelligent critique.

    One topic I wanted to specifically examine was in regards to Dr. Seeman’s article. You wrote about how pregnancy empowered these women, that “Being able to make a drastic change for oneself by attributing something like unplanned pregnancy as a “gift” cultivated impactful change…” (Santee). Furthermore, I’d like to highlight this from the reading: “Even women who did not use the language of blessing in our study often spoke about motherhood, planned or unplanned, as an avenue to better social support or decisions to escape debilitating personal relationships” (Seeman 46).

    My initial reaction to this was quite negative and rooted in a feminist viewpoint – the ethnography highlighted women finding support through family and services like Naomi’s house, and while that support helped the woman better her life and escape poor/abusive conditions, it seemed to only be offered *once* the woman entered into her fledgling identity of mother. Where were the services before the woman became a mother, where was the familial support? And if the support/service was there and the woman did not partake and then the child/’blessing’ was the wake-up call that instilled empowerment and confidence to the mother in some senses, why is that? Yes, the women in the house were young, most under 25yo, but I was shocked that the experience of becoming a mother (to people who weren’t planning or particularly excited about it) was what led the women to value themselves and feel special or ‘chosen’. While finding fulfillment in motherhood is valid and beautiful in my eyes, it should not be the only way through which a woman can find self esteem, and this ethnography and paper highlighted the cultural value that many women in Fargo, North Dakota held regarding motherhood: that to a woman, motherhood is one of many purpose/goal/ultimate fulfillment of a woman’s life and one is not fully a woman until one achieve’s motherhood.

    Thank you again for your post.


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