The patriarchal ideology postulates motherhood within marriage as a fundamental institution for women by essentialising and naturalising their feminine identity in terms of their sexual, procreative and nurturing role. In others words, It assumes and expects, as Andrea O’Reilly (2016) says that “all women want to become mothers and that maternal desire is innate to all women”. Barbara K. Rothman attempts to show the dualistic patriarchal reflections on motherhood in her book, Recreating Motherhood, by pointing out that in a patriarchal society women are seen as mothers of men’s children rather than men being seen as the children of women. Rothman (1989, 15) states that “Men control women as daughters, much as they control their sons, but they also control women as the mothers of men’s children. It is women’s motherhood that men must control to maintain patriarchy”. These socially assigned roles or identity markers lead to the perpetuation of the conviction that women are sexually different from men and their fulfilment lies primarily in heterosexual relations within prescribed maternal practices.
Feminists around the world found this essentialist interpretation of a woman’s biology unfit and an obstacle to her freedom. They attempted to separate mother work from gestation in which technology can be a helping hand for women if you use it carefully. They think that mother work should be a collective effort done by family and society together. Simone de Beauvoir (2009) in her seminal text, The Second Sex, first published in French in 1949, presents the distinction between ideological understanding and lived experience of motherhood to show that a woman is not born but becomes a woman. She traces the emergence of the patriarchal definition of women in biological, historical and cultural forces that uses the term ‘womb’ as a substitute for being women. De Beauvoir defines women’s embodied subjectivity as situated bodies whose primary and prescribed sex role is to perpetuate the species. She begins her book by raising the question what is it to be a woman? In her attempt to answer this question, de Beauvoir (2009, 21) says, “Woman? Very simple, say those who like simple answer: she is a womb, an ovary; she is a female: this is word enough to define her”.
Patriarchy projects women’s body and maternal functions as their essence which is a situation and ambiguous by nature. De Beauvoir (2009, 45) argues, “I refuse the idea that [the biological facts] form a fixed destiny for her. They do not suffice to constitute the basis for a sexual hierarchy… they do not condemn her forever after to this subjugated role”. Showing the ambiguity of motherhood, she claims, Pregnancy and motherhood are experienced in very different ways depending on whether they take place in revolt, resignation, satisfaction or enthusiasm (de Beauvoir 2009, 546). She suggests that the child should not be the only limit of a woman’s horizon. It is necessary for mothers to have the right and freedom to engage in a public realm outside mother-care work. She says most of the time that maternal choices are not a result of conscious decision-making that leads women to live in self-delusion, that is an inauthentic life. She was hopeful about the rapid technological growth that can eliminate masculine supremacy and lead the path for women’s freedom from biological boundaries. She believes that technological discoveries are crucial for women’s bodily independence and free maternal choices. Supporting artificial insemination, de Beauvoir (2009, 141) further claims that:
With the artificial insemination, the evolution that will permit humanity to master the reproductive function comes to completion. These changes have tremendous importance for woman in particular; she can reduce the number of pregnancies and rationally integrate them into her life, instead of being their slave.
Nevertheless, technologies cannot solve all our problems on their own. De Beauvoir was not naive of the fact that the technologies that can help women to gain freedom and choices can also be used as a tool against them. De Beauvoir says, “… in a male dominated world, a male backlash is only to be expected. Men will use it as an additional means of applying pressure” (Schwarzer 1984, 68). Such Beauvoirian insight regarding technological hope and dangers was further developed by many feminist thinkers.
In a similar vein, Firestone (1970) in her work, The Dialectic of Sex, argues about the need for the use of artificial reproduction in order to seize control over human’s ‘tyranny of reproduction’. Firestone (1970, 10-11) strongly claims that:
The elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and seizure of control of reproduction: not only the full restoration to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their (temporary) seizure of control of human fertility—the new population biology as well as all the social institutions of childbearing and childrearing…the reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would be born to both sexes equally, or independently of either…the tyranny of the biological family would be broken.
Inspired by Karl Marx and Engels’s class dialectics, Firestone (1970, 4) has emphasised that sex class oppression and biological conditions of reproduction make women dependent on men. Feminists must not only question this cultural interpretation but the organisation of culture itself, its nature. According to her, thus, the primary purpose of the feminist movements should not only be the elimination of male privilege but “the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally” (Firestone 1970, 11). She shares the idea with de Beauvoir that women’s nature, such as pregnancy, parturition, gestation and childbirth functions, limit them from other activities and space is deleterious for their freedom which can only be changed by using technology; artificial insemination and artificial inovulation are already reality. Choice of sex of the foetus, test-tube fertilization…are just around the corner…scientists are working on the development of an artificial placenta…virgin birth—could be developed very soon (Firestone 1970, 179). Noticeably, at the same time, she cautions that any changes cannot be successful without social transformation in terms of gender, kinship and marriage. She has insisted that (reproductive) technology alone can never ‘liberate’ social relations, rather would be more likely to further subjugate women than to liberate them. She has explicitly depicted the chaos done by cloning, atom bomb and LSD (Frankin 2010, 35). In her view, both science and technology are contradictory and dynamic by nature and essential for human development, but they themselves are unable of creating “the imaginative constructions that preceded by several centuries the corresponding technological acumen” (Frankin 2010, 155). It thus remains important to ask how social structures produce technology and give meaning to technological inventions before their use and implementation. It is undeniable as Sara Frankin notes that Firestone is one of the few feminists who discussed and took the emerging reproductive biology, its implications for women, birth control and conceptive technology and related issues to the greater extent (Frankin 2010, 32).
Adrienne Rich is a feminist thinker who has made a comprehensive attempt to debunk the ideology of patriarchal motherhood that is significant to discuss. In her book, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, Rich (1976) has provided two different meanings of motherhood—motherhood as a potential relationship refers to women’s capacity to procreate, giving birth, its lived experience, whereas motherhood as an Institution aims mothering practices through prescribed social norms and regulations employed to control women and ensure the dominance of men within patriarchal power structures (Rich 1976, 13). Like de Beauvoir, she emphasises inherent ambivalence in motherhood; it can be a matter of joy, frustration, dedication, irritation and love for mothers. Similarly, there is always a conflicting situation between child love and freedom to choose her life. As Rich (1976, 15) says, “anxiety, physical weariness, anger, self-blame, boredom, and division within myself: a division made more acute by the moments of passionate love, delight in my children’s spirited bodies and minds, amazement at how they went on loving me in spite of my failures”. At the same time, Rich (1976, 42) observes that the institution of motherhood forms conditions, rules and regulations under which women’s choices are created and decide that needs woman’s maternal self instead of her inelegance. In this way, she has illustrated many stark differences between the experience and institution of motherhood that played a significant role in order to attain emancipation from the patriarchal trap. Thus, Rich’s work provides clear ground to analyse the concept of motherhood and the reason behind women’s subordination. Such maternal concepts are crucial for patriarchal discourses about women as they structure their life-world by locking women’s identity in maternity and coercing them to perform the maternal role as their destiny.
Another leading Feminist philosopher of her time, Sara Ruddick (1989) in her publication, Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, engages with the idea of mother work and birthing. She argues that women should not be identified by their biological essentialism, relation with children and family but rather the ‘work’ they produce and contribute to society. For Ruddick (1989, 211), birthing and mothering are two distinct activities that should not be merged:
I do not believe that any one relationship between birthgiving and mothering is mandated by morality or nature. What I do believe that to divide new life from the life on which it depends—the hope and aims of a particular woman—is to violate the connectedness symbolized by birth and aimed for in maternal nurturance and nonviolence.
According to her, any society should not be gender-biased towards women’s biology. Similar to de Beauvoir and Rich, Ruddick (1989, xi) claims that maternity is not an essence of women, but rather a mixed sentiment, “Maternal love itself is a mix of many feeling, among them: infatuation, delight, fascination, pride, shame, guilt, anger and loss”. She further argues that it is not only women who can be a mother but men, lesbians and celibate participate in the act of mothering. And therefore, mothering should be attached to women or seen as natural to them. In this way, Ruddick has emphasised genderless mothering which is separate from birthing. However, it is not wrong to say that birthing is a natural phenomenon for a woman, but the act of pregnancy, birth and lactation are independent of other maternal work and measured by the life of one child, and are brief episodes in years of mothering (Ruddick 1989, 48). She further talks about the technology in a brief where she understands reproductive technology as a way to intrude on and exploit women’s bodies in unprecedented ways (Ruddick 1989, 48-49):
It is increasingly clear that the envy that lies behind the minimalisazation of birth fuels a technocratic and legal apparatus able to intrude on and exploit women’s bodies in a unprecedented ways…even if it becomes technological possible to produce children without women’s bodies, women ova will be intrusively and not painlessly extract for extrauterine reproduction.
Through these words, Ruddick has shown the danger behind the technological use and abuse for women that further created a possibility to understand the ideology of motherhood independent from mother work and opens up the door for maternal labour. In this way, the writings of these leading feminist thinkers have provided the platform and encouraged to think birthing distinct from mothering as a choice-based job to contribute to the family and society economically, its complexities and issues. In the next section, I have tried to engage their writings with the Indian problem of surrogate mothers within the framework of patriarchy to understand how much this choice-based job is emancipatory for them under the changing meaning of birth and mothering.