Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family—A Review

Mar 31, 2020 by

by Louise Perry, Quillette:

A review of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family by Sophie Lewis, Verso, 224 pages (May 2019) 

Why is it that when we grab for heaven—socialist or capitalist or even religious—we so often produce hell? I’m not sure, but it is so. Maybe it’s the lumpiness of human beings. What do you do with people who somehow just don’t or won’t fit into your grand scheme?

So writes Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, the most influential vision of a misogynist dystopia ever created. But Sophie Lewis, author of Full Surrogacy Now, has little time for Atwood. She is suspicious of the “‘universal’ (trans-erasive) feminist solidarity” that seems to be promised by the novel. In the fictional country of Gilead, women are valued for their reproductive capacities alone, while their social status is stripped away. This foregrounding of bodies, and what those bodies can do—or not do—seems to make Lewis uncomfortable, and she is not alone in that view. In 2018, Michael Biggs, Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford and Quillette contributor, was condemned as transphobic in a student newspaper for tweeting an image of several handmaids, captioned with the line: “But I told them I am non-binary.” The reality of sexual dimorphism apparent in The Handmaid’s Tale does not sit easily within contemporary feminist politics.

Lewis finds herself in a difficult situation. She has set out to write a book about pregnancy, but is determined not to refer directly to the class of people who can become pregnant. She pointedly avoids words like “women” and “mothers” and instead writes of “people who can gestate,” with only occasional lapses. “There can be no utopian thought on reproduction that does not involve uncoupling gestation from the gender binary” Lewis says in her introduction. It does not make for a promising start.

Full Surrogacy Now makes a feminist argument for, as the author puts it, “abolishing the family” by no longer attaching any importance to biological relationships between people. In such a world, all of us—all of us in the category of “people who gestate,” that is—act as surrogates to one another. No one “owns” the children they give birth to or provide genetic material for. None of us would be paid to act as surrogates, because no one in Lewis’s utopia would be paid for anything. As a Marxist feminist, she seeks to abolish not just the family, but capitalism too: “What if we reimagined pregnancy, and not just its prescribed aftermath, as work under capitalism—this is, as something to be struggled in and against toward a utopian horizon free of work and free of value?”

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