“Are Mothers Persons?”: Summarized and Analyzed in Terms of Subject(ivity) (4/4/11)

30 Sep

In Susan Bordo’s “As Mothers Persons?” she discusses the several aspects of women striving to be selves and always reduced to the position of subject in terms of pregnancy. She discusses three main topics: women’s rights being subordinate to the rights of their fetuses, that the fetus itself is hierarchized and deified in our culture, and that the fathers’ rights are more legitimate in court than the mothers’. All of these concerns stem from the human’s constant quest to be a “self” rather than a “subject.” “Perhaps one of the easiest ways to state this point is that we are all social animals, and one of the things we want from each other is social recognition” (Theory Toolbox, 43).

            Bordo first attacks the medical industry in revealing the results of several cases throughout the years, all of them inarguably showing a favor to the rights of the fetus over the rights of the mother. You can take this as a conflict of morality issues but I take it as more of a conflict of interest; it’s in the hospital’s best interest to keep the mother wary of her fetus condition because that probably means more pills and visits to the doctor. All of these relate directly to money in the hospital’s hands. “The doctrine of informed consent is in a very real sense, a protection of the subjectivity of the person involved… physicians performing unconsented-to treatment are legally guilty of battery” (Bordo, 74). In a very minimal sense, I can relate to this. The medical system does the same thing in terms of a person’s injury, just to a smaller scale. When you break your foot, as I recently have, the doctor’s will tell you that it’s “imperative to keep it up and stay off of it,” as well as hand you a bill in the same hand as the crutches that are inadequate due to your height. In a sense, the hospital makes you subordinate to your injury; gives your injury more rights than your own. All concurrent with money in their pockets, these physicians become angry when you visit a private practice. When you ask the private specialist if walking on your injury will lengthen your time in the cast and he says no, you smirk at the hospital employees and their planned panic. If a mother doesn’t have the right to do what she wants with her own body, then reproduction may as well be deemed a prison.

            Secondly, Bordo tackles the idea of the fetus being a social focal point and hierarchized among the masses, over the mother and the pregnancy process altogether. While I agree with that, I’d have to say that it’s sort of prescribed into our social structure. “There is no escape to some place of perfect freedom where we are untouched by culture,” (Theory Toolbox, 47). Within our structure, it’s natural for people to hold the fetus at a higher level than the mother for several reasons. The fetus is not only a growing and developing life that we can all watch in wonder, but there’s an undeniable amount of mystery and intrigue involved in the process of pregnancy/birth. This extends further in the prescribed thought that youth itself is valued to the point where its ambition has almost trumped wisdom in today’s world. So many people seem to be striving to be younger rather than older and more experienced; quite the horrifying testament to what life does to some people, but that’s beside the point. “The prospect of courts literally managing the lives of pregnant women and extensively intruding into their daily activities is frightening,” (Bordo, 81). This almost sounds like slavery or imprisonment for that matter. These several institutions of courts and hospitals are oppressing the rights of the mother on a daily basis, but I also don’t feel like this struggle applies to all women. I’ve known women that loved being able to conceive a child, and for the most part, willfully gave up a lot of these rights for the sake of their fetus. I think Bordo often dramatizes some of these instances to mean more than they really do.

            Lastly, Bordo discusses the fact that in most court and medical cases the rights have of the father have most often superseded not only the rights of the fetus but the mother as well. “Aeschylus has Apollo argue, pointing to the motherless Pallas Athene, who sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus, that the “true parent” is “he who mounts,” (Bordo, 89). This, as well as most of Greek and Roman mythology expresses a heightened level of misogyny. In other words, it’s completely ridiculous to say that conception can take place without the woman or that the man is the more important participant; the woman is carrying the baby! I was surprised Bordo never mentioned the female’s eggs once in her argument, but our little guys could do nothing unless there was an egg to accept and incubate the prospective fetus. Bordo may go too far, however, in attacking the father of a baby whose mother is on the fence about abortion. I think that a father can have just as much love and affection for a child, if not more in some cases, than the mother. “The only true loci of subjective experience are the men who (it is implied) have been so cruelly and unfairly excluded (by the “system”) from serving as “carriers.” It’s been “set up” that way, what’s a poor fellow to do?” (Bordo, 91). I sense some sarcasm in there; quite a bit at that. In the eyes of the medical and legal institutions, the father may have more rights or say in these matters. It’s wrongfully so that way, however, the father is undeniably less important in the process of pregnancy than the mother. So, even if the father is given a greater say in court, he’s hard-pressed not to be at the feet of the mother’s actions.

            So, in our quest to become “selves,” we are consistently subject to culture and the hegemonic cultural assumptions. There’s no question that women have been at the wrong end of several decisions, and I think Bordo presents an intriguing argument in “Are Mothers Persons?” I do feel, however, that as feminism expands and forces its way into every niche of life, feminists just reinforce the gender binary. I mean mass equality is almost a joke in my cynical eyes, but personally, I believe that women are equal to men. In terms of pregnancy, however, women have the ability to make the choices. If their husband is rational and intelligent, he will see the reasons for that.

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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Scholarly Essays/Responses


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