The battle for Baby M: Surrogate mother vs. semen owner

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The following column was printed in slightly altered form, in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 11 , 1987 in response to a previous column by Fredric Hayward, the misogynist director of Men’s Rights, Inc., which is a national anti-feminist organization headquartered in Sacramento, California.

Lift the demagogic rhetoric of Men’s Rights, Inc., about “fetal imperialism” and “feminist sexism” and you fwd the new face of the rightwing sexist who revels in contempt for women’s lives.

Using surrogate motherhood as a launching pad, “Me Woman, Baby Mine?” by Fredric Hayward (Chronicle, March 21) attacks the entire concept of women’s equality with men. Though the ideas are packaged by distorting feminist terms, the tired, old reactionary propaganda of “reverse discrimination” and women’s “natural” place as mothers on a pedestal above men pokes through.

Hayward’s assessment that the Baby M case—and the whole feminist movement for that matter—is about a woman’s prerogative to change her mind caricatures women as bubbleheads. The Baby M case is about a woman’s right to keep the baby she bears. But Hayward, along with Judge Sorkow in the Baby M case, defends the bigoted position that a workingclass woman’s right to her child is nullified by a well-to-do man’s power to control paternity and to rent or buy women’s bodies.

Hayward shares the view that women are incubators first, persons second. Poor women are economically coerced to rent their wombs, and whether women rent their bodies for nine months as surrogate mothers or for one evening as prostitutes makes no difference. In both cases the woman is the victim, not the guilty party.

It is an indictment of this society that women must exchange sexual and reproductive services for money under any circumstances.

Ms. Whitehead has every right to keep her baby, which she carried for nine months. If Mr. Stern wants to raise a child, he can adopt. But he insists on keeping Baby M to ensure his property is passed on to this biological heir.

Women’s right to control their bodies is fundamental to women’s equality. Hayward’s assertion that this right results in “colonizing” fetuses and a “chauvinistic attitude” toward children is ridiculous. The feminist movement, not misogynist men like Hayward, has linked demands for abortion, affirmative action. comparable worth and childcare—al necessary reforms to enable women to support themselves and care for the children they choose to bear.

Hayward has the whole rightwing agenda down pat. In addition to his opposition to women controlling their bodies, he blames working mothers for ignoring their “latchkey” children and claims comparable worth will allow women to make too much money for the menial jobs they hold. Hayward also makes it appear that white men suffer “reverse discrimination” because of women’s gains, meager as they are. In fact, women and people of color still make far less money and are ghettoized in the most demanding, grueling jobs. How can a women provide for her children and herself without equal access to decent jobs, quality childcare and comparable pay? She can’t.

And herein lies the web Hayward and his ilk weave for women; paternity rights are sovereign; women should be at home attending to the children; and if women do have the gall to get a job, they should not be paid too much because that just makes them uppity and independent.

Yet another part of this calculated effort to reduce women to chattel is the right wing’s continued violent assault on abortion rights through clinic bombings, harassment and vandalism.

The anti-abortionists simultaneously demand higher birth rates for white babies, and force sterilization on vast numbers of women who are poor, Native American, Puerto Rican, Chicana, Latina, Asian American or Black to permanently wrest control of their bodies from them.

The “pro-life” rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement dovetails nicely with Hayward’s rhetoric of “feminist sexism.” Both are cynical covers for keeping women and children owned body and soul by the masculine Head of the Household.

Keeping women barefoot, pregnant, watching the kids, doing the housework, and out of the job market. Baby-making machines for hire, with an agency for skimming two-thirds of the profits from a surrogate mother, is only the latest twist in women’s exploitation. Women have historically been used as a reserve pool of workers, employed when needed and unemployed, working long hours with no pay in the home, when the economy takes a nose dive.

But the majority of women do not willingly give up jobs and self-sufficiency for isolation in the home, in spite of rightwing ideology, including that of Men’s Right, Inc., which saturates the media with the message that “real women” just want to be wives and mothers.

The truth is “real women” want freedom from sexist stereotypes and the right to make their own decisions. And “real men” do not organize against women’s equality. They join with female feminists to help defend abortion clinics and patients against dangerous physical assaults and bombings. They fight for childcare, comparable worth, gay rights, funding for AIDS research, food and shelter for the homeless, medical care for all, an end to racist attacks and for union victories. And by doing so they prove that we can all live together as equal human beings.

The profit system depends on the subjugation of women, people of color and workers. Conversely, freedom for all can be realized when the ion rule over humanity by economic wealth is replaced by a democratic, socialist economic system, organized to serve people rather than to be served by them. This is the only answer to the entrenched sexism and racism of today’s society—a society which will even slap a price tag on a baby and sive its mother the “choice” of selling her child to provide for her family.

Mr. Hayward: Feminism is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago. Rewrapped bigotry just won’t sell.

Constance Scott is the National Radical Women organizer. She lives in San Francisco, works as a clerical for the phone company, and is a member of Communication Workers of America, Local 9410.

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