By Katie Gentile
In her recent book Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films, Kelly Oliver reminds us that, until fairly recently, Hollywood made sure to keep pregnant celebrities out of sight. These days, you cannot pass a magazine stand without being visually assaulted by images of celebrity baby bumps. Neil Patrick Harris and Nicole Kidman with Keith Urban have gone so far as to discuss their experiences with their respective surrogates. Other older female celebrities have discussed egg donation. What is still kept under wraps, however, is infertility and the repetitive failures of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs).
As with other forms of biotechnology, ARTs have become a normative part of women’s reproductive health care with a critical impact on women’s subjectivities (Mamo, 2010). Yet as these technologies have proliferated, feminist and cultural theories have taken up the challenges of theorizing the subjectivities produced through these interventions, but psychoanalysis has remained relatively mute, and certainly uncritical. The current issue of Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Volume 14, Number 4 addresses this gap. This issue of SGS is unique, not only because it is dedicated to ARTs, but also because it examines them from a variety of different perspectives and disciplines – focusing on cultural and feminist theories, sociology, and in-depth clinical case work. In a culture organised around ideals of ‘reprofuturity’ (Halberstam, 2005) where some babies are objects of consumerism and fetish (Gentile, 2013), while others are cast aside as excessive (Oliver, 2012), ARTs take on particularly loaded meanings in the cultural and clinical spaces. This issue attempts to engage some of these representations to further their analysis.
The issue begins with my own interview-based research outlining “the business of being made.” The paper orients the reader not only to the technologies themselves, but to the cultural pressures surrounding the proliferation of these interventions. This climate is one marked by collapsed spaces for reflection and a narrow neoliberal focus on success at all costs. With older celebrities slinging biotech babies it is hard to remember 80% of IVF cycles will fail and the majority of people entering fertility clinics will not become pregnant. This paper also brings to light the potential for traumatic repetition in ARTs, in particular around sexual abuse.
In most ART stories the egg donors remain the anonymous secret, contributing to what some feel is a tenuous maternal subjectivity. To counter this, the issue features a paper by Michelle Leve focusing on the process of egg donation and the donors themselves. It explores ideas of subjectivity, choice and agency for these donors as well as the complicated political and economic issues surrounding the selling of eggs, and how they are ranked and valued based on the identified qualities of the donor. This paper is also based on interview data and provides a feminist cultural analysis of the practice of egg donation.
These papers set a cultural context for an in-depth psychoanalytic case study by Tracy Simon. Simon describes clinical work with a woman who struggled through 11 years of ART procedures until she succeeded in getting pregnant with a donated egg. Simon details the complicated experience of her patient, who felt feeling abducted by the donor egg, and wanted to evacuate herself of this very expensive and sought after nugget of life. André Lepecki, Stephen Hartman and Orna Guralnick deepen this case with their respective discussion papers. Each picks up on a different point of the case, from the assembled subjectivities involved in egg donation (Lepecki), to the unspeakable void involved in defining just what is viable (Hartman), to focusing on the potentially playful and generative potentials of ARTs (Guralnik).
Gentile, K. (2013). Biopolitics, trauma and the public fetus: An analysis of preconception care. Subjectivity, 6 (2): 153-172.
Halberstam, J. (2005). In a queer time & place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives. New York: New York University Press.
Mamo, L. (2010). Fertility, Inc.: Consumption and subjectification in U.S. lesbian reproductive practices. In Biomedicalization: Technoscince, health, and illness in the U.S. eds. A.E. Clarke, J.K. Shim, L. Mamo, J.S. Fosket, & J.R. Fishman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 173-196.
Oliver, K. (2012). Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood films. New York: Columbia University Press.
Katie Gentile is Associate Professor of Counseling and Director of the Gender Studies Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and on the Faculty of New York University’s Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. She is the author of Creating Bodies: Eating Disorders As Self-Destructive Resistance, and the forthcoming The Business of Being Born: Integrating Cultural and Psychoanalytic Theories to explore the production of temporalities in assisted reproductive technologies, both from Routledge. She is co-editor of the journal Studies in Gender and Sexuality and on the editorial board of Women’s Studies Quarterly. More information on the above mentioned issue of Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Volume 14, Number 4, can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hsgs20/current#.Uth8OGRDuyU.