Stratified Reproduction

Posted by Gina Maranto, Biopolitical Times guest contributor August 3, 2011
Biopolitical Times

In a slim new volume, Outsourcing the Womb: Race, Class, and Gestational Surrogacy in a Global Market (Routledge, 2011), France Winddance Twine provides multiple accounts of the ways in which racism, classism, and colorism permeate the international market for wombs and gametes. For example, Twine cites the story of a Japanese woman who backs out of a surrogacy arrangement when she learns that the gestational mother, whom she had selected on the basis of her profile and skin color, is Korean. And there is the case of the black woman seeking IVF services who is "policed" in her choices by white doctors who insist it would be "inappropriate" for her to use "white" sperm if "black" sperm were available in the bank. Or the admission of the white, would-be surrogate who tells a researcher that she would carry "a Japanese baby or a Chinese baby because they are white to me," but says that "to give birth to a Black child would add one more controversial aspect to my life and I'm not ready to be on the front page of the National Enquirer" (p. 25).

Twine, a University of Santa Barbara sociologist who has written extensively on whiteness, gender, and racism, argues that such stories have too often been neglected by the press and even by scholars who engage in analyses of gestational surrogacy, and takes it as her brief to reframe the study of this global enterprise in terms of the concept of "stratified reproduction" first advanced by ethnographer Shellee Cohen in her study of West Indian migrant workers in New York. Twine sees gestational surrogacy as "embedded in a transnational capitalist market that is structured by racial, ethnic, and class inequalities and by competing nation-state regulatory regimes" (p. 3). Only some women and couples can afford surrogacy, and in most countries, it is only poor women who are the providers of the desired commodity.