QotD: “The World Health Organisation’s new definition of infertility enshrines a man’s right to do to women what patriarchy has always done to them – own their bodies”
[All] feminists – and indeed anyone serious about tackling patriarchy at the root – should be deeply concerned about the World Health Organisation’s new definition of infertility. Whereas up until now infertility has been defined solely in medical terms (as the failure to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected sex), a revised definition will give each individual “a right to reproduce”.
According to Dr David Adamson, one of the authors of the new standards, this new definition “includes the rights of all individuals to have a family, and that includes single men, single women, gay men, gay women”:
“It puts a stake in the ground and says an individual’s got a right to reproduce whether or not they have a partner. It’s a big change.”
It sure is. From now on, even single men who want children – but cannot have them solely because they do not have a female partner to impregnate – will be classed as “infertile”. I hope I’m not the only person to see a problem with this.
I am all in favour of different family structures. I’m especially in favour of those that undermine an age-old institution set up to allow men to claim ownership of women’s reproductive labour and offspring.
I am less enthusiastic about preserving a man’s “right” to reproductive labour regardless of whether or not he has a female partner. The safeguarding of such a right marks not so much an end to patriarchy as the introduction of a new, improved, pick ‘n’ mix, no-strings-attached version.
There is nothing in Adamson’s words to suggest he sees a difference between the position of a reproductively healthy single woman and a reproductively healthy single man. Yet the difference seems obvious to me. A woman can impregnate herself using donor sperm; a man must impregnate another human being using his sperm.
In order to exercise his “right” to reproduce, a man requires the cooperation – or failing that, forced labour – of a female person for the duration of nine months. He requires her to take serious health risks, endure permanent physical side-effects and then to supress any bond she may have developed with the growing foetus. A woman requires none of these things from a sperm donor.
This new definition of infertility effectively enshrines a man’s right to do to women what patriarchy has always done to them: appropriate their labour, exploit their bodies and then claim ownership of any resultant human life.
Already it is being suggested that this new definition may lead to a change in UK surrogacy law. And while some may find it reassuring to see Josephine Quintavalle of the conservative pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics complaining about the sidelining of “the biological process and significance of natural intercourse between a man and a woman”, that really isn’t the problem here.
“How long,” asks Quintavalle, “before babies are created and grown on request completely in the lab?” The answer to this is “probably a very long time indeed”. After all, men are hardly on the verge of running out of poor and/or vulnerable women to exploit. As long as there are female people who feel their only remaining resource is a functioning womb, why bother developing complex technology to replace them?
Men do not have a fundamental right to use female bodies, neither for reproduction nor for sex. A man who wants children but has no available partner is no more “infertile” than a man who wants sex but has no available partner is “sexually deprived”.
The WHO’s new definition is symptomatic of men’s ongoing refusal to recognise female boundaries. Our bodies are our own, not a resource to be put at men’s disposal. Until all those who claim to be opposed to patriarchal exploitation recognise this, progress towards gender-based equality will be very one-sided indeed.
A Playboy model who used social media to shame a woman at her gym was charged with invasion of privacy by the Los Angeles city prosecutor on Friday, just three months after her Snapchat post mocked the 70-year-old.
The charge was filed against Dani Mathers, a 29-year-old model, on Friday afternoon for secretly photographing a naked woman at her gym “with the intent to invade the privacy of that other person”, according to the complaint.
In July Mathers shared the photo with thousands of followers on Snapchat, with the caption: “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either.”
Mathers eventually apologized in a video, saying the public posting was accidental: “That was absolutely wrong and not what I meant to do.”
“I know that body shaming is wrong,” she added. “That is not the type of person I am.”
The gym, LA Fitness, revoked her membership and banned her from all its locations. At the time its executive vice-president, Jill Greuling, called Mathers’ actions “appalling” and the gym reported the post to Los Angeles police, who said they began an investigation into “illegal distribution” of the photo.
“While body shaming, in itself, is not a crime,” city attorney Mike Feuer in a statement, “there are circumstances in which invading one’s privacy to accomplish it can be. And we shouldn’t tolerate it”.
“Body shaming is humiliating, with often painful, long-term consequences,” he added. “It mocks and stigmatizes its victims, tearing down self-respect and perpetuating the harmful idea that our unique physical appearances should be compared to air-brushed notions of ‘perfect’.”
Tom Mesereau, Mathers’ attorney, told the Guardian on Friday that his client never intended to violate privacy law. “I am very disappointed that Dani Mathers was charged with any violation,” he said in a statement. “She never tried to invade anyone’s privacy and never tried to break any law.”
Mathers faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor count of invasion, and she is scheduled for arraignment on 28 November.
Earlier this year a California court ruled that a Snapchat secretly taken of a teenager, apparently masturbating in a bathroom stall, was an illegal invasion of privacy. Civil rights attorneys have largely agreed that, under California law, photography or filming without consent in a bathroom is a violation of the “reasonable expectation of privacy”.
Taking that photograph was “a flagrant violation of privacy law”, explained Danielle Keats Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland who specializes in privacy and cyber law. “Naked in the bathroom – it’s uncontested.”