New Technology Requires New Ideas, Scholar Says

New advances in reproductive technologies have created the need for a feminist analysis of mainstream America's reproductive consciousness, a leading feminist scholar said yesterday.

The arrival of new reproductive technologies--such as in vitro fertilization and embryo transplantation--requires feminists to discuss the language and values involved in how society perceives reproduction, said Isabel Marcus, a professor of law at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

"Talking about [reproductive consciousness] presupposes that we understand its importance," she said to the predominantly female audience of fifty in Radcliffe Yard. Marcus added that language itself offered a "means to challenging the status quo."

Marcus said cases such as the highly publicized "Baby M" custody trial reveal how traditional terms such as "mother" and "father" are quickly becoming inapplicable to many contemporary families.

"Modifying traditional terms, changing them from culturally acceptable ones, will be hard, and at best, likely to be resisted," she said.


Feminist jurisprudence concerning reproduction must often be argued in the language of the status quo, even though the new debate requires its own vocabulary, Marcus said, adding that she believed the current legal system would only offer "modest adaptation."

Marcus criticized the "elevation of the fetus in American society." Legal discourse on the fetus, Marcus said, helps perpetuate the view of the fetus as the victim of an intruding woman desiring an abortion.

The growing popularity of alternative reproductive techniques has also strengthened "traditional American sex, class and gender roles," said Marcus.

Problems of New Technology

Marcus said she was also disturbed by the "privileging of heterosexuality by the new reproductive technologies." The new technology, she said, is not being extended to the homosexual population. Marcus cited a British study revealing that most doctors believed "intuitively" that a baby would be better off in a traditional family.

"Explaining the ideologies underlying the new reproductive technologies will help us think about what feminists have to do," Marcus said.

Marcus' speech is part of a series of lectures sponsored by the Bunting Institute, a post-doctoral research center for women. Marcus is one of forty women scholars chosen to study at Radcliffe College this year.