Full Surrogacy Now:
Feminism Against Family
by sophie lewis
verso, 224 pages, $26.95
Now that Western elites have agreed that abortion is legitimate and that transgender people deserve unqualified acceptance, ultra-woke theorists need to transcend even these ideas to appear transgressive.
Perhaps this explains Sophie Lewis's Full Surrogacy Now, recently published by Verso Books. Lewis argues that we should abolish the biological family and foster a world of “gestational communism.” According to Lewis, reproduction is merely a kind of work (fetuses being parasites that unconsciously inflict violence on women), and therefore there is no substantive difference between pregnancy and surrogacy. Her book calls for reimagining all “baby-making” as surrogacy, retiring the notion that parents have special emotional ties to their biological offspring, and moving toward a utopian society in which we take collective responsibility for children. She writes,
Pregnancy is not something society as a whole tends to question. Surrogacy, on the other hand, is hotly contested. Yet we can readily perceive that all that really separates the two is the possibility of a wage...Let’s hold one another hospitably, explode notions of hereditary parentage, and multiply real, loving solidarities. Let us build a care commune based on comradeship, a world sustained by kith and kind more than by kin.
Contra Lewis, the differences between pregnancy and surrogacy go far beyond remuneration, given that most mothers and fathers love their children and are dedicated to their children’s interests. But Lewis dislikes the idea that biological parents have a special attachment to their own progeny.
She dismisses the importance of genetics, pointing out that parents' genes are “scrambled” in their newborn child. Yet the material constituents being “scrambled” are still important. Moreover, there is a mystical connection between parent and child, expressed throughout history, literature, art, and almost every indigenous cosmology. All those artists, writers, philosophers and—above all—mothers and fathers were and are wrong, Lewis says. They need a reproductive communist to tell them what they really feel.
“I do not call for a reduction in baby-making,” Lewis writes, but adds that she “seeks to land a blow against bourgeois society’s voracious appetite for private, legitimate babies.” What voracious appetite is she referring to? American fertility rates have never been so low. Birth control is ubiquitous, even though it is demonstrably harmful to women. Hundreds of thousands of abortions are performed every year. Lewis's patriarchal “bourgeois society” is an imaginary institution, a figment of the progressive imagination that combines features of America in the 1950s and Rome in the 1200s.
Lewis uses words like “comradely,” “solidarity,” and “polymaternal” quite often, yet presents a bleak and faceless vision of the future with unclaimed offspring and shapeless personal license. Birth itself—she approvingly quotes Mai'a Williams here—is “smelly, dirty, bloody, messy, bestial,” and often “for worse.” The mother-“fetus” bond, she says, has no inherent value, and was invented by patriarchal, white, capitalist devils to maintain power. Instead, our relations and interactions should be aimed at some communist ideal:
The fabric of the social is something we ultimately weave by taking up where gestation left off, encountering one another as the strangers we always are, adopting one another skin-to-skin, forming loving and abusive attachments, and striving at comradeship.
Lewis describes “bio-kin” living together as an irredeemable evil:
The yawning history of so-called “unassisted” bio-kin provides the statistics, poems, songs, pamphlets, and novels detailing the discomfort, coercion, molestation, abuse, humiliation, depression, battery, murder, mutilation, loneliness, blackmail, exhaustion, psychosis, gender-straitjacketing, racial programming, and embourgeoisement. The private family is the headquarters of all of these.
Of course, families in all eras have been troubled by abuse and exploitation. The darkness in man affects all his institutions. Does Lewis think there was no exploitation in tribes, or that abuse cannot exist in communes?
Lewis's plan to abolish the biological family also involves abolishing gender. She explains her derision for medieval concepts like “gender” and “being female” at the beginning of the book:
Some readers will probably have noticed by now that the terms “women” and “female” appear only infrequently in this text. The reason for that is simple: I feel there’s no call for them. The formulation “pregnant people” is just as good as the alternative “pregnant women, men, and non-binary people,” and it is more precise than “expectant mothers” or “pregnant women.” Precision is important, I firmly believe, because there can be no utopian thought on reproduction that does not involve uncoupling gestation from the gender binary.
Lewis sneers at “transphobes” who think that only “those already equipped with uteruses” are “real women.” If you’re into “women’s rights” you're missing the point, according to Lewis. We are all just victimized actors in a writhing power struggle, battling those who claim our bodies have any inherent purposes other than those we choose for them. At the end of the book, after railing against the damage and danger of giving birth, Lewis vaguely refers to her future commune where birth will be “distributed”—but she never answers the question of “how.” Perhaps she thinks it would be entirely voluntary. Communists have often overstated the extent to which the people will be in tune with their lofty goals. Let us hope that the dark vision of Full Surrogacy Now will serve as a wake-up call to unmoored liberals, reminding them that family structures, and the bonds between parents and their biological children, are not to be taken for granted.
Ben Sixsmith is a writer in Poland.
Paul Rowan Brian is a freelance journalist.
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