Having come this far, it is time to discuss the problem of pregnancy.
There has been so much intelligent and provocative feminist analysis of pregnancy that I cannot hope to do the matter even the roughest justice. But I also cannot ignore it, so I’ll just have to content myself with a few observations here.
Pregnancy is an exclusively female experience. It’s also, at least as understood in many cultures, a profoundly important experience. And it is without parallel–it is simply not like anything else. (I reject the comment to an earlier post of mine on Feminist Law Prof that likened it to having a tape worm or a kidney stone.)
These aspects of pregnancy create twin perils. On the one hand, to ignore or devalue the unique aspects of pregnancy denies women full credit for their extraordinary contribution to the birth of a child. It creates a fallacious equality between men and women, for in this regard, men and women are not equal. To deny the importance of pregnancy to the question of parental status shortchanges women who experience pregnancy and birth.
At the same time, over-emphasizing the unique experience of pregnancy and birth carries its own risks. At times all women have been viewed as little more than potentially pregnant people, not capable of rationale thought or difficult work. And of particular importance to me here, over-emphasizing the importance of pregnancy and birth can make it impossible for any other person to assert a claim of parental status equal to that of the woman who gave birth.
My hope here is to steer a course between these perils. I recognize that there is something unique in the role a pregnant woman plays in the period before the birth of a child. I would recognize the importance of pregnancy by giving her a claim to parental status at the time the child is born. (I make no statement here about whether she is the only person who can make such a claim at the time of birth.) But as soon as the child is born others are equally able to assume parental roles, to nurture the infant. And so others can become parents–equal parents– of the child. As the pregnancy is completed the woman who was pregnant carries no advantage forward into the future.
-Julie Shapiro (cross posted to Related Topics)