I just had the pleasure of Skype chatting with Kajsa Ekman, author of an important new book, Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self. Ekman is a Swedish cultural journalist and now author.
I reached out to Ms. Ekman after her book came out and after reading an interview where the majority of the discussion focused on the examination of prostitution in her book. I wanted to hear more of her thoughts on surrogacy, and she agreed to an interview. Her well-researched work on surrogacy confirms much of my own thinking and beliefs.
Lahl: Do you oppose all forms of surrogacy whether commercial or altruistic?
Ekman: Yes, I oppose all forms of surrogacy whether commercial or altruistic. First of all, altruistic surrogacy is mainly a smokescreen—it doesn’t exist in practice at a large scale. Surrogacy is an industry and in countries where only altruistic surrogacy is allowed, money is often given to women either under the table or through gifts and other incentives. Second of all, altruistic surrogacy is built on a very old patriarchal notion of women—that our bodies exist for others and that we should be happy to sacrifice ourselves without anything in return.
Lahl: How has your book been received in Sweden?
Ekman: The book has been well received in Sweden. It made several parties change their stand on surrogacy, and the Women’s Lobby in Sweden has read and supports the book. In fact, they are doing much of the work in Sweden to prohibit the legalization of surrogacy. Right now, surrogacy is not regulated in Sweden—neither legal nor illegal, though it seems unfortunately that legalization is on its way.
Lahl: In the U.S. we have many prominent feminist leaders and organizations who won’t take a position against surrogacy. In fact many are in favor of it as long as it’s regulated to protect the surrogate women. Why is this?
Ekman: You cannot be feminist and support surrogacy. You cannot be anti-racist and support surrogacy. You cannot even be a humanist and support surrogacy. This is a practice where the world’s richest are using women from poor countries and lower classes as breeders to produce genetic children for the upper classes. I think many feminists who support surrogacy haven’t really thought about what it implies: a return to the beginning of patriarchy, where women are mere breeders.
In some twisted way, feminists are called to hail the idea of women not feeling anything for the children they give birth to, as if this would be a proof that motherhood is socially constructed. This is a very superficial analysis. It fails to see that what is happening in surrogacy is that the rich Western men (and women) are given the right to satisfy every sentimental whim, at the expense of the birthmothers, who are not supposed to have feelings at all, only produce and walk away. In the media, we are supposed to feel for the rich couples, suffer with their childlessness, rejoice with their happiness—nobody talks about their feelings as being socially constructed!
Lahl: What about people who say they have a “right to a child”?
Ekman: Well, there is no UN convention stating that everyone has the right to have children. And there is definitely no convention stating that everyone has a right to white newborn children produced by women who then must be absent from the child’s life.
Even if I, being a mother myself, can understand the longing for children, desire is not the same thing as a human right. The fallacy is that people equate “having children,” which is a very general idea, with the very specific demand of genetically related newborns with no mothers.
Lahl: I maintain that this is buying and selling children. Do you agree?
Ekman: It is baby trade! The woman is being paid to have and surrender a child. When the child is handed over, she receives the money. How can that not be baby selling?
Lahl: What is the solution?
Ekman: We need to stop this industry before it becomes a big monster like prostitution is. We are already seeing trafficking for surrogacy. Surrogacy is prostitution’s little sister and we can still halt the development. The goal should be to stop it, not control or regulate it. No woman should have to have a child if she doesn’t want it herself. No children should be bought and sold.
I am pleased to be able to offer Ms. Ekman’s book, Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self, along with a copy of our film Breeders: A Subclass of Women? together for $24.99 + S&H (quantities are limited, order soon).
- Jennifer Lahl is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.