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Reproductive Technology

Anne Dalke's picture

Alicia Kaestli, in the MIT course on Gender and Technology,

reads Shelly’s text as a comment on reproductive technology.... This theme is similar to feminist’s opinion on reproductive technology in the 1980s and 1990s...  initially uncertain of the effects of reproductive technology.... "patriarchal control of women’s’ bodies achieved through medicine.” Nevertheless, there was enthusiasm in the feminist field about the use of reproductive technologies ....

Juliann Reardon followed the same theme:

Shelley’s text leads into this week’s readings on reproductive technologies. Murphy’s analysis brings to the forefront the dream of Frankenstein - that life can be created without a woman's nurture and help in development. She warns of the ill effects in the end that can become of life created without women... to try to create life without women demonstrates the control that men would like to have over reproduction ....



Amophrast's picture

Conceiving a Creature

So is Emmy like a kind of female Victor? She is a woman who attempted to create life without the help of a some extent. Whereas she had her partner's sperm and he did help her physically conceive, Emmy rejected the motheristic tendencies  that her partner displayed. Through her connection to technology, Emmy was able to birth Ada. There doesn't seem to be negative effects to life created without men, though there is the fact to consider that Emmy's partner was incredibly emasculated by Emmy. So in comparison (to the novel), can Emmy truly be seen as a "woman" in this situation when her profit comes in part by a weakening of/lack of men?

I tried searching for a version of Frankenstein with a female Victor and found this:,

In this case, the creature is created accidentally as a part of stem cell research. This seems relevant especially when considering the different controversies surround stem cell research as related to reproduction/where the stem cells are required from.

In general, I do not seem the same conclusions being made in these posts when sex/gender differs

MissArcher2's picture

Born of woman?

 I completely agree with tangerines' reading of Frankenstein as an exposition of the "hardship, loneliness, and sense of abandonment" surrounding motherhood and childbearing. It's definitely relevant that childbearing was both routinely life-endangering and a woman's only option which, once she married, she had no control over. But I want to try to bridge the gap between this view and spreston's reading, which sees Frankenstein as a warning against creating life in an atypical manner. 

In first reading the excerpt of Juliann Reardon's post, my mind jumped immediately to Macbeth, in which it is said that no man born of woman can harm Macbeth. Since all men are born of women, Macbeth assumes that he's invincible, with ultimately leads to his downfall when a man delivered by Caesarean section (and thus not "born of woman") kills him. Here, as in Frankenstein, we see the consequences of reproductive technologies perceived as unnatural. This would seem to reinforce traditional notions of gender, as spreston suggests, if anything other than natural, traditional childbirth leads to unforeseen consequences. But I don't think recognizing that Frankenstein is about the importance of natural motherhood precludes the novel from also being about the struggles and hardships mothers and children often faced, as Shelley did herself. What she wanted most was to successfully bear and raise healthy children, thus placing great importance on natural childbearing processes, but that was also what she perceived to be her greatest failure, and so the concept was surrounded by heartbreak and dissociation from society for her. 

One thing is clear: Frankenstein was an intensely personal novel for Mary Shelley and any thread we try to follow from the novel will be magnified in Shelley's personal life. 

tangerines's picture

I’m interested by your post,

I’m interested by your post, spreston, because I had the opposite reaction. I think that for modern audiences (or at least our class), Frankenstein forces us to see exactly what’s wrong with gender binaries and closed-minded ways of thinking. The first time I read the book, years ago, I believed that the question the book asks was “Who is the real monster?” (i.e., the creature or Victor himself?). I do still think that the question is relevant, but I also think that Shelley blames society and its rigid codes for forcing the creature into the role of the monster. I don’t think Shelley was asking us to create a post-gender world; I don’t think she offered solutions at all. Instead, I think the “morals” (for lack of a better term) embedded in the story are meant to question commonly-held standards that we rarely consider, such as gender boundaries. And most importantly, I believe the novel wants us to ponder the true monstrosity of a society that privileges people based solely on appearance.

                In terms of reproductive technology… I’m fascinated by this reading of the novel. I agree that Frankenstein can be read as a book about motherhood/reproduction/the roles of the mother and the child, but I don’t think it’s a cautionary tale of what happens without a woman’s touch. Having done some (admittedly very limited) research on Shelley, her own experiences with reproduction and motherhood are quite depressing. Of the four children she had, only one of them lived into adulthood (the others died before they had reached three years old). Her own mother died ten days after giving birth to her, and Percy, her husband, left his first wife when she was still pregnant with his child. On top of this, Mary’s beloved father cut all ties with her when she refused to follow the rules of “proper” society.

                Basically, for Mary, as for many other women of the day, reproduction sucked. Childbearing wasn’t fun – it might kill you. Rearing children was also not an enjoyable enterprise, since you got attached to a child who would probably die. Motherhood in general, provided your kids survived infancy, wasn’t all that great since it was your only option as a woman. If you didn’t want kids, didn’t pay enough attention to them, or tried to be a mom while simultaneously (gasp) trying to do something else – you were a failure as a woman. Reproduction as a whole was an unpleasant affair inextricably linked with death as far as women were concerned, and the relationship between parent and child could be incredibly difficult. I honestly think that Frankenstein was a critique of the hardship, loneliness, and sense of abandonment surrounding mother and child. Keeping in mind the feminist readings we discussed, I reevaluated the passage where Victor first describes the creature he’s brought to life. Postpartum depression was not recognized in Shelley’s day – but this passage in the book makes me wonder whether Shelley herself suffered from it.


spreston's picture

In thinking about creating

In thinking about creating life without a woman in this response, the importance we attach to the typical creation of life by a man and a woman is really apparent.  Despite the efforts of many of our readings to erase binaries and to think of gender in the way typical of society, it is hard to think that life can be created without a woman.  Also, if thinking about Shelly's text as a comment on reproductive technology, it is much more of a warning against creating life in an atypical manner.  Is it possible for creatures created without a woman to become part of society?  In Frankenstein, we see that despite Victor's creature's abilities to survive on his own, it is completely impossible for him to become part of any social world.  This makes me wonder whether the "post-gender world" that Kathryn Vogel and m.aghazarian discuss in their posts is possible.  Even with Victor's creature and the Major, we see gender play an important role.  And as we saw in class with Anne's discussion of different readings of Frankenstein, the male-female gender roles were important in many.  

I think that rather than erasing gender binaries and advocating new reproductive technology, Frankenstein reinforces traditional notions of gender and makes me wonder what the consequences (as we saw Victor stress over this same thing) of using alternative reproductive technology are.

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