When I heard that an Australian social commentator called Jane Caro had compared “traditional” marriage to prostitution on the popular TV program Q&A, I thought, “Oh, here we go again!” That trope of feminist literature is almost as raddled as the raddled old feminists themselves. After pushing the marriage-as-slavery ideology for the last 40 years, can’t people like Caro come up with something more original?
Instead, when asked about prostitution, Caro gave us her weird dissertation on marriage as a form of prostitution, in which “room and board” are bartered for “sexual and reproductive services”. Jane, darling! Whether it was 500 years ago, 50 years ago or now, it’s called having a family.
But “children” was the one word Caro didn’t mention.
Caro contended that in a society where women are really only valued for their “sexual favours and ability to reproduce”, marriage is a form of prostitution. Well, I wish it were true that women were valued for their “sexual services and reproductive capacity”. If we were more valued, then we wouldn’t have a decline in marriage with the subsequent disaster of low fertility in the middle classes, and social mayhem for the growing numbers of children born of de facto relationships among the less well-educated.
There is nothing wrong with being valued for your sexual and reproductive capacity. In fact, it is a pity that in this society we don’t acknowledge that becoming a mother — and a father — is the most important thing any of us ever do. Sure, today we women have degrees and we work and we do all sorts of stuff. But deep down we know that it’s the mothering stuff that matters. And that means that there is an awful lot more to marriage than mere sexual barter, because without the fathering, the mothering is damn near impossible.
However Caro did make one valid point. She spoke of the idea of marriage where “conjugal rights” for the man was part of the marriage agreement. That is something abhorrent to modern Western ideas about marriage. Marriage is not about the surrender of one to the other. It is about the surrender of each to the other. That is love.
As anyone who has been married a long time knows – and that even includes Jane Caro — love is actually based on a quite thrilling form of equality. Not the economic equity that feminists are always banging on about, but a basic philosophical alignment, the understanding and knowledge of the other person. That is how you have conversation and fun, and interests and sex.
Sex in marriage is an expression of that knowledge and understanding. It should always recognise the human dignity of the other person. That is why pornography kills marital sex. However, as the mechanism of reproduction it takes on a special, almost sacred significance. It has nothing to do with the inhuman business of buying or selling, whatever the circumstances.
Caro was, of course, drawing a very long bow. The discussion was actually about prostitution and the most interesting contribution came from the Swedish activist and journalist, (and incidentally knock-out looker), Kajsa Ekis Ekman, who was refreshingly unimpressed with Caro’s abstract notions. She pointed out the immorality inherent in the buying and selling of human beings — be it in prostitution or surrogacy. The latter is an untenable situation where both the birth mother and the child are exploited. One does the carrying and the other is the “product”. And as we have seen in the Baby Gammy case, if the “product” isn’t perfect he gets dumped.
The audience listened very attentively as if this argument were original, but the ethical similarities between surrogacy for money and prostitution were raised by Australian Catholic ethicist Nicholas Tonti Filipini when the first surrogate baby was born to much hoop-la in Australia. He was pilloried for expressing objections.
At the time, the mother of that surrogate child claimed it was nothing like prostitution because “it didn’t involve sex”.
But that was not the point. The point was manufacturing a child in a rent-a-womb negates the dignity of both mother and child. It “uses” one woman’s body to satisfy the reproductive desires of another woman and it breaks the inherent bond between mother and child. Surrogacy, even if it is altruistic, treats a woman like a human incubator.
The idea of manufacturing a human child has come from a completely false notion pushed by feminists and conveniently, by the IVF industry, that we have a “right” to a child. When Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott tried to talk about limiting Medicare funded IVF in this country to mothers younger than 42, the age at which a woman’s statistical chance of actually bearing a child disappears, there were outraged cries from those desperate for children (including prominent members of the media) about their “right” to a child. Consequently Abbott failed to introduce even a limit on the number of attempts on Medicare. Australia is unique in the world at allowing unlimited attempts at Medicare funded IVF.
Kajsa Ekis Ekman was a pleasant change from the usual Q&A line-up of boring politicians and shows a new face to those dreary old feminists (Caro being one of them) whose views have dominated every woman-related debate in Australia for a generation.
But why are we still talking about “women” all the time? And why only well-off, middle-income women, whose only gripe these days seems to be that they have to pay too much to someone else to look after their own children? Why are we not talking instead about the army of poor, ill-educated single mothers with multiple partners who are producing one-third of the nation’s children?
These are the things we need to talk about, because the raddled old feminists who are feted by the media only rattle on about their rights and their glass ceilings. Perhaps it is because the only solution is marriage – and more of it.
Angela Shanahan writes from Canberra and is a regular contributor to The Australian.