Feminism against family, talk with sophie lewis

Introduction

In October 2019 I learnt about Sophie Lewis, a woman who had written a book called ‘Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family’ after I saw her speak at a feminist festival in London, you can read my thread about it here. I won’t rehash what I said there except to say that she’s at the far end of the most loony aspect of ‘feminism’, or really any ‘ism’ really, if we’re going to be honest about it.

In this lecture Lewis talked mainly about her opinions on Shulamith Firestone’s book ‘The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution‘ a book I haven’t read and have no intention of doing so – haven’t I suffered enough? Her main and repeated complaint was that Firestone is ‘queerphobic’ so I’m pretty sure then that Firestone understood sex was sex, and NOT gender, but I digress.

Although it was a Friday night, 90 people logged on, which is a pretty healthy turnout for these sorts of things. Mainly women of course, but also gender identity activist Emma Heaney, who later spoke in the Q&A, and whose work has influenced Lewis. The talk was hosted by Mumok, a modernist museum in Vienna. Some films were broadcast prior to the talk which I missed.

The Lecture

Lewis’s vision is for cyborg or automative pregnancy to take over the ‘work of gestators’. She told us she had recently written an essay on the topic of ‘heterofatalism‘ which I looked up. Jeez.

To be sure, today’s heterosexuals overwhelmingly seem to have confused transformational foreignness with deadening alienation. Nevertheless, legend has it that a small handful of advanced-level heterosexuals, every day, go so far as to allow whole alien life-forms called “fetuses” to feed on the inside of their abdomens for the best part of a calendar year. The latter represents, needless to say, the extremist fringe of fundamentalist heterosexualism’s idealistic doctrine of xenohospitality, and we shan’t discuss it further.

From ‘If Heterosexualism Existed, We Wouldn’t Have To Make It Up’ by Sophie Lewis, Verso Book website

Her beef, I think, is that heterosexuality supposedly encourages ‘hospitality towards the unfamiliar’. The essay is utterly utterly unreadable and it goes without saying that Verso Books would not have printed this essay if its topic was homosexuality.

Lewis stated she thought her call to abolish the family was even more apt in the time of the COVID pandemic since governments were asking people to shield from all apart from family and this demonstrated how dangerous the family was for women (except she obviously didn’t use the word woman it was just all implied). It was dangerous because the home was the site of private property (capitalism) and unpaid labour (housework). How can anyone be in that zone and be healthy? (Yes, the horror of rolling out of bed to do a full day’s work without a 3 hour commute, giving you the time to do the bloody hoovering.)

She thought ‘gestation’ could be done via a ‘Biobag’ which is as simple as salt water filled Ziploc bag plus oxygenator. She claimed that sheep foetuses were successfully being produced in this way and has written about it for a technology magazine called Logic. It basically involves taking out a sheep foetus via caesarean-section, hooking it up to an artificial lung and submerging it for 28 days in artificial amniotic liquid. The lamb once bought to fruition is then euthanised and dissected for medical research. Unethical? Immoral? It doesn’t even cross Lewis’ mind.

I would love to one day see the queer gestational commune in which “bio-bags” of some kind enabled gestators to pause, share, transfer, redistribute, and walk away from pregnancies. I would love to see these technologies help denaturalize motherhood and liberate those with uteruses from the imperative to gestate. 

From ‘Do Electric Sheep Dream of Water Babies?’ by Sophie Lewis – read out during the talk

She went on that she hoped for the ‘manufacture our children with the help of wet tech’ would inflict no harm on the many parents of the foetus. Lewis in the talk, and in her essay, lingered over the existence of premature babies, referring to them as ‘preemies’, and even visited a neonatal ward.

Firestone, Lewis claimed, was anti-black and didn’t mention lesbians, sex workers, queers or trans people in her analysis. Thus was Lewis very bemused by her own interest in the book then, as she herself is an ‘anti-racist white bi-dyke’. It turned out her focus on a dead woman she finds intellectually problematic is really just a metaphor for dealing with her own mother, who died in November 2019. Parallels between Firestone and her mother included being ‘tyrannical’ and ‘not being able to enjoy men in bed’ (mothers can never get things right, can they?).

Lewis claims that there is innuendo throughout Firestone’s book and the line that tickled her most was from the final chapter: ‘What will people do in this utopia? I think that will not be a problem.’ Hm. Even Sid James would struggle to make that work …

Lewis also claims that Firestone was ‘somatophobic’ about ‘the distended gestating body’ and that her work moved towards a ‘trans-feminist horizon’. Lewis read out an extensive quote from Emma Heaney’s work, describing Heaney as exploring the role of transfeminism in the 70s (in this interview, Heaney claims to have unearthed ‘depictions of trans femininity 20-30 years before scholars claimed they existed’). The quote included the phrase ‘the gift of trans feminist autonomist legacy’, – well, you can probably guess the rest.

Lewis explained that she wasn’t a ‘matrophobe’, as some critics have described her, because she supports the freedom of people to engage in extreme sports, ‘including any sport that involves a sort of alien colonisation from within’ and she thought everyone should be supported to engage in ‘any kinky pursuit’ and that safety measures should be utilised to ‘broaden access and to prevent undesired injury’. (What a relief for Lewis’ genetic material that she feels empowered to say ‘no’ to pregnancy, though I don’t expect there are any men really asking.)

‘Firestone tragically failed to find room in her imagination for an erotics [sic] of gestationality’ said Lewis. Of course, post-familial utopia will include endless ‘fucking’ and Lewis claimed that despite Firestone foreseeing children taking part in the ‘polymorphous orgies of the future’ she had not made it into the bibliographies of queer theory texts. Lewis felt that the erotic liberation of children was merely a ‘queasy’ subject, rather than an illegal one.

Question and Answer

Lewis is currently teaching a course at the Brooklyn Institute called ‘Trans/Queer/Woman: Theory and Politics‘, a snip at £242 and currently has a waiting list. She told us she was making good use of Emma Heaney’s book ‘The New Woman’ which makes the case for a ‘political theory of woman’ in the course.

Emma Heaney asked a question, which turned out not to be a question really but a two minute word salad. Heaney basically wanted to her to talk more about the Biobags and ‘sexual structures’. In response to the non-question Lewis spewed a word salad back promising that black lives featured in her analysis (leading me to suspect she wrote the lecture before George Floyd’s death reinvigorated Black Lives Matter). Another trans-identified male writer that Lewis admired and has worked closely with is Michelle O’Brien who has written an essay ‘To Abolish the Family’. Lewis said ‘Transgender Marxism‘ an anthology of writings about family abolition was due to come out, it had been edited by Jules Joanne Gleeson (who describes herself as an ‘intersex agitator’ on Twitter) and Elle O’Rourke (who I suspect is a trans-identified man).

Someone naively wanted to know more about the Biobag and it was at this point that Lewis explained that the products grown in the Biobag were created for dissection and that the technology couldn’t be used for human sexual reproduction.

A young-sounding English woman wanted to talk about feminism and how surrogacy related to transness. She said she found ‘transphobia’ in the UK ‘mindblowingly disturbing and distressing’ and she wanted to know what Lewis thought. Lewis agreed and described the backlash against gender identity ideology as ‘fascism’ and she said she thought the journalist Helen Lewis had said something about comparing immigrants having to be grateful for receiving healthcare and transwomen having to be grateful for becoming newly female, but suddenly shifted a gear and said ‘this was literally spelled out’. Lewis said it was the fault of colonialism that Britain was so ‘monolithically anti-trans’ and that nepotism in the media was rife. (However, no one on the call was able to address any of the substantive points of criticism by British feminists, so it seems they are running scared.)

Lewis blamed ‘rampant terf ideology’ on the American ecology movement and said that the favourite thing for ‘terfs’ to do was to cast gender identity ideology as individualistic. ‘It’s a fascism, and it gains its power via its collaboration with forms of fascism and it needs to be treated with the seriousness with which we would treat fascism.’

The questioner was enthusiastic about the Biobag and saw in it the possibility of exploring another binary (inside and outside the body) which prompted a recollection from Lewis on the possibility of womb transplantation and that a lot of ‘British transphobic feminists’ who had shuddered that men might benefit but also expressed the hope that such men would be ‘eaten alive’. Lewis claimed that Woman’s Place UK publicly tweeted their upset about the opinion of an evolutionary biologist on the nature of the human placenta (I could find nothing on key word searches of WPUK’s timeline, it’s not really a very WPUK kind of topic) .

Another woman wanted to know more about Lewis’ experience of her mother’s death – which Lewis has written about here. Lewis admitted the death of her ‘official Mother’ (official gestator, surely?) had changed her life somewhat and that the figure of Firestone was a sort of romanticised stand-in (basically she wants a hardcore baby-hater) – ‘directly engaging with the ways in which they really fucked [laughs] is partly because I’m one of the victims’. (It doesn’t really get more teenage-angsty than this, does it? Clean your room Sophie.)

Lewis said since her mother’s passing she didn’t have a proper job anymore (cynical me says she got the money) and that her mother was bad at looking after children. Something tells me that Lewis’ zealous and shallow crusade on mother abolition could not have helped the relationship dynamic a great deal but she was silent on this issue. Perhaps she hasn’t considered it yet.

As expected Sophie Lewis said exactly nothing about how a Biobag and a dozen queerling parents would be any more capable of creating happy and healthy children than an ordinary nuclear family. Marxist queer theory doesn’t seem to be very good for mental health but it keeps getting platformed.

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