The Personhood of Mothers Ignored


Susan Bordo’s “Are Mothers Persons?” delves into the contradictory rhetoric that exists around the bodily integrity of women compared to men through the legal system. With criticisms in social media that feminism is not needed, people fail to realize that women still do not receive equal pay for equal work and women’s reproductive rights are still being controlled by patriarchal law. One of the most expansive inequalities regarding women bodies and autonomy lies in the legal and social discourse of reproductive control. Examining the “legal double standard” regarding women’s bodies, Bordo reveals the attack on women’s personhood.

In the United States there is a long history of the non-consensual medical and legal interference of women bodies. Through the frequent practices of non-consensual sterilization, forced C-sections and abortions, women have been subjected as mere physical entities with no will or power to determine their reproductive fate. A court case between Angela Carder and the George Washington University Hospital revealed that a forced cesarean was practiced on Carder who was ill. This was carried out by the doctors and staff who did not agree with the practice but were required to do so by their hospitals regulations to perform C-sections on fatally ill patients. The court sided with the hospital stating that “…the woman’s right to avoid bodily intrusion could justifiably be put aside, as she had at best two says left of sedated life,” (77 Bordo). Angela Carder and her baby died after the operation was performed. In this case, a living persons will was ignored over the fact that she was pregnant, in which she was lawfully considered as life-support for the fetus. Pregnant women are also criminalize and suggested to have morality issues (or seen as selfish) for not allowing doctors and court ruling to invade their body on behalf of the unborn child.  Another controversial case regarding Rennie Gibbs reveals the attack on women, especially after miscarriages.

The increased rate of eugenics practices on women of color and poor women via sterilization during the Great Depression is part of history that is not mentioned in the textbooks. Mostly state sponsored forced sterilization was mainly experienced by women of color and poor women who were deemed unable to care for their children, or to prevent genetic defection. Most women experienced involuntary sterilization was directed towards the “mentally defective” and “feeble –minded” (75 Bordo). These categories of “unfit” parenting are based on stereotypical and racist discourse on ethnic minorities.

As a result of reading Bordo’s chapter, I have come to the realization that society needs to be more supportive of motherhood. Not through imposing medical intervention, criminalizing or treating potential mothers and mothers as needing to be heavily supervised by law. We need to understand that forcing pregnant women to “undergo medical treatment sets an unsavory precedent for further invasion of women’s privacy and bodily integrity,” (81 Bordo).

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