What Counts as Exploitation?

I’ve been thinking recently about what counts as exploitation.   It seems to me that in general, exploitation of a person or a group of people is never seen as a good thing (although it might be okay to exploit and opportunity.) 

Now the context in which I was thinking about this was the use of third-party eggs, which I’ve written about before.   (You can just use the tag “egg donor” and you’ll turn up the full range of posts.)   And the present reason is discussions I’ve read here and there about a movie entitled “Eggsploitation.”   Now I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I have nothing to say directly about it, but my impression (from the title and what I’ve read about it) is that it focuses on the exploitation of women who are providing eggs for others to use.  

I know this is a complicated topic (see again the earlier posts) but I have a nagging wonder about whether those concerned about the exploitation of egg providers also engage in a little exploitation of their own.   I have this concern not because of this specific movie–as I say, I haven’t seen it.   But it seems to me that the general public discourse in this area (possibly mine included) is advanced by building on individual narratives in a way that sometimes does border on exploitation.  

Now as may be apparent, I’m not yet ready to really write about the question of exploitation of egg providers–I don’t think I’ve done my homework.   But I noticed this from MSNBC, though I think really from the Today Show.   It’s a multipart telling of the story of Carolyn Savage, which I actually wrote about two years ago as the story broke.   

I guess this looks to me like a kind of exploitation.   Whatever else it is, it’s an effort by NBC to grab some viewers.   They’ve strung the story out over multiple parts and told in an a way to make it as dramatic as possible all to drive ratings for the network and/or website.   

I don’t know  how the Savages were treated and I don’t mean to portray them as victims.   I have no reason to believe they were.  And I can understand a felt need to have a story told, given all they’ve been through.   But that doesn’t alter the fact that the network uses it for its own purposes.   This is what makes me think of it as a form of exploitation, I think.  Are the connotations of that word just too negative?  And I think this is the same sense in which I worry about exploitation with regard to the egg provider stories.   Maybe it’s just that when one uses people’s stories for political purposes it’s a tricky business.

Let’s call it a tentative hypothesis needing more development.


6 responses to “What Counts as Exploitation?

  1. Elizabeth Alexander

    Julie, I would say Dr. Phil exploits people far more than the Savages have been exploited. At lease they aren’t pulled onto the show and every living mistake they ever made in their lves down to whether or not the shoplifted as a kid is lad out for everyone to see and then shamed for it.

  2. Julie,
    This is an interesting question/observation/statement:
    “But it seems to me that the general public discourse in this area (possibly mine included) is advanced by building on individual narratives in a way that sometimes does border on exploitation. ”

    But I don’t understand. Could you clarify?

  3. I suppose the problem is I don’t know exactly what “exploitation” is. One way I think about it, though, is using another person for your own ends. I (among many other people) often use people’s personal narratives to make the points I want to make. I wonder if that sometimes falls under a broad understanding of exploitation? I think there are differences between the way I used people’s stories and the way the media (sometimes?) does and they may well be important differences. But there’s a lot of subtlety here and I’m sure there is room for disagreement.

  4. I think when you take care to respect and care for the wellbeing of the people who are benefitting you you are not being exploitive.

    Also if you arrange for mutual gain you are not being exploitive.
    This can get tricky, because imagine a destitute woman in a third world country who agrees to be a surrogate, for a sum which to her is a lot but to the payors is peanuts, that is exploitive because their behavior toward her is not mutual. They are not attempting to give her anything near what they believe the services is worth. There is no mutuality.

    Julie I don’t see you using anybody for the stories, the stories you post are already public.

    • I think I agree about the general principles you outline here. Surely being respectful is related to not engaging in exploitation. And your example about surrogates in India is an excellent one. You’ve put your finger on one of the things that bother me about that, but I’m not sure what the contours of mutuality might actually look like.

      Overall I think people are going to disagree about where exactly the lines get drawn when you get into that murky middle as opposed to the extreme ends. And to the extent the conversation then becomes “this is exploitation”–“no it isn’t”–“yes it is” it becomes pretty useless. Better (in my view) to focus on what is right/wrong about the underlying conduct at issue.

      The today show piece put me in mind of this because I look at that and almost refexively say “that’s exploitation” but if you pushed me I might not be exactly sure why.

      One thing this can lead to is a sort of shouting

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