This is picking up from the last post which is spurred by a wonderful new book, Sex Cells, by Rene Almeling. There’s a lively discussion over there are on the first points I made, but I’m going to move things along here.
Here’s the starting point based on the last post. Although money plays an important role in both the market for eggs as well as the market for sperm, those markets are structured in ways that are significantly different and the differences matter. (This isn’t a question right now of better/worse–just of difference.)
Perhaps as important, the differences aren’t explained by the biological differences between male and female reproductive functions. Instead, it is explained by gendered assumptions about how men and women operate and what they care about. In that light, perhaps we should not be surprised that the appeal to women as gamete donors is more oriented towards altruism than is the appeal towards men. This fits perfectly well with the general stereotype of women as more oriented towards helping others. (This is not to deny the role of money in inducing both men and women to enter into the gamete market.)
There’s another point Almeling makes that I wanted to highlight here. As part of her research, Almeling interviewed a number of egg and sperm providers. Consistent with the altruistic framing presented to egg providers (“you are helping someone else have a child”), egg providers do not think of themselves as parents. It’s really pretty logical–if that other person you are helping is going to be a parent, you’re not.
There’s more than that behind this view, too. Think about the cultural ideals about women and their children. Mothers are nurturing and all that–they are present, etc. Selling your child is out of the question–a total violation of all things motherly. It therefore makes perfect sense that women who are getting money for their eggs won’t equate eggs with parenthood.
But it seems to work out differently for men. Almeling finds that sperm donors are likely to describe themselves as father. I suppose this is because a man who provides sperm has done the essential thing we expect of fathers–which is to provide sperm. This is, in my sense, a sorry reflection on how low we set the bar for fathers as opposed to mothers. Men who are paid for sperm do not feel that they are breaching their duty to their offspring, even though they understand that they will not be present in their lives.
So far this is all really just descriptive. What I mean is that it describes how things work. And so the first question has to be whether we accept this as a description of the world. This is not the same as endorsing it or rejecting it. The only question in this initial stage is whether it’s an accurate description.
As far as I can tell it is that. It makes sense to me, given what I know of the world, and it is supported by the evidence marshalled by Almeling. So I will accept it as a description.
This brings me to what are perhaps the more important/more interesting questions–what do I think about this state of affairs and what, if anything, do I think we should do about it? That’s really a host of questions. Is this how the gamete market ought to be organized? (And I know others will want to ask whether there should there even be a gamete market?) Should we treat men and women providers more similarly? Is one way better than the other? And at every turn, why?
Ultimately all of this ties back to the main theme I recently opened–that discussion of anonymity in the gamete market. To draw those together one might ask whether there are ways to structure the gamete market that minimize or eliminate any/all/some of the harms identified in those earlier posts. That’s the next step, isn’t it?