An earlier post about a father who might serve as a sperm donor for his son’s wife has sparked an extremely lively discussion here. There’s an intermediate post with lots of comments, too. I thought I’d offer one more collection of thoughts here and then likely I’ll move on to other topics. (Of course, if the conversation continues in comments that’s terrific.)
There are a few things that strike me after reading over the comments and giving this all some further thought. First, Kisrita was good enough to find me the link to an earlier post which is kind of the reversed gender version of this story. In that earlier story a mother wanted to serve as egg donor for her daughter when the time came. Now granted that post didn’t attract nearly the attention that this one did (it was a long time ago) but it is also noteworthy (to me, anyway) that no one suggested that situation amounted to incest.
Mind you, I’m not at all persuaded that this situation amounts to incest either. Indeed, I don’t think either situation is incestuous, though I see the potential for complications. But it does seem to me that the situations are sufficiently analogous so that if one seems like incest then the other should, too.
Beyond that, even though I don’t think either situation goes near the incest line, I think I might have slightly different reactions to the situations. It think perhaps it seems more ordinary and therefore acceptable for a mother to want to help out her daughter this way than it does for a father to help out his son.
I don’t say that this difference in reactions makes me happy, but I do think it says something about gender. Surely the gender stereotype would be that women are more caring, helping and nurturing than are men. This assumption could make the mother’s action seem more normal, while the father’s action would seem a little odd. I’m not assigning this view to anyone, I’m just thinking that I see a trace of it in my own reactions.
In any event, my reaction to either the mother donor or the father donor is different, I think, from my reaction to the sister or brother donor. Using a sibling as a donor for a spouse/partner is actually not all that uncommon. I cannot say that I’ve ever heard the specter of incest raised, although I have heard discussions of the social complications that can ensue. And in truth, I don’t think the sibling donor seems all that odd at all. And so that makes me wonder about the intergenerational thing.
I’m not persuaded this is just about incest. Sex (my usage of the word sex, for what it is worth–see the previous post) between sister and brother is certainly incest and is (or should be) taboo. I am not sure it is any better or worse than sex between parent and child. So I don’t think referring to incest can explain the difference in my reaction. It has, I think, something else to do with the parent/child relationship. I am not sure I can push this much further just now because I’m not sure I know what to say. But I’ll note that at least one commenter also speculated that there was something about the intergenerational nature of the transaction that mattered.
And that takes me to Chinatown–the movie, I mean. Given my age, this movie was a shocking encounter with father/daughter incest. (I guess I should have included a spoiler alert.) It’s hard for me to shake it. I think it probably shapes how I think about the father-in-law/daughter-in-law.
This suddenly dawned on me and I figured I should acknowledge it because it’s a false equation. Whatever it was that made the relationship between father and daughter in Chinatown repulsive and horrifying, it isn’t the same as what is proposed here. There’s no genetic connection. The father-in-law did not raise the daughter-in-law. The father-in-law has never been in a position of power, authority and responsibility vis-a-vis the daughter-in-law. I don’t see an really see a legitimate basis for imposing that set of images on this family. In writing this I seek to dismiss the notion from my own mind.