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Sex, Work and Motherhood: The Impossible Triangle Author(s): E. Ann Kaplan Reviewed work(s): Source: The

Sex, Work and Motherhood: The Impossible Triangle Author(s): E. Ann Kaplan Reviewed work(s):

Source: The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 27, No. 3, Feminist Perspectives on Sexuality. Part 2 (Aug., 1990), pp. 409-425 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

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TheJournalof Sex Research Vol.27, No. 3, pp. 409-425 August, 1990


Work and Motherhood:

The Impossible Triangle






of New

York, Stony Brook

This essay explores how current representations of sex, work and motherhood, in select recent films and women's science fiction, manifest and give meaning to contradictory discourses about women. Discourse analysis shows that what at first appear to be polarized discourses may be part of a larger societal need to control female sexuality, and re- position the nuclear family with woman safely within it. Ideological textual analysis may help feminists gauge how far their own discourses about abortion, female sexual adventurousness,mothering,reproductive technologies collude with, or challenge, dominantones in relation to sex, work and motherhood.

KEY WORDS: Female sexuality,

fiction; reproductivetechnologies; ideology; discourse analysis.

work, motherhood; film; science


Many of us know women who, over the past 20 years or so, have


in heterosexual

aspects of their lives. But those who are single or recently divorced

or who are gay


parents, find even greater odds stacked against them. It has been clear

that women's difficulties owe much to the lack of facilitating institu- tions for leading a life combining sex, work and motherhood: we still do not have adequate, available and inexpensive child care, and flexi-

ble and accommodating

to combine sex, work and motherhood. Even when they are

marriages, women have difficulties

linking these three

who are poor or belong to minority groups,

work schedules.


for why


and postmodernist



refuses to make easy for any women combining sex, work and mother-

hood lies beyond my scope here. Let me merely gesture to the enormous economic and technological changes that have taken place in

E. Ann Kaplan, Ph.D., is a professor of English and director of the Humanities In- stitute at The State University of New York, Stony Brook. She has written widely on feminist theory, film, and popular culture. Her most recent books include Rocking

Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism and Consumer Culture; and the

edited volumes, Postmodernism and Its Discontents

and Psychoanalysis

and Cinema.

Her book on Motherhoodand Representation is currently in press. Send requests for reprints to E. Ann Kaplan, Humanities Institute, SUNY, Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-3394.




the post-World War II period, with their accompanying cultural shifts, that include first, increasing numbers of women in the work force; second, the 1960s/70s/80s women's movements; and third, new repro- ductive technologies impacting on women's lives. These cultural shifts have themselves produced various reactions from diverse quarters, resulting in the complex, contradictory discourses being discussed here. My interest is in how current representations of sex, work and

motherhood in

select dominant and sub-culturalforms manifest, and

give meanings to, such contradictory discourses. Because dominant forms privilege white, middle-class women, and because I believe dominant discourses inevitably impact on minority ones, I have chosen to focus mainly on white, middle-class conflicts. Other research, however, also needs to be done. Cultural studies scholars have long theorized that popular repre- sentations provide some evidence for what preoccupies the American social imaginary in specific historical moments. Because commercial productions must command an audience sufficient for handsome profit, producers are clever at sensing the fantasies, fears and desires that preoccupy a majority of the people in a given period. Always hoping to be the first to provide desired images, producerskeep their pulse on the moment, anticipating fashions before they catch on. Cultural studies research has always made a point of teasing out

underlying forces setting media discourses in play.' Analysis of the hierarchicaldiscourses embeddedin texts allows a scholarto see which discourses are privileged, which excluded, and the power relations among discourses. From this analysis, it is possible to deduce what produces certain discourses, what culture needs them for, and whose

despite the fact that commercial

products present discourses as though they operate merely on the indi- vidual level (i.e., as though it were merely a matter of personal character, individual choice, or fate). It is true that dominant media

are not monolithic (i.e., many different, contradictory discourses may

be seen at work at the same time),2 and

the sheer enormity of the pro-

duction increasingly guarantees gaps and spaces for some alternate

specific needs they serve-this,

1For a good example of this kind of theory, see MacCabe (1974).

2See Stam (1988) for one argument

about such contradictions.



discourses. But unconscious cultural constraints still function to prevent expression of certain kinds of images.3 That the United States in the 1990s is in the midst of a cultural


modernism" or "New Age Consciousness," part of the shift involves the development of the contradictory discourses noted above, which the 1960s/70s liberationmovements left in their wake. The excitement of these movements arose from the challenge they offeredto the domi- nant establishment. A clear polarity between dominant and counter- culture positions remained in the 60s, as the term "counter-culture" itself indicated.









But American capitalism, in its incessant search for new markets, and its uncanny method of co-opting subversive discourses, has incor- porated many of the 1960s/70s oppositional positions into dominant

ones, blurring distinctions and boundaries. The sense of an

distinct from an "inside" has producedincreasing confusion between the "popular" and the "oppositional" text, between "dominant" and "marginal" cultures. While this has some benefits, sites of production still make a differencein what can be shown (forexample, commercial TV presents soaps, but a wicked critique of soaps, like Joan Braver- man's video Joan Does Dynasty, is reserved for alternative exhibition sites, like Paper Tiger TV, or museums). Therefore, I have chosen to explore contrasting texts from the "commercial/dominant" category (i.e., popular film, TV, newspapers, etc.), and those from a margin- alized category, "women's science fiction." Arguably, the first domain articulates unconscious, patriarchal desire regarding sex, work and motherhood, while the second reflects the consciousness of women whose imaginations have both absorbed the lessons of the various feminisms, and been fascinated by new scientific/technological dis- coveries and projects.

Representations in Commercial, Dominant Materials

Changes in sex/family/work spheres are emerging culturally in tandem with changes on the technological/economic/industrial level. Anxiety in relation to womenand these spheres has, in part, to do with the fact that childbirth and child care are no longer an automatic,


3Feuer(1989)argues that interpretative communities may make new use of popular

materials; they may defuse a program like Dynasty ideologically, and incorporate it

into new imaginary

explore the


does not mean that it is no longerimportant to

constructs. But this

investments in positions that texts themselves stake out on an unconscious



"natural," part of woman's sex and work lives-women

but need not have children at all; meanwhile, they can compete with

men in the work sphere. That this change has preoccupied the recent cultural imaginary will be evident from a brief reminder of some 1970s films. Popular films of the 1970s showed American culture adjusting to women's new-found sexual freedom outside of marriage and the family. Fears hovered around the fact that if women can be sexual without having children,

their sexuality is, in a sense, dangerously "unleashed." Richard Brooks' 1976 Lipstick showed the violent male desire such open sex-

uality (here in the body of the popular lipstick-model, played by Margo Hemingway) could provoke, although it interestingly went on to argue powerfully against allowing rapists to get away with it. The film was one of the first female "sexual revenge" films. Brooks' 1977 Looking

for Mr. Goodbar, meanwhile, presented Diane Keaton positively as the new single, sexually adventurous woman. However, the film's ideology compelled it to demonstrate that she would come to a bad end. In the 1980s, unprecedented attention has been given to female sex-

uality in dominant media: it is important that the patriarchal im-

aginary has finally acknowledged that female sexuality is not, per se, dangerous. However, it is significant that films like Sex, Lies and

life cycle: this centrally

affects women's

may not only be sexual before marriage,

Videotape or 912 Weeks do not necessarily

offer a female perspective

They do open up the terrain of female desire, but

on female sexuality.

arguably still within a patriarchal imaginary. While Sex, Lies demon- strates American culture's new acceptance of female sexuality as

and has the

"normal," the film repeats old virgin/whore male lover conquer the heroine's frigidity.

tion to male sexual problems, and the exploration of male voyeurism as linked to impotence. But this lies beyond my specific focus here.] Meanwhile, 912 Weeks focuses explicitly on female desire and sexual pleasure, but there is a question as to how far it really moves beyond pornographic exploitation of women's complicity in male sexual sadism to genuine exploration of such a common dynamic. Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan or Donna Deitch's Desert

Hearts perhaps come closer to suggesting the agency and activity that female sexuality might manifest without patriarchal constraints. Also significant is the fact that none of the above films combines treatment of female sexuality with attention to female work, let alone motherhood. However, some 1980s films do mix romance and working heroines, although in these cases the focus of the narrative is often

stereotypes, [New perhaps is the atten-



neither sex nor work,per se; and certainly not any special tension there might be between the two for women. Mystic Pizza interestingly treats a group of working class women, but the thrust of the film is again not the working situation per se (this does figure more impor- tantly than usual, however), but how the various women will resolve their love or other personal problems, and find happiness. WorkingGirl, meanwhile, is important and unusual in focussing on womenin the work place. Its main theme is: what is it like to workfor a female boss? And: what is a female boss like? Unfortunately, it answers both questions negatively, showing that the female boss is more ambitious, jealous, and manipulative than any male boss could be;and that working for such a boss is a nightmare! The narrativedoes construct Melanie Griffith as a potentially humane, empathic female boss, but the film ends as she undertakes her new role, leaving us to imagine what will happen. Significantly, this film absolutely excludes any reference to motherhood and children, as these roles might inter- act with, or problematize, female needs for satisfaction in work. Together, the films show, first, how patriarchy still desires to con- trol even a no longer "dangerous" female sexuality; and second, a similardesire to keep female sexuality, work and motherhood distinct, segregated spheres. If the patriarchal imaginary has to a degree accommodated woman's new-found sexual freedom in recent years, and has accepted woman's needs for work, new anxiety arises from the changed reality that childbirth and child care no longer signify either that woman need stay in the home, or that she be marriedand sexually monogamous. This fear has arguably produced some recent (differing) discourses about the threat of female sexuality to motherhood, which I will briefly illustrate by reference to three recent Hollywood films.

(1990), and Fatal Attraction (1988)

exemplify in quite different ways contested discourses about female sexuality, motherhoodand the family; together they show alterations in these discourses from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. The Good

Mother represents discursive struggles in a 1970s, "high modernist" framework.4In the film, the discourse of a heterosexual female desire released outside of marriage is in conflict with a sentimentalizing

motherhood discourse (in which motherhood is viewed as

that a woman needs). These in turn operate across other discourses,

The Good Mother (1988), Stella

in itself all

4Theterm "high modernist"is meant to suggest late modernism-a modernismthat has almost exhausted itself, and that is to be differentiated from subsequent "post- modernism."The film is modernist in that it assumes that Anna's "truth" is achiev-

able, theoretically, if only legal institutions wererational. For moreon this, see





especially those of conservative legal institutions opposed to sexual openness, particularly outside of marriage and in conjunction with motherhood. The aspects of the film most pertinent here have to do with the staging of that 1970s moment of the oppressive, sexually unhappy marriage, followed by divorce and, for the heroine, Anna, single-

motherhood. Never sexually fulfilled in marriage, Anna puts

energies into her relationship with her daughter, Molly. Although she works, her job is purely for income, of low status, and has no meaning for herin itself. But the film shows her sexual arousal by Leo, a playful artist, who eschews traditional bourgeois modes of life. There follow

passionate sexual scenes, intercut with Anna's pleasure with Molly, and, increasingly with Leo, who is fatherlike with the child. But this discourse of free, open sexuality is contested when the hus- band, Brian, learns from Molly that Leo has allowed her to touch his penis. The film only allows us to hearabout this in the course of a court case that follows, but we quickly see how it is Anna's situation as single mother that causes a problem in relation to her sexuality. Her sexuality is highlighted, made an object for investigation by the state, in a way that, within the traditional family, it is usually not. At least until recently (when concern about child-abuse has begun to alter things), sex within the family has been protected. But the single mother's sexuality is to be monitored. The film then introduces (and sympathizes with) liberatory discourses about single motherhood, female sexuality and child custody. But the discourses exist in complex relation to the renewed sentimentalizing motherhood discourse that I have isolated. The ending is reactionary, and the film once again fails to integrate career interests with sexuality and motherhood. Much the same may be said for the 1990 version of the old Stella Dallas story. Originally written in 1923, two film versions of Stella


criticized for being "hoary." The revival of an essentially 19th-Century paradigm at this historical moment is itself significant (onecannot im- agine the film being made in the 1970s or 80s). Once again, we have a single mother (this time, however, the child is born out of wedlock, by the heroine's choice); once again, nurturing ultimately replaces sexuality, although in Stella's case this happens far more quickly than for Anna. The upper-class Stephen Dallas' surprise interruption of a party Stella is having with her impossible working-class male and female friends in the baby's presence propels Stella into devoted

all her

already exist (1926, 1937); even in those periods, the story was



mothering (as if to prove to Stephen how much she loves the child). Thus, even the tensions between sex and mothering that The Good Mother reveals are not explored by Stella. What is new in the film is Stella's decision to have the child out of

wedlock: after discovering the pregnancy, she tellingly notes that since it is 1969, she has several choices: to have an abortion, to have the child and give it up, or to have and keep the child, alone. She notes

that all three are "terrible," and not really choices at

New also is Stella's pride, and her determination to go it alone, not accepting money from Stephen, even though he wants to share in, and know, the child. Again, the child becomes Stella's whole reason for being, and any work that she does is merely to put bread on the table. But she is a feisty mother, warding off (or trying to) unsavory males chasing her daughter, and she is capable of deep love, anger, and laughter. But, as in the earlier versions, Stella's renunciation of the child to the upper class world where she can have most opportunities, and her consigning of herself to the margins, oblivion (emblematized in the final wedding scene), is seen as a positive sacrifice, eliciting as always, tears in the audience.


Finally, this version significantly adds a strong father-daughter bonding not evident in earlierones. In this way, the film subscribes to the prevailing sentimentality about fathers and daughters, which co- exists uncannily with increasing evidence of father-daughter incest on the level of historical reality. Fatal Attraction, meanwhile, embodies in a much more postmodern way than either The Good Mother or Stella a violent polarizing of 1970s feminist liberatory sexual discourses and renewed, pro-("yuppie")family discourse. While The Good Mother looks back to, and stages, struggles in a mid 1970s mode; and while Stella perhaps


Fatal Attraction is very much a late 1980s film. That the confrontation between the discourses of released female sexuality and of the nuclear family had to be so violent suggests the enormous psychic (uncon- scious) tension in contemporary culture as a result of all the challenges to dominant 1960s sexual discourses that feminists made. Briefly, Glen Close is shown at the start of the film as an indepen- dent careerwoman (with whom the female spectator is invited to iden- tify), who objects to being made a sex object, but who, in turn, has intense sexual desire and drive. She basically seduces the marriedman and father (playedby Michael Douglas), and we are treated to scenes of intense, lustful love-making. When Douglas tries to end the affair (his

for a return to earlier mothering discourses in this era of AIDS,



wife and child have now returned), Glen Close points out the remaining double standard, in which his having an affairis a simple thing, she an object to be used and thrown away. Yet things are not so simple for her, since she is all alone, and needs him. The female spectator may continue identifying with the heroinethis far, only to have the identification sickeningly wrenched away as Glen Close, unable to hold on to Douglas, turns into a monster of horrorfilm proportions before our eyes. We are invited now to identify with both the besieged husband and abused wife and, finally, with the wretched- ly tortured child. Glen Close, the repressed underside of the nuclear family, now becomes intolerable:like the ghastly mutations of science fiction and horror genres, she must be eliminated at all costs as the

representative of all that threatens the biological nuclear family. Like


more monstrous purposes, until, finally, husband and wife manage to eradicate her. The wife has to take on the murderous aspects of Glen Close in order to achieve her demise (revealing,perhaps, the violence embedded even within the family), but the sanctity of the nuclear family is, just about, retrieved as the battered trio regroup and reconstitute their little community.

The film must be read on at least two levels, that of the depiction of

gender/sex discourses,

processes. The possibility for

the new conceptions about female sexuality that the early Women's Liberation Movement produced: one of the main issues in the first phase of the Movement was challenging the limitation of female sex- uality to that safely confined within patriarchal norms. Female sex-

uality was brought out of the closet and discussed: topics such as

vaginal versus clitoral orgasms, lesbian versus heterosexual sexuality,

mutations, she keeps

returning in ever morevile forms, with ever






the Glen Close character rests, first, on

female sexual fantasies

and their implications were extensively

debated in popular materials as well as in feminist scholarship. On the level of individual discourse (and the dailiness of historical subjects),

these developments resulted in freeing women from the confines of oppressive, often sexually unhappy marriages, liberating women to seek sexual satisfaction in whatever modes (lesbian, heterosexual, "kinky," "vanilla")they chose. It is significant (forunderstanding the reaction to these developments in dominant representations) that the women's movement early on ignored the mother per se, while devoting attention to problems of day care, control of childbirth and reformu- lating child-rearing. The fact that much early feminist work was geared at freeing women from the necessities of mothering [and chal- lenged dominant codes by refusing to hypostasize the (patriarchal)



mother-function] partly produces (by reaction) the pro-family dis- course in a film like Fatal Attraction. Fatal Attraction, then, insists on restoring the nuclear family, and in subordinating the discourse of the independent/sexual woman to that of the wife/mother. The family is seen to be the only safe location of

female sexuality, in

the 19th century. Female sexuality outside of

wild, excessive, ultimately destructive. That the excision of this non- marital female sexuality has to be so violent attests to the enormity of the perceived threat to the family, reading the film now on its surface level. But the more dramatic recent focus on the fetus as subject shows a new displacement of woman's threat to patriarchy that still remains in the cultural imaginary, perhaps just because of the advances gained

through the late 1960s and 1970s women's movements. Anxiety about women's new freedoms is displaced onto the fetus, who in turn dis- places the woman altogether. When central, the fetus renders unimpor- tant woman's work, sex, and mother subjectivities; her body (assumed to be in the home, in heterosexual marriage) is now to be in the service of the fetus. This positioning is underlined by the fact that fetal imagery usually represents the fetus as an entity in its own right, un-


going on in the womb. A few examples from popular materials (news- papers, television, film) will make the point. To begin with, it is important to note that it was the militant anti- abortionists' campaign that plastered culture with numerous new images of the fetus. It was sensational pictures of what happens to the fetus during gestation that drew renewed interest in, and sympathy for, the fetus. These images, particularly the ones featured in Life Magazine (April 30, 1965, pp. 62-69) made the spectator identify with the fetus as subject; they were used by anti-abortionists to initiate an idea that has now become commonplace,viz, that the fetus is what is most important. Meanwhile, a recent New York Times article (Gina Kolata, 1989, April 18) on fetal survival showed an enlarged image of the fetus, the umbilical cord moving out of frame. The cord was hanging in space, and the mother's body not imaged (nor even the womb!). Similar articles on fetal surgery showed the surgeon's implements entering the womb as if the womb were located in space, floating unattached to anything. Discussion of the surgery mentioned nothing about discom- fort to the women in whose body this was taking place. But, signifi- cantly, the woman is assumed to be at her fetus' behest. Another New

a return to

a discourse uncomfortably like that


marriage is envisaged as

to the woman, or at

least rendering her irrelevant to what is



York Times article (1988, July 28) about in vitro fertilization imaged the spermbinding to an egg in the woman's body, but again the blown- up image floated in space, and the title said nothing about the woman. Popular narratives also focus newly on the "unborn," make the fetus of central concern, and marginalize the woman. A recent Buck James television episode pitted a daughter against her (negatively coded) mother over the question of whether or not the daughter should abort her illegitimate conception, despite the fetus' having been damaged in a sporting accident. Focus on the fetus may indicate a reneweddesire to write the woman out of the story (except as once morean unquestionedpatriarchal func- tion), or to marginalize and negate her subjectivity. This new discourse, apparently contradictory to that of a nostalgic return to a sentimentalized mother-child relationship, in fact colludes neatly with it. Instead of an intense mother-child relationship being idealized and hypostatized, we have obsession with conception and gestation-with fetal life within the woman. But the discourses are linked in both in- dicating, at least in dominant forms, a return to obsession with the biological child. The differences are important, however: the senti- mental mother discourse speaks from the position of the mother's absorption in nurturing: however oppressively, it situates the mother as a subject, as in The Good Mother. The reproductive discourse, on

the contrary,marginalizes the woman again (i.e., it is only interested in

the woman as the being that initiated the fetal discourse-by

to create a fetus); it also redefines subjectivity, in making into a sub-


ject what is not yet

human. The woman is marginalized, made into a

non-subject, or, as in a recent book by Elizabeth Kane (1988) about her

surrogacy experiences, happily marginalizes herself. Meanwhile, culture positions the not-yet-born, paradoxically, as subject, raising anew issues of what constitutes subjectivity.

Representations of Sexuality and Motherhood in Select Women's Science Fiction

The ways in which sexuality and biological female sexuality are

inter-twined in

makes it a very complicated topic for feminists. Feminist perspectives on the new technologies are currently being developed from a variety of positions, but I will here look briefly at relevant representations in the sub-culturalwomen's science fiction mode from the late 1960s to the present. It is clear that feminists' first interest in reproductivetechnologies in the 1960s focused on their bodies. Issues of all three areas under


dominant reproductive-technologies discourse




over-riding need for women to control their bodies in order to have

choice about these three aspects of their lives. Emphasis was on

women freeing themselves from a culturally imposed-and not neces- sarily desired-reproductive role that still prevailed at the time (Fire- stone, 1972). It also meant freeing themselves at the same time for sexual choice, including lesbian relations. Utopian fantasies about reproductive alternatives appeared in some women's sci-fi novels, such as Naomi Mitchisons' Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1968), Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1985), or Joanna Russ' The Female Man (1975). All three novels, in different ways, sought [as did

Gilmanin Herland (1915)] to replace usual reproduc-


tive modes with alternatives that would make possible a utopian, egalitarian world, in which women were no longer oppressed by their biological and nurturing functions. Unlike Perkins Gilman, who simply avoided the issue of female desire altogether, some of this fiction stresses freedomof sexual choice, as well as multiple and varied

sexual partners, as important parts of the utopian frame. Most novels assume that women work alongside men, on an equal basis, if men are included (as was not the case in Herland). In the 1960s, then, before abortion became readily available, some women's discourse centered on removing women from being inscribed within bodies not within their control. It was assumed that once such freedom from male domination were achieved, issues regarding sex, work and motherhood could be suitably resolved, and that women would be able to choose for themselves how to order their lives and priorities.

1980s, however, such unconflicted fantasies about the

liberating possibilities of open sexuality and of gies are problematic for several reasons. On the

reproductive technolo- broadest level, there is

the backlash against feminism that began in the late 1970s with the challenge to abortion rights [the Hyde Amendment and the refusal of Medicaid money for abortions] and continued with the right wing attacks on sex in general. Women remain vulnerable to high levels of male violence and to sexual harassment in the work place. If the AIDS crisis has only had a minimal effect on feminists' sexual behavior, it

has had the psychological, imaginary effect on reinforcing links be- tween sex and danger. Meanwhile, the way that new scientific dis- coveries about fetal development have been taken up by anti-abortion groups, as noted above, has inevitably had an impact on feminist positions (Petchesky, 1987).

work and motherhood-were

subsumed under the

In the

Images in

women's science fiction have altered in accordwith these



important social and scientific changes. Two main sci-fi paradigms may be distinguished: first, novels replacing 1960s utopias with dystopias; and second, novels which radically shift the focus. Writing is now informed by an altogether new position that could be called "postmodern" in the sense of an acceptance of new cultural tenden- cies-working with, rather than against, new technological possi- bilities. A brief look at two novels [Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

(1986) and Octavia Butler's Dawn (1987)], each representing one of


paradigms, will make the point clear. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale offers an example of the first kind of dystopia. The 1960's feminist utopia, in whichwomen con- trol and use reproductivetechnologies to free themselves of an oppres- sive patriarchy, now gives way to a dystopia produced by events (in this case the disasters of environmental depletion and release of radia- tion) outside women's control. Writing in the context of extreme

proliferation of nuclear weapons and of projected life-threatening (and infertility producing) chemicals, women writers imagine postmodern worlds where the issue of the nuclear family is no longer the central one. The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopic fantasy of a totalitarian North America, now called the Republic of Gilead, in which a group of right- wing religious fundamentalists are in control. Most women are in- fertile, due to excessive use of chemicals and radiation released from an earthquake on the San Andreas fault. Those women, like the heroine Offred, who remain fertile, are made property of the State for the purpose of reproducing the Commander'sline. Many of the babies

born are "unbabies," and there are also "unwomen," i.e.,

fertile women. Since the military takeover, women have been denied access to their money and property, which were given over to their husbands. Reduced once again to mere bodies (morethoroughly than

in priordecades), women arerefused literacy and education, their value limited to reproduction. In an ironically negative sense, the novel shows sex, work and motherhoodas combinedin a socially acceptable manner:Offred's "work" is to have sex with the Commanderfor the

purposes of reproduction. The

dominated Western culture since the first Industrial Revolution, only now the "work" of marital sex and motherhood is made "official" instead of being repressed. As often in the oppressive 19th-century marriage, woman's only pleasure is in an illicit passionate affair (such as Offred's with Nick).

all the in-

situation is a caricature of that which



Atwood's novel is, however, complex:running throughout the novel is a nostalgic discourse that suggests how close women were prior to the take-over to achieving their aim of linking sex, work and mother-

hood comfortably. Offred constantly

take-over, when she, Luke and their daughter lived happily together. Offred was then an intellectual, combining mothering and career successfully; and it seems that she and Luke loved one another deeply.

The child was well-adjusted and smart. Aunt Lydia, the right-wing

moral majority instructor, whose task it is to

other women, constantly refers negatively to the same period,blaming the women who chose not to have children, or who participated in reproductive medical practices now outlawed (such as looking into the womb with machines to see the condition and gender of the fetus). In

this novel, right-wing thinking abhors new reproductivetechnologies, while it seems that from Offred's point of view, women were on the verge of having what they wanted when the take-over happened. Perhaps Atwood wants to indicate that, if only we take care of the environment, refuse the right-wing positions of power, and use new technologies with due respect and care, a world like the one in her novel can be avoided. Octavia Butler's Dawn provides an example of fiction speaking from

an altogether other position vis-a-vis new technologies-a

perhaps first articulated by Donna Haraway in 1985, and rearticulated in a more complete form recently (Haraway, 1989). The novel is con- cerned with the problem of xenogensis between an earth woman, Lilith, and a species, the Oankali, from another planet. A post- apocalyptic tale, Dawn traces the events after a nucleardestruction of the earth. The Oankaliland on earth and take several earth beings up to their planet to mate with, so as to produce a new species, neither human nor Oankali, which will be returnedto reproduce on earth. The Oankali need such gene renewal to survive, but they also want to remove the genetic flaw that lead humans into nuclearwar. The novel ends with Lilith pregnant, but the product remains unknown.

In a sequel to Dawn, Butler again demonstrates how reproductive technologies will, when carried to a science-fiction extreme, not only save humankind from destruction but free women and men from the stifling notions of difference recent feminism has exposed. According to Donna Haraway, "Butler's fiction is predicated on the natural status of adoption and the unnatural violence of kin. Butler explores the interdigitations of human, machine, non-humananimal or alien, and their mutants, especially in relation to the intimacies of bodily exchange and mental communications" (Haraway, 1989, p. 294). And

remembersthe periodprior to the

re-educate Offred and




Susan Squier (forthcoming) notes that Butler imagines a situation

where genetic,

may be different people. In this sense, Butler opens up the creative possibilities of new reproductive 21st-century concepts of the human body as the only valorized one. Butler's postmodern fiction takes us so far into the future that problems of combining sex, work and motherhood subjectivities no longer apply. She envisions a world, like that of Baudrillard (1983), where the Faustian, Oedipal scenario has been replaced by "the ecstacy of communication" (p. 1). For now, American culture still has

to deal with the Oedipalconfigurations that are ultimately responsible

for making it difficult for

contemporary women to combine sex, work

and motherhood.But new reproductivetechnologies open up possibili-


our interest and analysis.

of worlds like those in Butler's fiction, and for that reason warrant

birth and social parents may be the same people or they


In the popular culture sphere, it

is clear that discourses attempt to

recoup the status quo that the 1960s shattered in relation to female sexuality. Recent images, uncannily like those in the 1950s, have in- sisted first that the only good female sexuality is that within marriage,

and second, that woman's sexuality is dangerous if freely released.The sentimentalizing motherhooddiscourse has also returned, but the new focus on the fetus perhaps even more than this discourse, marginalizes and oppresses the mother. A postmodern form of an old patriarchal fear of the mother, this new discourse shifts the locus of concern away from the subjectivity of historical mothers, and their struggles to link sex, work and motherhood, to constructing a new subject, the fetus (that can only paradoxically be called a subject). In feminist circles, the overall change has been from discourses about women in the late 1960s and the 1970s that excluded or marginalized the mother, while focusing on female sexuality, to, in the 1980s, including motherhood discourses alongside continuing (if dif- ferently focused) attention to sexuality. The feminist discourses dealt with here address recent reproductive technological advances, and imagine how they might harm or benefit women. The early feminist

focus on sexuality

we abhorred the pregnant body because the child stood in for the


please. But we were also still angry daughters who believed that the mother had allied herself with the father and deniedus access to sexual

(and other) pleasures. Nevertheless, we ironically re-appropriated the

took precedence over motherhoodfor good reason:

child seemed to be for the father we no longer aimed to



mother through concepts of sisterhood, female bonding or explicit lesbianism. Understanding this, a first group of feminist scholars gave new and due attention to the mother,5largely using a psychoanalytic and socio- logical approach. In the wake of the recent reproductive technologies,

a second group of feminist scholars has again turned to motherhoodto analyze the new situation produced through scientific and social

changes.6 Interestingly (and disturbingly in some ways), far less theorizing has been done by feminists about the work sphere, specifi- cally, as it figures in women's psychic lives. Much important work has been done by feminist economists, sociologists, psychologists and his- torians on the empirical, materialist level. But humanities feminists have largely focused on issues of sexuality, motherhood, and the domestic sphere, as if agreeing that this terrainis still the central one for women. This is clearly something that requires more analysis. Whereas feminisms and popular culture had clearly polarized posi- tions on female sexuality and motherhoodin the 1960s and 1970s, such

a clear polarity no longer pertains in relation to either discourse. On the one hand, medical discoveries made possible new reproductive technologies which may benefit women, offering, as they do, alternate ways to deal with pregnancy, fertility and infertility. On the other hand, new discoveries were made about fetal development, possi- bilities for fetal surgery, and the use that fetal tissue might be in curing some diseases. The perception of the public about these dis- coveries has been heavily influenced by Right-To-Life propaganda, whose dramatic visual techniques impact on feminists and others

alike, and enter

Feminists (like Atwood and Butler) whose imaginations are inspired by recent developments to look to the future take diverse positions in regard to these developments; meanwhile, historical women of varied political persuasions begin to make use of reproductive technologies

into popular entertainment