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FR / EN

No 38 - 2021

Droits et devoirs procréatifs : des normes et des pratiques
Directed by Irène-Lucile Hertzog, Marie Mathieu




Toward a Comprehensive, International and Interdisciplinary Analysis of Procreative Work
Irène-Lucile Hertzog, Marie Mathieu

Research context: In line with materialist feminist analyses, this article revisits the boundaries between so-called productive versus reproductive work to deconstruct their foundations and show that, behind the social organization of procreation, there is work for which women are primarily responsible.

Objectives: The purpose of this introduction is to examine the production of children and the decision not to have them through the lens of procreative work, thus integrating the different tasks involved in procreation, non-procreation and child rearing. This will also demonstrate the importance of thinking about the right to the work of procreation within the social norms that frame the multiple sequences of the (non)production of new human beings.

Methodology: This introductory article is based on a review of literature that clarifies the key concepts of “procreative work” and “procreative rights” that are used to analyze the tasks associated with procreation — understood in a broad sense – in order to contextualize the various articles in this issue.

Results: While demonstrating the heuristic power of the conceptual choices made, the article highlights areas of resistance to the analysis of procreative work and opens up multiple avenues of investigation to broaden this topic for a comprehensive, international and interdisciplinary understanding of the field of procreation.

Conclusion: The interpretation proposed as a framework for thinking about the production of children and the decision to not have them, and what this implies for women, allows an array of everyday tasks that are particularly time-consuming and yet unnoticed to be brought to light. It highlights the need to integrate the different approaches, including legal norms, that constitute the social framework for procreative work.

Contribution: This article synthesizes knowledge regarding the concepts used to analyze tasks related to the (non)production of children.

Keywords: reproductive work, reproductive right, procreation, human reproduction, social relation


The Gendered Construct of Kinship in Germany and France: A Legal Construct of Reproduction Law
Laurie Marguet

Research Framework: In both France and Germany, reproduction law is often presented as structured around freedom, autonomy and choice based paradigms. While it is undeniable that the law now allows individuals, especially women, to make reproductive choices, the fact remains that it further encourages some reproductive choices at the expense of others. The way in which the law frames the reproductive choices of individuals tells us something about the model of the “ideal” family that is put forward by the state. While this model differs somewhat between legal orders depending on the social, historical, cultural or political context in France and Germany, it includes, however, a number of similarities, notably in that it perpetuates a gender order structured around the normalized distinction between “reproductive work” (traditionally attributed to women) and “productive work” (traditionally reserved for men).

Objectives: This research analyzes the way reproductive law constructs an ideal model of kinship by promoting some reproductive choices and encouraging the founding of some types of families. This article aims to deconstruct the narrative surrounding the legal framework of reproduction that is understood as an autonomous choice, which allows women to refuse motherhood in a logic of maternal “over power” that creates inequalities for men.

Methodology: We analyzed the legal framework (legal texts and case law), mainly regulating birth control, childbirth under X, abortion, medically assisted procreation, but also the establishment of filiation (parentage).

Results: Our research has shown that the law encourages the constitution of the “genetic” family, which is assumed to be heteronormative, and can be apprehended in a differentiated way between motherhood and fatherhood.

Conclusions: As the law standardizes behaviours, it “normalizes” individual choices that are not always considered as legitimized. The rules governing authorized procreation techniques in France and Germany are no exception to this principle. Although reproduction law authorizes birth control, anonymous delivery, abortion or medically assisted reproduction in both countries, it remains reluctant to accept the refusal of motherhood (more than the refusal of fatherhood) and instead encourages the founding of a heterosexual family in contrast to a non-heterosexual family.

Contribution: Our research highlights the fundamental role of the law in legitimizing some parental projects or families.

Keywords: law, abortion, anonymous delivery, medically assisted reproduction, parentage, motherhood, fatherhood, comparison France/Germany

The European Laws of Reproductive Labour: from the Biologisation of Motherhood to the Minimization of Gender Norms
Sophia Ayada

Research Framework: This research analyzes rulings of the European Union Court of Justice relating to reproductive work and thus concerning applicants seeking access to specific rights as mothers (biological, intended or potential) or as fathers.

Objectives: The aim is to highlight the European laws on reproductive work, i.e., the presuppositions, analogies and deductions on which the Court constructs its reasoning and legal solutions, applicable in social law, and to question their material consequences.

Methodology: This research exclusively draws on the European jurisprudence, which is studied from a materialist feminist standpoint. The analysis is firstly discursive, and secondly puts into perspective these discourses with the material consequences of the case law on women’s lives.

Results: The Court understands the concept of maternity as a primarily biological reality, because of the physiological vulnerability of pregnant women and young mothers. On the contrary, parental work is perceived as not structurally burdening mothers more than fathers, and the Court applies a gender-blind approach to it based on the equal treatment of men and women.

Conclusions: The biologizing analysis of motherhood defended by the Court excludes non-biological mothers, especially those who have resorted to surrogate motherhood (GPA), as well as fathers. Moreover, structural discrimination does not justify the adoption of gender-specific legislation to counterbalance inequalities in the assignment of reproductive work.

Contribution: This research shows the ambivalence of European jurisprudence, which oscillates between a regime of exception offering “protection” to pregnant women, and a general regime that minimizes the scope and discriminatory impact of legal and social norms on reproductive work.

Mots-clés: jurisprudence, equality, discrimination, maternity, paternity, biologization, determinants

Secularized reproductive norms? The French Catholic opposition to access to ART by lesbian couples and single women
Séverine Mathieu

Research framework: In the most recent revision of the French bioethics laws (2018-2019), the Catholic Church has been very active in regards to a most controversial issue that is the access to ART for lesbian couples and single women.

Objectives: This article explores how the Catholic procreative norms, which are considered by the magisterium as the way of becoming a parent, are translated in a secular argument.

Methodology: Drawing on an ethnographic survey of public debates that preceded and accompanied the present revision of the bioethics law, this article is using two types of data. On the one hand, observations were made during the “États généraux de la bioéthique” that were held between January and May 2018 and, on the other hand, an analysis of the proposals was undertaken by means of their website. Interventions in the media and documents produced by the Catholic Church were also compiled and analyzed.

Results: The Roman Magisterium seeks to show that its recommendations in respect to family matters are not based on faith but rather on the correct understanding of nature’s mechanisms. To enforce its discourse, the Church employs a rhetoric invoking the secular library.

Conclusions: In this context, the French Catholic mobilization against access to ART for lesbian couples and single women is trying to prevent a law change by referring to so-called traditional values and defending them in the name of secular principles. This can be interpreted as the expression of an “ostensible” (Hervieu-Léger, 2017), in which Catholic norms no longer permeate reproductive rights.

Contribution: By endeavouring to impose its procreative norms as well as its condemnation of contraception and abortion, the French Catholic Church resorts to secular norms which demonstrates the secularization of Catholicism.

Mots-clés: family, biotechnology, ethics, filiation, religion

Contraception in Femmes d’Aujourd’hui (1960-2010): between visibility and gender assignment of reproductive work
Margaux Roberti-Lintermans

Research Framework: Femmes d’Aujourd’hui, Belgium’s first French-language women’s magazine, is mainly aimed at a female readership and transmits a discourse on contraception, while contributing to its construction.

Objectives: We analyze it through a long chronological perspective (1960-2010) with regard to societal and legislative transformations in Belgium. How is birth control presented? Who is responsible for it? How is it transmitted?

Methodology: Using a qualitative approach based on a systematic analysis of the review, we report on the evolution of the discourse on contraception as a fundamental dimension of reproductive work.

Results: Contraception is initially presented as a shared responsibility within the couple, in accordance with the Christian orientation of the magazine and its journalists. Subsequently, birth control gradually became an exclusively female responsibility. Contraceptives are classified according to criteria of effectiveness that are put forward by the medical profession. At the turn of the millennium, information on contraceptive methods diversified and gave way to criticism in readers’ letters.

Conclusions: By making the various methods visible with the aim of providing information above all, Femmes d’Aujourd’hui promotes a contraceptive and procreative norm. Thanks to contraceptive methods, motherhood can be achieved in compliance with social norms, prescribing in particular a certain time frame, when the type of contraceptive changes according to a maternity project. Finally, although it leaves room for debate via readers or journalists, the women’s press paradoxically contributes to the gendered assignment of birth control.

Contribution: The discourse on contraception in Femmes d’Aujourd’huicontributes to the diffusion of an injunction to motherhood. In our research, we identify procreative norms that contribute to this. These evolve in two phases linked to the societal and legislative context.

Mots-clés: parenthood, contraception, history, speech analysis, procreative labour, media

« Why are you married if you don’t want children? » Contraceptive work in Gujarat, India
Lucia Gentile

Research Framework: The Indian Constitution guarantees the right to reproductive autonomy, including the right to access contraception. However, women continue to face significant barriers to reproductive autonomy and female sterilization remains the most commonly used method.

Objectives: This article looks at the configuration of women’s contraceptive work in Bhuj (Gujarat, India), highlighting the material, financial and temporal constraints that still limit their reproductive autonomy. This paper aims to highlight the way in which women users of family planning services respect, criticize or circumvent social and legal injunctions regarding contraception.

Methodology: This research is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2015 and 2018 in a public hospital in the city of Bhuj (Gujarat, India) and interviews with 40 women.

Results: Because of the modesty that surrounds sexuality and the social disapproval of the manifestation of sexual desire, women hide the contraceptive work that they produce. Contraception is not only an invisibilized procreative work, but it must also be invisibilized by the users, in order to have a reproductive autonomy. This is one of the reasons that contribute to the increase use of sterilization, which is the preferred method of birth control in Bhuj today.

Conclusions: The division of contraceptive labour contributes to and reinforces social and gender inequalities. Contraception is asserted as a responsibility that women must manage, even if several forms of authority influence this management. However, through a trade-off between the advantages and disadvantages of the different methods, women demonstrate a pragmatic agency that allows them to regulate their reproductive journey and to affirm their sexual identity as fertile women.

Contribution: The article aims to update existing research on family planning in India, by mobilizing the notion of contraceptive work.

Mots-clés: contraceptive work, body, Woman, agency, sterilisation, India

Avoiding Abortion Stigma: How the “Invisibilization Labour” Reinforces the Procreative Labour
Laurine Thizy

Research Framework: Given that abortion remains a social stigma, this paper analyzes how women who experiment a first pregnancy termination use invisibilization strategies to avoid stigma.

Objectives: We show how the “invisibilization labour” developed by women who have had an abortion (management of secrecy, concealment of the signs of pregnancy, of the care process and of the abortion…) strenghtens the procreative labour to which women are assigned. In this way, this “invisibilization labour” contributes to the reproduction of gendered asymmetries.

Methodology: Data were collected by a combination of semi-structured interviews with women aged from 17 to 38, whose first pregnancy resulted in an abortion (n=49), and also of ethnographical observations in several abortion centers in France.

Results: Making abortion invisible means controlling speech. Abortion disclosure occurs with female peers, such as friends or mothers for the younger ones. Sex partners are ambiguous allies, especially when the relationship is unstable. It also means controlling action by justifying absences from work and school in order to avoid sexual stigma. At home, concealing abortion is not so easy, because it is difficult to hide pregnancy symptoms and signs of medical care. In hospitals, the abortion stigma rather stems from contraceptive failure.

Conclusion: To protect themselves from abortion stigma, women who had their pregnancy terminated implement an “invisibilization labor”. The particular form taken by that labor depends on the woman’s social characteristics (age, marital status) and the types of stigma (sexuality, representation of the fetus, contraceptive failure).

Contribution: Viewed from the perspective of materialist gender sociology, this paper contributes to the analysis of abortion stigma that puts emphasis on women’s reproductive labour.

Mots-clés: abortion, disclosure, gender, reproductive health, stigma, procreative labour, stigma management

Social representations of gamete providers in Spain: the invisible and undervalued work behind egg “donation”?
María Isabel Jociles, Ana María Rivas, Ariadna Ayala Rubio

Research Framework: Spain ranks first in Europe in the egg “donation” sector. The production and marketing of human oocytes constitute one of the most lucrative markets in the country.

Objectives: How do women who offer their eggs understand this donation? In a society where egg “donation” is formally recognized as a voluntary and altruistic act, how do “donors” perceive and consider the remuneration they receive for this practice?

Methodology: In-depth interviews were conducted with 38 egg donors from different regions of Spain, including current and past donors, aged between 18 and 49 years. Most interviewees held precarious jobs, were unemployed, and/or were students without scholarships.

Results: Egg “donors” did not view their contribution to the human reproductive industry as work, let alone as waged work.

Conclusions: Although these women play an essential role in the egg donation process, they are often undervalued. Yet their participation is necessary for the achievement of the family projects of intentional parents. They also contribute to the proper functioning of assisted reproduction clinics and to supplying gamete banks.

Contribution: By presenting the social organization of egg donation in Spain, this article sheds light on how the reproductive work carried out by women that produce and give up their eggs is rendered invisible and undervalued. In addition, it gives an account of how biological material is expropriated from egg “donors” – an expropriation that is inadequately compensated and from which they do not benefit. This exploitation of women through the “biomedical mode of reproduction” and the invisibilization of their work is made possible thanks to “donor” anonymity, phenotypic coordination, modes of consent, economic compensation, and, more broadly, the use of the “gift” metaphor and the ideology of altruism.

Mots-clés: assisted reproductive technology, human reproductive work, "egg donors", altruism, financial compensation

Pregnant Women’s Third Shift. The Management of Pregnancy in France, between Women’s Rights and Mothers’ Duties
Elsa Boulet

Research framework: In France, the management of pregnancies rests upon a set of legal measures (health, social insurance, and labour rights) and stabilized medical practices (standard prenatal care). This paper questions the time management of pregnancies and tackles the contradiction between several temporalities. Pregnant women are entrusted with specific tasks and responsibilities for the fetus’ sake, this third shift adds up to domestic labour and in many cases to paid labour.

Objectives: This paper analyzes how the legal frame and the medical control have ambiguous and unequal effects for pregnant women.

Methodology: It draws on interviews and ethnographic observation conducted in the Paris’ region from 2014 to 2017. Thirty women were interviewed during their pregnancy, amongst whom 11 were interviewed twice or three times. Hospital care was observed from different places and times: registration, appointments with a midwife or obstetrician, antenatal classes.

Results: The management of pregnancy assigns an individualized responsibility to women for guaranteeing the fetus’s health. Health care for women can be intensive and rests upon their permanent availability for it. This is made possible by subordinating their professional timetable to health care requirements. Employees seek to minimize the impact of their pregnancy in their workplace by separating medical time and professional time.

Conclusions: Access to health care is largely effective and the legislation ensures that all pregnant women get prenatal care, which makes it at the same time an obligation for women. This obligation is more or less constraining depending on women’s resources. Measures concerning pregnant workers are not so beneficial as employers often do not abide by them, and employees only partially use them. Middle- or upper-class workers and those on the upper levels of the occupational hierarchy benefit more from these measures than others.

Contribution: This paper contributes to the sociology of work-life balance, to the sociology of health and to the sociology of inequalities.

Mots-clés: motherhood, access to health care, health, employment, work-life balance, temporality

To Be Recognized in the Pharmacy: Dispensing a Contraception after the “Pill Scare’’ in France and Bypassing of (Para)Medical Authority
Leslie Fonquerne

Research Framework: This article is based on a doctorate research project in sociology studying the prescriptions and uses of oral contraception in a “pill scare” context. It questions how oral contraception is dispensed and purchased, particularly in faulty prescription cases.

Objectives: By focusing on the specific step of the purchase of oral contraception, this paper intends to reveal the strategies developed by users to access oral contraception in the context of sometimes-discriminatory, non-medical logic of pharmacy staff.

Methodology: This article is based upon qualitative fieldwork data collected throughout January 2014 to August 2018. On the one hand, seventy-six interviews were conducted with seventeen contraceptive pill users, their mothers, as well as thirty-five healthcare professionals authorized to prescribe or dispense contraception. On the other hand, nearly one hundred medical and gynaecological consultations were observed in both public and private medical facilities.

Results: The prescription’s function varies according to the pills’ generation: guaranteeing the refund of second-generation pills and acting more as a medical monitoring device for third- and fourth-generation pills. However, if there is an issue with the prescription (whether it is missing or expired), the latter seems more accessible than the former. Moreover, the variable in terms of accessibility is not as much a matter of medical logic than one of familiarity between the user and the pharmacy staff, in which case they use ageism to the disadvantage of the youngest. Consequently, users mobilize their mothers to bypass (para)medical authority.

Conclusion: The contraceptive use requires self-control and skills that go far beyond daily pill ingestion. At the same time, non-medical logics operate as devices of social control in regards to contraception accessibility.

Contribution: The purchase of oral contraception, a specific step in the ‘‘contraceptive work’’, remains under-researched. Thus, this article questions the prescription of pills as a dispensable tool.

Mots-clés: contraception, generation, gender, medicalization, mother, healthcare workers, reproductive health


Why is the Quebec program “Agir tôt” controversial?
Michel Parazelli, David Auclair, Marie-Christine Brault

Research framework: In Quebec, social and educational policies in early childhood have been gradually guided for more than 20 years by early predictive prevention of behavioural and learning disorders. A striking example is the recent program “Agir tôt”, whose existence is justified by the results of the Quebec Survey of Child Development in Kindergarten (QSCDK) which uses the Early development instrument (EDI).

Objective: This article invites debate by questioning the normative foundations of these governmental programs.

Methodology: Our scientific approach is based on a critical epistemological posture, as well as inductive and part of a critical trend of qualitative research. By analyzing the texts describing the EDI and “Agir tôt” program, we questioned the concepts and ideological values used to guide a) the understanding of the development of the child and its difficulties and b) the purpose of these intentions and policies.

Results: Our analysis revealed theoretical and methodological biases and identified a specific normativity underlying these controversial preventive practices, including the choice to interpret the evidence from the stance of behavioural biology.

Conclusions: This program is in line with the biomedical rationality of predictive early prevention by considering as absolute truths: on the one hand, hypotheses about brain development and, on the other hand, a behaviourist interpretation of normality.

Contribution: Our research shows that these biases are largely ignored not only by parents, but by early childhood managers and professionals. A consequence is to take away the responsibility and the voice of parents that are then forced to learn from experts what their needs should be.

Keywords: early prevention, predictive screening, epistemology, child development, vulnerability, evidence, optimization of skills, Agir tôt, EDI

“I was scared, but now this is my home”: the journeys of single-parent refugee women in Montreal
Marie Fally

Research Framework: The number of displaced people in the world now stands at 82.4 million. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) remains critical of the low quotas granted to refugees in Canada and since 2018 one of its recommendations has been to prioritize vulnerable populations, in particular single women with children, who are at the heart of this research. In the context of forced migration, being a single mother often rhymes with precarity, instability and socio-economic inequalities, which have all been dramatically multiplied with the pandemic.

Objectives: The objective is to examine the strategies these women put into place to anchor themselves in Quebec society, and to face the daily challenges in their lives.

Methodology: The article is based on data collected through semi-structured interviews with Montreal-based single refugee mothers.

Results: These mothers find themselves juggling between tumultuous emotions, daily challenges, and familial responsibilities. Their journeys illustrate the ways in which resilience and agency intersect in the management of family dynamics as well as in settlement experiences.

Conclusions: Family transformations and the challenges of forced migration push refugee mothers to rebuild not only their home, but also their individuality as women and mothers, which challenges the often-reductive perspectives on motherhood and resilience.

Contribution: The results presented allow to nuance the concepts of resilience and agency while highlighting their ambivalence and their complexity. They also reveal the ways refugee mothers rebuild their lives after experiencing forced migration.

Mots-clés: agency, home, refugee women, migration, single-mothers, resilience




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