... and ain't i a woman?: Virgin births

April 17, 1991

Virgin births

There's a new twist in the debates about the latest reproductive technologies: newspapers have discovered that women in Britain have been engaging in so-called virgin births.

To the horror of Right to Life types, women who have never had sex with men have been found to be making use of artificial insemination programs and becoming mothers.

Why the outrage? You'd think they'd approve: the women involved are obviously showing great initiative in their quest for motherhood. Isn't motherhood a woman's highest possible state? And couldn't it be seen as an advance to avoid the nasty business of sex altogether, what with all the associated diseases, licentiousness and general moral decay it is supposed to cause?

Then there's the case of that very special virgin birth nearly 2000 years ago. Surely the current situation could be welcomed as a modern-day playing out of that original miracle?

No, the nuclear family brigade have responded with a volley of psychological and social arguments about the deleterious effects on children born of this modern union.

It's wearyingly familiar stuff: anything which breaks down the biological inevitability of women's lives, and situates them outside of the limiting social bounds of family life (read daddy-breadwinner, mummy-stay-at-home plus 2.5 children) seems to send the Fred Niles of this world into conniptions.

P.S. There's a long-running theological discussion about whether the Biblical Mary really was a virgin. The Encyclopaedia Britannica points out that, while there are references to conception without any human agency in Matthew and Luke, "the many textual variants in Matt. 1:16, some of them with the words 'Joseph begat Jesus', have caused some scholars to question whether such an assertion was part of Matthew's original account".

By Tracy Sorensen

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