Straighten up and breed White: The representation of race and sexuality in films about reproductive technologies
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation is concerned with the monstrous, specifically as it enters our understanding of reproductive technologies, and is represented through a series of films, beginning in the 1930s. In looking at filmic representations of reproductive technologies, this study indicates how the use of, and the results from, those technologies are characterized as monstrous. Because technological reproduction is demarcated as monstrous, non-technological reproduction is naturalized. Importantly, this naturalized reproduction in the films is not only non-technological, but specifically derived from heterosex and racially consistent. In this examination, I argue that the kinds of cultural stories we tell about family-making resemble those we tell about gays and lesbians and non-whites: that in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century US, our culture operates under a double discourse in which those we pity become those whose lives we restrict. In the realm of reproduction, these seemingly contradictory positions enable attempts to limit or eradicate the reproduction of certain people, the egregiousness of which is ameliorated by expressions of sympathy for the life circumstances of those same people. The insights of this project are built on the naturalization of white, heterosexual reproduction in popular film, as well as the historical construction of desired reproduction through eugenics. Some feminist scholarship about reproductive technologies has directly linked those technologies to eugenic attempts to control reproduction, but do so by naturalizing motherhood and reproduction. The "unnaturalness" of reproductive technologies, in the form of masculine medical institutions, these writers claim, looks exactly like the masculine control of human reproduction during the eugenics movements. I seek to extend and complicate this scholarship by pointing out how such a reductive version not only negates the social welfare movements aspects of eugenics but also makes heterosexual reproduction via sexual activity the norm, thereby de-valuing gay and lesbian family-making. On the other side of the reproductive technologies issue, other feminist scholars herald these technologies as capable of eradicating inequitable social relations. Conversely, I argue, these technologies continue to exacerbate the system of differences through their re-inscription of the varying degrees of "quality" assigned to the reproduction of women of color.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies