The Elusive Embryo: Women and Men - Reproductive Technologies, by Gay Becker Gaylene Becker

The Elusive Embryo: How Women and Men Approach New Reproductive Technologies

by Gay Becker

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Format: Paperback, 320pp.
ISBN: 0520224310
Publisher: University of California Press 
Pub. Date: December 2000

Description from

Book Description 

In the first book to examine the industry of reproductive technology from the perspective of the consumer, Gay Becker scrutinizes the staggering array of medical options available to women and men with fertility problems and assesses the toll-both financial and emotional-that the quest for a biological child often exacts from would-be parents. Becker interviewed hundreds of people over a period of years; their stories are presented here in their own words. Absorbing, informative, and in many cases moving, these stories address deep-seated notions about gender, self-worth, and the cultural ideal of biological parenthood. Becker moves beyond people's personal experiences to examine contemporary meanings of technology and the role of consumption in modern life. What emerges is a clear view of technology as culture, with technology the temple on which issues such as gender, nature, and the body are being rewritten and continuously altered.

The Elusive Embryo chronicles the history and development of reproductive technology, and shows how global forces in consumer culture have contributed to the industry's growth. Becker examines how increasing use of reproductive technology has changed ideas about "natural" pregnancy and birth. Discussing topics such as in vitro fertilization, how men and women "naturalize" the use of a donor, and what happens when new reproductive technologies don't work, Becker shows how the experience of infertility has become increasingly politicized as potential parents confront the powerful forces that shape this industry. The Elusive Embryo is accessible, well written, and well documented. It will be an invaluable resource for people using or considering new reproductive technologies as well as for social scientists and health professionals.

About the Author 

Gay Becker is Professor of Medical Anthropology and Social and Behavioral Sciences and an investigator at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco. She is the author of Disrupted Lives: How People Create Meaning in a Chaotic World (California, 1997), Healing the Infertile Family: Strengthening Your Relationship in the Search for Parenthood (California, 1997), and Growing Old in Silence (California, 1980).

Description from

From Publisher's Weekly - Publishers Weekly

Infertility is no longer a neutral term suggesting an inability to conceive, according to Becker (Disrupted Lives; Healing the Infertile Family), but has become a "disease" to be cured through a strange marriage of medicine, technology and commerce. In this study of the "subjective experience" of using reproductive technologies, based on interviews with more than 300 women and men, she argues that a variety of market and ethical forces conspire to make these treatments look not only deceptively safe and successful, but also morally necessary. Chancy technologies such as in vitro fertilization (success rate: 20%) tap into what Becker identifies as a specifically American tolerance for gambling and risk; at the same time, she suggests, they invoke a more conventional Protestant ethic of perseverance and meritocracy. Becker's interview subjects believe they'll either get lucky or work hard enough to become pregnant, but the time-consuming, expensive and exhausting process leaves the women feeling like machines, dehumanized and violated, while the men feel emasculated and left out. The long quotations from the study's participants are far less compelling than Becker's intriguing argument that anxieties around reproductive technologies encapsulate cultural assumptions about what sorts of people (white, monied, educated) are encouraged to reproduce. Becker's work will interest the increasing number of people considering reproductive technologies, as well as health professionals, cultural anthropologists and general readers concerned with the developing relationship between technology and the body. (Dec.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Table of Contents


Introduction: From Personal Experience to Research   1

1 Consuming Technologies   4

2 Confronting Notions of Normalcy   26

3 The Embattled Body   39

4 Genes and Generations   60

5 Experiencing Risks   79

6 Taking Action   102

7 Selling Hope   116

8 Decisions about Donors   133

9 Embodied Technology   156

10 Shifting Gears   171

11 Redefining Normalcy   187

12 Women Rethinking Parenthood   205

13 Rewriting the Family   218

14 Performing Gender   236

App.: About the Research   251

Glossary   257

Notes   265

References   297

Index   315

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