Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences

By Anne C. Herrmann; Abigail J. Stewart | Go to book overview

WOMEN, CITIZENSHIP, AND ACTIVISM

19 Fetal Images

The Power of Visual Culture
in the Politics of Reproduction

ROSALIND POLLACK PETCHESKY

Now chimes the glass, a note of sweetest strength,
It clouds, it clears, my utmost hope it proves,
For there my longing eyes behold at length
A dapper form, that lives and breathes and moves.

—Goethe, Faust

(Ultimately) the world of "being" can function to the exclusion of
the mother. No need for mother—provided that there is something
of the maternal: and it is the father then who acts as—is—the
mother. Either the woman is passive; or she doesn't exist. What is
left is unthinkable, unthought of. She does not enter into the
oppositions, she is not coupled with the father (who is coupled with
the son).

—Hélène Cixous, Sorties

In the mid-1980s, with the United States Congress still deadlocked over the abortion issue and the Supreme Court having twice reaffirmed "a woman's right to choose," 1 the political attack on abortion rights moved further into the terrain of mass culture and imagery. Not that the "prolife movement" has abandoned conventional political arenas; rather, its defeats there have hardened its commitment to a more long-term ideological struggle over the symbolic meanings of fetuses, dead or alive.

Antiabortionists in both the United States and Britain have long applied the principle that a picture of a dead fetus is worth a thousand words. Chaste silhouettes of the fetal form, or voyeuristic-necrophilic photographs of its remains, litter the background of any abortion talk. These still images float like spirits through the courtrooms, where lawyers argue

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