Coming to Life: Philosophies of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering

By Sarah Lachance Adams; Caroline R. Lundquist | Go to book overview

4
The Birth of Sexual Difference
A Feminist Response to Merleau-Ponty

LISA GUENTHER

The first response to the announcement of a new birth is typically a question: “Is it a girl or a boy?” This question is both banal and revealing; it interpellates the newborn as a being for whom certain colors, toys, and modes of interaction will be deemed appropriate or inappropriate, but it also suggests a certain relation among birth, time, and sexual difference. What do we expect when we’re expecting, if not a girl or a boy? Prospective parents may choose not to discover the sex of their child until the moment of birth, but this only postpones the inevitable question. At some point, the pronoun “he” or “she” begins to insinuate itself, structuring almost everything that can be said about the newborn. Whether in pregnancy or in the first chaotic weeks of taking care of a new baby, the duality of sexual difference may seem like the only legible signpost in an otherwise inscrutable landscape of tears and other leaky fluids. It is tempting to read this signpost in a way that locates the future of the child in present attributes, looking for footballer legs or supermodel smiles in bodies that are more or less indistinguishable apart from genital sex. And when infants are born who do not fit neatly into one or the other category, efforts are routinely made to disambiguate the intersex infant, as if the child would have no future unless recognizable as one or the other sex.1

Iris Marion Young has criticized the temporality of expectation as a model for pregnancy:

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