Since Shulamith Firestone’s radical feminist manifesto The Dialectic of Sex was first published in 1970, her revolutionary demand to “free women from the tyranny of their reproductive biology by every means available” has been highly contested. Arguing for the development of reproductive technologies to a point that would allow for ... (Show more)
Since Shulamith Firestone’s radical feminist manifesto The Dialectic of Sex was first published in 1970, her revolutionary demand to “free women from the tyranny of their reproductive biology by every means available” has been highly contested. Arguing for the development of reproductive technologies to a point that would allow for extra-uterine reproduction, Firestone imagined a post-revolutionary world in which childbearing and -raising would be diffused throughout society and no longer confined to the nuclear familial sphere. Anticipating criticism of this utopian (or, depending on the reader’s perspective, dystopian) vision, Firestone warned that “the misuse of scientific developments is very often confused with technology itself,” thereby admitting to the danger of this technology being mishandled while emphasizing its essential potential as an emancipatory tool.
This view of technology as an ambiguous yet potentially liberating force was, for a brief moment and to a much lesser degree than in the US-American context, also present in West German second-wave feminist debates. In 1983, Irene Stoehr, in the West Berlin-based feminist magazine Courage, hailed artificial reproduction as “the victory of feminism”: “test-tube and freezer are steps on the way to the liberation of having children from heterosexual sex.” However, as Stoehr realized, she was quite isolated in her optimistic view of technology. Noting the virtual impossibility of regarding the new reproductive technologies in this positive light within the New Women’s Movement, she resignedly asked: “But who still remembers Shulamith Firestone?” More fervently calling out this turn away from the Firestonian utopia of the liberation of women from the confines of biology, the feminist scholar Silvia Kontos in 1985 adamantly inquired: “Why is it no longer possible in the women’s movement to think about the possible gain of autonomy the new reproductive technologies could mean for women, why is Shulamith Firestone’s fantasy of test-tube procreation (…) only considered as a spawn of a male-technocratic brain?”
Taking this question seriously, my paper traces this noted hostility toward (reproductive) technology in the 1980s West German feminist movement. Why did it become impossible to view these technologies as potentially liberating forces, as possibilities for autonomy rather than threats, engineered by the “techno-patriarchy”, aimed at disempowering and “eliminating” women? What does the concept of technology designate in these debates? What are the cultural-intellectual roots of this debate? And what are the specifically German tones in it?
Explaining the specific conceptualization of technology that marked the West German women’s movement of the 1980s by firmly situating it in the context of 20th-century German (intellectual) history, I argue that this marked techno-skepticism fulfilled a two-fold historico-political function: On the one hand, it served as a symbolic defense against the Nazi past as the Holocaust had come to be understood as a distinctly modern event that was predicated on and implemented through technological advances. On the other hand, it served as a subcutaneous continuation of certain lebensphilosophical and völkisch patterns of argumentation that identified German identity with nature, spirit, soul and against technology, science and the rational. (Show less)