Aldous Huxley's stark dystopia Brave New World has had immense impact on way people think about a future with ectogenesis (external wombs). In the book, reproduction is carried out on an assembly line, and "Bokanovsky's process" is employed to make embryos bud into as many as ninety-six separate fetuses. Those destined for the lower classes are doused with alcohol and radiation to make sure their mental capacity is low. Rapidly maturing eggs (along with bokanovskification) allows them to get an "average of nearly eleven thousand brothers and sisters in a hundred and fifty batches of identical twins, all within two years of the same age" (Huxley 4). These people are created for factory work. The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning can barely contain his excitement when he describes social stability as "ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!" (4).
It is clear that no one is going to come out very well in this book, but what particular effects did Huxley see when women no longer give birth? In his world, freeing women from biological reproduction has not freed them from much else. Seventy percent of the women in this society are sterilized, and the other thirty percent subjected to rigorous and ongoing birth control training. With pregnancy divorced from sex, free love is encouraged, but as June Deery points out, "For women, it seems, 'free love' means always having to say yes." Thus middle-class worker Lenina "has to dope herself before having sex with a highly-placed male, but we don't see a man prostituting himself in this fashion" (Deery 261). Women are expected to be constantly sexually available and are discussed as objects. In one conversation a male character says to another: "Oh, she's a splendid girl. Wonderfully pneumatic. I'm surprised you haven't had her." The other replies "I can't think how it is I haven't. I certainly will. At the first opportunity" (Huxley 29).
The freedom from pregnancy has not helped women get ahead in their careers, either. The high-level administrators, as well as the group of new scientists introduced at the beginning of the book, are all male. The concept of mothering has become downright disgusting. After making someone angry, Lenina says "He couldn't look more upset if I'd made a dirty joke - asked him who his mother was, or something like that" (Huxley 39).
Several recent pieces of Huxley scholarship speculate that it frankly didn't occur to Huxley to have women's roles be different. For example, Deery thinks that "for all his ability to think differently on the technological front, in the underlying sexual politics the more things change, the more they stay the same" (271). Indeed, writing about the book fifteen years after it was published, Huxley himself lists many things he would change, such as creating an option that is between the two extremes he presented: "an insane life in Utopia, or the life of a primitive in an Indian village" (Huxley vii). But in explaining his influences and why he chose to include free love in the book, he still does not touch on gender issues at all, and simply writes that as "political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase" (xiii). He does not acknowledge that though sexual freedom for males increased in his book, women's experience is different. Women occupy lower class positions, so it is hardly surprising that they volunteer to give their eggs to the government for a stipend. Women must either be sterilized or stick to a strict birth control regiment, and they are expected to acquiesce to every male who is interested in sex with them. Males, on the other hand, are not expected to alter their sexual behavior. Obviously, Huxley is writing a dystopia, but perhaps there are some ways in which he is simply unable to imagine a better world for women.
- Deery, June. "Technology and Gender in Aldous Huxley's Alternative (?) Worlds." Extrapolation 33.3 (1992): 258-273.
- Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper & Row, 1939.
- Image from jrambow via Flickr creative commons