Maieutics - Note No. 8

O'Brien admits her periodization is shakey.  "Of course modes of contraception have existed for a long time, and many feminists have argued that these have been deliberately suppressed by men.  In Hegelian terminology these have been particular modes of contraception, and only contemporary technology can realize universal contraception." ("Hegel: Man, Physiology and Fate" 18, n. 1) O'Brien will nuance in Reproducing the World (201, n. 12).  The remarks end with a reformulation.  She writes "but contemporary technology can realize "universal" contraception, a fact which profoundly transforms the social relations of reproduction."  O'Brien could be reacting to a possible criticism of her dichotomization of Hegel since she leaves out of the play of particular and universal the intermediary term Individualität.

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that in the intervening period the work on modes of contraception by the "many feminists" and others gains greater currency.  Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English had earlier acknowledged The Manufacture of Madness (Delta, 1971) by Thomas Szasz especially his chapter on "The Witch as Healer" (Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, (Old Westbury, N.Y.: The Feminist Press, 1973), 42).  The figure of the witch-healer is popularized in the work of such thinkers as Starhawk and Mary Daly whose strands of feminism do not mesh well with O'Brien's materialism.

Recent work unavailable to O'Brien challenges the bases of her periodization more thoroughly. Angus McLaren notes "Most [histories of the regulation of reproduction] serve the unintentional purpose not so much of providing an understanding of past cultures as of applauding our own" and he goes on "Women in the "bad old days" of the pre-industrial world, such works commonly argue, were plagued by repeated unwanted pregnancies; in rational modern societies reliable contraceptives assure control of one's body." A History of Contraception: From Antiquity to the Present Day (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990. 1).  His work shows that such effective measures as prolonged lactation to spread out pregnancies were well known in pre-industrial Europe. Ironically in O'Brien's dialectics of reproduction, breast feeding would belong to the moment of nurture which she claims to be "genderically shared" (Politics of Reproduction 47).