Within a few years, it may be possible for premature babies to grow inside an artificial womb. And when that day arrives, should men be able to give birth to children? Should we externalize pregnancy with artificial wombs? And are these feminist dreams or frankenstein nightmares? Welcome to Reprodutopia, a debate on our reproductive futures.

A new narrative

For a long time the birds and the bees served us well to explain where our children come from. Yet radical developments in reproductive technology force us to rewrite this story.

Artificial wombs, gene editing techniques and reprogramming adult cells into eggs or sperm cells are revolutionary ways for human beings to reproduce, and appear to be closer than any of us can imagine.

It’s time for a much-needed discussion about the way technology radically alters our attitude towards reproduction, gender, relationships and love in the 21st century. If we are to rewrite the human story, let’s make sure it becomes a story that benefits all.

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6 comments

  • ljc

    I'm not sure how progressive it is to reverse gender roles and still have the same old gender binary with one partner doing all the labour? Does an artificial womb need to be in a body, surely its making it far more complicated and it would be safer for the male carriers and the unborn babies to be in a external artificial womb...especially if the purpose is to emancipate women from the role of child bearing and caring? It doesn't seem like a feminist project to me. Is this in the best interest for babies, surely they should be the highest priority as they have no voice, how will their wellbeing be ensured through the experimental process? Seems like a project that would allow a few wealthy people the change to have a simulated experience of child carrying.

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    • Hendrik-Jan Grievink
      Initiator and project lead of Reprodutopia

      Hi ljc, thank you for your comment. As intitiator of the Reprodutopia project I would like to respond to what you write. Firstly, the main intention of this project was to imagine and visualize alternatives to current forms of reproduction. We did this in various ways, through visuals and physical mockups (speculative design). In my opinion, those alternatives do not necessarily have to be evaluated as ‘better’ or ‘more progressive’, they first have to be on the table in order to have a proper conversation! Having said that, I agree that a reversal of gender roles is indeed not necessarily progressive. And again; male pregnancy is only one of the options that we visualized. Others for example are external artificial wombs. We are collaborating with an international consortium that have the aim to have a working prototype of such an artificial womb in the next eight years. Our aim is to realize an updated, XL version of the Reprodutopia exhibition, one that could hopefully travel globally. I’m curious; if you where even the choice, what kind of scenarios would you hope/expect to see in such an exhibition?

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  • Now that women's and LGBTQ rights show to be more fragile the ever, I'm very curious to see what the future will hold for the artificial womb. Personally, I'd love to see (gay ánd straight) men being able to carry their baby, but I also worry that it will become a privilege for wealthy reproductively challenged people.

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  • To me this question seems to be a logical next step in the emancipation movement of the past century. More and more women entered the workspace, but the responsibility for pregnancy and childrearing remained female. However, I do not believe men have to get pregnant to solve the issue. Could we use the discussion on the development of the artificial womb to raise awareness for this inequality that affects female mental, physical and professional status? The extension of paternity leave in 2020 is a great start, what’s next?

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  • Using an artificial womb could lead to more equality between sexes, but also between different family layouts. If men would be able to give birth to children, it would maybe be easier for male same-sex couples to have a child together.

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  • My short answer would be: yes. But actually, then can already. A more specific question could be: Should men be able to carry a pregnancy? Or: should technology enable men to carry a pregnancy. To me, it comes down to the question what kind of society we want, everything else follows from there. Philosopher Ana Smajdor (who will join the debate in Amsterdam this Saturday) states the question like this thought experiment: ‘You are asked whether you would prefer to be born into society A, where women bear all the risks and burdens of gestation and childbirth, as they do now, or society B, where ectogenesis has been perfected and is routinely used. You do not know whether you will be born as a man or woman. Which do you choose?’. I personally find this question super relevant and well-stated. I have only one problem with it. Namely that people are very well capable of envisioning Society A (that’s the world they live their daily lives in), but will very probably have trouble envision society B. For me, that’s where imagination comes in and where art and design can play a huge role. Therefore I’m super proud we open Reprodutopia tonight, our mobile clinic in which we discuss the future of reproduction, relationships and family.

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  • Should men be able to give birth to children? I find this project relevant because I honestly don't know the answer (yet). Is the artificial womb frankenstein-like symbol of (male) engineers trying to steal the magical womb from women? Or... is it a feminist project and needed to reach through equality between the sexes? I personally lean towards the latter. To me it feels like progress if a girl can tell a guy to carry the womb for a change.

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