In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

195 7 Constrained Agency and Power in Surrogates’ Everyday Lives On a sweltering summer day in 2010, I sat in a restaurant on the outskirts of Mumbai with Nishi, a young woman preparing to become a surrogate mother for a foreign couple outside India. Nishi told me of how she had separated from her husband four years earlier. Separation and divorce remain unusual in India, particularly among working-class women like Nishi, but as one fertility doctor I interviewed explained, “You’d be surprised at the number of separations and divorces that are happening [among lower-class women]. . . . After we started doing surrogacy in the past three years, we realized that about 30 to 40 percent of them are separated.” This doctor asserted that most of the women walked out of their marriages because of abuse and alcoholism; Nishi’s case proved typical. Following her separation from her husband, Nishi struck up a friendship with Nikhil, a young man from south India who managed an electronics shop in Mumbai. As their friendship evolved into a romantic relationship, Nikhil supported Nishi and her two daughters in times of need. Nishi felt she also should support Nikhil, whom she planned to eventually marry. When she learned about surrogacy, Nishi viewed it as a potential financial windfall for her and her family, and began preparing for surrogacy without telling Nikhil. When she told Nikhil of her surrogacy plans, he disapproved: “He is not agreeing to it. He says don’t do this; he thinks it is illegal. Yet I am trying to convince him somehow and I am trying. I also told him that everything has been done. I told him I have done the ET [embryo transfer] and I cannot go back now. So, he is sitting quietly now, not saying anything.” In fact, at the time of our interview Nishi had not yet undergone embryo transfer. She was still in the preparatory phases: taking hormone injections and undergoing tests and procedures to determine her viability as a candidate for surrogacy. Why was Nishi deceiving Nikhil? 196 | Constrained Agency and Power in Surrogates’ Everyday Lives In the context of physician racism and the structural inequalities discussed earlier in this book, how do women challenge racialized constructions of Indian surrogates as docile and virtuous, or manipulative and shrewd? What are the strategies that Indian women contemplating surrogacy employ to negotiate and respond to the structural and social constraints they face daily? How do women enact agency in their efforts to meet or secure their self-defined needs and desires, even as their efforts may maintain structures of inequality? And what are the consequences of such acts of agency, particularly as they challenge cultural norms and expectations? This chapter addresses these questions by tracing the complexities of agency, constraint, and inequality in the lives of women who pursue surrogacy in India. While chapter 5 explored how racial constructions affected women’s views of kinship within the families of children born through surrogacy, in this chapter I focus on the ways in which participation in surrogacy affected women’s own families and communities. The views and experiences of women I spoke with resist reduction to simplistic stereotypes and binary oppositions between agent and victim . Indeed, the more I learned about surrogacy in India throughout my fieldwork, the more inadequate these notions became. I contrast the stories of Nishi and Parvati, both surrogates, and their friend Antara, a surrogate agent, whose personal narratives regarding surrogacy and the circumstances that motivated them to become gestational surrogates buttress the point that the global surrogacy industry reflects and reinforces a broader stratification of reproduction. At the same time, however, their narratives reveal the intricacies of women’s lives and fend off the temptation to portray them as victims. This chapter shows that surrogate women do find ways to resist racialized constructions of themselves as powerless victims or deceitful manipulators. I argue that in expressing forms of individual and collective agency, the women find ways to challenge gender norms and create new opportunities for themselves and their families, albeit within larger structures of power. As Rhacel Salazar Parreñas has argued in her discussion of migrant Filipina domestic workers’ resistance to power (Parreñas 2001, 8), this is the “bind of agency” that Judith Butler articulates (Butler 1997). Because the social processes from which agency emerges limit it, individual or collective resistance do not necessarily challenge structural inequalities. Sur- Constrained Agency and Power in Surrogates’ Everyday Lives | 197 rogates tended...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.