Mar 21 2011

Spinster aunt reads interesting email

Despite the dire predictions saturating yesterday’s news, last night’s “supermoon” didn’t precipitate too many cosmic cataclysms or harmonic convergences here in Cottonmouth County. The toilets still flush clockwise and my internet connection remains intact. Sometimes intact internet connections bum me out, but today I was pleased to discover among the emails a communiqué from Athena Andreadis, molecular neurobiologist, author, and my new idol.

In her email Ms Andreadis expressed general solidarity, curled a lip at “the Tarzanism of the self-labeled progressive intellectuals” (the Dawkinses of which group I pooh-poohed in yesterday’s post), then turned me on to her blog, Astrogator’s Logs.

As superintendent of the Savage Death Island Spinstitute for No. 1 Science Information, I am delighted, in turn, to turn you on to her blog. Her essays have titles like “Girl Cooties Menace the Singularity!” and do not disappoint. Behold an excerpt from “Blastocysts Feel No Pain,” a recent piece bursting with No. 1 Science Information, on the misogyny of blastocyst-worship, the handiness of stem cells, the crappiness of the “Protect Life” Act, and the redoubtable power of politicians to enslave women as fetusbags.

Despite fulminations to the contrary, women never make reproductive decisions lightly since their repercussions are irreversible, life-long and often determine their fate. Becoming a human is a process that is incomplete even at birth, since most brain wiring happens postnatally. Demagoguery may be useful to lawyers, politicians and control-obsessed fanatics. But in the end, two things are true: actual humans are (should be) much more important than potential ones – and this includes women, not just the children they bear and rear; and embryonic stem cells, because of their unique properties, may be the only path to alleviating enormous amounts of suffering for actual humans.

Ms Andreadis avers that, loosely speaking, blastocyst : human :: acorn : oak. Imagine (and this lumpen speculation is purely my invention; don’t go blaming it on Athena) if the Oak People were as loony over acorns as godbag humans are over clumps of cells. My horses hang around under oak trees all day waiting for acorns to fall, so they can eat them with some fava beans and a nice chianti.* If they didn’t get eaten, the zillions of acorns that happened to land in hospitable spots would become irksome, ankle-shredding shrubs, eventually choking the life out of each other in a slo-mo battle royale over water, sun, and nutrients. Providing sustenance to furry woodland creatures is what the vast majority of acorns do. Everybody (except the people who have to rake them up) accepts the happy outcome of this reasonable arrangement with grace and dignity, which is why you won’t see gangs of sapped-up timber from the Society for Compulsory Arborosity running around like mad trying to force all these acorns into seedlings; this would kill the adult trees and starve the forest critters. Also, timber can’t run.

Nobody needs every flippin’ embryo to turn into a baby, either, but stem cells can actually improve the circumstances of persons who are already humans.

If you catch my drift.

* Yes, I am aware that acorns are toxic to horses. Fastidious raking keeps them (the horses) alive, but the equine aptitude for acorn-spotting is remarkable for animals with brains the size of plums.


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  1. Sarah

    I think this is the best argument in favor of embryonic stem cell research I’ve ever seen (although I’ve admittedly not seen that many; most progressives seem not to want to touch this issue with a ten foot pole, or if they do, they can’t articulate themselves very well). Thank you.

  2. AlienNumber

    Twisty, clearly, CLEARLY, you’ve never seen a picture of an acorn that looks like a fully developed and culturally integrated mini-oak at only 6 weeks after conception.

  3. Comrade Svilova

    AN, also, did you know that right after the acorn falls into the fertile soil of the earth it immediately has a fully developed consciousness of itself as a living being, as well as feelings, dreams, and the right to give testimony before congress?

    This blamer fears that the blastocyst-worshippers are so far from recognizing science that they don’t care what the actual facts are. They tend to overlap with the evolution deniers and other choice anti-science crowds.

  4. TwissB

    Not that I am referring to anyone in particular, but I have been bothered at the unquestioning and eager acceptance of the stem cell initiaative, perhaps because it seems to show how reasonable and public spirited feminists are despite our lamentable habit of killing our adorable unborn babies with reckless abandon.

    Meanwhile, I am asking for real answers about the impact on women of the scientific market’s demand for those high quality embryonic stem cells. How is this market to be satisfied with possibly degraded surplus foetuses made available (sold?) by medical practioners in “assisted pregnancy” facilities? As if the exploitation of women by various “contract pregnancy” or “surrogacy” arrangements were not sufficient cause for concern, I should think that the stem cell market could provide added incentives for mining women for reproductive products. Will still more, especially young, women be urged to do the right thing by undergoing the painful and possibly hazardous processes of super-ovulation and extraction to satisfy the demand for men’s enterprises?

    Throughout the scientists’ and journalists’ hyping of the predicted therapeutic properties of stem cells for curing a vast variety of ills, the silence regarding the ovarian source of these cells has been strikingly unanimous. The ponderously granted approval of the practice by arbiters of women’s right to abortion also should prompt feminists to question whether the general enthusiasm for stem cell use may appeal to men who see women as less human than themselves and therefore ethically available for experimentation and exploitation.

    As with prostitution and surrogacy, are we being tolerant or complicit when we should at least be demanding honest answers to real questions? How many ways can women’s unique reproductive organs be used to subordinate women?

  5. Athena Andreadis

    Twisty, thank you for the signal boost!

    TwissB, I discussed some aspects of what you mention here:

    Equalizer or Terminator?

  6. Comrade Svilova

    Will still more, especially young, women be urged to do the right thing by undergoing the painful and possibly hazardous processes of super-ovulation and extraction to satisfy the demand for men’s enterprises?

    If there were a limited supply of frozen embryos and women were being manipulated and recruited to create embryos specifically for scientific research, there would be an incredible problem.

    But the business of stem cell research is not simply “men’s enterprises.” My partner’s mother has MS and it will probably kill her before a stem-cell based cure can be found (thanks to the blastocyst-worshippers holding up research), but I see it as valuable human business to find ways to keep people like her alive, and to keep them well, especially given that so many frozen embryos currently exist and research could be performed without asking a single additional woman to engage in IVF.

    The resources are available, and the godbags would have us sit and twiddle our thumbs while people sicken and die, just because there’s a chance that millions of women will volunteer to be implanted with the frozen embryos and bring them to term.

  7. Treefinger

    TwissB, I think those are some very valid and interesting questions. And definitely things for feminists to keep an eye on as the research gains more importance and mainstream acceptance. However I think the key difference between surrogacy/stem cell research and prostution is that while there are lots of ways for patriarchy to make them oppressive in practice, there is nothing about them that makes them invalid in theory.

    If done properly (proper consent including ability to withdraw the donation or carry to term if desired, monetary incentive, the absence of a cultural force that may pressure a woman to make a certain choice, etc.) the acquisition of embryos for the research would hopefully be no more of an ordeal for women than the harvesting of unfertilized eggs or sperm donation in men’s case for men (obviously allowing a fetus to grow inside you for a time is somewhat more of a big deal than simply pointing your bratwurst at a funkbucket during your daily masturbation, but still- as close to that as is possible with female reproductive organs).

  8. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    People should be forced to witness an ultrasound of the acorn’s innards and listen to its heartbeat before feeding it to horses.

    I’d like to see the ethics of the megatheocorporatocracy advance a wee bit before we start selling stem cells to the highest bidder, the way we do every other danged thing.

  9. Mandolin

    It’s excellent that Athena’s work is receiving attention in the feminist blogosphere. People who are interested in science fiction should definitely chase down her intelligent, incisive commentaries, posted on her blog and in other venues, such as Apex Magazine.

  10. Sarah

    The arguments against stem cell research are much like the arguments against giving perfectly tasty food that otherwise would be thrown away to hungry people: If it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to pay for.

    Example: Thousands of IVF byproduct blastocyst thingamabubbers go unused all o’ the time and are just destroyed rather than put to work doing useful things like, I dunno, curing cancer or supplementing some rich person’s face cream.

    Leastwise that’s how my plum-sized brain understands it. Then again, one time I tried to eat some acorns, so I’m with the horses on this one.

  11. Comrade PhysioProf

    Athena is fucken awesome. I have served with her on scientific peer review panels, and her intellect is formidable and her wit rapier sharp.

    And it is news to me that she is also a motherfucken blogger! How wonderfully w00ttastic!

  12. damequixote

    If an acorn falls in the woods and there is no one there to protest it, does Pat Robertson make a noise?


  13. Linnea

    Blastocysts as acorns? Doesn’t anyone take botany anymore? That analogy doesn’t work at all.

    And Jill, more heartwarming plant nature crap, please.

  14. Athena Andreadis

    Mandolin, Comrade PhysioProf — Thank you for the lovely words!

    Comrade PhysioProf, I sent you a note.

  15. Vibrating_Liz

    When I was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma a few years ago, I mentioned to one of the head chemo nurses that if the first-line treatment wasn’t effective, the next step would be a stem cell transplant. He recoiled in horror and gasped, “Oh no no no, we do NOT do STEM CELL RESEARCH at this hospital, or anywhere else in the state of Louisiana.” I had a moment of panic, believing I was as good as doomed, before it became clear that routine stem cell transplants were in fact available but were somewhat erroneously called “bone marrow transplants” around those parts, because the mere mention of stem cells sent everybody into a godbag frenzy. Even though it’s a life-saving treatment, not research, and the damn stem cells would have been harvested from my very own blood, not from anything remotely resembling a fetus. Sheesh. And these were people who had masters degrees in the healthcare field.

  16. Zoe

    @Vibrating_Liz: In a similar vein, I heard that the reason we call it “magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)” rather than the more precise term “nuclear magnetic resonance imaging” is because the latter sends people off into a nookyoolar frenzy.

  17. Logoskaieros

    The violinist analogy is more poignant. If a world-class violinist is dying of some kidney disease and the Society of Music lovers kidnaps you in the night and hooks your kidneys up to the violinist, we can think of your now current sitch as analogous to being preggers. If you unhook your kidneys before 9 months is up, the violinist will prob die. After nine months, they’ll be weak, but viable. Question: Do you have a moral responsibility to stay hooked up to save the adult who is very talented? Nope. To say otherwise means you don’t have a right to use your own organs and bodily resources for your own wellbeing and health as you see fit.
    This analogy is poignant because it argues that even IF fetuses could feel pain and even IF they were fully-realized organisms, women STILL wouldn’t have an obligation to carry them to term.

    It makes my head hurt when I realize all the reasons why stem cell research just should not even be an issue. le sigh.

  18. Triste

    Logos, your violinist metaphor is nice, but it totally misses out on the key fact that pregnant women have had sex at some point, and therefore are not fully realized human beings but filthy, dirty whoresluts who are lucky just to have their bodies hijacked for nine months rather than just being stoned to death for being so unbelievably crass.

    In all seriousness though, the argument over whether or not a fetus counts as a person always just baffles me. Who the fuck cares if it’s a person or not? No person has the right to use my vagina for a single second without my consent, much less for nine goddamn months. Ask most of these anti-choice douchebags if they think you should be able to shoot a man who breaks into your house to steal your television and they will gleefully say, well of course! But an unwanted guest inside the body of a woman for nine goddamn months deserves life, even at the expense of its unwilling host? Christ.

  19. tinfoil hattie

    Triste, the fetus isn’t actually IN your vagina for the whole 9 months, if that’s any comfort. (HA)

    I also am now swayed by the filthy whoresluts argument. Hmmm. You are so right!

    Sigh. It just never ends, does it?

  20. CassieC

    Dear Blametariat, this comment is unrelated to acorns or blastocysts, but this is the place from where my inspiration came to deal with a horrible issue, so this is the place to tell the story. I’ll try to keep it short at least.

    The context are these two UK news stories:

    Stag parties ‘fuel sex trafficking’

    Sex trafficking in the UK: one woman’s horrific story of kidnap, rape, beatings and prostitution

    My boyfriend (yes, sorry, the straight female’s quandary) is british. I confronted him about stag parties, and he answered that he himself would not participate, because he “was not interested.” Because of my exposure to Savage Death Islandism, I was able to point out that “being an uninterested consumer” was a pretty horrible way to describe “not taking part in crimes of human trafficking, slavery and rape.” He argues his vegetarianism on the grounds of caring about animal suffering, but he argues his non-participation in prostitution on the grounds of personal distaste, not caring about human suffering. And thanks to SDIism, I was able to explain very clearly that that does not make him a decent human being (or trustworthy partner).

    Thanks, Jill et al, and sorry for being off topic. Back to acorns and their immortal souls.

  21. pheenobarbidoll


    Now women in SD will have to wait 3 days and get “counsel” from a pregnancy “help” center before obtaining an abortion.

  22. Bushfire

    In completely unrelated heartwarming nature crap news, here is a turtle on wheels.


  23. Ayla

    tinfoil hattie, I finally sent you that email I should have sent months ago. Thanks again, and sorry for the length.

  24. minervaK

    Sorry to hijack the science love-in, but SNACHISMO is utter brilliance.


  25. minervaK

    blastocyst-worshippers are so far from recognizing science that they don’t care what the actual facts are

    is obvious to all but said blastocyst-worshippers.

  26. tinfoil hattie

    Got it, Ayla. I’m writing a response.

  27. Athena Andreadis

    Thank you, Minerva(=Athena)! The Snachismo (TM) essay can also be found on my blog with accompanying images:

    Snachismo, or: What Do Women Want?

    Linnaea, I’m well aware than an acorn is actually plant embryo plus nutrients plus protective coating, which makes it the equivalent of embryo plus placenta plus womb. Which was part of the point I made: namely, that human blastocysts are even less than that in terms of viability and autonomy.

  28. Zoe

    There seem to be an awful lot of women in science among the Blametariat. I’m a grad student in math studying computational neuroscience. Anyone else want to come forward as a science gal? This is the last place I expected to do networking…

  29. Summerspeaker

    The linked critique of the Singularity movement definitely stands out as a classic. Athena called that to my attention a while back.

  30. Comrade Svilova

    If it’s not too self-promoting, I’d like to mention a video that some feminists friends and I created. It’s not IBTP-level blaming, but we wanted to refocus the question on women and what women want and need. The word “fetus” is not even mentioned. Because the fetus is, ultimately, not all that important, compared to the woman. As we all know.


  31. Jezebella

    @Treefinger, who said: “the acquisition of embryos for the research would hopefully be no more of an ordeal for women than the harvesting of unfertilized eggs or sperm donation in men’s case for men….”

    It is my understanding that ova “harvesting” is a harrowing and painful process, requiring a regimen of hormone shots (with icky side effects) beforehand, and not remotely equivalent to acquiring a sperm sample.

  32. Athena Andreadis

    It’s absolutely true that ova harvesting is harrowing and painful as you describe. However, at this point there are something like half a million or more blastocysts sitting in nitrogen tanks that will never be used. Compare that to the fact that fewer than 100 embryonic stem cell lines are officially in existence.

  33. Foilwoman

    Thanks for this wonderful introduction to Athena Andreadis.

  34. Rabbit

    Ha! I love the Oak People analogy– I usually just get really angry when trying to debate abortion rights, so it’s always good to have a backup argument. :) It especially bothers me that this is called the “protect life” act. I don’t understand how someone can value a fertilized egg over an actual PERSON, who has a life. Looooony.

  35. Citizen Jane

    Zoe said:

    There seem to be an awful lot of women in science among the Blametariat.

    It makes sense. In order to be spending time here you need to a) be a feminist and b) have enough class privilege to have the time and resources to be discussing feminism here. Feminists who don’t have class privilege are too busy working their butts off to be here. Women with class privilege who aren’t feminists would never dream of going into the sciences. So it’s natural that we have a disproportionally high number of women who work in male-dominated privileged class fields. I would expect to see a lot scientists, engineers, and techies here.

  36. Ayla

    Looking forward to it, tinfoil hattie!

  37. phio gistic

    I just read this article that some chud of a “doctor” thinks men should be able to “veto” abortions if they claim to be the father of the acorn. It’s lobe-blowing, but there is some excellent blaming going on in the comments.


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