Tuli Can't Stop Talking

These are just my thoughts on contemporary issues and an attempt to open up a dialogue.

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Location: New York City

A citizen who cares deeply about the United States Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Alex’s Handmaids Tale!

I have been meaning to blog about this since the article came out. I have however had so many conversations about the NYT’s article, Her Body, My Baby, that I actually used up my entire furor over the article. But then I read the piece by Thomas Frank at the WSJ titled Rent-a-Womb is Where Market Logic Leads and I was suitably chastised by his outrage (and not just because of our economic times.) Now the Style Editor at the New York Times, Alex Kuczynski, has given new meaning to “Style” and the whole concept of Class Warfare. She has taken hits even from Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor of said NYT’s.

The magazine article about gestational surrogacy — a woman’s bearing the biological child of someone else — posed a very different issue. The facts were not in dispute. But the article focused almost totally on the wealthy Kuczynski and her feelings without giving a voice to Cathy Hilling, the substitute teacher who bore her son. The article glossed over their class and economic differences, but the accompanying photographs seemed to emphasize them. The cumulative impact struck some readers as elitist.

Some readers were so offended by the pictures that they never even tried to read Kuczynski’s account of her struggle to have a child. One photograph showed her holding her son on the lawn of her Southampton home, columns along a wide veranda with white wicker in the background, a uniformed baby nurse standing at attention. Two pages later, Hilling was shown pregnant, leaning back on her dilapidated-looking porch in Harleysville, Pa., weeds peeking out from beneath it, a dog lying at her side. To many readers, the pictures screamed rich woman exploiting poor woman.

Kuczynski, who said she disagreed with her editors over the photographs before publication, said she felt they were “incendiary” and distracted from the story. Hilling, clearly portrayed in the article as middle class, described the porch as “the ugliest part” of her renovated, 135-year-old home. She said she felt the photo of her was “contrived.” Gerald Marzorati, the editor of the magazine, acknowledged the “upstairs, downstairs” quality of the photos but said they were not set up to be that way.

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, said she is “a big, big fan” of Kuczynski and her writing. But she said she thought that because the article did not deal forthrightly enough with the economic disparity between Kuczynski and Hilling, it “got people thinking there was a kind of clueless ness about that.” The photo of Kuczynski, she said, “dripped with to-the-manor-born.”

Kuczynski was stung by the reader criticism and said she has heard from hundreds of women grateful for her story; some described their experiences with gestational surrogacy, and others asked for more information about it.

Hilling said she was a bit frustrated by the pictures and Kuczynski’s story. “It was her opportunity to tell her experience,” she said. “I wish there was a way for me to share more of my part in it.” She said her motivation was not money, which mostly just covered her time lost from work, but the “incredible high” of knowing “you can make someone’s dream come true.”

I think readers would have been more satisfied if editors had given some space to Hilling’s feelings. Surrogacy does, after all, involve two mothers. The magazine seemed oblivious that it was giving one of them the short end of the story.

Now I remember the case in New Jersey about Surrogacy which led to a legal circus and I was in Law School at the time so it was fodder for much legal wrangling at the time. I am afraid that all of the old arguments remain.

It is for the most part from my perspective still all about class and who has a voice that will be listened to and the ink to get it heard.

Alex’s article and the ink spent on it suggests once again “Woman as vessel as in The Handmaid’s Tale is still viable.


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