11ANT lecture

Lesbian and Gay kinship - challenging the assumptions of kinship ideologies?

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Schneider: kinship based on biology and nature. substance (blood) + law (marriage) + parental and marital love = the typical American family.

Howell: Kinning ---> the capacity of individuals to shape and do kinship. Weston was the first anthropologist to look at this area of study in depth. 

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delegitimising GL relationships

Dominant societal view is that the 'natural order' is a family with procreation at its heart. Gay and lesbian relationships are thus delegitimised by a discourse of 'the real family.' Heterosexual procreation is not present, there is no focus on procreation within gay and lesbian relationships.

To achieve womanhood is to have a child <---> To have a child is to engage in heterosexual procreation <---> to in engage in heterosexuality is to produce kin.

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The importance of biology

Hayden: structural inequality. 

  • the birth mother is a recognised, privileged connection both biologically and legally.
  • the emphasises the symbolic power of biology in ideologies of kinship. She is the childs biological mother. No-one else is and thus has no claim unless legally adopted.
  • the co-mother has no claim by either biology or by law.
  • It is possible to choose the importance of biology within a family.

Creating parenthood

  • Hyphenated surnames
  • Sharing kin temrs
  • Formally adopting eachothers children
  • Biologically: choosing donor who look alike to the mother(s).
  • Sperm donor who is already a biological member of the family
  • Using the same donor to establish a genetic link between the children
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Lesbian motherhood - key points

There is a strong association of motherhood with heterosexual relationships and procreation. However, this is chnaging as lesbian and gay couples employ NRTs to assist them in becoming parents. Women are still able to physically give birth to their own child, however they have to employ a sperm donor to make this possible. Likewise with gay couples, they can use their own sperm donations and have their baby through a surrogate mother. Adoption is also an option.

Lesbian motherhood challenges ideas of social norms (no presence of heterosexual procreation) but also confirms it through its emphasis on womenhood and motherhood and biology as a symbol of legitimating kinship.

The argument for motherhood being a natural desire for women is very present here. Lewin's research demonstrated this and the basis for womenhood being motherhood.

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  • Lewin found that lesbians saw motherhood as an opportunity to 'normalise' and 'legitimise' their homosexual relationships. It was an opportunity to take part in a positive identity - a woman becomes a mother ----> natural ---> not stigmatised.
  • But this is not simple. It is a dynamic process of negotiation and re-inscribing meanings.
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Nardi 2001 Friendship as kinship

Gay kinship highlights a profound challenge to dominant ideologies of Euro-American kinship as rooted 'in the family.' Rejection of the biological family is a regular occurrance due to unacceptance of sexual orientation.

Gay friendship become described as chosen families.

Bonds you choose between people you love, not just prescribed as with biology. 

Creating a sense of community with a shared identity. Very similar to kin networks in that they provide support, nurturing etc. 

But is friendship the same as kinship?

'my gay friends are like my family... the closeness, the acceptance, the unconditional love that is typical of family is often mirrored in gay friendships which last... some families will accept their gay child, and some never do. Perhaps this is a clue about the respective positions of family and friendships...' Bill, Nardi 1999

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Kinship is a special type of relationship. Friendship is nt the same. It is more fragile because it is voluntary. 

However, Weston does argue that water is thicker than blood (agaisnt Schneider). GL kinship and families are optative - you can pick your friends but you can't pick your family. 

This shows that blood ties are not permanent - being gay can lead to rejection by the family as shown through Nardi's work.

Emphasis on permanence of gay friendships, underscoring friendship as being kinship. It is chosen and thus one must act on the decision, strengthening relationships. More obligation to make it endure whereas with blood, you're still connected so don't need to try. 

What is 'real' (blood kin) is what endures. But in gay and lesbian relationships this is reversed: what endures is what is real. Because kinning is a process, ALL families are made and socially constructed.

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  • GL practices reinscribe and make explicit traditional boundaries (parenthood, womanhood, the family)
  • Affirm the symbolic importance of blood but alos challenge the assumption that it is self evident.
  • Biology is diffused: called upon to enforce kinship at time (having children of your 'own) but not at others (rejection by family and creation of new kin through friendships).
  • Blood is materal and symbolic
  • kinship as doing ---> a web of significance that is constantly negotiated.
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