challenging resemblance talk

These days, I’ve been thinking a lot about family-making and resemblance. Despite everything, I still find myself engaging in resemblance talk. I try not to do this because I don’t want to reinforce the primacy of biology in human relationships.

But it’s stunningly hard. Often when visiting a friend’s baby, I slip up and say predictable things like, “she looks just like her father.”

It amazes me that – in the midst of a society dominated by step parents, non-biological parents, and single parents — the myth of biological primacy holds up. And it amazes me that I, the infertile child of a step-mother who tries to embody radical politics, continue to fall into this trap.

I recently read two English language classics that have something to say about this.

Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time imagines a multi-gendered post-revolutionary society in which babies are engineered in laboratories.

Here’s Luciente, a main character, explaining how this system came to be:

It was part of women’s long revolution. When we were breaking all the old hierarchies. Finally there was that one thing we had to give up too, the only power we ever had, in return for no more power for anyone. The original production: the power to give birth. Cause as long as we were biologically enchained, we’d never be equal. And males never would be humanized to be loving and tender. So we all became mothers. Every child has three. To break the nuclear bonding.

The eponymous protagonist of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure expresses a similar sentiment when his manipulative ex-wife attempts to place her son – who she claims was fathered by Jude – into Jude’s care:

If I were better off, I should not stop for a moment to think whose he might be…the beggarly question of parentage – what is it, after all? What does it matter, when you come to think of it, whether a child is your by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time and entitled to our general care.  That excessive regard of parents for their own children, and their dislike of other people’s, is, like class-feeling, patriotism, save-your-own-soul-ism, and other virtues, a mean exclusiveness at bottom.

In both instances the characters connect valuation of biological relations with various types of oppression: sexism, in Piercy’s case, and nationalism, classism and religious discrimination in Hardy’s case.

So what are good ways to challenge resemblance talk? Should you challenge every seemingly innocuous comment about how your coworker’s daughter has her mother’s eyes? What would Jude and Luciente do?


One Response to “challenging resemblance talk”

  1. After I posted this, I remembered an incident — it must’ve occurred when I was nine or ten years old — in which a shopkeeper commented on how alike my stepmother and I looked. We don’t look alike, at least according to the characteristics people usually judge by. We are, however, both light skinned. I didn’t say anything, but I remember being confused. Was it just wishful thinking on her part? Or did she see something that I didn’t?

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