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Feminists: Defend the Body, Not the Frankenstein


Two hundred summers ago, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, daughter of a famous feminist, terrified her fellow campers with a ghoulish tale told by campfire in the Swiss Alps. Her story Frankenstein contains elements of the Gothic horror novel, but it is its commentary on the threat posed by the irresponsible use of the power of technology that marks it out as the first work of science fiction. It has retained its relevance.

Some distortions have taken place in the popular imagination. Shelley’s nameless creature is not a lumbering brute. He is an eloquent superman, an image of his maker writ large. And it is not the creature but Frankenstein—the scientist—who is the novel’s real monster.

Victor Frankenstein excuses his moral transgression of robbing graves and patching together the bodies at night by claiming to be a humanitarian. The reader is not deceived by the cover of darkness. Science that seeks wholly to transcend the natural limits of the human condition does not become more human, but less. While Frankenstein’s ingenious use of electricity successfully quickens the corpse to produce a new creation, the scientist can do nothing to alter his own nature. The cloak of secrecy essential to his success feeds his sense of paranoia and guilt. In the end, he abandons his creature altogether. A series of atrocities soon follow, as the creature rages against the injustice that brought him into the world.

Shelley makes her authorial disapproval known. As her novel’s full title suggests, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, the scientist is like the mythological Titan reputed to have stolen fire from the gods for mankind and even to have illicitly fashioned mankind itself out of clay. The moral consequences of playing god are the clear inferences in both accounts.

Shelley draws our sympathy to the creature by allowing him to speak of the violation of his humanity. Having read Milton’s Paradise Lost, the creature contrasts his ill-treatment to Adam, that beloved man of clay. Unlike Adam, he is “miserable and . . . abandoned, an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled.” Frankenstein’s original sin as creator-scientist soon degenerates into a cycle of violence that consumes his entire household. His misbegotten Adam becomes a satanic figure.

Shelley’s lesson to her readers is clear: even for the heady goal of creating life, the desecration of corpses dehumanizes the scientist and his society because it treats bodies as commodities to be used rather than persons to be loved. The enlightened feminist decries the inhumane exploitation.

Her lesson was once widely understood. People must never be commodified. In Shelley’s own day, evangelicals like William Wilberforce eradicated chattel slavery in the British Empire at great cost. The American Civil War was soon fought out of the same convictions. These were not uncivilized nations. But they were consumed by the allure of wealth and power that came through exploiting others, a moral calculus only overcome by powerful Christian convictions.

For fifty odd years now, Promethean rights have been granted to the populace in the West in the field of abortion, aided by humanitarian scientists, and abetted by humanitarian lawmakers. Abortion is now a big business, particularly when it falls under healthcare funded by the taxation of the state.

A series of undercover sting videos have been circulating for several weeks showing senior executives and medical professionals from Planned Parenthood explaining to investors how their organization harvests and sells the parts of unborn children carefully crushed in their mothers’ wombs. Key abortionists have been caught crunching the numbers on organ harvesting, and confiding on camera of the need to “have their stories straight” in case “they get caught.”

It now appears that the criticism of the abortionists has not been wholly accurate. It’s not that they have calculated fetusus to be worthless but rather that the fetuses are worth less than the sum of their parts. Babies who have been aborted to “save them from being unwanted” by their parents are, conveniently for the humanitarian corporation, highly desirable commodities.

As C. S. Lewis has brilliantly dramatized, it is a hideous strength to profit from weakness.

The practice cannot continue. It must not. The mantra of the abortionists was once that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” The reason for that slogan’s obsolescence is painfully obvious. Since abortion has been legal, it has never been rare. It has always been lethal to the unborn. And in an era when government encroachment on the individual seems without moral bounds, the legality of abortion has been built on the tenuous legal judgement that it was a matter of privacy.

That judgment of privacy has allowed for secrecy. Human nature itself is at issue. Abortion patently dehumanizes the people and the nations that aid and abet it. The trafficking of wholesale industrial killing by private agencies supported by public taxes adds venality and national complicity to the ills of Shelley’s dystopian science fiction.

What was done in the dark is now in the light. Now that the truth is out, can we continue to claim to be humanitarian, chopping logic over the status of the human being who is chopped for profit? Is a human being truly worth less than the sum of his or her parts?

Surely all feminists of Mary Shelley’s mold must cry out on behalf of the weak, in God’s name.

Scott Masson (PhD, Durham, England) is Associate Professor of English Literature at Tyndale University College, an evangelical liberal arts college in Toronto, Canada.


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