Its’ My Body and I’ll Do What I Like with it: Bodies as Objects and Property

Few days ago few friends and I were discussing ways to make extra cash, we were looking for an easy yet “legal” way. One suggested selling of a kidney, as we joked about it. We searched the net and what came to us as a shock one kidney in the US black market can go for $250 thousand dollars.

I always thought of our bodies as our own property, we had the right to do what we want with it. If one wants to engage in surrogacy, prostitution, etc they are free to do so. As I read through the article by Anne Phillips, looking at the word property in a literal way never crossed my mind before. If one is able to to use their body to clean someone’s house or plant a garden then they should be able to use their bodies for other things as well. I’m not sure if I really agree with this justification. Inequality is wide spread and people are looking for ways to try and get out of that state. Placing restrictions on markets might not be the way to go, but I’m also not sure if regulating it will be the answer as well.

We should have control over our own bodies but I think with limitations. And we need to be careful with the use of the language around body property.


5 thoughts on “Its’ My Body and I’ll Do What I Like with it: Bodies as Objects and Property

  1. wn39 says:

    I completely understand that no one wants to be treated as an object or a property but again going back to the subject of ‘ do we own our bodies’? It seems so easy to say ‘I do’. But when drawing back on Philips work I question that statement. After reading through all the comments and relating it back to the readings, our bodies do not belong to us they belong to the state. For example, if one is brain dead, the decision comes back to the family or the caretaker but those in power will definitely consult the family with “what’s right”. And that could be taking the person off support.

    Looking at using the body for surrogacy that should be one’s decision. But if we come back to language, we find ourselves back at the idea of viewing the body as a property. It does come back to the idea of using the body for a transaction or to perform a service. The body is being used for a transaction basically. When agreeing to undergo the process one has rules to follow just like a job contract. If broken then one puts the transaction at a risk. So do “we own our own bodies” even though with surrogacy is a transaction that was agreed upon? What benefits the woman carrying the baby considering they can’t receive any “direct” funding for their services. is it done out of the “goodness” of their hearts?

  2. dm487 says:

    Individual property is a fundamental right, at least according to Locke. The protection of property was the basis of his social contract. In Civil Law Europe, this right finds its foundations in Roman law and the concept of real property. Basically, property was a real right to be guaranteed against the whole world (erga omnes), as close as one could get to a fundamental right at the time.

    It seems that some societies were legally imaginative enough to treat human beings as tradable commodities and the object of property. In Dredd Scott, The Supreme Court of the United States found fundamental that the government “had no right to interfere for any other purpose but that of protecting the rights of the [slave] owner”.

    We tend to be more careful today about the property metaphor when describing our bodies, lest we end up as the thing of our neighbours. Exemplifying this is the international cooperation against human trafficking.

    However Phillips reminds us that modern working relations amount to making one’s body available for his employer. The workplace itself is an apparatus of surveillance and discipline.

    As wealth is produced differently, our bodies must come to be exploited in novel ways. In this, isn’t the intellectual property the contemporary equivalent of the classic property right ?

    It may not be as far-reaching. It seems however to be the legal instrument favoured by entrepreneurs when it comes to detach from the human body the informations (personal data, genetic information,…) they want to leverage for profit.

    Do we have a new fundamental right ?

  3. sp637 says:

    To strictly thread off of the commentary of this post, much like a “well informed” Youtube video comment, I’ll bounce of off what the previous comments queries, just to keep the ball rolling, profanities, and racist comments aside.
    Its’ my body, and I”ll do what I like with it”, and “If I don’t own my body, who does?” bounce back and forth the limitations, and ownership of the body, considering that to have the discussion we have to look at the body as object, and as commodified object. In hindsight we concluded the larger, and more in-depth meaning of Phillip’s commentary on the commodification of the body as a result, and symbol of a serious inequality issue of a globalized capitalist society. Again, there is little argument that the body is a commodified object, but the commentary thread mentions both a self, and a semblance of morality. That when these are considered in the ownership of the commodified body the limitations of the ownership lie within the mind, or self of the commodified individual. Because of the market of inequality that the body is participating, the self, mind, or conscious individual is compromised by a much larger system he or she is born into. A market which the individual no matter how conscious of the act he or she may be is fully subject, and faced to deal with much larger, and pre determined consequences. No matter how “open opportunity” capitalism may seem.
    Because of the need to step back and realize that there are much larger issues of inequality at hand when it comes to the liberties of commodifying the body, which are impossible to rectify in a global economy without addressing and regulating and endless list of factors. The need for the state to implement regulations and control over commodifying the body seems to be the only way to more so protect the individual of class inequalities than to regulate the system itself. An important thing to consider is that this ruling of protecting the individual also extends to an unconscious individual who is not in the position to decide for him or herself, anything even treatment. The bodies ownership is immediately either a part of the state, and or a legally appointed family member. The state once again takes over the body of the individual. It seems the laws “reason” is always implemented for the “protection” of the individual whether there is a consensual or nonconsensual individual. The body, at the end of the day considering what the previous comments have mentions about the limit of self harm and the limit of social interaction seems to be held by the state.
    *One note, there is also the state’s reserves the right to commit an individual after a failed attempt at suicide. Therefore, even if suicide unsuccessful, the state deems the individual unable to protect themselves, and takes over the body, in order to protect the individual.

  4. ahd2 says:

    “If I don’t own my body, who does?”

    This is an interesting question and I believe, an important one, too.
    Attempting to answer that question, it seems necessary to resort to yet another distinction – or dualism- which is the body felt and the body lived; a dichotomy also mentioned by Anne Phillips.
    Intuitively, to the question “who owns my body?”, one would answer, “I do”. Nothing prevents me, at this very moment, to, let say, go to the kitchen, grab a knife and hurt myself. Maybe less dramatically, nothing prevents me to engage, in non conventional – or should we call them “less” conventional? – and consensual sexual practices.
    Auto-mutilation, suicide, sexual practices, are somehow the ultimate claims of ownership over our own body because we experience ourselves as embodied human being. We “feel” that we are one: the body without a mind is nothing but an empty shell and a mind – or spirit- without a body is unable to communicate with the outer world. “I think therefore I am” is only possible to the extent that one does not seek social recognition. In a Cartesian paradigm, there can only be several but separate co-existing spirits unable to communicate with each other. They exist to themselves but no to others. Our body seems to be the condition if we want to “be” in the world. We are social human beings, and as such, subjects to rules extrinsic to us. In our modern societies, these rules are posited by the Law. And Law is social construct.

    To the question “Who owns my body” I would therefore be tempted to answer, I do, but only up to the point that I decide to engage into social interactions, in which case, I will have to abide by the normative set of rules imposed by the socio-legal construct. An interesting twist would be to reverse this statement. In that case, the Law owns my body, unless I decide to live as an outcast. Consequently, the only world where I could claim “full ownership” over my body would be a closed one, where “I” would set up my own rules. Nihilism is only so when confronted with what it is negating, that is, social norms of morality. So what would be the point of having full ownership over our own body, if that claim cannot be opposed to anyone…?

  5. rg373 says:

    I have also found myself pondering on these ‘legitimate’ vs ‘immoral’ uses of the body. At what point does a bodily act become classified as immoral? How long is it until something becomes so naturalised in our consciousness as ‘immoral’ that it begins to be viewed as ‘objective morality’ such as not using our bodies to kill another – (although of course this sort of morality is eschewed when it comes to the distanced killing of ‘othered’ people in wars)
    Phillips does make the point that prostitution and surrogacy differ from other transactions because of the physical risk involved – that there is a strong sense of ‘vulnerability’ and of potential violence… which ‘exceed the norm.’ But do they always? Those killing in wars are exposed to intense violence, and what about those using their physical body working on oil rigs? – which can be extremely dangerous. Prostitution and surrogacy are primarily feminised examples – reinforcing the sense of woman’s vulnerability… But a more contemporary look at prostitution sees that the rates of ‘street’ prostitution are at their lowest, and that there is a huge ‘boom’ in online forms of prostitution. This creates a distance from threat whilst still being an entrepreneurial form of body work.

    The Marxist standpoint is that all forms of bodily labour (if the ‘production’ is for the benefit of another) are exploitative in nature.
    We attach a whole multitude of meanings to our bodies which are historically regarded as ‘sacred’ which have implications for what is condoned and comdemned.

    Nonetheless, it always feels somewhat nihilistic to completely disregard any sense of ‘morality’ – so it is useful to understand the root of moralities… For example, the view of prostitution as being immoral is rooted in religious tradition that sought to control women’s bodies through the imposition of heteronormative marriage. We cannot escape the genealogy of how and why certain moralities surrounding the body sustain such weight, and so analysing these things from a socio-historical perspective can help us in understanding how and why some moralities are still pervasive in society such as, St Paul’s notion of the body as a temple- and by implication, God’s property. Clearly though, not all of Paul’s proscriptions have stood the test of time – it’s pretty commonplace nowadays to see women in church without their head covered and wearing ‘adornments’ (jewellery) And so it’s necessary to look at the ideological processes behind which conceptualizations our bodies continue to be sustained through over time, and what practises become concessionary – that is, if there was no fluidity and we were bound rigidly to the moralities of the past, there would be too much dissonance with the capitalistic , consumer nature of contemporary life (which of course should not be accepted without critique)
    One of the problems, as asserted by Phillips, with the language of property, is that it is wide and potentially limitless. Yet, if I don’t own my own body, who does?

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