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(s): Rene Almeling Reviewed work(s): Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Jun., 2007), pp. 319-340 Published by: American Sociological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25472466 . Accessed: 14/01/2012 01:59
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Selling Genes, Selling Gender: Egg Agencies, Sperm Banks, and the Medical Market in Genetic Material
Rene Almeling University of California, Los Angeles
Eggs and sperm are parallel bodily goods in that each contributes half of the reproductive material needed to create life. Yet these cells are produced by differently sexed bodies, allowing for a comparative analysis of how the social process of bodily
commodification observational article donors. compares Results varies data from how show based on sex and gender. and Drawing two sperm and more on banks interview and States, and men in egg this two egg staff how recruit, gendered in the United women rhetoric
agencies screen, norms
donation than in sperm donation, producing different regimes of bodily commodification for women and men. I conclude by discussing the implications of thesefindings for
debates in sociology norms of gender attributed about to these biological differences; differences debates among women and men and the cultural in economic about
how social factors
about the intersection
shape the expansion of the market; and debates inmedical sociology
of the market and medical practice.
is a core concept in soci but too often it serves as a ological Commodification theory, conclusion to the research enterprise rather than as a starting point for analyzing how social fac tors shape the process of assigning economic value tomarket goods. This is especially true in the realm of bodily goods, where moralizing dis courses about the sanctity of human life tend to
Direct Department Los Angeles, to Rene
a rigorous examination of market There are exceptions. Most notable are practices. Zelizer's analyses of markets in life insurance (1979), children (1985), and intimacy (2005). Healy (2006) has recently built on thiswork and on that of Titmuss (1971) by demonstrating the foreclose
importance of organizations to the procurement
correspondence of Sociology, 264 Haines
of California, University Los Angeles, CA Hall, staff for generously sharing Ruth Milkman, Kligman,
90095-1551 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thanks to the egg
and sperm bank agency their time, and to Gail
Carole Greta Krippner, Browner, Abigail Saguy, Stefan Timmermans, John Evans, Adrian Favell, Jeff Gabrielle Kevin Ostergren, Raley, Riley, Daisy Rooks, Lynne anonymous lier versions funding UCLA from Center Zucker, reviewers and to Jerry Jacobs and the on ear comments for helpful of this article. I gratefully acknowledge the National for Society Science Foundation, and Genetics, and for the the
UCLA Center for the Study ofWomen. This project
received Protection from the UCLA Office approval of Human (#G02-04-071). Subjects American Sociological the
and distribution of blood and organs. While these studies reveal much about the interplay between social and economic factors inmarkets for bodily goods, these particular markets are not strongly differentiated based on sex. In other words, while boys and girls andmen and women these studies, left unexamined is populate whether the social process of assigning value to the human body varies based on the sex and gen der of the body being commodified. This question is unavoidable when one con siders the twenty-first century medical market in eggs and sperm. Egg agencies and sperm banks recruit young women and men to produce gametes for paying clients who are using repro ductive technologies to conceive children. In egg donation, once a donor/recipient match is con firmed, the donor takes hormones for about six weeks, first to synchronize her menstrual cycle with the recipient's and then to stimulate egg
2007, Vol. 72 (June:319-340)
In each stage of the donation process. The in the recipient's implanted American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) estimates that 1 to 2 percent of women undergoing treatment will require hospitaliza tion for ovarian hyperstimulation. Staff atmed icalized donation programs assign value to reproductive cells and reproductive bodies based on economic definitions of scarcity and gen dered cultural norms of motherhood and father hood. Using qualitative interview and observational data from two egg agencies and two sperm banks in the western United States. and cultural. Across the hall is the laboratory. are differences theo shaped by mechanisms rized inmicroeconomics. SEX AND GENDER IN MEDICAL MARKETS To formulate an approach for answering the questions raised above about themedical mar ket in genetic material. the embryos are uterus. are parallel bodily goods in that each contributes half of the to create an needed reproductive material embryo. research in economic sociol . different regions of the United States. In contrast to women. usually between $50 and $100 per sample. eggs and sperm. sickness. and generate indi vidualized donor marketing materials to facil itate matches with recipient clients. I compare. or having abstained for fewer than 48 hours. They also al is organized differently depending on the type of body being commodified. chairs. It is the very fact that these reproductive cells are produced by differently sexed bodies that allows for a comparative analysis of the extent to which the market in eggs parallels the mar ket in sperm.200 (Covington and Gibbons 2007). given that this is an open market in genetic material. and medicine. such as the supply of and demand for egg donors versus sperm Since the intent of those purchasing is to have children. Each bank has several small rooms for donors furnished with sinks. and less than one patient in a thousand will require major surgery due to complications of egg retrieval. after which it is frozen and stored in the bank's offices until purchased by recipients for use in artificial insemination. eggs and egg donors aremuch more highly valued than sperm and sperm donors. Men sign a contract and agree to produce sperm samples once or twice aweek for at least one year. stage by stage. from recruitment to compensation. men are paid only for sam ples deemed acceptable based on sperm count and quality.320 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW production. who are paid regardless of how many monitor the process of egg and sperm produc tion before compensating donors. economic. As a result. structural factors. the market in genetic materi donors? eggs they produce. how staff at the commercial fertility agencies organize process of egg and sperm donation. While biological differences between women and men affect the process of donating repro ductive material. and pornographic magazines. do gendered cultural gametes norms associated with motherhood and father hood influence the procedures at commercial donation programs? Building on previous studies of sex and gen I develop a der. Outpatient surgery is performed to remove the eggs. Egg agency and sperm bank staff advertise to recruit gamete donors. theoretical framework in this article for ana that incorpo lyzing bodily commodification rates biological. All donors with in a particular bank are typically paid the same. and. which are mixed with sperm. Furthermore. to egg donors varies substan Compensation both within particular agencies and in tially. where technicians process the sample. As my analysis reveals. I draw on research in of gender about the relationship sociology between biological differences among women and men and the cultural norms attributed to these differences. the products for sale in this medical market. but the national average is around $4. how similar are the procedures at egg agencies and sperm banks? If there are systematic dif ferences. employ awide range of criteria to screen applicants. if fertilization occurs. are these explained by biological dif ferences between women and men? Or. things that can be negatively affect ed by stress. Egg donation is physically invasive and risky in a way that sperm donation is not. and each visit must be preceded by two days of abstinence from sexual activity. but sperm donation restricts a donor's activities for amuch longer period of time. there are organizational similarities in how these commercial agencies have developed stages in the donation process. the economy. Much less variation occurs in sperm donor compensation.
Schover et al. there are few studies of egg and sperm donation. she argues that bodies themselves. De Beauvoir 1989. Within this literature. Even the social scientific literature on human reproduction. both in terms of repro ductive cells and reproductive bodies. Rubin 1975). the failure to analyze sex is a mistake because "having conceded sex dif ferences to biology in the interest of establish ing our scholarly authority over socially and culturally constituted gender differences. and Nachtigall 2005. To acknowledge bodily differences. Abolafia 1996. and the degree to which this construction is shaped by cultural definitions of gender. Markets and Commodification Central to an analysis of bodily commodifica tion in thismarket is a long-standing distinction in feminist theory between "sex. inwhich sex differences between women and men are the and end of explanations for gender inequality.. 1991. and "gender.White 1981) and the cultural processes through which things become commodities (e.SELLING GENES. Fujimura 2006. abortion. Only Haimes (1993) has conducted a gendered comparison of egg and sperm dona tion. Smith 1989. Butler. Baker 1984.. Theorists note that the com of objects is likely to differ from modification that of services (Appadurai 1986:55) or people (Kopytoff 1986:86). down in favor of playing biological sex differences how cultural norms of femininity and analyzing masculinity shape women's and men's differ ential access to power. cannot be understood outside of social process es. Among those that do exist. In contrast to conventional econom ic assumptions of the market as separate and impervious. which means that sex differences are just as socially constructed as gender differences (see also Fausto-Sterling 2000. Appadurai 1986. SELLING GENDER ogy about how social factors shape the expan sion of the market. Luker 1984.. a constructionist Butler (1993) suggests but argues that bodies are anything approach.g. Becker.g.g. Becker 2000.. but their production within the structural context of amedicalized marketplace that must be included in an analysis of egg agencies and sperm banks. Rothmann. Sex. and structural factors interact to shape market . Gender. in contrast. except when psychologists study their motivations for donating (e. and Collins 1992). Donors.. In recent decades.g. we have limited our project and legitimized assump tions about sexual difference that return to haunt our theories of gender" (1990:132). are typically ignored. But what needs more elaboration are the mechanisms through which sex differ ences are constructed. cultural. Katz Rothman 1986. Thus. and research in medical sociology about the intersection of the market and medical practice. the changing cultural and eco nomic valuation of children (1985)." which is defined as the cultural meanings attributed to those bio  logical differences (e. beginning but empty.g. Schover. but the focus was on the regulatory delib erations of legislators in Britain. of gender have yet to resolve Sociologists how to incorporate biological factors without cation of persons provides a useful theoretical framework on which to build. researchers discuss either women's motivations It is not only gendered constructions of the bio logical body. Of the few social scientific studies of donors.. Tober 2001). Instead. social scientists have produced empirical stud ies of market processes that emphasize the social organization of particular markets (e. Zelizer's research on the commodifi (Ragone 1999) or men's (Daniels and Lewis 1996). differences and similarities. Her historical analyses of the emerging market in life insur ance (1979). Martin 1992). and Reproduction 321 reverting to tautological essentialism." which is defined as biological differences between males and females. Martin 1991). "natural" vessels waiting to be filled with cultural meaning. thus largely limiting research to women's experiences of reproduc tion (e. but they do not elaborate on what these differences might be. and birth. Franklin 1997. Kligman 1998. Ortner 1974.g. Sharp 2000). and the social and legal interpretations of monetary exchanges in domestic relationships (2005) each demonstrate the interrelationship between eco nomic and noneconomic factors in market processes. as Yanagisako and Collier argue. However. most attention has focused on the recipients and offspring (e. ismostly concerned with preg nancy. Social scien tists have paid more attention to gender. Zelizer (1988) formulates a socio logical model inwhich economic. which must necessarily refer to sexed bodies. Gordon 1976.
This raises the question of whether in this market. is shaped by gendered cultural norms of caring motherhood and distant fatherhood (e. As gendered and sexed organizations.. Inmany cases. concluding that voluntary systems produce safer blood and are morally preferable to market based systems. corporation. centralized blood collection system in theUnited Kingdom. Arlie Hochschild (1983) compares women flight attendants and men to conceptualize "emotional debt collectors which includes managing feelings and labor. which found women in subservient. and the individuals who work with in them. Chodorow 1978. more closely resembles blood and organ dona tion. nurturing roles and men in positions of authority. blood donors are not paid. a form of emotional labor. processes. I draw on research inmedical sociolo gy to incorporate a discussion of egg agencies and sperm banks as medicalized organizations. cial programs they are representatives of a medicalized mar it ille Act makes Organ Transplant It is not illegal to sell blood. have contributed to the definition of infer tility as amedical "problem" (e. this analysis of the medical market in genetic material builds on her work by examining the intimate processes of bodily commodification outside the family. Conrad and Schneider 1980." producing emotion to fulfill job responsibilities. Hays 1996). Novaes 1998). qualitative data analyzed in this Medicalization Finally.322 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW article will provide evidence of how organiza tional staff construct the meaning of donation in interaction with those who provide human goods.g. Individuals but most whole and sometimes do sell plasma peo (a part of blood). "As an interactive model. Healy (2006) argues for a less normative. which he compared with thewholly voluntary. Acker Milkman Williams 1987. Missing from these studies on the organiza tional production of altruism is attention to how those organizations are gendered. the United States relied on amixed sys tem of paid and voluntary donors. sociol that organizational ogists have demonstrated structures..1 In his classic Titmuss (1971) study of blood donation. My research also differs from Zelizer's in its focus on particular bodily goods as opposed to of whole persons. As organizations create 'contexts for giving' they elicit altruistic action differently across popu lations" (p. Smiling flight attendants must exhibit empathy for the customer's every concern. egg agencies and sperm banks are founded or staffed by physicians. Since Kanter's (1977) classic study of a largeUS. altruistic rhetoric. gal to sell one's organs. egg agencies and sperm banks serve clients who wish to create families. it precludes not only economic absolutism but also cultural determinism or social structural in the analysis of economic reductionism processes" (1988:618). themedical profession gains authority to define conditions as requiring medical intervention. are gendered 1990. He advocated for a system reliant on altruism in the United States. He notes. in reproductive technology. rare blood types are paid to provide ple with 1 The National .. (e. She writes. Hochschild argues that while emotional labor is required of both women and men. 1995). Even when the staff at are not medical professionals. When he was conducting research in the 1960s. But as Zelizer's theo retical project is most developed in the com modification of intimate relationships. More directly related to altruism. blood. while debt collectors are required to manufacture anger with debtors over the phone.g. Revisiting Titmuss's claims. As Healy's research relies most ly on statistical data to highlight differential rates of altruism.g. nurses. In this the commodification the anonymous provision of gametes sense. dichotomizes national blood collection regimes predicated on the altruism or self-interest of donors. the different requirements and interactional contexts place an extra burden on women. even though open markets for these goods do not exist in the United States. implicitly assuming altruism to be an individual charac teristic. such developments as artificial insemination and in vitro fertiliza tion. like those between husband and wife or parent and child. 67). social workers. more explicit focus on how the organizational structure of blood and organ donation results in variation in the rates of individual giving. inwhich Like other instances of medicalization. "The individual capacity for altruism and the social organization of procurement are not separate questions but rather two aspects of the same process. or commer psychologists.
I add biological factors as arguably significant to analyses of bodily com For the purposes of my analysis. the biological factors are the sexed bodily cells of eggs and sperm. less is known McKinley about how these market pressures produce vari ation in interactions in nominally medical set tings. 500). as such. Light 2004. It is not so purely altruistic as blood or organ donation because egg and sperm donors for providing receive financial compensation cells to the paying clients of com reproductive mercial donation programs. Research on sex and gender. selection see Freese. a point made by the ASRM Ethics Committee (2000) in justifying financial compensation for egg donors. and men donors. but themedical market in genetic mate rial is not fully explained by any one of these lit eratures. marketing. The primary research question is: How do these biological. donation of eggs will be more highly valued than men's donation of sperm.The cultural factors are the gendered norms of parenthood. marketing. and Stoekle 1988). psychology. This leads to a second possibility. SELLING GENDER ket in genetic material and. and compensating donors at egg agencies and sperm banks. But gamete dona tion does occur in commercial programs pred icated on the sexual differences between women and men. inwhich each cell provides half of the chromosomes. Moreover. of amar and theory: eggs are a scarce to sperm. the female body has a limited supply of eggs while the male body replenishes sperm. demand. and structural factors interact to shape the market in eggs versus the market in sperm? Previous research generates contradictory expectations. Conrad and Leiter 2004. results in parallel procedures for recruiting. sug gested by economic resource compared THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND ANALYTIC AIMS Building ket. Providing genetic one has no obligations to whom ideal case study in this field. which are produced by the reproductive bodies of women and men donors. shape human Li. screening. A third possibility is raised by Martin's (1991) analysis of metaphors in medical textbooks. which coalesce around the bio logical factors of reproductive cells and repro es. While medical sociol the ways in which the ogists have discussed of medicine is shaped by market forces practice (e.2 The economic factors are the supply. These findings might be extended about have to egg donation. have the power to shape the process of producing and selling eggs and sperm. Rather than speculate to which the extent mechanisms evolutionary I focus on how contempo this market. One egg and one sperm Reproductive are needed to create an embryo. cultur al. which suggests 2 Referencing biology in evolutionary opments that pressures behavior (for of natural a review. with a focus on altruistic rhetoric. including those around the bodily production of reproductive cells. that masturbating in inferring a clinic is too far removed from sexual intercourse. market process 323 and pricing of genetic material and the indi viduals who provide it. structural factors.g. extracting eggs from the human body ismore difficult and risky than extracting sperm. economic. includ for recruiting. on zational constraint individual an constitute might in fact. donation pro a significant organi behavior. shaped processes are valued. ductive bodies: cells.SELLING GENES. modification. and Wade to create children 2003). The structural factors are the organizational context of medicalized. However. 317). but material grams reject most applicants. ing their staged procedures and compensating women screening. The first pos sibility is that this biological parallel. Furthermore. It iswithin these medicalized organ izations that various factors?biological bodies. Nor is it an occu pational category like Kanter's secretaries or Hochschild's flight attendants. and thus women's cultural. com mercial egg agencies and sperm banks. She finds that "cultural ideas about passive females and heroic males [are imported] into the 'per sonalities' of gametes" (p. brings to mind recent which devel argue men are more to donate sperm for research willing than for reproduction. and gendered cultural to shape processes of bodily norms?interact commodification. and medicalization provides scaffolding for the theoretical framework detailed in the next section.. Emond and Scheib (1998) find that rary biological . which on Zelizer's incorporates tripartite model economic. historically themode throughwhich reproduction is accomplished (p. economic mechanisms.
work and market exchange" (Nelson and England 2002:1).. I spent one day observing agency staff and attended a weekly staff meeting. But while egg donors may receive more cultural validation. and donors during the production of monitoring eggs and sperm. Because "women. vations. altruism and the family are. donor recruiter. To analyze the medical market in genetic I examine how staff at commercial material. I returned to CryoCorp in 2006 to interview the founder/medical director. Through a dif ferent contact. and program managers) and those who have the most contact with donors (e. these reproductive bodies will be equal ly valued. office manager. field notes. a psychologist. donation (see sperm . the founder. donor coordinators and office assistants). I interviewed Creative Beginnings's founder/executive director. I interviewed staff about how they organize the process of donat ing genetic material. Creative Beginnings and OvaCorp. bodies. I compare the procedures at egg agencies with those at sperm banks. Within each stage. women's association with the resulted in economic family has historically penalties (Kessler-Harris 1990). but it is important to note that these stages are analytical and do not occur in the same order for egg and sperm donation. I submitted a detailed research plan. medical releases. The second possibility. At Western Sperm Bank in 2002. who are contributing to a motherhood project. In 2002. Eggs and sperm are Reproductive the reproductive bodies of women produced by is again and men donors. In each of the four programs. For executive director. These include gametes recruiting and screening donors. and sever 3 Schmidt and Moore (1998) also discuss such by sperm banks. this suggests that egg donors will be less valued than sperm donors. supervising the construction of donor profiles.1 interviewed the executive direc tor and toured the sperm bank. confirming "matches" between donors and recipients. With the exception of an interview with an OvaCorp psychologist. At OvaCorp in 2002. legal consents. to interview allowed research director. areas in the western United ed inmetropolitan States. because gametes are required from one woman and one man to create an embryo. observational written materials. and because occu pational segregation by sex is associated with income inequality. Yet this same association with caring suggests that donors might be perceived as altruistic helpers who are providing recipients the opportunity to have children. and a lawyer. sperm banks were more reticent about granting access. I collected blank donor applications. staff. who are contributing to a fatherhood project.g.324 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW al office assistants. and two psy that eggs will be less valued than sperm because of gendered inequalities.g. As egg agen cies and sperm banks are not only gendered but also sexed organizations. [viewed as] radical ly separate and opposite from men. I attended two information meetings for women interested in egg donation and observed for six days at the agency's office. and views. self-inter ested rationality. love. The first possibility that biologically. CEO. and donor/recipient staff per son. is that donors are consid ered reproductive service workers. and writing sample before being the donor manager. In each program. and human resources manager. METHODS Data for the following analysis were gathered at two egg agencies. and I transcribed and coded all inter data. especially in service work and care work (see England and Folbre 2005 for an overview). and marketing materials.. as a group. CryoCorp and locat Western Sperm Bank (all pseudonyms).1 interviewed the donor manager. grounded in economic theorizing. financial manager. I taped all interviews and obser donors. a third possibil ity is that egg donors. In sharp contrast to the two egg agencies. I interviewed the marketing director of CryoCorp and toured the bank but was denied access to other staff. genetics counselor. which gatekeeping" "organizational on anonymity in related to the emphasis is probably note 7). programs organize the process of donating into distinct stages. which included the agency direc the donor manager and her tor. two recipient and two donor managers. including those with deci sion-making authority (e. resume. assistant director. In 2004. may be thought of as donating something more special than sperm chologists who screen donors.3 In 2002. and two sperm banks. several of her assistants.
even if they are But not the stages are anal contemporaneous. infertility offices. they must recruit "sellable" donors who provide "high-quality" gametes to recip ients who "shop" different egg agencies and sperm banks. roommates. To maintain their businesses. and they refer to the donor-recipient exchange as a "win win situation. They often include cartoonish illustrations of sperm.4 for dealing with donors and recipi Economic language permeates their talk. which requires that donors be enrolled in or have a degree from a four-year university. Now. and it really works out well for the students. Some and universities doctors' clinics." They also consistently refer to the women and men who produce genetic mate THEMARKET IN EGGS AND SPERM While commercial sperm banks have been in the United States for decades. recruits a donor a friend. and Web sites). most recipient clients are heterosexual In sperm couples.SELLINGGENES. Men are screened first. belong to pro fessional medical set goals for associations." including egg and sperm donation. SELLING GENDER example. the staff in size. supply and demand. and then their sperm samples are made available ogous for purchase. a larger proportion of single women and lesbian base." This confluence of economic logic with altruistic rhetoric develops through each stage of the donation process and results in bodily commodification that occurs in very different ways for women and men. banks. explains that the location was a deliberate choice because "the owners of the sperm bank thought that that was a good job match. I examine how ideas about cells and bodies. ASRM estimates that infertility affects about 10 percent of the reproductive-age pop ulation in the United States. but CryoCorp is one of the largest in the country while Western Sperm Bank is a smaller nonprofit program with roots in the feminist women's health movement. as people enter the medical system. 4 Gamete donation With also occurs outside or "private" of com dona mercial programs. and some even joke thatmen can "get paid for what you're already doing. Recruiting "Sellable" Donors mens. The marketing director of CryoCorp. from the Internet. women are "matched" with a partic ular recipient before they undergo medical and psychological screening. in vitro fertilization. and siblings." and encourage previ ous donors to refer friends. expanding their businesses. Sperm bank advertisements highlight the prospect of financial compensation. couples make up the customer Whereas Creative Beginnings has been open for just a few years. "known" tion. They discuss "people-management" strategies and point out Within each stage. and other forms of "assist ed reproduction. and motherhood and fatherhood interact to shape the commodification of eggs and sperm in medicalized donation programs. In addition. that they are not "manufacturing toothpaste" or "selling pens. yet egg agency and sperm bank staff are very aware of being in a unique business. They're young and therefore healthy. They don't have tomake a huge time commitment. At egg agencies. Both sperm banks have been open for more than 20 years. those with finan cial means may consider fertility drug regi rial as "donors" who "help" recipients." Nevertheless. each program perceive their role to be service providers to recipient clients. and such advertising is directed at cash-strapped college students. and develop official Programs advertise for donors in a variety of forums (college newspapers. both banks lament difficulties in recruiting men and offer hefty "finder fees" to current donors who refer successful applicants. They can visit the the staff at sperm bank anytime. and date of establishment. 325 protocols ents. egg operating agencies only appeared in the late 1980s after the development of in vitro fertilization tech nology. also run small donor programs. family member. surgical repair of reproductive organs. OvaCorp was one of the first agencies in the country to expand its assisted reproduction services to include egg donation. . charge a variety of fees for different services. hold "Donor Information Sessions. Despite institutional differences like tax status. staff cultivate net works with referring physicians. free weekly mag azines. radio. the recipient or more recently." CryoCorp and Western Sperm Bank are located within blocks of prestigious four-year universities.
but as the donor genetic-based manager quoted above suggests. point. bright.326 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW blue-eyed? Are they tall? Are they Jewish? So [Fm] not just looking at the [sperm] counts and the [health] history. The egg agencies adorn with images of plump their advertisements babies and appeal to the joys of "helping" infertile couples. Research on how recipients select donors sug gests that staff are responding to client inter est in attractive and intelligent donors whose phenotypes are similar to their own (Becker 2000. egg agency staff also assess an applicant's level of as "per responsibility. While the sperm bank staff explic are most that donors itly acknowledge interested in a "job. obviously to offspring a lot. important. to be a donor. as in this description of screening standards byWestern Sperm Bank's donor manager: We have to not because thing. which is often glossed as in this quote sonality" or "helpfulness. either That's nice.5 Egg agencies and sperm banks use education as a signifier of intelligence. When take people of a sellable some of that are very over a issue. and Offutt 1996). brains very healthy. both sperm banks have height minimumsof5'8"or5'9". 2005)." from Creative Beginnings: Even some of the nominally biomedical fac tors are better understood as social characteris tics. That's her I also work with because I get a selling women point/tool." OvaCorp's donor manager also emphasizes social characteristics. Are they I'm also 5 These and do not recipients studies include select are limited to heterosexual clicking inmy mind: Are they blond? Are they comparisons systematic versus sperm egg donors couples of how donors. Becker et al. For example." Qgg agencies are farmore likely to reference altruism. But bottom line. both agen cies report that "young moms are the best donors [because] they pay the best attention and show up for appointments" because they understand the importance of a child to recip ient clients. Creative donors will director explains the impetus Beginnings's behind her marketing strategy: "We appeal to the idea that there's an emotional reward. mental. During this early phase of recruitment. but many reflect client requests for socially desirable characteristics. height/weight ratio. hundred each day. and someone That's have very why children. her assistant notes that recipients "basically go shopping and they want this and they want that. who don't (including physical. selling as opposed to she's a wonderful person. even if they're not quite as tall as if they're a take them. women with out children have more time to pursue addi tional schooling (Rindfuss. some do not even list the amount be paid. and they're going to get some thing they need in return. but also can we sell this donor? In contrast. higher level of academia with a lot of our single donors because they're not distracted by kids. Creative Beginnings receives several hundred applications from women each and OvaCorp receives more than a month. including educational in describing what level and attractiveness. that it's a win-win situation. . ratios for age and height/weight Guidelines are issued by ASRM and are stringently fol lowed by egg agencies to select donors who will respond well to fertility medications. Creative office manager says that "this is Beginnings's a business. for women applying to be donors. fam ily health history and genetic disease). that they're going to feel good about what they've done." Later that day. everyone wants someone someone that's either very attractive. makes a donor "sellable": You will find that a donor's selling tool is her a donor's That's and her beauty. Some screening standards are based on biomedical guidelines for genetic material most likely to result in pregnancy. Or maybe like. that they're going to help someone with something that person needs." Indeed. even as they also note that donors will get "something" in return. we'll we still take them. and we're trying to provide a ser vice. we'll know that [theirwillingness to release identifying information] will supersede the other stuff. the staff initiate an extensive screening process by asking appli cants about their age. Morgan. in explaining the screening process Likewise. and social characteristics. When a potential donor calls or e-mails a program for the first time. It becomes we the people a marketing don't becomes somebody of course gonna be personality responsible? is really But immediately thing. because chunky. And anyone that's [willing to release identifying information will we'd little ignore we at age 18]. Also I'm height interviewing weight marketing accept.
producing reproductive are examined by a physician and Applicants tested for blood type. donors are also expected to embody middle-class American femininity or masculinity. egg agen cies and sperm banks work to recruit donors from a variety of racial. and Jewish donors are in demand for Jewish clients. they're supposed to come to call us in. There are donors. to go forward with them. drugs. and religious backgrounds to satisfy a diverse recipient pop ulation. psychologists. Sperm donors." fly. race/ethnicity is genetically reified to the degree that it serves as the basis for program In Creative systems. in love with sistently high sperm counts. Staff expect egg donors to con form to one of two gendered stereotypes: high ly educated and physically attractive or caring and motherly with children of their own. and sweet. their profile getting into us. that or they weren't prostitutes. tinue with RA: though. reject his sperm someone adorable. in comparison. that they need. They have great in when they come sup they're I just don't like them. Hispanic. really want the process they're more likely to continue with by finished in a timely manner. serve as professional in stamps-of-approval material for sale. if donors would don't ever meet the recipient matter tech that's all the more reason to con 327 While their personality nically? Assistant Director: Well. but I'll come responsible. [sperm] posed sonal those counts. yel low tops for Asian donors. but thing. Both egg agen cies require a psychological evaluation and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. that the vials are explaining capped with white tops for Caucasian donors. Sperm banks." During a tour of CryoCorp. then we can trust they have a good personality. ethnic. I don't want more of out in the world. their personalities. on the other hand. even though the director thought a particular applicant was too interested accepted Catholic. they justwant to help somebody. istic motivations. In one case. In fact. and all the release forms get their pictures it just shows responsibility. babies a great that's just personality. we don't really look at the personality for them to meet If the recipient. huh. if it is going to bring them to a different point in their life instead of just doing it to do it. and sexually transmitted infections. "I can't make it this week. And then. that person's family history is good. In terms of other characteristics. expect donors to be financially motivated." and the bottom drawer is labeled "Black. Western Sperm Aside me Bank's donor manager the other a donor explains: thing that makes is someone that's from personality. donors. tently very high [sperm] to toss anything on him [i." All four pro grams complain about the difficulty of recruit and Asian ing African American. That's a per and I think. the staff are respond Beginnings's ing to recipients who "want to know that the person donating is a good person. in next week twice.by-nights. black tops for African American donors.e. They this.A lot of them don't care about themoney. that has have sam ple]. that person was reasonably drug smart. according director. and geneticists or genetic counselors. Beginnings's "active donor" files. They want to know that person wasn't doing it for the money. SELLING GENDER Assistant Director: Personality is a big thing. The top two drawers are labeled "Caucasian. So why and them. she was into the program because she was reflecting an interest in diversifying catalogue. It is so rare to get someone that's truly that comes in when responsible. the founder lifted sperm samples out of the storage tank filled with liq uid nitrogen.SELLING GENES. who The thing thatmakes him ideal is that he has consis so I rarely counts. are generally expect ed to be tall and college educated with con to Creative At the same time. are class-based concerns about altru in defining "appropriate" donors. the donor fall in financial compensation.We always want this to be a positive experience. to. but neither sperm bank requires that donors be psychologically screened. Intersecting with gendered expectations egg donors having. I guess the third thing would be caring. abusers. filing there is a cabinet for office. Then egg agencies and sperm banks are inter ested in responsible women and men who ful fill their obligations. Asian. and red tops for donors with "mixed ancestry." Then of course the second final phase of recruitment involves reproductive endocrinologists.. All four programs require donors to prepare a detailed family health history for three generations (and . Hispanic. or at least expressing. or at least has the courtesy and say. and the staff speak directly about responsibility rather than couch ing it in terms of altruistic motivations. that I think ugh. Rh factor.
the first stage in the process of donat ing genetic material. of a monetary investment to one of OvaCorp's psychologists. which are required psychological only of egg donors. to have In this. "at ing to a each step of the game we're spending more money on them. She's a really pretty girl. 1991. certification orous. screening and health histories for recipients' do to confirm that they actually and both sperm banks OvaCorp are working with that recipients egg donation. though.328 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW employ a range of medical to garner "sellable" donors. In reject donor recruitment is time-intensive. a huge amount and thousands So the more of of program money. literature Despite findings in the psychological that both egg and sperm donors report a range of altruistic and financial motivations (Schover et al. suggesting thatwomen are perceived asmore closely connected to their eggs thanmen are to their sperm." pool? They could go ahead and use her. The direc tor of Creative Beginnings All lems who's the time there are calls Like or questions. thus do not accept adoptees). there is a donor and Caucasian. because freezing sperm in liquid nitro required gen significantly reduces the number that are motile. 1992). But comparing how staff evaluate both the donors and their in terms of marketability genetic material reveals how gendered stereotypes shape the definition of "high quality" eggs and sperm. accord Western Sperm Bank donor screener. but thehus Staff at each of the four programs view donor screening as a staged process that requires more at every step. just can collect spent to screen vials drop out of that donor's to be able from any given donor before they if the better. Part of each session is devot ed to evaluating the psychological stability of the potential donor. In the screening process. in sperm dona tion. short. goes through our screening to continue them in the interest we've invested thousands the donors. raised by the suggesting parallel concerns exchange of bodily tissue. a positive result for cystic fibrosis was not enough to dis qualify an "extraordinary" egg donor. rig 6 There is less asks names Beginnings doctors' "need" require a doctor. Especially the program. These gendered assumptions about donor motivations correspond to traditional gendered definitions of parenthood (Hays 1996). . Similarly. The vast majority of women and men apply ing to be donors at commercial fertility pro grams are not accepted. Schover et al. there are structural simi larities in that both egg agencies and sperm banks expend funds to advertise for donors. while men are informed of a job opportunity. in some programs. who might request specific genet ic tests. her husband's ient's] torn because we want to introduce something band just has to be tested to see in about prob coming today. egg agency advertisements appeal to women's altruism do saying well.6 In at least one case. and the recipient knows skinned. but women are also asked how they feel about "having their genetics out there. vials from that donor. Both sperm banks reject over 90 percent of applicants because of the need for exceptionally high sperm counts. and got Black turned out that she's screening medical and genetic screening. mixed. As staff sift through hundreds of applications. According the psychological screening in egg donation is tests before the medical often performed because it is cheaper. into our gene if he's a carrier. and the recipi ent really wants fair her badly because she's she's very pretty. banks confirm that a donor passes one set of tests before advancing him because. and costly. She's and social standards and "invest" in explains: her cystic fibrosis a carrier. but "girls who just want to lay their eggs for some quick cash" are rejected while men are expected to be interest ed inmaking money. we want our clients a popular donor." CryoCorp's marketing direc tor takes this rationale a step further: Once it's someone in our best process. Both egg agencies estimate that they over 80 percent of women who apply. a link between individual reproductive cells and cul tural understandings of motherhood and father hood that is made especially clear in the evaluations. But then [the recip that this donor is extraordinary. Creative of recipients. the initial framing of egg dona tion as an altruistic win-win situation and sperm donation as an easy job shapes subsequent staff/donor interactions. from constructing indi vidualized donor profiles to the actual produc tion of genetic material for sale. dollars we because We've Sperm banks do not require thatmen consider this question with a mental health profession al. both women and men are screened for infectious and genetic diseases. this history is evaluated by genetic counselors or geneticists.
we can really release so that enough inventory aren't upset at us. The others really upset that's all we got on him this month. sperm banks do not post profiles until donors pass themedical screening and produce enough samples to be listed for sale on the bank's publicly accessible Web site. They have six months worth of quarantine and then another three months before to recruit recipient clients. specified phe Profiles serve as the primary marketing tool for both the program and the donor. Donor Assistant: where your boobs These You are OvaCorp psychologist. as well as open-ended questions about hobbies. posted profiles represent the full range of donors available and thus are used you just like you're helping helping know that money is a good motivator. secrecy according (Daniels to an you're it. Once approved by staff. it's anonymous. recipients are not likely to express interest in purchasing that donor's reproductive material. only two women are gonna be that happy. but under no circumstances are sperm recipients allowed to meet donors. They want to feel like it's less clinical thanjust it up on the Web site. in rare cases. but everybody . you. people. in the case of egg donation. We always ask shoulder shot. It feels like it's per a connection like they're making with they want to see It's about who [for HIV]. accomplishments like wow. During an information meeting for women interested in staff offer egg donation." in which recipients looks like they could fit intomy family. but that she needs them to be "competitive" with other programs. egg recipients will ask to meet a donor. likes and dislikes. The donor then waits to be selected by a recipient before undergoing med and genetic screening. educational attainment (in some cases. and IQ scores are requested). That's is another the big portion of portion. about anonymity than are sperm banks. develop [laughter]. contrast. recipients also consult with staff about which donors to choose. and motivations for donating. historical on sperm and egg research is needed and the extent to which programs in one influenced the other. In ical. along with current pictures. want to feel like you're here for some They but they also altruistic pur So I always poses. and looking which girl best suits their needs. in the western United ing model concerned More donor ments of those egg agencies. want out and lets being 7 Throughout its long history. Assistant tures from hanging are not people We something of your top for sexy looking Director: their homecoming get girls who send in pic dance. you come out. family health history. they want pay staff to select donors with notypes.7 Both banks do offer a "photo-matching service. egg donor profiles. For dona tion programs. Typically.SELLING GENES. Director: ients a chance though It feels The profile really gives recip to get to know you on another level. and who like in my or off too spring? conceited because is a really to feel proud of your ly like to feel unique person. The director of Creative Beginnings explains that she would not to have profiles on the Web site prefer because she thinks they are impersonal. but think of somebody to their needs sensitive and feelings when answering pictures them. SELLING GENDER Constructing Donor Profiles 329 Once applicants pass the initial screening with program staff. are listed on the agency's password-protected Web site under the woman's first name." These are lengthy documents with questions about the donor's physical char acteristics. It's whatev flattering. to include attractive pictures. are built on the pre-exist don't are less which surrogacy programs. by extensive In contrast. standardized test scores. somen's profiles are assigned an identification number and do not include current photographs. This explains why programs spend a great deal of energy encouraging applicants to com plete the questionnaires. people and 20 women are gonna be call. For donors. Creative Beginnings's advice about how donors should appeal explicit to recipients: Assistant even sonal. If we release five vials. The for one good head and er is your best representation. but also you can kind of look at the and question in their position. say to let your personality show. and. the profiles are the primary basis upon which they will be selected by a recipient. has the characteristics You can never that Iwould be too Sperm banks are much more concerned about donor anonymity. If a donor's profile is not appealing. this And they real special and like they're them. GPA. if Iwere you somebody to be to answer that question? I don't want that you're not. they are invited to fill out a "donor profile. artificial insemina tion has been marked and Golden 2004). especially States. Western Sperm Bank's donor manager explains: From the moment the donor is signed on. psychological. how would Iwant think. it's real nine months before we even see any profit from ly them.
they want the best. and thusmen's phys ical appearance is not held to the same high standard as is women's. So we try and glean stories about [the donors]. "We have to provide what our client wants. the sperm donor manager does not the donor is specify what other motivation expected to have besides financial compensa tion. and [recipients] feel like they have no control. but they are much less explic it about the need to appear altruistic. for both women questionnaire a scribbled note include sheets egg donor to donate (e. where half-wasted and they're don't While they've got their drink in one hand and their cig arette Recipients need is bliss. [the bank's screen draw on both economic and social understand ings to describe donors as "real people" who are "supplied" to recipients. kids").8 Both egg agencies and sperm banks believe that donor profiles offer recipient clients "reas surance" in the form of extensive information about the donor. really mean infertility clinic in the southernUnited States. These gendered coach ing strategies result in statistically significant differences in the number of women and men Sperm bank staff will take extra time with donors who discuss only financial motivations in their profiles. The director of Creative explains that infertility "is emo Beginnings tionally devastating. He is only supposed to revise the profile with the "also" inmind.. So those first appoint sometimes people are really excited ments. Egg agencies and sperm banks use donor profiles to recruit clients. who are continually referenced as an oblique "they" who will be reading the donors' answers and making judgments about theirmoti vations. presented the person was of what image wants wants the woman about why to help" or "why?loves include forms sperm donor motivations. unknown strangers. Creative Beginnings's office manager explains. It's like your parents. this little sheet. or smoking. A nurse in sex-specific occurring donors uses the same pre for screening egg and you? And it that way. we are honest enough But a lot of times the money. ers] will you look at [the profile] and if someone's to really question the donor. and then it's just nice reassurance for the recipients. the recipients do not necessarily need to know about their flaws. ." In contrast. to see it. which differences that sperm donation. family health history. and recipients who select particular women and men based on details about eye color. women Some of donor vials. the donor screener at Western Sperm Bank notes that "it's hard on the recipient end to be taking this leap of faith.] when Iworked on the infertil would ity side. agencies will "delete" her from the database. [donor profile and come in with their little the them would show me say] doesn't So he sound wonder ful?And of course this is all they've got." In the same breath. it's not just donation responsible liminary but most will say] why don't you rewrite this little portion to reflect more make conscious more and willing answers complete was and men. staff the importance of profiles: [Prior to this job. If a donor's profile is deemed unacceptable by staff. Do that money is the only thing for to just leave if it is. that also? The say. None these notations "why? of the about care about what give like. So that'swhat we have to provide to them. This dynamic is clear asWestern Sperm Bank's donor manager explains how she came to understand who report altruistic and financial motivations in response to the profile question "Why do you want to be a donor?" (Almeling 2006). ignorance Egg donors are encouraged by agency staff to construct properly feminine profiles for the recipients. Although it is important for the "girls" to let their "personalities" shine through. them a fuller because they did to to the recipients. This is their person. egg agencies specifically use the terms "help" and "altruism" in advising donors about profiles.g. drinking. that these are real people. so I understand the desire to know as much as you possibly can. [So the screeners new became [screeners] to put in the effort to 8 Preliminary offers these both data collection at a university-based sort of negative. the profiles because they want to see about what the people are like thatwe are going to be supplying to them. and that's a specific type of donor. buying reproductive fluid from unseen. [donors will] it's also.330 takes AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW those pictures in another. sperm recipients are not allowed to see photographs of donors. They're really happy when they see the quality of the donor and the amount of information they get." Similarly. suggests result from gamete do not simply firms. or if she sends in unattractive pictures. well. Even though [the recipients] may not be the most beautiful people on the face of the earth. like wearing revealing clothing.
" In fact.." whose eggs have resulted in pregnancy for a previous recipient. But Heidi bye. .. are not donors Sperm about who their any information given purchases donors are given vague.. she's People but not much her soon. I love 'em all!.SELLING GENES. She is beautiful and bright and tall. thereby shaping recipients' perceptions. SELLING GENDER favorite movie. this flow of informa profiles tion does not go both ways. this genetic material becomes personified through the donor profile. it one Okay.. are given a short letter called donors to the donor by the recipients using egg donation... formalized through organizational that women processes.. thus pro viding evidence of fertility. And she's a great opportunity I think Heidi would be a great choice." which provides an innocuous explanation for why she needs money from egg donation. so sperm banks do not label their donors as "proven. All sperm donors are screened for exceptionally high sperm counts." and she is "bright" and "a really good student. while sperm donors are vague ly encouraged to provide a "fuller image. 27 eggs. All a lot of money. still an option are going to Donor profiles are used to attract recipient clients to a particular program. and this supply is replenished as men continue to donate throughout their year-long commitment to the bank. Go look .. .... the recipients forties who have been are bility by completing at least one donation cycle.10 Both the donor and her embryos are labeled "beautiful. but staff also take the time to dis cuss various donors' attributes. and she's Photography for us to get donors costs a student." so a recipient who calls to place an order is advised to choose two or three different donors to ensure that at least one will be available for purchase. sperm. there is a limited "inventory" of sperm vials from each donor. Recipients are urged to browse donor profiles.." find some donors The who most have easier relia to are sought-after their proven 9 While from donor recipients receive extensive information and staff.9 percent of the time [recipients] will go with [a donor]. neither sperm bank had ever considered dropping a donor whose sperm had not resulted in any pregnancies... and it is this gendered. out Heidi too because longer. and SAT scores begin to think of the donor as that profile. Positive descriptions such as these create a sense of urgency about help agencies the donor being "grabbed" by some other recip ient if the caller does not act quickly.g... a recipient chooses a particu lar egg donor. In egg agencies.. OvaCorp's donor manager... "99. would be like sixweeks before she could do No. . and she has a degree I think. This strat egy is helpful in confirming a match. and a match is made when a recipient chooses a specific donor. school a real good It's a good that equip [laughs]. explaining try and OvaCorp a "bio" written why they are 10 All names have been changed. Matchmaking and Fees recipient who donor: is in the process of choosing 331 a Executive Director: We have a donor that I'd like you to look at. result in expectations reflect altruistic sentiments beneath an attrac tive photograph." In sperm banks. Matches are the primary source of income for agencies and banks. Gendered cultur keyboard to al norms.." Egg match "repeat agencies than others. she just finished to go . She's a real ... donors. leafing through a profile she had just ing for a long time to have children"). Creative Beginnings's nonidentifying "schoolteachers information in their (e. commodified personification of the donor that the recipient is purchasing. But donors are not texts that travel from producing unmediated Web site display. She just donated in the last cou ple of days.. and the staff work hard to confirm them. ly bright.. or "proven donors. because as OvaCorp's donor manager explains. in fine student place ment arts ... which is one side of a telephone conversation between Creative Beginnings's executive director and a go after Meredith too because to grab Somebody's going a cycle. classy lady . The vials are listed in the bank's "catalogue. who then ismedically and psy screened before signing a legal chologically contract with "her couple..9 This intermediary role ismade clear in the following excerpt. especially if they know someone else is waiting. Take a look at Meredith. And and film check for you. Some donors are also labeled "popular" because their profiles generate almost daily calls from potential recip ients visiting the Web site. you're is ready welcome. and she had 23 beautiful embryos."While the recipient is actually buying eggs or sperm. and her name is Meredith .
men are paid $75 at Western Sperm Bank (the CryoCorp and $50 at latter is a nonprofit that charges less for sperm). Very good family match. the fee will increase.. but she has a nice she's white enough child. So we variable. on a first-come. There's hue to her if you have a Hispanic couple. Acceptable samples are usually split into several vials. 65 She makes definitely and weight. Easy Easy good Educated. One of the sperm banks charges a minimal fee to register clients with the bank ($50).. fertili proven definitely 110 [pounds]. She's total lead given the couple and that's wonderful. For each visit to the bank inwhich they pro duce a sample deemed acceptable based on sperm count and quality. as is the case with many of the most popular donors. Western Sperm Bank lists 30 donors and serves just 400 recipients each year. Sperm samples that do not pass the banks' are discarded. recipient If a sperm can "reserve" vials her are for "sold a donor's out" for thatmonth. . Creative lists more than 100 egg donors on Beginnings and had 23 active its Web site catalogue donor/recipient matches in the summer of 2002. and with each additional cycle. one. out health history. If a donor is not currently available. This stream-of-consciousness perusal of a donor profile reveals the intersection of sex and gen der with race and class in defining popular donors. going. one of the largest sperm banks in the country. I mean two. catalogues nearly 500 donors and had more than 100 active matches that summer.12 In direct contrast to the set amount paid to sperm donors. come specimens basis. espe cially if it results in a pregnancy. for the summer. And the kindest woman. enough. first-serve here. which she's attractive. 5'7". See. but sperm vials all cost the same amount and $175 at of money: $215 at CryoCorp Western Sperm Bank. between the four 11 in. is a huge [shows RA picture and profile].11 CryoCorp. In explaining this system. lists 125 donors on itsWeb site and distributes approximately 2. She can travel because So she'd be an easy match. which are cryogenically stored at the bank until purchased by a recipient. one of the largest egg agencies in the country." inwhich they buy multiple vials of a particular donor's sperm to guarantee its availability if they do not become pregnant during initial inseminations.500 in addition to the donor's fee and her medical and legal expenses. In the process of confirming amatch over the phone. all figures agencies. She has a really good background. Hispanic. OvaCorp. just as many vials as they and then purchase which . answers she about why and she has phenomenal to do this. She's Caucasian ty. around $4.500 vials every month.332 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW I can match a girl Number plus. Both egg agencies charge recipient clients an agency fee of $3. she's in Texas. We and dealing with human beings and they don't have finals away what storage tionally. 26.000. Great height and I start reading a little bit about her. wants ership. recipients can be placed on a waiting list. want. First-time donors are paid the least. match. the final stage of confirming an egg donation match is negotiating the donor's fee. The donor's own child attests to her body's ability to create pregnancy-producing eggs. young Young. And her flexible to "hue" makes her phenotypically match either Caucasian or Hispanic recipients. says "I can tellwhen quick": Well has number a child. Her relatively high salary and eloquence on the page demonstrate her altruism. it's not for the money. then future an egg cycle. the donors they go is some more of for vials do charge banks Sperm for intrauter "washed" sperm. Creative Beginnings's office manager explains to the recipient how the "mar ket" determines donor fees while also commu nicating that the donor would "love to work with you": We got your message yesterday Office Manager: and I spoke with her this morning about Denise. CryoCorp's market ing director blurs the line between the donor and the donor's sperm when she discusses the bank's "inventory": We do limit the number of vials available on any are are given donor by limiting the amount of time a donor can be available All of our in the program. she look received. to pass. Sperm recipients also have the option of creating a "storage account. and the donor requirements receives no compensation. Obviously grand a year. a procedure required a with but that is not associated ine insemination donor's characteristics. Denise said that she'd love to work with you. 12 To maintain comparability are for 2002. and So our suggest inventory open a [recipients] costs a little bit addi account.
. like that. It's just that the way we've our donors is we go off what the market is telling us to do. Just because Yeah. encapsulated in the profile and extolled by staff. At OvaCorp. CryoCorp's marketing director notes. but also the beginning of a caring gift cycle. the donor manager and the director of OvaCorp discuss a match between a wealthy recipient and a woman they call "an ace in the hole" and In this stage of the process. to do. You know whatever there's going you want Donor to be a pregnancy. "We have the largest donor database. she's done evaluation. we give her Manager: 12 on confirmation Director: Well. You have our first doctor's visit 333 result ed on a "sure bet" because her eggs consistently in recipient pregnancies: Donor her We're Manager: going with Helen. single men have a lot of money. she's If the donor goes through an additional cycle. 10 [thousand she was getting dollars]. so we want them to feel our warmth. staff do not appre ciate "girls that really ask you to negotiate" a director higher fee.. "I really don't like that. why don't of pregnancy? Ventura at $5. but the economic val uation of women's eggs ismore intimate than that of men's sperm. then we increase the fee. The reason is we treat them like royalty. something times. staff continue their intermediary role by trying to determine what recipients can afford while also securing the highest possible fee for donors. and probably . the staff will often ask for a higher donor fee.. the staff might offer a discounted rate on the second cycle. A lot of times a couple does n't meet them. expresses "disappointment" saying. a donor's attrib utes.. It's not on for donors in Los Angeles actually what you're the high end ." However. Director: And the [recipients] can afford it.. SELLING GENDER to get her start love to be your donor. and yet make sure the clients are happy as well [laughs]. both on behalf of the agency and the agency's clients. and then 2.. So why don't we do it as a gift? Manager: Director: Yeah.000 you. he says Iwant felt that we would give her it so many times.. is not . which the staff foster by expressing appreciation to the donors. At the same time. so we're always mindful of that. I to confirm her fee with just wanted . In negotiating with clients. We're going the preliminary stuff as far as the genetic her even the psychological. OvaCorp's donor manager explains. and they think nothing of seven. egg agencies structure the exchange not only as a legalistic economic transaction. but in an effort to help recipients afford sperm donation. staff tell recipients the "donor would love towork with you. her fee could be $6. one of the banks uses a payment plan a name that perfectly called "CareCredit. both egg agen cies often increase the fee for donors of color.. They are women.. Creative Beginnings's in these women.000. During aweekly staffmeeting. It's It's $5. having contract? I told I don't . "We have towalk that tightrope and make sure the donors are happy. for. I do understand say done itwith all of ing. Neither sperm bank reports offering discounts. highly educated donors command higher fees. or confirmation of pregnancy. and couples don't like it. We'll do 10." Thus. because if we don't have happy donors." Likewise. Staff within particular agencies also consult with one another about appropriate fees for dif ferent donors. not genetics to us. as well as because they're making our couple happy. as when an assistant men tions that "gay men.000 on or first trimester. a "happy donor. actually how it starts out . feel the reality thatwe're so grateful for what they're doing for us. and usually in the Los Angeles donors area start care what a baby. Donor said Assistant: [The recipient] she's asking Director: maybe Donor I always 12." If recipients experience a "failed cycle" with an egg agency's donor.Women are paid to produce eggs for a particular recipient who has agreed to a specific price for that donor's reproductive material." while they inform donors that the recipients just "loved you and had to have you. are used to generate income for the pro grams through matches. then we don't have a program. eight thousand dollars.." whose repro ductive material is purchased by many different recipients months after he has produced it." But in the sperm banks. If recipients are per ceived as wealthy." encapsulates the blurring of emotional and eco nomic spheres inmedicalized markets..SELLING GENES. It's really uncom fortable. or north County off in It's usually donors that start at a lower fee.. gone so many a whole Donor Manager: She's made bunch of money. In some cases. the staff will even explain the situation to donors and ask them to accept a lower fee. in part to cul tivate donor loyalty in ametropolitan area with several other egg agencies. So if Denise had donated before. and due to the difficulty inmain taining a diverse pool of donors.000.
" In each of the four programs. miss doctors' appointments. she worked with me eight times. CryoCorp's CEO explains: There's should have an ongoing vials of how many debate If you from any one donor. we're col clients of vials because the right number lecting to to keep that number that it's important perceive At what tolerable. point emotionally something do you say that's just not someone Iwant to be the my . You have to show up at the right time and place and do what's expected of you. sin every your busi inefficiently operating that sweet spot to figure out what issue from a pur then there's the emotional collect 10 vials If a client knows that with x thousand vials out there that there could be 100 or 200 offspring. But chaser." sperm bank staff are continually assessing which donors miss appointments. and it'smaybe a couple hours a day. have to do all the things you do for a normal job. and schedule egg director retrievals. health risks. from one or medical [donor it's taken a and you of them. you can't ask for anything better than that.000 vials from all have to replace issues]. Creative Beginnings's "You get paid really well. However. what's ally it just becomes emotion that point where hat on. "Most of the donors are very consci entious. She's on the county. It's like a career now. in part because they violate the altruistic framing of donation. need blood drawn for periodic disease testing. According to a donor screen love to work with you. "If it's a first-timer. we are not too many? With my MBA we're vials per donor because enough collecting as we as efficiently should. I remember that name. You need is. it is under stood to be much more meaningful than any reg ular job. If an egg donor per forms well in her first cycle. Then I called [the director of another egg agency]. Sperm donors must return to the bank for HIV testing six months after they stop donating. or register unusually low sperm counts. there's something about that girl. you're ness. it's $4. it is not concern for the woman's health that the OvaCorp donor man ager expresses in this denunciation of one such egg donor: "She's done this as a professional." To maintain "inventory." tell potential staff simultaneously Agency donors to think of donation "like a job" while in also embedding the women's responsibility the "amazing" task of helping others. staff identify the donor's responsibilities as being like those in a job. Egg agency staff are always on the phone with donors and doctors to find out when women begin menstruating. and men who agree to release identifying informa tion to offspring must update their addresses of selling eggs provoke disgust among staff. couple that would let's just concentrate on this one cou However. However. At the information meeting for potential director egg donors. "If you really simplify themath. why's she calling you? I won't work with her anymore. She explains. and she's like 'oh yeah. however. is not on the donor somuch as efficiently running a busi ness without offending the sensibilities of the bank's clients. With not operating customer relations consumer hat on." and staff must carefully monitor donors as they fulfill contractual obligations to produce genet icmaterial. of genetic because donors and only hit to your business." Producing Gift? Genetic Material: Job or Programs screen applicants for "responsibility. I'll say. because we look for girls that are going to be compliant and do things right. OvaCorp's donor manager is careful not to ask a woman too early about another cycle. Contact between staff and donors does not necessarily end on the day of the egg retrieval or when sperm donors provide their last sample. you collect and collect 10 donors 10.' I said eight times?! She's got four kids." Sperm banks also limit the number of vials from each donor. if that. If you wind up with 10.000 gle one. Egg agencies generally follow to five ASRM guidelines limiting women recommendations designed tominimize cycles. and so you explains." Her assistant adds. then agencies hope to match her with future recipients. but in the case of egg donation." But women who attempt to make a "career" er. Yeah. The focus. Iwon't ask her to do it again until she's cleared the cycle because I don't want her to think I'm being insistent upon a mass-producer.000 for six weeks of work. and especially our donors. And to know that you're doing something positive and amazing in some body's life and then getting compensated for it.334 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW with the bank indefinitely. start fertility shots. Western Sperm Bank must be vigilant because donors "are creating a product that we're vouching for in terms of quality control. I said. there's another predicated on being placed in the position of "loving" and "being loved by" extremely grate ful "future parents. Creative Beginnings's explains. ple thatwe're talking about.
there? investment required to Given the extensive screen gamete donors. Indeed. They're a very wealthy made earrings] I love them. If you want to get a gift. That was a gift to her. making the line between gift and sale indistin guishable." She had twins. women are discouraged from becoming "professional" egg donors and men are prevented from "father ing" too many offspring. She had [the in Italy. the donor explained. those she I'll get her says maybe I said the likelihood of her is very give slim her [because] a financial she's com of "naturally" caring. the earlier stage of fee nego tiation gives way to an understanding that donors are providing a gift. low-key.what do we do?Well. guiltily hiding any interest they might have in the promise of thousands of dol lars. The most extreme case I heard of postcycle giving was reported by OvaCorp's donor man ager: Donor I paid a donor That's $25. and this sperm donor's reaction exposes the reflexive application of gendered norms in the medical market in genetic material. She's like. jewelry. Inmany cases. themonetary value of the recipient's gift to the donor is explicitly tied to the number of children she had as a result of the donor's eggs." This rhetoric even extends to account three of the programs ing practices. In keeping with the focus on altruism in egg both OvaCorp and Creative donation. "I hadn't really thought about the fact there were gonna be pregnancies.. while inform donors that they will be sent a 1099 tax form. class. I ask them not to do that because flowers get in the way.000 earrings. to which recipients are expected to respond with a thank-you note. girls were some more earrings. and the couple's. egg recipients also give the donor flowers. worn wearing really . Instead. and only because then when their kids were born. Rayna ethnoracial. this framing of donation as job leads some men to be so removed from what they are donating thatwhen a new employee atWestern Sperm Bank excit edly told a donor that a recipient had become pregnant with his samples. I'll give her $15. she said itwas like "somebody hit him with this huge ball in the middle of his head. which is designed for independent con tractors providing a service.SELLING GENES. Rapp (2000:jc/v) biomedical rationality . While most egg donors will never meet their genetic chil dren. staff encourage recipients to send Beginnings's the donor a thank-you note after the egg retrieval. SELLING GENDER so-called father of my child because there's just way too many possible brothers and sisters out 335 pensation. So when alds. often do not even consider that chil dren will result from regular deposits at the sperm bank.000. these gen dered portrayals of selfless motherhood and distant fatherhood fit a very traditional pattern. inwhich donors help recipients and recipients help donors. Mine had by somebody rubies at the end of them. who are more likely to patterns be contacted through the banks' identity release programs. men are far more like ly to be perceived as employees. The donor's sleeping.000. He just went blank. Manager: itwas $ 10. helpful femininity. the donor's had emer hers had sapphires. they gave her an even (or perhaps especially) cally 'revolutionary' edges. and national stratification As "gift" from the recipient. women are expected to reproduce well additional gift of $15.000." During his next visit.. "Okay. In sperm donation. Creative Beginnings's director explains that if recipients ask her "about getting flowers for the donors. her born. In egg donation. Manager: They said." The donor manager "not uncommon. couple. and many choose to give the donor a gift of their own. you bought me and [the donor] a pair of $3. This same emotional labor is not required of sperm donors. get a simple piece of jewelry because then the donor has something forever that she did something real ly nice. and he was shocked. thereby upholding the con structed vision of egg donation as reciprocal gift-giving. Men. clocking in at the sperm bank at least once aweek to produce a "high-quality" sample. RA: Are Donor you serious? Oh yeah. This behavior is not present in the sperm banks. and she's not thinking about flowers. one would expect pro grams to gather as much reproductive material as possible from each donor. one of the egg agencies considers the donor's fee a nontaxable Here. earrings I said. or an addition al financial gift." describes this state of mind as notes. [is] "Contemporary operating to reproduce older forms of gender." on its technologi Indeed. seven-five per girl.000 for the donor's fee.
The greater cultural accept ance of egg donation probably results inmore women applicants than men. individual women have fewer eggs than individual men have sperm. Stored by the hundreds in large tanks. While most egg donors receive the market rate. these high levels of compensation coexist seamlessly with altruistic rhetoric because agency staff draw on to construct egg cultural norms of motherhood donation as a gift exchange. but responsibility. effectively challenges standing claims about the market.336 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW a specific recipient client. but also under review are a woman's physical appearance and stated motivations. It is not just that individual women have fewer eggs than individual men have sperm. Reproductive cells and reproductive bodies are filtered through eco nomic and cultural lenses in a particular struc tural context. It is not that altruistic rhetoric is completely absent in sperm banks. standardized prices because sperm donation is seen asmore job than gift. and father and more to the point. race. a standard rate only for those samples paid deemed acceptable. men aremuch more difficult to recruit. and staff screen women based on biological factors likemedical history. that results in both high prices and con stant gift-talk in egg donation. and sperm count ultimately define the ideal donor. or thatmen cannot make a couple of thousand dollars a year providing samples. By empiri Once accepted into a donation program. motherhood that ismarketed and purchased. and structural factors differentiates the market in eggs from that in sperm in each stage of the In recruiting marketable donation process. requirements make men difficult while hundreds of women's profiles languish on agency Web sites. But shifting the lens from individual bod ies to the market in genetic material reveals an oversupply of women willing to be egg donors. age). The personalistic one-to-one relationship between altruistic egg donor and grateful egg recipient is codified into an actual gift exchange when staff encourage recipients towrite a thank you letter or provide a small token of appreci ation. both egg agencies and sperm banks place advertisements listing biological require ments (e.g. American femininity and masculinity. and their vials are available on a first come.. cultural. Men must build enough "inventory" for their profiles to be posted to the Web site. Despite this abundance. but egg agencies emphasize the ability to help while sperm banks portray donation as a job. In ies and cultural norms of caring motherhood. donors. and egg retrieval requires surgery while sperm retrieval requires masturbation. or that eggs are more difficult to extract. but visions of middle class. Men's health history is similarly scrutinized. far outstripping recipient demand. a woman's profile will be used tomatch her with . but the close connection between women's reproductive bod DISCUSSION Casual observers of themarket in genetic mate rial point to biological differences between women and men and consider them explanation enough for the greater economic and cultural valuation of egg donors. but the dynamic interplay weekly between biological. men's donations resemble a stan dardized product more so than the eggs that are removed from an individual woman and placed into "her" recipient a few days later. first-serve basis. but are paid low. both eggs and egg donors are more highly valued than sperm and sperm donors in this medical marketplace. Moreover. where it is not just reproductive material. This is probably partly responsible for the different inwhich men are approaches to compensation. it is common for a woman's characteristics (such as prior dona tions. Bank staff do not request similar displays of gratitude to sperm donors. As a result. egg donor fees hold steady and are often calibrated by staff perceptions of a woman's characteristics and a recipient's wealth. are preferred. height. a comparison made by many program staff in this study. Both the year-long commitment and stringent to recruit. discussed earlier in two long this article. economic. arguably an altruistic ges ture. Indeed. and those willing to release identifying infor mation to offspring. Neither the biological differences between women and men nor the economic law of sup ply and demand fully explain themedical mar ket in genetic material. an early distinction shaped by gendered stereotypes of parenthood that ismain tained throughout. CONCLUSION Zelizer's tripartite model. contrast. hood. and education level) to increase her fee. that of medicalized egg agencies and sperm banks. as eggs cannot yet be frozen like sperm.
empirical investigations into the meaning and interpretation of reproductive cells and bodies reveal considerable variation in different social contexts. some of these same "biological facts" result in high er monetary compensation and more cultural validation for women?validation that is based tions about HIV risk. which contends that race. and sacred values" (1988:631). and class combine to increase women's disadvantage (e. . But it is not until framing biological factors are included in the model. while Hochschild discusses the biological basis of emotion. that it becomes clear how these social processes of commodification vary based on whether the reproductive cells come from a woman or a man. is worri some given our eugenic history (Duster 2003). which as medicalized organizations offer a veneer of scientific credibility to such claims. For example. But it is not only sex and gender that influ ence the valuation of eggs and sperm. and structural factors shapes particular markets.g. as scarce as resource) nurturing). making possible a comparison of how different kinds of bodies are valued. This routinized reinscription of race at the genet ic and cellular level in donation programs. which is understandable given the regularity with which sex differences are ref erenced to deflect criticism of social inequali ties. and in the meanings this differentiated materiality.. while sperm banks might relax height restric a Mexican man. For example. as Butler (1993) theorizes. such as econom ic interpretations and cultural readings (e. Egg agen cies and sperm banks have difficulty recruiting diverse donors. eggs (e. reproductive directly contradicts intersectionality theory. In this mar ket. Roberts 1997). she undermines claims that money and intimacy are fundamentally incom patible or that economic exchanges are reducible to nothing but culture or nothing but structure. sociologists working in other contexts are likely to encounter other biological factors. gender. For example. it may not be Feminists have historically avoided biologi cal explanations. women sex and gender per se. Incorporating biological factors into sociological analyses can also mean the physical effects of gendered measuring inequalities. however. including differentiated reproductive associated with organs. whereas Martin (1991) finds thatmetaphors inmedical textbooks priv ilege male bodies. which has clear cardiovascular implications (Rose and Lewis 2005). This tions to accommodate paradoxical finding. she does not focus on the biological consequences of different kinds of emotional labor. and it is one of the primary sorting mechanisms in donor catalogs. in blood donation. but biology does not provide a set of static facts to be incorporated into sociolog ical analyses because biological factors alone do not predict any particular outcome. race and ethnicity are biologized. Indeed. As would be expected from Zelizer's research. This analysis of themedical market in genet icmaterial demonstrates how essential it is for sociologists to attend to biological factors while simultaneously resisting essentialized biologi cal explanations. and where having a child can actually make a woman a more desirable candidate. as themarket is transformed by social. but biologized assump tions about sexuality that shape who is allowed to give. She concludes. as when and Drug the Food Administration sex-with-men" does not allow "men-who-have of assump to donate because Thus. the body does matter. once the body is taken into account. She con cludes thatwomen flight attendants experience more cognitive dissonance than do men debt col lectors. as in ref erences to Asian eggs or Jewish sperm. but the long-term biological effects of manufactured smiling may actually be less severe than those of manufactured anger.g. in thismedical market. that women of color are at higher levels for their often compensated material than are white women. SELLING GENDER cally demonstrating how the interaction of eco nomic. moral. so anAfrican American woman might be paid a few thousand dollars more... These unex pected findings are explained. cultural. "The cases of life insurance and the pricing of children show that the process of of the rationalization and commodification world has its limits.g. both in itsmateri ality. While reproductive cells and bodies are the salient biological factors in this market. along with hair and eye color.SELLING GENES. there is no separation between economic and cultural spheres inwhich the economic valua tion of genetic material trumps the cultural of altruistic donation. But decades of research on women's disadvantage do not lead one to expect a mar ket inwhich women are paid more than men. 337 on a different set of gendered stereotypes about caring motherhood and distant fatherhood. Hill Collins 2000.
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