Happy Post Father’s Day to all the dudes out there who are actively involved in the lives of young people – whether they are biological fathers or not – because apparently, being a stand-up dude is purely optional.
At least that is the message I got from this New York Times editorial in which writer Laurie Shrage, who is also a professor of gender studies, argues that just because a man “accidentally” gets a woman pregnant, shouldn’t mean that he should be forced to bear the legal responsibilities of the child. As Shrage, explains it, this phenomenon is called forced fatherhood, as she labels it, and it is akin to punishing men for sexual promiscuity. According to her, there needs to be a more expansive definition of fatherhood, particularly in the court systems, to better accommodate men who are not the biological father of a child but still decide to raise them, as well to include men whose only connection to a child is being a sp*rm donor. From Shrage’s editorial:
“Court-ordered child support does make sense, say, in the case of a divorce, when a man who is already raising a child separates from the child’s mother, and when the child’s mother retains custody of the child. In such cases, expectations of continued financial support recognize and stabilize a parent’s continued caregiving role in a child’s life. However, just as court-ordered child support does not make sense when a woman goes to a sp*rm bank and obtains sp*rm from a donor who has not agreed to father the resulting child, it does not make sense when a woman is impregnated (accidentally or possibly by her choice) from sex with a partner who has not agreed to father a child with her. In consenting to sex, neither a man nor a woman gives consent to become a parent, just as in consenting to any activity, one does not consent to yield to all the accidental outcomes that might flow from that activity. ”
To Shrage’s larger point, the child support system needs to be overhauled as well. There are few folks, who I would think would argue that the system in its current state is of benefit to mother, father, or child involved. And with anywhere between 14 to 24 of fathers in the system below the poverty line, slapping an order of support, which he is unlikely to be able to pay, does not seem beneficial. I also agree with her point about a new expansive definition to include the men, who have voluntarily stepped up and taken on the role as father in a child’s life. However, as bad as this current system is, having a system where a man can pick and choose which of his off-spring he deems worthy of his last name doesn’t seem very progressive – in fact, it sounds very regressive to the times of old when men did that very same thing and were well within their legal right to do so.
Likewise, I personally find it hard to imagine there being an epidemic of men being forced into parenthood against their objection. Even providing anecdotal stories about women hijacking sp*rm from a condom some poor schmuck left behind likely pales in comparison to the stories of men, who were willing participants in sexual intercourse, which ultimately led to conception. And to be clear, short of stealing a man’s sp*rm, the claim of forced fatherhood is really a dubious, and slightly offensive one, particularly to people who have had forced sexual relationships put upon them.
Sure, we can argue that men have little say-so in determining the progression of an unplanned pregnancy, however, that is because the job of impregnating and giving actual birth is not equal. And I think that this is a point that needs to further be emphasized as folks of all genders do take pregnancy for granted. This is in part due to modern technology, which has greatly decreased most of the risk that used to be associated with pregnancy and labor. However, folks should understand that pregnancy is still a pretty dangerous job and women really do put their lives on the line in order to birth the next generation of human beings. Despite the fact that the number of maternal deaths worldwide dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000, some 800 women still die daily from even the most preventable complications due to pregnancy and labor.
Put aside the mostly non-life threatening side effects of pregnancy including nausea and vomiting, constipation, heartburn, swelling and bloating, hemorrhoids, hair loss, and a whole host of other unpleasant ailments, and let’s talk about the more serious complications: high blood pressure and hypertension; gestational diabetes; eclampsia; blood clots; broken bones; infection; hemorrhaging, and even death. Not to mention the complications, which can come from having to have a non-v*ginal birth (c-section) and all the after-birth side effects like postpartum depression.
Since men are physically incapable of bearing these life-altering and threatening burdens of pregnancy, it doesn’t make sense – legal or otherwise – that they should have a say in a decision, which has a profound affect on one’s body. And if any man has a problem with that, tell him to take it up with Mother Nature.
Although the final decision about the progression of a pregnancy and labor belongs to the woman, men are not totally without choice to prevent unplanned fatherhood. I think what is most interesting about these decisions, which come up around the idea of men being allowed to legally terminate parental rights, is that we tend to skip over the same same sort of personal responsibility ethos, which has been shoved down the throats of women. Sort of how there is a movement now to teach men not to rape, as opposed to just telling women how to prevent rape, we need to start drilling in the minds of men the importance of taking their reproductive choices seriously. And if they don’t, there will be serious and life-altering consequences, including being stuck legally and financially to a child you might not be ready for.
We should reinforce to men that once they let that seed separate from their body, and into another’s body, you basically give consent to use said seed for whatever purpose one see’s fit, including biological. We should tell guys that not only is abstinence an acceptable and reasonable option, but just in case they can’t wait, at least try to be more selective in their sexual relationships. Likewise, if they can’t count on the success rate of condoms, perhaps they should explore other birth control options, including a vasectomy, which again, thanks to modern technology, is now reversible. Some guys I know don’t even like to think about that option because it is “too invasive.” Go figure.