Conflating “Good for Women” with “Feminist”

So, the Professor and I met for lunch to talk yet again about how bad you are in bed.

Ha, kidding!  Kidding!  You’re fine.

No, instead, we met to catch up and talk about whatever’s on our minds.  This time, it was a scholarly article about what happens when “equality” means one gender suffers more than another, and was using as a jumping off point whether men should be able to be compelled to be parents.

My feeling on the matter is “no.”

Men should, upon finding out about a child or a pending child have a short amount of time–a month, let’s say–to decide whether they want to be a father.  If they don’t, they then have no legal or financial responsibilities towards the kid; they are, in effect, a stranger to that kid.  If they do, then the legal and financial responsibilities start at the time of parental acceptance.  If, however, a man has declined legal parenthood but later decides it might be cool to see his kids, tough.  You initiate contact with the child, at any point in that child’s life–he could be 50–and you’re on the hook for 18 years of child support.  That way no one thinks they can just do an end run around the hard work and the large amounts of money raising a kid takes.

That seems to me to be equitable.  We get to decide whether we want to be parents.  The same should be true of men.

The Professor, interestingly enough, also recently saw a Dr. Phil about this very issue, in which the people arguing against what we might call affirmative parenthood–ostensible feminists–were making what sounded to her to be the anti-abortion argument, but towards these men: tough shit, they made a baby, now they have to deal with it; it’s a baby, it’s a life, it deserves to be protected and cared for.  And then the argument morphed into “but a child deserves two parents.”

Well, you know, once you start hearing folks who claim to be on our side using the arguments against us against other people, it starts to make you wonder.

And the thing that it makes me wonder is whether we haven’t conflated “good for women” with “feminist.”  Because, don’t get me wrong, it is very, very good for women if men pay child support for the children they have fathered. And it may indeed be the right thing, for where we are right now, as women, to continue to make it as easy as possible for women to get child support for their children.

But does that make it feminist?  I don’t think so.  I mean, I don’t know, actually, but I suspect not.  What, exactly, is particularly feminist–or even about “equality”–in fighting for women to have control over when and how they’ll reproduce while we deny men that same right?

18 thoughts on “Conflating “Good for Women” with “Feminist”

  1. I tend to agree with your position on men having the right to deny parental responsibility forever…. If a woman can choose to abort without a man being able to veto the abortion AND if a woman can choose to proceed with an un-planned pregnancy, then it seems only fair that a man ought to be allowed to make a similar choice not to be a responsible parent.

    Of course, I think this ought to only apply to couples who are unmarried and perhaps not in committeed relationships…and sorting that out is kind of hard.

    I absolutely agree that he can’t come back later and want to be a daddy… resignation of rights is permanent and his name ought not be on any birth certificates etc…. Really, there should be no paper-trail to confirm his participation.

    The problem with getting something like this passed is that the state will want to know who the father IS so that if/when the woman is on welfare/state support etc.. they can go after him for the costs of that support. This is a very common practice and not having paternity determined would cost state governements a lot of money.

    I think this is, sort of, a feminist issue because it supports the right of a person to decide whether or not they want to be a parent. That issue most directly impacts women. One of the arguments against current reproductive freedom practices is that the father doesn’t have the choice about whether or not to be a parent, so why should a woman have such a choice? Also — down the line, many women woud like to be able to parent without intereference from a crappy father… who occasionally pays child support, sees the kids on his schedule and introuces him to the bimbo of the week, all while promising them a pony for their birthday and a car when they are 16. Finally, I think that having the chance for a guy to opt out allows women a realistic view of the implications of continuing the pregnancy on their own. They have no illusions that he’ll suddenly fall in love with her and the baby once she gives birth and she’ll have time and resources to decide if she can raise the child, if she wants to give it up for adoption or terminate the pregnancy.

    Personally, I think that even if the guy decides not to be a parent, he should be responsible for half the cost of terminating the pregnancy. When both (potential) parents make the same decision, the cost should be shared equally.

    Sorry to hijack comments — but you got me thinking!

  2. I really hate the idea that we should be conflating bodily autonomy with financial responsibility, because frankly, I think that’s what allowing men a walk-out period does.

    I’m in the tough shit category not because I don’t think men shouldn’t have control and decisions over their reproductive autonomy. I’m in the tough shit category because biology actually dictates that women inevitably wind up with one extra opportunity to make an affirmative decision about becoming a parent. Unfortunate though it may be, men’s bodily autonomy with respect to having kids ends with ejaculation.

    Allowing a walk-out period is only superficially equivalent to an abortion, and I’m really irked by the idea that a surgical procedure and an opportunity to walk out approximate fairness.

  3. Well, 30-some years ago, I got pregnant (while on the pill, no less) and wasn’t married to my son’s father. He knew I was pregnant and took off. Now, in Washington state back then, where I lived, when an unmarried woman has a child, she cannot put the father’s name on the birth certificate, he has to be there and okay having his name on it. So my name is the only parental name on my son’s birth certificate. I collected Welfare for the first part of my son’s life, and when they asked me who his father was so they could collect child support (none of which would have come to me, it would all have gone to the state to repay the cash, medical, and food stamps we got), I told them I didn’t have a clue who his father was, that it could be one of 4 or 5 men I had been dating at the time (a lie, but they didn’t know that). I did that because my son’s father was a drug addict and a thief and I didn’t want him involved at all, ever (which was one of the reasons I was glad he took off when he found out I was pregnant). Even if I had given them his name, it wouldn’t have done much good without a social security number to go with it, and that was information I didn’t have (yeah, I was young, naive, and stupid back then). So women do have some options if they don’t want the father involved and if they don’t mind lying (I mean, hell, I was young, single, and pregnant, they already thought I was a slut, so why should it bother me if they thought I was sleeping with multiple men?). I managed to raise him on my own (I didn’t get married until I was 53), and at 33, my son has turned out to be a wonderful young man that I am quite proud of. He never asked me about his dad, and I never volunteered any information, I figured if he didn’t want to know, I wasn’t going to burden him with that shit.

  4. Are men really denied reproductive freedom or do they choose not to use what they have? Just as the Pill is not a complete sure thing (but is a hell of a lot better than nothing), a spermicidally lubed condom used correctly provides fairly satisfactory results. Though condoms are not a sure bet — 2 in 100 couples using condoms for a full year will get pregnant and they do fail from time to time — men have the opportunity to exercise significant control over their fertility if they want. They can ask for a handjob or a blowjob or whatever instead of vaginal sex.

    While I get the larger point you’re making, I think you’re sliding over towards the “poor man, victimized by his partner’s reproductive choices” land. The fact remains that there are sexually viable fertility-limiting options for men that most guys don’t (or didn’t, back in my playin’ days) use.

  5. There are problems with trying to make this about simple reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy for men as equal to women. The reasoning used by lots of father’s rights movement people does sometimes trouble me. However, I think that the option granted to men is less analogous to abortion than to parenthood in general, about which women also have an option. Women have 2 oppostunities for choice but men seem to have none (or women have 3 and men have 1, given bridgett’s point about birth control).

    If mothers can choose to put a child up for adoption (an option that most “pro-life” advocates encourage), then why is a biological father subject to the decisions of a biological mother? Acknowledging that there is not a male equivalent to pregnancy and labor (and post-partum recovery) the support given to a child a short time after birth does not have weigh differently on men and women.

    To hold men legally responsible for financial support of child care actually seems to reinforce a sexual division of labor (and a division of the public and private spheres) that is being challenged by feminists. And I don’t think it has any impact on making men better fathers and so in one regard isn’t actually good for children either. Just as motherhood should not be defined by nuturing care giving, fatherhood should not be defined by money.

  6. Bridgett, that may be, but I’m actually more curious about what would make a feminist argument for men paying child support for kids they don’t want. I don’t think we live in a world where I’m looking to make an argument against child support, but in theory, I’m having a hard time seeing what the feminist argument for the status quo is other than it benefits women.

  7. It benefits children. That’s a benefit to all of us, not just to women. And it benefits the community in which the child lives, which is, I think, the justification the state takes for getting involved.

  8. I kind of wish people could file for parenting. Like, will you be filing jointly or singly for this child? Will the child’s two biological parents file for joint care of their offspring? Or just one? How about three people, of various relative/guardian status? I know it sounds absurdly bureaucratic, but… while we’re aiming for challenging assumptions about mothers and fathers, we might as well take other nontraditional arrangements into account – gay parents, single parents, grandparents helping out their younger parents, and so forth.

    I can’t even wrap my mind around this issue – usually a sore one for me, since I’m pretty adamant that what goes in and comes out of my body is my responsibility alone – without resorting to fantasy. I recently read Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula LeGuin) in which a genetic experiment of humankind created a race of genderless people who go into a gendered heat on a cycle and have equal probability of morphing into male or female at that time. One outside character notes that this way, everyone has an equal chance of the burden of childbearing and rearing, and remain relatively equal in status compared to other human races – although none are so free as the male sex of other human races.
    Even the fantasy of equality is problematic. Alas.

  9. I’m with nm on this one: child support is about the child and society. A man who gave up parental rights may change his mind after signing the papers – for him, tough, he made his decision. But permanently legally forbidding a man to ever (or for 18 years) have contact with his child is likely to have psychological consequences for the child which don’t seem to be acknowledged in the argument for “male abortion”.

    I’d also like to point out that even where pre-viability abortion is legal, women don’t always have the choice for abortion: a surprising number don’t realize they’re pregnant until after viability. The Discovery channel has a documentary profiling women who didn’t know they were pregnanct until they went into labor. These women did not have the option of abortion. They are parents, and they have parental responsibilities now. Tough.

    Other pet peeves of mine: that a baby daddy’s only option is child support (he also has the option of pursuing custody and forcing the woman to pay child support) and that adoption is a “woman’s choice”. All 50 states require the consent of both the mother and father for an adoption to take place. In the case of an unknown father, generally ads must be run in the paper for several weeks. An unsuspecting man would almost certainly miss them, and yes, this system can be abused – but the intention is for both parents to have a say.

  10. Lyrl, you are exactly right on the custody thing. My (now) huband wanted to do just that when his, well, not girlfriend got pg at the end of high school. She didn’t want the baby. Until he did. So he married her to keep his son.

    She left when the baby was rather small and gave up custody for $1000 and a crappy car. Now he’s 9 and she wants at least joint custody.

    SHE is the loser who owes back child support. She’s the one who screws his head up. She’s, well, she’s a psychotic mess, and I wish, for my son’s sake and my husband’s sake, she go away again…

    So, yes, Aunt B, I don’t think it IS a feminist issue. It’s a “childist” issue. Once a child is here, its needs always trump adult wants, imo. Where feminism plays a role is where women have always been in the lead: the primary burden for carrying, birthing, and raising children usually falls to women. Until men lactate, it’ll probably always be that way. Yes, there are exceptions. Certainly my huband did the bulk of raising the oldest boy. But women, as they bear that responsibility, also have to carry the advocacy for children. So, it’s a feminist issue because it affects so many women and it’s a women’s issue because it’s a children’s issue.

    In my opinion…

  11. hmmm. is this saying men can have sex and abdicate responsibility?

    The twenty-something within me is really happy about this but the old guy isn’t so sure… I am responsible for my actions. do I not have the responsibility to find out of I’m about to do something fun that could also have responsibility repercussions for the ext 18 years, or can I just continue to remain clueless?

  12. Jim, well, no offense, but many of y’all already do. So, what I’m trying to understand is kind of a two-fold thing. One, is it really fair that women have an opportunity to opt out of being parents even after we find out that we are pregnant that men don’t have? But two, would women be better off in some cases if they knew, with certainty, that they weren’t going to get any help from the father of their child? And wouldn’t they be better off with some legal mechanism for severing the rights of the father, if he isn’t interested in actually being the father?

  13. In most (maybe all) states, women already have the right to terminate parental rights if the father hasn’t made contact or paid child support in a specified period of time. Fathers so served are responsible for any arrears at the time of the decree, but otherwise are legally out of the picture and are understood to have waived their claim to custody, contact, or support. This termination of parental rights is particularly common in the case of the awol dad when a subsequent partner wishes to adopt a child from a former relationship. My brother is the adoptive parent of such a child and it was a fairly routine procedure in Ohio even as early as 30 years ago.

    Real lawyers feel free to weigh in if I’ve got this wrong, but I’m not seeing how what you’re asking for is different than what exists.

  14. Hmm, either y’all are just being obstinate about refusing to understand what I’m wrestling with and helping me sort it out or I’m just not being clear because I swear, all of these responses seem to me to totally miss the mark.

    And yet, I cannot believe that all y’all don’t get what I’m saying.

    So, I think that I’m not clear about what sticks in my craw about this and yet I don’t know how to be clearer.


  15. One, is it really fair that women have an opportunity to opt out of being parents even after we find out that we are pregnant that men don’t have? But two, would women be better off in some cases if they knew, with certainty, that they weren’t going to get any help from the father of their child? And wouldn’t they be better off with some legal mechanism for severing the rights of the father, if he isn’t interested in actually being the father?

    B, if these are your questions, I’m not sure I see the latter reflected in your original post. With respect to fairness, I’m not sure that anything with respect to human reproduction can ever be authentically fair. What would that even mean, particularly in light of the fact that women get pregnant and men don’t?

    Second, would the certainty of non-support be better than a faint hope that there might be an enforceable court order? I think it would depend mightily on the circumstances. And there are legal mechanisms for parents to hand over all parental rights. (I advise clients on this in the context of family law not infrequently.) Would it be better for women if it were easier for a man to surrender his parental rights? I’d have to think some more about that.

  16. This debate gets even more interesting if you ask whether men should have a right to get a refund of child support from the mother if the child turns out to be genetically unrelated (particularly as, under Australian law at least, the mother can’t get back-pay of child support from the actual genetic father).

    For me, the answer would need to be different depending on whether he had taken on a parent-role towards the child (which, in my view, shouldn’t be automatically severed or “refunded” just because the parenting is non-genetic).

    Evil_fizz, I think your point above that “men’s bodily autonomy with respect to having kids ends with ejaculation” is spot on. I’m writing something about this at the moment, so let me know if you’d prefer the quote to be attributed to your real name, and I can give my email address. (Presumptious I know, assuming that Evil_fizz is not your real name!)

  17. librarianchic, feel free to quote me under my handle. (It’s what I’ve always gone by online.) But do send me a link to your piece when you’re finished. It’s just evilfizz at gmail.

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