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Wives and fathers, please stand up.

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Disclaimer: nowhere in this post do I claim that fathers are irrelevant. What I’m standing up (well, sitting on a pile of blankets with my laptop) to say is that there are some pretty damn outdated notions of what fatherhood means out there. Male parents? Bring it on.

You bloody traitor, Kathleen Parker. You weak-willed, belly-showing traitor. Maybe you’ve the luxury of a man to help take care of your two sons, but, please, know for sure that that’s what it is – a luxury. Women have been raising children alone for centuries untold, and, since feminist liberation, we have been enabled to provide for ourselves and our children on a more basic level. If that alienates men from their traditional roles of breadwinner and head of the table then too bad. I was raised by a single mother who was also a part-time lawyer; it did me no harm whatsoever, and I fully intend to be one myself one day.
Michael Gove and his ilk can rant about absent fathers until they’re blue in the balls, but if what we really want is for men to return, of their own accord, to the home, then we’d better do something about how domestic work and childcare are seen in this country. House-work and the raising of children are not seen as noble occupations, worthy of respect; if they were, I’d venture that fewer women would be so desperate to throw themselves into the non-domestic world of work, still so fundamentally a man’s world. Since the opening up of legal gender emancipation in the 1960s-70s, women won the right to enter into work organized for men, on men’s terms. Nobody told men that they now had the right to stay at home with the children: the idea would be laughable. That’s women’s work. And, partly because it’s women’s work, child-rearing is still one of the least respected professions on the planet. No wonder the men aren’t lining up to take their turn with the late nights, dirty nappies and parents’ evenings.
So, precisely in what way do children ‘need’ fathers – or is it, in fact, fathers who need children? Traditionally, the role of the head of the household was to provide for his wife and kids on a material basis. Now that that financial role is being adequately filled by many women all on their own, if men want to be more involved in the lives of their children, there will have to be a genuine sharing of domestic roles on a more sustained level, along with policies to back that up from the highest levels of government. The plain fact is that now that women are allowed to financially provide for themselves, we no longer need husbands to raise children effectively, if, indeed, we ever did. What women could do with, fundamentally, are wives –other people, male or female, to share the load of domestic work and money-earning in a spirit of genuine support and partnership. When more men can stomach seeing themselves in the role of ‘wife and father’, then we’ll have a basis for negotiation. Parker goes on to claim that contemporary reproductive freedoms have emasculated men:

‘Legally, women hold the cards. If a woman gets pregnant, she can abort – even without her husband’s consent. If she chooses to have the child, she gets a baby and the man gets an invoice. Unarguably, a man should support his offspring, but by that same logic shouldn’t he have a say in whether his child is born or aborted?
Granted, many men are all too grateful for women to handle the collateral damage of poorly planned romantic interludes, but that doesn’t negate the fact that many men are hurt by the presumption that their vote is irrelevant in childbearing decisions.’

Why is it unarguable that a man should support his offspring? With state help, most women are perfectly capable of doing so on their own, in a pinch. I’m fervently pro-choice, pro-choice to the wire, and part of that passionate belief that women deserve no less than absolute control over their reproductive capacity entails a certainty that with full reproductive control should come full reproductive responsibility. When a women has made a choice to carry a child to term, unless she has chosen to put it up for adoption, she then has full financial as well as emotional responsibility over that child until it can support itself (and often long afterwards – thanks mum!). I know I’m not the only feminist and progressive who finds she can’t support mandatory child support payments from genetic fathers. The trouble with this position is that it’s an outright statement of what men have feared for decades – that their sacred role as breadwinner is no longer relevant, and that in order to have a say over the upbringing of their genetic offspring, the terms of fatherhood will need to be re-negotiated on a deep and radical level.
I love my partner deeply and would be thrilled to bear a child who carried half of his genetic material. If we are still together at the time my child is born I will be only too happy for him to help me raise it, for him to share legal guardianship and for my child to call him ‘dad’. And this is not because it’s his moral or genetic right, but because I’m lucky enough to have met an emotionally and domestically literate man who I think would make a wonderful parent. But I want him around because he’s a fantastic person, not because my kids need a male parent. And if he doesn’t want to be involved, I’ll manage. Before they are their own, my kids will be just that – mine – and my money will pay for the nappies and school shoes.

So sorry about your balls, guys, but before they are their own these babies are ours, and they will remain ours whilst they are born from our bodies. We would be only too delighted for you to help us – genuinely help us – with the work of raising the next generation, but fatherhood is a privilege, not a right. If you’re truly man enough to be a wife and father, bring that to the table and we’ll talk.

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25 responses »

  1. Who or what is she a traitor to? Surely you’re not saying that she’s a traitor to women everywhere? She’s an embarrassment to women, quite possibly, being as she is a shrill and unoriginal ideologue. But a traitor? Women don’t have some kind of sacred duty towards other women, just as it would be silly to call an American a traitor if )s)he criticized American policies.

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  2. I was raised by a single mother […] and I fully intend to be one myself one day.

    While I have no objection to single motherhood (I was raised by a single parent for most of my own childhood), I also have no objection to children having two parents – I expect it would be slightly preferable, just in terms of division of labour and hence slightly less frazzled parents.

    So, I’m interested – why would your specific goal be to raise your child without a partner’s help?

    Why is it unarguable that a man should support his offspring? With state help, most women are perfectly capable of doing so on their own, in a pinch.

    Um, what?? Are you really that totally unaware of the fact that the benefits system (via the CSA) will pursue a working father for money if the mother is claiming benefits? Money will literally be extracted from his pay by the Government before it (or the remains of it) is even given to him. This is not his choice, it is not even her choice – once she chooses (or is forced by circumstance) to live on benefits, his wages are forfeit, regardless of anything the parents have agreed between them.

    Incidentally, the mother doesn’t get the money either. Her benefits are trimmed to match the amount extracted from the father. Oh, I think she gets to keep a tenner.

    See ‘Child maintenance and benefits’ on this page:
    http://www.csa.gov.uk/en/setup/who-can-use-csa.asp

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  3. palmer1984

    There was an shockingly obnoxious and stupid argicle in the Daily Telegraph today about “emasculation”.

    Also, while I agree that a man is not necessary to a child’s upbringing, I do think it is easier to raise children if there are more people to raise them. Single parents do find working and raising kids on their own difficult. I think it is easier to raise a child with two people than one (whether they be a lesbian couple, a staight couple or two friends). Actually I quite like the idea of communal childraising.

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  4. You really are a cunt aren’t you?

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  5. I think you are speaking from a certain position of privilege regarding child support.

    Firstly, child support and alimony aren’t the same thing. Alimony is money paid to an ex-spouse for their upkeep. Child support is money paid by the nonresident parent to the resident parent for the child’s upkeep.

    “Why is it unarguable that a man should support his offspring? With state help, most women are perfectly capable of doing so on their own, in a pinch.”

    No, no we’re not. You are, as I say, speaking from a position of privilege; you clearly do not have children and are not in the situation of trying to raise a child as a single mother. State help is pathetic, and I know many, many women who are in my position – struggling as a single parent and failing miserably as I spiral deeper and deeper into debt just so my kid can eat and wear clothes.

    Why is it unarguable that a man should support his offspring? … I know I’m not the only feminist and progressive who finds she can’t support mandatory alimony payments from genetic fathers.

    Men are not paying child support for the mother’s benefit. They are paying for it for the benefit of the child. Let’s face it, the vast, vast majority of men who are obliged to pay child support did at one point want their children. Children are innocents in all of this. Regardless of whether it is fair or unfair for a woman to choose to have a baby against the father’s will, the child comes into existence and deserves support. Not to mention that child support payments are tiny, and if a man can’t afford to pay, he doesn’t have to (and in some cases, like that of my ex, even if he can afford to pay he is let off).

    Your whole opinion on this seems to be centred around this tiny minority of babies who are born to fathers who don’t want them and don’t want to pay for them, when in reality the majority of fathers want to be deemed ‘good dads’ and to have their children on weekends, holidays and other convenient times but who don’t want financial responsibility.

    But my baby will be just that – mine. It will come from my body and carry my surname, and my money will pay for its school shoes and birthday presents.

    Well good for you if you can work it that way, but to those of us who don’t have our own money to pay for our kids’ school shoes, whose children’s only birthday presents come from kind family members, this reeks of privilege and is frustrating because it utterly dismisses the lives of those who are actually experiencing this every single day.

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  6. Anji –

    ‘Well good for you if you can work it that way, but to those of us who don’t have our own money to pay for our kids’ school shoes, whose children’s only birthday presents come from kind family members, this reeks of privilege and is frustrating because it utterly dismisses the lives of those who are actually experiencing this every single day.’

    Thanks for your comment. It’s true, I haven’t children of my own as yet, and I apologise if I seemed like I was dismissing single motherhood as something easy, that anyone can do with state help. I know that my mother struggled a great deal, and perhaps, you’re right, I’ve deliberately downplayed that to make a point, albeit what I feel is a worthwhile one.

    I’ll come back to you after the first few sleepless nights and we can compare notes, ey?

    PR. xx

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  7. sb – totally, all the way. I also *have* a cunt, which is quite a different matter. *grin*

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  8. Haha, I think I’ll leave you alone after the first few sleepless nights, you’ll be under attack enough as it is from the littl’un. ;oP

    SB sounds jealous of your cuntiness. 😀

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  9. “A socialist, feminist, deviant, reprobate, queer, addict, literature student, journalist and sometime blogger. She lives with toast-eating pagans in a little house somewhere in London, smoking and drinking and plotting to subtly re-arrange the world to suit her ideals. Consumes too much tea. Regrets nothing.”

    You missed out “cunt”. Though come to think of it, what you’ve written is really just a long-winded way of proclaiming cunthood isn’t it? “Socialist” indeed!?! Did you type that with a straight face? (Whoops! Perhaps ‘straight’ is an offensive term?)

    Isn’t it time you left the 1970s behind dearie?

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  10. Arrived here via JimJay.

    Couple of Questions:

    1. Is there a “feminist right”? Even and “old” feminist right? And what is the difference?

    2. How and where do grandparents, the extended family, fit in?

    Mrs Weggis would agree that being a full-time housewife and mother is “still one of the least respected professions on the planet” but it did not stop her choosing it. Nor would she swap the joy and fulfilment it has given her. She’s a strong a wilful woman and I’m still not allowed to mess around in “her” kitchen.

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  11. Saw the article on liberal conspiracy and thought I’d comment here instead.

    I’m not qualified to comment on the substance as I a) am male, and b) have no intention of ever, ever, ever having children.

    I also find the arguments of those at liberal conspiracy who’ve taken the “feminism never got anywhere by being provocative” argument a bit odd. “Feminism only ever got anywhere by being provocative” might be nearer the mark.

    But I do query one aspect of the tactics. By presenting the child as the property of the mother and asserting her parental rights, doesn’t the debate become focussed around who has what rights to parenthood (allowing men to portray themselves as discriminated against and haggle over what they’re entitled to). Even talking about a contract as you seem to be doing (men have no rights therefore must negotiate offering useful support on the terms of the mother in return for parental privileges) seems to concede territory in the public sphere as debate will ineviably coalesce around your assumption rather than the content of what you’re proposing. Since men prefer to negotiate in the male-dominated public sphere than in private I’m not sure fighting on these grounds is good tactics.

    Tell me why I’m wrong!

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  12. Tim,

    As to the question of public/private debate…I think people’s conclusions that terms ultimately have to be negotiated on an individual level in the private sphere are fundamentally spot-on. You will never be able to legislate for things like this. However, I think provocative, question-raising debate in the public spere can only help people make individual decisions.

    This argument came from one of the basic dilemmas of feminism: if you’re arguing for absolute reproductive rights for women, where does that leave men? Unquestionably, demanding absolute say over childbirth and then making child support mandatory for men who may not have been involved in the decision is unfair. What I’m getting from the commentors at LC is that everyone wants fathers’ rights, and nobody wants fathers’ obligations.

    The difference is that, in most circumstances, mothers’ obligations are pretty difficult to avoid. If a child comes from your body you have to be able to do something with it. For men it’s more complicated. Granted, maybe obligations are unfair. But if obligations are unfair, should rights come as standard?

    Riddle me that one…

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  13. Mr and Mrs Weggis:

    I think there’s definitely a feminist right, but on this particular Thursday morning I’m loathe to point fingers.

    And grandparents? It’s another extension of the rights vs. obligations debate. I don’t think grandparents should be obliged to care for their grandchildren; if they are willing to take on that duty of care, rights must automatically follow. Although in most circumstances, I suspect that responsible mothers/ primary caregivers would want their children to know their grandparents.

    High five to Mrs Weggis. Domestic engineers out and proud 🙂

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  14. I’m very sorry to disillusion anyone, but possession is nine tenths of the law. If men were slightly less free and easy with where they put their sperm, they *might*, just might have a leg to stand on in this type of argument.

    If a man doesn’t want me to have his baby, there’s one very simple thing he has to not do.

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  15. "What I'm getting from the commentors at LC is that everyone wants fathers' rights, and nobody wants fathers' obligations."

    My point is not that these discussions should be had in the public sphere (rather the opposite), but that when you phrase the question about rights at all, this is likely to be the way the debate proceeds because of the male-dominated nature of the public sphere and the established (and problematic) narrative of men being hard-done by when it comes to "rights" to access etc. A tactic that doesn't rely on the language of rights might be better?

    My view is that after birth, no-one has any rights over the child, and that the whole of society has an obligation to the child, which is usually delegated to the parent(s) because of the natural feelings parents usually have for the child and the likelihood they will take this obligation seriously. I also think that mothers more often take this obligation seriously and therefore except for in extremely unusual circumstances the presumption should be that the mother gets to decide who (if anyone) gets to share that obligation and to what extent, based on the child's interests.

    As regards child support, I would rather that child benefit & the minimum wage were set at much higher levels and we had universal childcare than that women had to rely on child support payments. But I think child support may have some role to play in making men take contraception seriously. Seeing child support as a deterrent disconnects it from a debate about rights and obligations. I agree that payment of child support should not be seen as an obligation which gives the father any rights.

    Of course, not being an existing parent or potential mother, this is an overly-theoretical view, and there is also the danger of seeing a woman's body as a vessel if pregnancy and childbirth doesn't give her rights over the child. While that's a danger, I don't think it's inevitable, though.

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  16. but fatherhood is a privilege, not a right.

    It is neither of these. Fatherhood is a state of being. This state of being brings with it certain obligations. This has nothing whatsoever to do with ownership. Parents can’t be said to own their children at any stage of their development.

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  17. James Ivens

    SB, are you real? Or are you in fact a Private Eye parody of ill-informed online commentators?

    Evidence would suggest that you are real, since such parodies are (usually) funny.

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  18. James! I’ve just got my first dedicated troll, don’t discourage him!

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  19. penny red,

    To say that mothers can do without fathers while relying on the “state” is a distinction with very little difference.

    Who picks up the bulk of that “state” tab other than obligated husbands and fathers?

    But your basic flaw is that you adopt a lesbian ethos as a heterosexual woman and therefore can’t really practice what you preach.

    You have full “reproductive rights” along with “rights to terminate reproduction” and yet you wax eloquent as though such a scenario was something only to be dreamt of.

    But why NO kids to put your theory to the test? And why not see if such a child persuades you to do that which your ideology doesn’t allow you to do, namely, build a committed heterosexual relationship?

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  20. Tony Kennick

    Your economic arguments are sound, there is no need for a man sat at the head of the table in a family home.
    What isn’t covered as well is the emotional side of things. I was also brought up by a professional single mother, I never lacked for love but there is still something lacking within me from not knowing my father.
    I’ll not dispute your rights as mother, but when it comes to crunch decision points in this matter what about the rights of your children?

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  21. How nice of you to decide, on behalf of your unborn child, they cannot have a father. Yes, your own ridiculous prejudices completely trump the wishes of your ‘property’. This post feels like an analogue of the oft used apology for corporal punishment: “well, I was birched in my day, and it never did me any harm!”

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  22. Bootyboomboom

    ‘anonymous’,

    The radical marxoid left have to test all their ideas to destruction. Unfortunately generations of children will have to be the test dummies. Eventually though people like Laurie will have to come to terms with the miserable world they have created and the cleaning up process will have to begin. You could call it the ‘Logic of History’.

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  23. BTBB:
    okay, name me one radical marxoid idea that’s brought misery to generations of children? The NHS, perhaps? Equal suffrage for women? Gay rights? The welfare state?

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  24. James Grieves

    Before they are their own, my kids will be just that – mine – and my money will pay for the nappies and school shoes.

    So sorry about your balls, guys, but before they are their own these babies are ours, and they will remain ours whilst they are born from our bodies.

    And I had been under the impression that you wanted gender equality.

    Oh well, I am well used to people being liars over this issue.

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  25. James Grieves

    BTBB:
    okay, name me one radical marxoid idea that’s brought misery to generations of children? The NHS, perhaps? Equal suffrage for women? Gay rights? The welfare state?

    More to the point Marx/Engels stated that the family would be replaced by the state. Not that feminists would somehow be allowed to claim children as their property as you apparently wish to.

    Reply

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