July 21, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Having recently reported on a study out of Washington State about women who lie to their male sex partners about using contraception, I suppose it’s worthwhile mentioning this article on the other side of the coin (NYMagazine, 5/29/13). My previous piece dealt with a study of young women at two community colleges in Spokane. A hefty one-third of them told researchers they’d lied to boyfriends about being on the pill. They did so in the hopes of conceiving a child because the boyfriends looked to them like they’d make good husbands and fathers.
My post about the study came largely in response to a letter to Slate’s “Dear Prudence” column in which the writer expressed concern, 13 years later, that she’d lied to the father of her daughter about using the pill. Should the mother tell the father now? Should she tell her daughter? Prudie’s response, that continuing the lie was better than telling the truth, was typical of those who utterly fail to see that men’s fertility should be in men’s hands, not women’s. It’s a viewpoint that’s endemic in this culture and doubtless others. Seemingly everyone, from family court judges to mental health professionals to commentators on matters related to sex, procreation and the family pretty, much takes it for granted that women should control their own fertility and that of men.
In a backhanded kind of way, the linked-to article does the same. Nominally it’s about men who engage in “reproductive coercion.” What’s reproductive coercion? Well, unsurprisingly, the concept turns out to be extremely broad involving such clearly morally wrong behaviors as poking a hole in a condom to increase the chances of pregnancy and hiding birth control pills. But, amazingly enough, it also includes men asking to their wives/girlfriends to stop using contraception, i.e. that they’d like to have a child.
The article refers to two studies that show that, among the women surveyed, 15% and 16% respectively reported their paramours engaging in one or both of the above behaviors. Tellingly, the article never mentions how much of those percentages are accounted for by the men’s entirely appropriate expression of the desire to have a child versus the other truly despicable actions.
But whatever the numbers are, the question must be asked “do we really want to start branding as ‘reproductive coercion’ one sexual partner’s request of the other to have a child?” After all, at some point in their lives, that would likely include virtually every straight woman who ever walked the earth. How many of them have said to their husbands/boyfriends “Let’s have a child?”
While a man’s sabotaging a condom is clearly an act no sane person would countenance, lumping that behavior together with “Honey I love you; let’s have a baby,” is beyond stupid. Put simply, it’s an attempt to make a psychopathology out of behavior that’s not only kind and decent, but loving.
In that way, it’s entirely fitting that the article and the women interviewed all fit that behavior into the concept of domestic abuse. Like a man’s request to father a child, the domestic violence industry has always told us that “Honey, we can’t afford your spending habits,” and “Honey it’s not safe to spend so much time with heroin addicts,” constitute abuse, not the actions of a loving, concerned and responsible spouse.
As such, pathologizing a man’s request to have a child is all of a piece with other claims of the DV industry that has always sought first and foremost to separate men from women and fathers from their kids. If women are taught that “Honey, let’s have a child” constitutes abuse by their significant others, what result can there be but a further separation of the sexes? Maybe it seems farfetched to imagine a time when the police are called to a residence to arrest a man for saying just that. Of course, 30 years ago, I’d have been astonished to learn that a man whose wife had conked him on the head could be arrested because his wife seemed to fear that he might retaliate, but that’s exactly what the New Hampshire police are taught to do.
And, in keeping with the rest of the domestic violence industry’s concepts, tagging “Honey let’s have a child” as pathological behavior is a one-way street. When men do it, it’s terribly wrong; when women do, it’s perfectly acceptable and the man is a cad if he demurs.
As if blatant double standards weren’t bad enough, what exactly are these people trying to accomplish by lumping decent, loving behavior in with clearly wrong exercises of control over another’s fertility? Well, aside from the usual demonization of male sexuality, one thing they’re doing is discouraging healthy communication between lovers. With a whopping 50% of all pregnancies in this country being unplanned, it hardly makes sense to discourage men (or women) from expressing their desires about procreation. Clearly, we need greater communication, not less, but for the writer of the article and the researchers cited, a man’s expression of desire for fatherhood is something to be quashed.
That brings us to the related behavior the article seeks to pathologize – a man’s telling a woman he’ll leave her if she doesn’t agree to have a child. Again, how many women have done exactly that? Countless, and I say more power to them. If a person is that serious about procreation, then he/she should say so and be prepared to carry out the threat. Is it coercive? You bet it is, but if it’s the truth, it needs to be said. Once it’s said, both the man and the woman know where they stand and can act accordingly. And if the one who doesn’t want a child sticks to his/her guns, the other can go on down the road and seek a partner who’s more compatible with him/her. And the one who doesn’t want a child is freed of the pressure the other’s needs explicitly or implicitly apply. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but it’s one two people who disagree about a subject as important as starting a family need to have. Again, let’s not discourage communication. And let’s particularly not do so in the service of pathologizing behavior by men that by any stretch of the imagination is entirely justified and even beneficial.
In the alternative I would argue that, if we’re going to call expressing the deeply-felt desire for a child a deviant act, we need to at least make it equally so for each sex. If men can’t express that desire, neither should women be able to. But of course that’s just silly. Men and women will continue to say “Honey, let’s have a child,” as they should. The article and the research behind it should be seen for what they are – yet another effort to cast aspersions on male behavior, particularly male sexuality. You have to hand it to feminists; they’re never without a new way to denigrate men. They’re always ready to condemn in men what they accept unquestioningly in women.
I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that only 20% of Americans call themselves feminists.
Thanks to Lenona for the heads-up.
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