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Thursday, July 22, 2004

Possession

A friend of mine's sister used to work for an international group that helped women in poor areas with family planning.  One job that she did struck me as particularly poignant--they were working in a place where men took great pride in the number of children they had.  The more you had, the higher your esteem, and it probably didn't hurt to have your neighbors think that you were so virile.  The problem of course is that the men didn't actually have to do the work of raising so many children, and it didn't wear their own bodies out.  So some of the women were a little cynical about the value of having so many children, and they wanted to be sterilized so that they didn't have anymore.
But they couldn't be sterilized, as their culture didn't respect that as their right.  (But the law did.)  To get your tubes tied was to steal something that belonged to your man--his future children, his potential, his esteem.  So, like thieves, the women created a cover story about going away for an amount of time for some other, more acceptable thing and went to the family planning services and had their tubes tied and lied about it. 
I can already feel people's bile coming up--it's wrong to get sterilized and lie about it.  If they had just discussed it with their men, come to some sort of agreement, let him be a part of such an important decision....
But what agreement could they come to?  If you feel the need to sneak away to get sterilized, my guess is that you already know what your man's opinion of sterilization is, and also how he'll react to you taking away from him what he feels is his.  There's an impasse--who should get to decide whether or not a woman gets her tubes tied--her or her man? 
Well, the law is pretty firm on this, believe it or not.  He doesn't actually lay any legal claim to her body and if she wishes to have her tubes tied, he doesn't have a legal right to stop her. 
Actually, I'm sure we all believe that the law falls on her side.  In any situation when two people are arguing about what to do in a certain situation, and both options are legal, the law then looks at who has the legal claim to the disputed property.  In a situation where the dispute is over what to do with a human body, the person who actually lives in the body has automatic property rights (unless of course that person is a minor). 

Sorry to have to spell it out, but I suspect that there is some confusion over this.  In the latest abortion explosion, alot of people have taken to complaining that men do not have abortion rights.  If a woman gets pregnant, she gets to abort or not without actually having to get what people like to call "input" from her man. 
But what does this "input" mean in a real, legal sense?  In a practical sense, most women do receive input from their men.  The much maligned Amy Richards who is getting criticized for not getting input on her decision to have a selective reduction did in fact ask her boyfriend his opinion.  He gave it, they discussed it and he decided to go with her decision.  Since when is this the incorrect way to make decisions as a couple?  There are many a time (though not as often as I'd like) where my boyfriend has one opinion, I have another, and we discuss it and he comes to my way of thinking.  Seriously, is that so wrong?  Should his opinion weigh more than mine?  What if he honestly thinks that my opinion is better or that I know better what needs to be done?  It seems like the latter was how her boyfriend reacted--your body, I will concede to your opinion.  Most guys I know take a similiar attitude, and bless them for it. 
But sometimes two people come to an impasse.  He wants one thing, she another.  And then, unfortunately, someone is going to have to lose, not get what they want.  How do we decide who it is?  Abortion is legal, so if there is a disagreement over whether to get one, the one who owns the uterus gets to make the final decision.  The other can have an opinion, but the owner of the uterus is free to disregard that opinion. 
So it's just a matter of who owns  the uterus.  There are two schools of thought.  One is that women have rights to their own bodies, that they are full citizens with equal rights to their bodies that men have.  The other school of thought is that men have rights over the bodies of their wives, and therefore if a woman is pregnant it is his responsibility to decide what to do with it.  In the latter school of thought, women also are allowed to have input in the decision to abort or not, but they don't have the final say.

I know which school of thought I prefer, that's why I'm a feminist.  I understand that one might have a problem with the legality of abortion itself, but that's a whole other issue.  It's legal, so the only question in a dispute is who gets to decide.  So I'm puzzled about people who wish for men to exert more control over that decision--it's an either/or question if a man and woman have different opinions of what to do, so someone has to be the one to make the final decision and it's not a gray one.  There's no middle ground for a compromise--she wants an abortion, he doesn't, so she can't appease and kind of get one. 
For men to have some control in the decision, they have to have all control.  If someone has a better solution to give men 50% control over a woman's pregnancy, I'd like to hear it.

22 Comments:

Blogger Earnest said...

Sorry if my previous post came off like a rant. I would just say that it reallydidn't seem to me that she had ever considered her boyfriend's opinion. She'd made up her mind, and when he suggested considering having all three, she refused to consider it. That's her prerogative, though.

I don't think a man should have control over a woman's body. I think though that in your argument in support of a woman's physical and legal independence from male opression and coercion that you ignore that a man becomes obligated to pay for the costs of raising that child. He is conscripted into paternity at the whim of the mother. Should a man who weren't married to a woman claim legal access to her income because he decided he needed it, I am certain of what the feminist response would be. In a sense, the woman gains control over the man's body because he is forced to deliver to her the fruits of his labor whether he wanted to be a father or not.

I understand the feminist reasoning behind a woman's right to control her own body-- that makes sense. But what is the feminist thinking on child support for fathers who were never husbands (or, in many cases, even boyfriends)?

7/22/2004

 
Blogger Jason said...

Imagine if women who wanted children had legal authority over their men's sperm. I can see it now: Court orders mandating loose underwear. Mandated testicular insulation for cold or hot days.

7/22/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Earnest, not to be overly light, but when I first read "fruits of his labor" I totally thought you were talking about something other than child support payments.

7/22/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Now that I've recovered, I offer this--once the child is born and it's growing on its own, it's a full legal person with rights of its own. And those rights include the support of both of its parents. Child support and abortion are not legally related, though yes, I can see how emotionally they might be. I can imagine that it's frustrating to men that women can have babies and they can't, but I can't overly sympathize. Your bodies aren't a political battleground, so be grateful.

7/22/2004

 
Blogger Earnest said...

I'll admit that I was very close to making a joke about "fruits of labor" myself :) I think abortion is absolutely related to a child's legal rights to seek monetary support from the father. After all, it is, once again, the mother's prerogative whether the father will be in a position to be obligated to pay child support. Simply, the mother's decision determines the father's responsibility.

7/22/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

And her own, and usually greater responsibility. Abortion is about terminating a pregnancy that he doesn't have to go through. You make it almost sound like a woman has a baby and just hands it over and he has to take it on, 100%. A child support check usually doesn't even cover 1/2 the expenses.
But it doesn't matter--even if a man does take on 50% of child support. Abortion is about a woman's right not to be pregnant--men can't be pregnant, so it's not an issue. There's no way to cough up an equitable male right.

7/22/2004

 
Blogger Earnest said...

You're right-- there can be no equivalent male right. All I mean to do is suggest that the liberty women already have deprives men of a relevant liberty. Women can choose not to have a baby because babies might impose on their lifestyle or create an economic hardship. Men don't have that choice. In essence, women then exert control over mens' lives by force of law.

But that does go away from what we were originally talking about, which was why people were upset with the woman in the article.

7/22/2004

 
Blogger lucia said...

I think, once the baby is born, the law is entirely symmetric about child support payments.

A father can assume custody and then get child support. This can happen by joint agreement between mother and father, or the father may sue for custody if the mother doesn't wish to share it. (This has happened in the Bridget Marks case discussed at Alas a Blog.)

In most cases where the father pays custody to the mother, that is because he has decided, for whatever reason, that he doesn't want custody. The fact is, it is often the case that men who father illegitimate children don't want to provide daily care for their children. Given the choice between providing daily cares and money, they prefer to give money. ( This is not universal. It's just more common than not.)

Of course, some would prefer to provide neither daily care nor money. But, children have right to that, and legal parents have an obligation to provide it. So, the father can provide one, the other, or both. He can't just get out of it.

Of course, if both parents wish to avoid the legal and financial responsibilities associated with the child, they can relinquish their rights, and give the child up for adoption.

7/27/2004

 
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