Category Archives: women’s rights

Women’s Rights Part 1: On Reproductive Freedom

I find myself more and more often repeating this sentence in debates with feminists: American women have more rights than men. To most people this is a shocking and unreasonable statement at first, due to how directly it contradicts conventional doctrine, but I think anyone reading this would have a hard time coming up with a legal right that American men and boys have in 2016 that women and girls do not (if you can come up with one, I’d love to hear it).

Now consider, for example, that baby girls have the right to bodily integrity, and are not permitted to be circumcised at birth. Or that women are not required to sign the draft registry at 18. Or that women and girls have access to shelters, hotlines, and other state-funded and prescribed services specifically geared toward them when they are victims of partner violence. I could write an essay on each of these, and I eventually will. This is the first in a series of essays that address cases of female legal privilege, rights that women and girls have in the first world that men and boys do not.

As if my ideas aren’t controversial enough, today I’m going to talk a little about abortion. More specifically, about reproductive rights.

This debate has been ongoing and ugly. Its emotionally charged nature has led it to become one of the more polarized topics of discussion our nation has seen. As a result, both sides have been reduced to absurdist straw men. Liberals who believe in bodily autonomy have been painted as baby killers who have no respect for human life. Conservatives who believe a fetus is a person have been described as flagrant misogynists who are pretending to care about protecting the unborn so that they can wage a war on women out of pure spite. This is a debacle that I’d like to think we’ll all be embarrassed by in a decade or two.

Personally, I fall squarely in the pro-choice camp. I think bodily autonomy is one of the most important human rights, and the freedom to choose to or not to be a parent is definitely up there too. Becoming a parent should always be a choice, one that is well thought out, decided out of a genuine interest in child-rearing, and never forced upon anyone by circumstance. I side with the (reasonable) feminists in that a woman’s right to contraception and abortion, women’s reproductive freedoms, should be secured, maintained, and expanded.

But here’s the side of the coin that almost never gets discussed: What about men’s? Even with the difficulties women face in this arena, we have far more reproductive freedom than men do.

First off, we have access to the overwhelming majority of contraceptive options, from pills and patches to shots, to IUDs and Nuvarings, to emergency contraception, and that’s just a brief summary. We can discuss if or to what extent these should be provided to us at low or no cost by insurance companies or the state, but the fact is that we have them. They were developed for our use and we are free to use them.

Should any of these myriad options fail us and we do become pregnant, we still have an array of options. We can choose to terminate the pregnancy (albeit with some difficulty, depending on things like location and wealth). We can carry the pregnancy to term and give the baby up for adoption. Or we can surrender the baby to a police station, hospital, or other safe haven, no questions asked (in most states, this is immediately considered legal parental surrender, and the infant is adopted as a ward of the state, at no legal risk to the mother), and we can do this or any of the above without so much as asking the father.

Alternatively, we can choose to become pregnant, have the baby, and raise it, needing no one’s permission to do so.

While it’s reasonable and admirable to fight to maintain these rights and make them more accessible to all women, in the most basic sense, we have the right to every imaginable resource in the process of deciding if we are parents or not.

Men aren’t so lucky.

In terms of contraceptive choices, men have condoms, and that’s about it. No pills, no shots, no patches, no implantable devices.  Granted, condoms are nice because you can see them, and most of us can feel whether or not one is in place. It’s obvious if a condom isn’t being used, is being used incorrectly, or fails. You don’t need to say that you trust someone to use a condom. It will be immediately apparent if they are not. This is not the case with women’s contraception. A man must trust that the woman he’s sleeping with is being honest about her contraceptive choices and is using them correctly. (This is not an accusation of deceit toward women as a group, by the way. Some women deceive their partners, just as some men do, but there are also women who are uninformed about the use of their chosen contraception. For example, not all women know that some forms of birth control are less effective while taking certain antibiotics.)

Legally, a man has no say in whether or not his female partner becomes pregnant, or what measures she may take to ensure or prevent pregnancy. She isn’t legally obligated to to adhere to his wishes, or even to disclose this information to him.  Should a condom break, birth control fail, or a female partner has been dishonest or poorly informed concerning her contraception use, sexual intercourse is treated as consent to fatherhood, even though it is not consent to motherhood. Obviously, he does not have the right to demand that she not become pregnant or have an abortion (which is admittedly reasonable – it is her body that is in question), but the only way for him to ensure he doesn’t have a child, with all its entailed responsibilities, is to be abstinent. She gets the final say on all baby-related decisions, and regardless of his opinion on the matter, he foots the bill.

A non-custodial father is responsible for child support regardless of his consent for the child to exist, regardless of his awareness of the child’s existence at birth. According to one Chicago judge, he can even be held responsible for the support of a child conceived with sperm he didn’t use for vaginal intercourse. The woman in this news report used sperm from oral sex to impregnate herself against her partner’s will, and the court has ordered him to pay $800 a month in support of that child. Even more outrageous, this expectation can apply even when the woman became pregnant by sexually assaulting the father, even when the father was a minor at the time of the conception. Sex with a woman, any sex, even non-consensual sex, is legally taken as consent to fatherhood.

I want you to take a moment to picture what the evening news report would look like if a judge had ruled that a female statutory rape victim must pay her rapist child support so that he can raise her child.

As a man, you can find out that you’re a parent, which you had no interest in becoming, even if the mother deceived or raped you, you owe hundreds or thousands of dollars, and whether or not you have that money, it’s a felony offense to fail to pay it. There are very few ways in which an American citizen can be imprisoned for poverty, but according to a 2009 South Carolina survey, one in eight inmates was incarcerated for failure to pay child support. That’s over 1200 people in the state of South Carolina alone, just in 2009, who were imprisoned for the heinous crime of having sex while poor.

A friend of mine (who has given me permission to tell this story) has been arrested on such charges. I’ll call him Mike. The child in question had been the result of an unplanned pregnancy, conceived long after he and the mother had discussed that Mike wanted no part in fatherhood, but she decided that she wanted to keep the baby. When the child was born, the mother, who did not live with Mike, agreed to take care of the infant herself, needing no help practically or financially, until she discovered that in order to access services like Medicaid, she needed to make an attempt to collect child support from the non-custodial father. She filed the claim and an amount was set. He was far too poor to make the payments by any reasonable standard, working a minimum wage job and barely making ends meet before child support came into the picture, but that didn’t stop the state trooper, who pulled him over for a dead tail light, from arresting him and carting him off to the county jail, where he was stripped, searched, and thrown into a cell for two days, most of that time having no idea why he’d been arrested in the first place. Mike has emphasized to me over and over what an unpleasant, confusing, and dehumanizing process it was.

The day of the hearing, the judge was disinterested in Mike’s insistence that he barely made enough to support himself alone, and did not have the money they were asking for, or else he’d gladly pay what was owed. The judge was accustomed to and tired of such pleas.  Mike was told firmly that he’ll pay, or he’ll go to prison. After being released, he wound up dramatically cutting his own living expenses in order to avoid another arrest. This required moving from his apartment to a camper on a friend’s property and eating so little that at one point he was close to starvation. All for the care of a child he hadn’t planned, hadn’t asked for, and to whom it had once been agreed that he would not be responsible.

Later, the mother of Mike’s child admitted to him that she did not need the money to meet the child’s needs, and could have ended the requirement at any time after being approved for the health insurance. But she enjoys receiving several hundred dollars in the mail every month, and doesn’t want to stop the flow of free money. So every month Mike pays. He is fortunate enough to have a better paying job now, and is in no danger of starvation, though that doesn’t stop me, as his friend, from being angry with his ex for putting him through all this, and angrier with the system for allowing such exploitation.

Mike’s case may sound extreme, but there are millions of men across the country who struggle to pay court ordered payments on pain of imprisonment.  In fact, a majority of child support arrears are owed by the very poor, parents with an income of $10,000 or less, whose median dues are set at 83% of their income.  Imagine being charged more than three quarters of your income for the crime of fathering a child.

Is this shameful extortion really the best way to ensure that the children of separated parents are appropriately cared for? You can’t feed your child from prison, after all. And when you get out, it’s not so easy to find a job that will support both you and the non-custodial child. Less severe deterrents include confiscation of the delinquent father’s driver’s license, another measure that does nothing to assist him in collecting an income that would help him make his payments. These methods seem better designed to punish men for being poor than to provide funding for the care of a child.

Court ordered child support is a violation of men’s reproductive freedom. Just as women are permitted by law to surrender all parental rights and responsibilities even after a child is born, men should have this right as well: the right to choose parenthood, rather than being forced into it. Many MRAs refer to this concept as “financial abortion,” but I would compare it to the safe haven laws that women have access to. Men who wish to be in their children’s lives, as many fathers do, are free to financially support those children to the best of their ability, and men who have no interest in fatherhood should be free to waive all rights and responsibilities associated with a child that may have been conceived and born without their consent, just as a woman has the right to waive her parental rights and responsibilities.

As far as ensuring the well-being of the child after such responsibilities are waived, we already have many social programs for helping single mothers raise children they wish to keep, from Medicaid to WIC to housing and heating assistance to other grants, and I’d be happy to see these programs expanded, unified, and made gender neutral (since some custodial parents are fathers) to ensure that no child goes hungry. A child’s well-being should not depend on its parents’ willingness or ability to pay for its needs. Child support should be a social program, not a punishment for an unwilling father. This solution would be far more effective in ensuring that the child’s needs are met, without extorting the non-custodial parent into poverty and cyclical incarceration.

Now let’s take a look at the other side of reproductive rights: the right to parenthood. A woman needs nobody’s permission to be a mother. If she can become pregnant, she can be that baby’s caregiver, barring any extreme behaviours that any reasonable person would agree would make her an unfit mother (such as severe drug addiction or child abuse).

Men who are separated from their children’s mothers, on the other hand, are unlikely to see their children even as often as the mother does, even if he is paying child support. According to 2009 census data, only 18% of separated fathers are the custodial parent. More comprehensive data from 2007 showed that a mere 20% of fathers had equally shared custody.  More specifically, to counter the frequent feminist point that this disparity is because men simply do not sue for custody, in a five-year study of 2,100 Massachusetts fathers who sought custody, only 29% were awarded primary custody of their child.  Other similar studies have had different findings, but the fact remains that many custody courts favour mothers.  I have known many loving and devoted fathers who have been fighting ongoing legal battles for years just for the right to see their children at all.  Meanwhile, women’s rights organizations like NOW have unapologetic published stances in favour of a “primary caregiver presumption” for mothers, arguing that fathers who seek primary or equal custody of their children are merely abusers trying to get closer to potential victims.

Some feminists will argue that the expectation that a woman is more suited to parenthood than a man is an an unfair assumption of women, part of the female gender roles we should dismantle. I can’t say I disagree with this (being myself a woman without an ounce of maternal instinct to speak of), but this argument misses the point.  Yes, it is wrong to assume that a woman is especially fit for parenthood just because she’s a woman, but fortunately courts do not routinely award women child custody against their will.  They do, however, often reject men’s appeals for custody.

In short, despite the many salient and necessary conversations that are ongoing about women’s reproductive rights, men are left completely out of the discussion, even though their rights are far scanter.

A woman has the right to use a vast array of contraceptive options, become pregnant, terminate a pregnancy, give a baby up for adoption, surrender a baby to a safe haven, or give birth and raise the child, and all of these are her choice and hers alone. For a woman, sexual activity can be an expression of love, a source of physical pleasure, or an intentional step toward parenthood. She gets to choose. A man has the right to ask nicely, and cross his fingers and toes in the hope that his wishes will be considered.

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Underestimating Feminism Part 2: A Conflict of Interests

Dear Feminists*,

Last time I outlined all the many ways in which your movement has been wildly successful, but I have a concern to express to you. In the face of all your social and political influence, when you’ve got representatives in every meaningful source of power, when it’s not considered socially acceptable or politically correct to disagree with you, when you’ve got speakers who can charge tens of thousands just to talk about feminism, why are you so very reticent to declare your mission accomplished, or to even acknowledge your success? Why do you try so hard to paint our society as hostile toward women by scouring human behaviour for anything you could possibly interpret as subtle misogyny, when women’s equality and success is one of the most widespread and agreeable values, and we have at least every legal right that men have and more than a few glaring advantages?  Why do so many of you staunchly refuse to acknowledge that men have issues of their own that need addressing?

Let’s go back to that billion dollar industry I brought up in my previous article. You’ve built quite the money maker on your massively popular ideology. What would happen to all those organizations, media outlets, bloggers, academic programs, and businesses if, say, we acknowledged that violence against women was somewhat uncommon and falling in frequency, and women stopped being afraid to walk the streets? If it became apparent that just about every social issue we consider a women’s issue is actually an everybody issue that affects both sexes equally? If we stopped to notice that women have many advantages even over men? Would people keep buying t-shirts and donating to your organizations if we declared that women have equality? What about the power you have to influence policy? Would you continue to control the climate of college campuses, and would governments keep passing laws in your favour, if we as a society acknowledged how well women are really doing, or took a sincere look at the concrete inequalities men, whom you’ve cast as the all-powerful, unilaterally privileged villain of your story, are suffering?

Just as I would never trust a security company to give me credible information on the prevalence of robbery, I suspect feminism has developed a similar conflict of interests. You aren’t a grassroots advocacy movement anymore. You’re raking in billions, profiting enormously off the belief that women are oppressed. It’s no wonder you skew the hell out of your studies and define things like harassment, sexual assault, and misogyny in dubiously broad terms, so that you can claim they are exponentially more prevalent than they really are. It’s no wonder your academics will try to bully and blacklist anyone who wants to publish evidence that intimate partner violence is perpetrated at least as much by women as by men. It’s no wonder you desperately try to slander and silence (including petty shenanigans like this, and also terrifying legal action like this) anyone who disagrees with you or attempts to address the very real issues that affect men, even though addressing men’s and women’s issues shouldn’t be mutually exclusive or reliant upon any one ideological worldview. The truth of these matters directly contradicts the narrative you’ve been proclaiming all this time, and if it were accepted and believed by the public, it would ruin you. It’s no wonder you ascribe secret misogynistic motives to everything from the way we speak to the design of popular games to the way men sit on the train. You NEED there to be an epidemic of misogyny in order to survive as an ideology, and in order to survive as an industry.

So let me ask you something, feminists. I’m no fool. I know that a security company stands to gain nothing from a reduction in robbery, and even less from a public that is not afraid of robbery. So now that you’re a booming cash cow on top of just a women’s movement, how can I trust you to keep me informed and represent my interests as a woman?

 

 

*Here I mean more to address the feminists that run the movement, not the “true scotsmen” who have little to no hand in its ideology, politics, or academia.  This is a question that I think anyone would benefit from considering, but I do not think the civilian feminists on the ground level are trying to profit from feminism monetarily or politically.

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Feminists Chronically Underestimate Feminism

Dear feminists,

It’s true.  You so often underestimate your own success and progress. You talk about women as if we are ever more oppressed even in the first world, frequently ignoring the great strides you’ve made to bring us to legal, social, and economic equality. Women can vote, work in any field we want, have reproductive choices, and run for office, largely because of your movement. Anyone who so much as implies a threat to women’s rights or general well-being is met with the mob of public opinion sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches. If that person is a politician, such a move is often political suicide. (Remember Todd Akin? Right, neither does anyone else.) Women are respected by the general public, to the extent that almost anyone looking to earn some public brownie points says nice things about us, knowing that it will be universally agreeable. People care about our well-being and our position in society, on a level that could even be called compulsive. Even if you want to argue that women still face sexism and related inequality, you’d be blind not to acknowledge that we’ve made some serious progress in both our rights and general esteem, especially considering that 100 years ago we couldn’t even vote.

And you underestimate your pull and popularity as a movement and ideology. Many of you view yourselves as the ideological underdog, often asserting that feminism is a “dirty word,” but it is your movement which guides academia, culture, and policy. You are responsible for changes, good and bad, that affect everyone. You have heavy influence on college campuses, you are at the head of the national sociopolitical discussion of rights and privileges, and you are an issue that matters to every politician claiming to seek social progress (and many of the ones who don’t). Identifying outside of feminism or speaking against it as an ideology or movement, even as a regular citizen, is enough to lose one credibility and respect in most places.  I ought to know.

To give you an idea of your influence, out of about 2,500 4-year institutions in the United States, there are roughly 700 women’s studies programs. There are a handful of men’s, most of which are a branch of feminist theory specifically dealing with maleness. The former are arguably inseparable from modern university politics, and have have influenced national politics and policy for decades. The Duluth Model is one good example, which is the standard for how we treat sexual and domestic violence from social work and law enforcement, to hotline and shelter operations, right down to the way we define the crimes, to say nothing of ubiquitous sexual harassment policies in universities and the workplace. All that is informed by feminist academia.

And speaking of academia, as much as we hear about sexism in hiring that keeps women out of male-dominated fields like science, things are changing rapidly. According to a Pew Research survey from 2013, only 10% of working women reported a negative effect on their career due to workplace discrimination. What’s more, a PNAS study from last year demonstrates an advantage for women in STEM fields, who are preferred 2-1 over men for tenure-track faculty positions. Many feminists argue that this new disparity is more due to PR needs and political pressure than a true transcendence of older attitudes toward women, but even if that’s true, consider what that says for the power and success of the feminist movement: It has become a strong enough social and political force that employers are concerned about disappointing its representatives or angering its adherents.

On the PR front, we have International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s contributions throughout history, and there is a Woman of the Year award for our contributions today. There are men’s equivalents, but they are nowhere near as publicized (I’d hazard a guess that most people don’t know there is an International Men’s Day – The Young Turks don’t).

On the legal front, since the 1960’s we’ve had the Equal Pay Act, Roe v. Wade, Title IX, affirmative action, and VAWA, all of which are or have been specifically implemented for women’s benefit and/or protection.  Some of these laws have even needed to be updated or reexamined in an effort to prevent discrimination toward men.

In organizations, there’s AAUW, NOW, Planned Parenthood, and countless others. Here is a list of 20 of the more prominent organizations that further women’s causes. Here is a magazine article highlighting the best 154 of them. The fact that these organizations exist at all is a testament to the success of both women and the feminist ideology, never mind their sheer numbers and the influence they have.

On the individual level, the label of feminism may not be as popular as the virtues it advertises, but the vast majority of people support equality for women. In fact, the women’s movement is so popular that it is becoming a selling point, a brand in its own right. You aren’t just appealing or popular. You’re booming. Feminism is a billion dollar industry, raking in untold funds for its array of academic and political organizations, advocacy groups and NGOs, service providers, businesses, media outlets, and public speakers. There are feminist blogs, news sites, literature, game developers, children’s toys, ads, t-shirts, podcasts, coffee mugs, conferences and conventions, and all of them sell like hotcakes. Anita Sarkeesian rakes in $20,000 every time she gives a talk. Any reputable university has a women’s studies program and campus women’s groups (while widely disapproving of men’s). Every academic, social, or political organization must include feminism in its mission statement, hire on feminist academics and advisers in order to declare itself progressive or conscientious, because that is what the people consider progressive and conscientious. Every field of study or work has a feminist interpretation. There is feminist environmentalism, feminist geology, feminist economics, and feminist history (the common use of words like “herstory” should tell us enough about feminism’s popularity and ubiquity). None of this would be the case if your cause weren’t one that mattered to the people, if your ideas weren’t popular, if gender equality and the success and thriving of women weren’t an agreeable collective goal, if the western world were the medieval cesspool of misogyny that you paint it as. I think it’s time to acknowledge that women are winning.  Girls, we run the world.

If none of this is convincing, I want to remind you that this is the progress we’ve made since the suffrage movement a mere century ago. For comparison, let’s consider another group that’s been struggling for equality. I’ve already written extensively on the parallels between issues of racial and gender equality, but I’ll do a small recap and add a few other points. Slavery was abolished in 1865 and the 15th Amendment (prohibiting the denial of voting rights based on race) was ratified in 1870. Women got their suffrage in 1920. So black Americans have what one might call a 50-year head start on us historically, but let’s look at where women are compared to African Americans today. We’ll start with the pay gap. The gender pay gap as of 2009 (the latest I can find comparable data on both subjects) is 77% (though in cities, women out-earn men by an average of 8% before they start to have children). As of 2009, women made about 77 cents to men’s dollar. And black people made 61 cents to white people’s dollar. That is slightly better than half of what white people make, twice as big as the disparity women experience, and you could make far less of a case for personal choice being responsible for this than you could for the gender gap. Also, bear in mind that the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act (addressing workplace discrimination against women and non-whites, respectively) were passed within a year of each other.

Furthermore, women today make up 20-30 percent of the homeless (a minority), and black people make up 37% (almost triple their representation in the American population). Female students are 7% more likely than male students to graduate high school. Black students are 18% less likely than white students. About 60% of postsecondary degrees are earned by women, and around 11% by black people. So consider that women have four times as many scholarships as men, as well as 50% more than black people.

Even more seriously, women constitute less than 5% of arrest related deaths, and black people are about a third (with similar disparities in other police treatment and mistreatment). Women receive 63% lesser sentences when convicted of a crime, black people receive 23% harsher ones. I could go on (or you could just read my other article), but you get the idea. Women are actually ahead in a great deal of areas that matter, from treatment under the law to education, and education is a big deal. Just imagine what the world is going to look like in 20 years, when a majority of the educated workforce has been female for a while.

For only having achieved suffrage less than a century ago, the advancement of women’s equality has been absolutely stunning, culminating in some highly notable advantages to boot. You’d be crazy not to acknowledge how much progress you’ve made, how seriously you’re taken, and how much power you have over the discourse and policy of our nation and the developed world. You shouldn’t be doomsaying, declaring the west an irreparable patriarchy, or crying that you’re oppressed. You should be patting yourselves on the back and celebrating how amazingly far you’ve come. I know better than to think I can convince you that your mission is accomplished, but I’ll be damned if we aren’t at least almost there.

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