On the inequalities of parenthood and custodianship

Recently I found myself in midst of a small debate with a female friend about matters regarding having children and birth control. Because I felt – and still feel – that the point I was trying to make was not fully conveyed to the other party I decided to write this post in order to summarize the core of my argument as clearly as possible to avoid misunderstandings. The essence of the problem is the fact that a man has no say whatsoever when it comes to the custody of the child. That is, if a child is born outside of marriage the mother can – if she so chooses – either not recognize the father at all in which case the father has no rights to the child OR she can seek a court order to have the man DNA tested in which case he is identified as the father and the woman can the seek child support payments from the father. The man has no right to deny the DNA testing, nor has he any right to have his fatherhood recognized without the consent of the woman.

Also, I cannot stress enough the following: I am NOT arguing for any limitations to the mother’s bodily integrity. That is to say, the decision of carrying through with or aborting the pregnancy is – and always should be – the decision of the mother.

I am also not claiming that the biological parenthood is a matter of opinion. Of course the child’s parents are who they are and that cannot be denied. I am also of the opinion that if the child is born, once he/she becomes an adult, he/she should have the right to know who his or her biological parents are.

So this is not a biological issue. That is not to say that I am not aware that due to biological reasons, pregnancy is a highly stressful and a heavy experience for the mother both emotionally and physically and that the same is true for abortion. But in the same vein it cannot be denied that the father has his emotions as well, and to discard or to downplay those emotions simply because the father does not have to go through the physical strains of pregnancy is absurd and even misandry in some cases.

This is an issue of custodianship. This is a legal issue about who is responsible for taking care of and providing for the child after it is born. The mother currently can make any of the following decisions to free herself of the right and responsibilities of being a parent: use of contraception, use of the morning after pill, abortion and finally adoption. With men, the list is limited to the use of contraception, and if it fails – the man currently has no say on the matter after that.

There is only one solution which would grant equal right to both parties involved and it is this: up until the same point that the woman has time to make a decision about abortion, both of the parents should have the right to sign an agreement where they can forfeit their legal custodianship of the child, thus relieving themselves of all the rights and duties of a parent. When that limit is passed, both of the parents can request the father to be identified – meaning that the father as well would have the right (provided that the sex which led to the pregnancy was consensual) to have himself tested and correctly identified as the child’s father.

This kind of solution would lead to a level playing field, in which the bodily integrity of the woman remains untouched (she can still have an abortion even if the father objects it, or keep the child even if the father objects it) but now both parents would be equally able to surrender parenthood if they feel they are not up to it. If abortion is not selected, but both of the parents sign the aforementioned agreement, the child would given out for adoption after birth. If the mother signs it and the father does not, then the legal custodianship of the child is given to the father after his fatherhood has been confirmed via DNA testing. If the man signs it but the woman does not, the mother can then choose to either have the baby and raise it on her own (with monetary support from the society instead of the father) or abort the pregnancy or to give the baby out for adoption. It should be stressed that this decision is final, and once parenthood has been confessed to it cannot be signed away afterwards and in case of a break-up, custodianship would be decided by agreement or in court the same way as is currently done.

The counter-arguments I received when having the original conversation centered around the position of the mother as the one who has to go through with the hardships of the pregnancy and possible abortion and the emotional burdens that come with them. According to my friend “the woman cannot walk away” from the situation while a man can. But that is not true.

As I’ve already stated the woman has several options which relieve her from the position of the parent and she can even do it after the child is born via adoption if ideological or religious views rule out abortion as an option. Am I saying that the choices are easy to make? No, absolutely not. I understand that for a woman, decisions involving the continuation or termination of pregnancy and possibly adoption are quite possibly the heaviest decisions a woman has to make. But to say that a man has no emotional stake in the pregnancy and that the woman’s possible choice to have or not to have the child is not equally important to the man is an offense of the worst kind to those of us with a penis.

Just because the child is not growing within our bodies and we are “lucky” enough to not have go through the labour of childbirth does not mean that we are incapable of having as serious feelings about the issue as the mother is.

It can also be claimed that having consensual sex is in and of itself a consent to having a child and that a man should accept the “risk” of pregnancy that comes with it. But it is absurd to claim that if both parties have equally consented to having sex in the first place, only one of them then has the legal right to decide about who will be the custodian of the child.

In other words; If one agrees that both the man and the woman are equally responsible for starting the pregnancy then they should both be equally able to decide if they want to be the custodians of the said child should it be born. The fact that only one of them had the child grow inside of them becomes irrelevant at the moment the child is born. That is to say, you cannot use the woman’s body as an excuse to take away the same freedom of choosing to be a parent from the man that the woman automatically has. Nor can you use it an excuse to “coerce” men into parenthood or to prevent him from being recognized as one of the parents if he so chooses.

There. I said it. Now you can all go ahead and mock me because I’m a man and “I just can’t understand these things”. But I stand by my words and honestly think there is nothing chauvinistic about them. I am neither a chauvinist or a feminist. I’m an equalist – and currently this is an issue that is far from equal.

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