I was planning to post a little bit later today and call the post “Time to Start Blogging Again,” because I have been missing it a lot, and I probably will put that post up, but I have been so frustrated by one aspect of the discussion on the Choice for Men (C4M) thread that I’ve decided to turn my comment #291 into a new post. I have edited it slightly so that it makes sense out of the context of the original discussion–which you can read by following the previous link–but the point remains the same. I have a great deal of empathy for how it feels as a man suddenly to realize that a woman with whom you have conceived a child can, without your consent, make you the father of that child, with all the attending obligations (financial and otherwise), “simply” by choosing to give birth to it–and I hope I don’t need to explain why I chose to put the word simply in scare quotes. Nonetheless, it has seemed to me that everyone advocating C4M in the discussion in that other thread has studiously avoided the question of how male heterosexual responsibility–by which I mean heterosexual men taking responsibility for our own sexual boundaries–figures into the question of male reproductive rights, which is another, perhaps more honest, name for what we are talking about.
Mythago and Chingona have already pointed out ways in which the C4M argument does not take into account the specificity of women’s experience in terms of pregnancy and actually attempts to create a parallel between the male and female positions vis-a-vis pregnancy where none is possible, and so I am not going to touch on that question here. Instead, I want to talk about the fact that the people arguing for C4M have consistently sidestepped dealing with the fact that if a man does not under any circumstances want to become a father, there is only one, 100% reliable way to avoid that happening: don’t engage in sexual activity that might result in the conception of a child. Is it hard to follow that principle? Sure. Can it cause difficulties if you make that decision with a woman with whom you are already in a relationship? Sure. But if not becoming a father is that important to you, then it ought to be more important than whether or not you get to fuck the woman you want to fuck and who may very well want with all her heart, soul and body to fuck you. But if you are willing to gamble that conception might take place–and everyone here knows that even double and triple methods of birth control can fail, so even that is a gamble–then trying to figure out a way to get out of paying for the consequences should you lose that gamble seems to me not only profoundly irresponsible, both downright cowardly.
(I am, honestly, a little uncomfortable with the gambling metaphor, because we are after all talking about human lives here, but it just seems to me that the way C4M advocates tend to shy away from the implications of taking the sexual side of the responsibility question as seriously as they should suggests that they understand on some level that this gambling metaphor is not so far off and that what they are trying to do is find a way of not having to pay up when they “lose.”)
We easily forget that the conception of a child is not something that happens because of anyone’s conscious volition. PIV sex between two fertile people creates an environment in which conception is possible. Couples can do things to increase or decrease that possibility based on what they decide at the time, but the moment of conception through PIV sex is something beyond anyone’s immediate control. In other words, no matter what a man and woman agree on before they have sex, no matter what and how many kinds of birth control they use, neither of them can do anything to prevent conception at the moment it happens; more, once it happens, the fact that it has happened is such a profound thing–because we are, after all, talking about a human life–that it seems to me unrealistic to expect either partner to be legally bound by what they thought they would do before conception took place. (A man who thought he didn’t want a child could change his mind and decide he wants one just as “easily” as a woman who thought she would have an abortion could decide she wants to keep the child.)
Regardless of what she felt before the child was conceived, the fact that conception happens in a woman’s body gives her certain rights, obligations and responsibilities towards the fetus growing in her body and the child that fetus will become if she gives birth to it; and while the man involved might not have wanted to conceive a child, once conception happens, he also has rights, obligations and responsibilities towards towards the fetus that is growing in his partner’s body and towards the child it will become. The fact that those rights, obligations and responsibilities don’t always “line up” in a perfectly fair way might indeed suck for the person caught on the wrong side of that line–which could be either the man or the woman, or perhaps even both, but I am thinking here specifically about the man. In that case, I return to my point above about trying to get out of paying when you have “lost” the “gamble” with pregnancy, and if you weren’t really ready to gamble in the first place, if you were 100% sure you did want sex that you engaged in to result in the conception of a child, then I raise again the issue of male heterosexual responsibility that I posed above. There are plenty of ways to have a satisfying sexual relationship without PIV intercourse; and if a woman you are with is unwilling to respect the fact that you are unwilling to gamble with fatherhood, then that is an issue in your relationship with her (and this applies to one night stands as much as to long term relationships) and that issue, to me, ought to raise questions about whether you should be having sex with her in the first place.