Monica Potts of TAPPED nails the right policy solutions for an otherwise typically, sullen, stupid MRA policy initiative — “financial abortions” for men who don’t want to be responsible parents if their partners become pregnant.
This seems like the wrong solution to a very real problem for low-income fathers. It assumes men should be able to decide not to be fathers but that they can’t do anything to prevent it, i.e., using birth control regularly. That’s an argument for male contraception — a male pill, but also an argument for making condoms increasingly pervasive and expanding access to sex education. It’s also an argument for helping low-income fathers provide the financial support they’re required to by assisting them with services that would help move them out of poverty, or make poverty less devastating.
The problem for men is real enough. Aside from condoms, vasectomies, and not having fluid-exchanging sex there really isn’t much heterosexual men can do to avoid unplanned, unwanted pregnancies. And one result of that seems to be a sort of passive-aggressive resentment that meshes all too well with the traditional view that everything related to pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting is womens’ responsibility. Which is why I like Potts’ take so much.
Aside: This isn’t the main point but she mentioned it first: Potts is right that men really do need more contraception options. For all the whining about men’s irresponsibility for fertility I remain seriously confident that if men had additional options that fell between the permanence and convenience curves of condoms and surgery they’d stop being so passive-aggressive about it and stop being so blazé at other men’s learned-helplessness about it. But that’s not what this post is about. But I digress…
What’s even more important, and even less broadly recognized than the limits on male contraception, is Potts’s point that low-income fathers, as well as pending and potential ones, need financial assistance as well!
I don’t know how many of you have studied the history of welfare or financial assistance but one of the reasons it’s been historically so draconian for women has been a social construction that mandates men as providers. In the 19th Century aid societies initiated the practice of surprise and midnight “bed checks” of women with dependent children to insure they really were widowed or abandoned. The idea that an able-bodied man, no matter how destitute and no matter how unemployed, might benefit directly from charity was anathema. As was the perhaps even more shameful and/or “immoral” prospect of his wife and children receiving food or shelter that he “should” have been able to provide.
And who knows, maybe you could make a case that it made sense back when women could only earn 7 cents for every dollar of equal work men could earn rather than 77 cents today. But income parity really is converging especially in the low-wage/low-income environments we’re talking about, it makes less and less sense to do so now that the “breadwinner”/“homemaker” dichotomy is even more mythical than it once was.
Anyway the whole notion of a “financial divorce” from child-rearing is such a psychotically gendered notion in the first place! Current biases against preparing low-income men for possible single and/or unmarried-to-the-mother parenthood are also similarly gender biased. And in both types of bias not only do men remain alienated from their own progeny, and not only do they maintain assumptions about mothers as “nurturing” and fathers as either supporters or abandoners, they also rather perpetuate policies that are intentionally (“financial abortion”) or unintentionally punitive against women and children.