New Statesman: No, single men do not have a “right” to reproduce

Last year Katha Pollitt wrote an article for the Nation in which she asked why the left was simultaneously making progress with equal marriage while falling behind on abortion rights.  “The media ,” she wrote, “present marriage equality and reproductive rights as ‘culture war’ issues, as if they somehow went together. But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think.”

Pollitt went on to highlight the multiple ways in which the right can afford to cede ground on marriage equality while remaining unwilling to pay the price of granting females bodily autonomy. She is right to do so. While both reproductive choice and gay rights may be classed as gender issues, each has its own very specific relationship to patriarchy.

A woman’s desire to control her reproductive destiny will always be in direct opposition to patriarchy’s desire to exploit female bodies as a reproductive resource. The social institutions that develop to support the latter – such as marriage – may change, but the exploitation can remain in place.

This has, I think, caused great confusion for those of us who like to see ourselves as progressive. We know that the idealisation of the heterosexual nuclear family, couple with the demonisation of all relationships seen as “other,” has caused harm to countless individuals. We refuse to define marriage as solely for the purpose of procreation, or to insist that a family unit includes one parent of each sex.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

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New Statesman: A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter“ – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

New Statesman: One year on, has shared parental leave made any difference?

So it’s happened just the way we expected it to. One year on from the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, a study by the firm My Family Care has found that uptake amongst new fathers has been minimal. Of 200 employers interviewed, 40% reported that not one single male employee had taken up the right to shared leave. Many will see this as depressing news, indicating that differences in male and female roles and expectations are far too entrenched to resolve.

I started out an SPL sceptic, not least because the whole process was so complicated I ended up assuming my partner and I wouldn’t even be eligible. It turns out I was wrong and I’m now back in the office while my partner’s at home with our seven-month-old son. Being one of life’s moaners, I’d love to tell you it’s been a nightmare, but I’ll be honest: so far, it’s been brilliant.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

True liberation needs to keep maternal bodies in the picture

Recent news reports have described the way in which a photograph of two men holding their newborn baby has been used, without their or the photographer’s permission, in an Irish politician’s campaign against same-sex surrogacy. Condemnation of this has been widespread and, I think, absolutely correct. The picture tells us absolutely nothing about whether same-sex couples are less equipped to raise children than heterosexual ones (they’re not). Even so, every time I see that photo there is something that seems to me not quite right.

It’s the face off to the side that bothers me. Is that the woman who has just given birth? How does she feel? Is she hurting? Is she still struggling to deliver the placenta while the camera clicks away? Does she feel a desire to touch and hold the baby, too? Hopefully she is fine, her pregnancy, her labour, all gifts freely and joyfully given. But would anyone care if she wasn’t? Would they have refrained from taking the picture in that case? Would they even know? Continue reading

New Statesman: The “Dads for Change” campaign is a good start, but it’s no parenting revolution

If there’s one men’s rights campaign that even the most ardent feminist can get behind, it’s this: the right of men to wipe babies’ arses. For far too long men have been excluded from the joys of dodging the sudden-exposure-to-cold-air wee, or removing a soiled vest without getting faeces on the baby’s head. If equality means anything, it’s ensuring that female demands for equal pay don’t come at the expense of male ones for equal poo.

In keeping with this, the #dadsforchange campaign is highlighting the best and worst UK changing facilities for fathers and their babies. As Dad Network founder and campaign leader Al Ferguson explains, “many dads have been in situations whereby they have not been able to safely and hygienically change their own baby’s nappy when out and about. […] Society is going through a cultural shift seeing more and more dads take active, hands on roles in parenting and public facilities need to reflect this.”

Read the full post at the New Statesman

The Year in Sexism: Notes from Sexism Inc’s 2015 AGM

This year Sexism Inc held their AGM at a top secret location in the south of England. With the help of my undercover contacts I was able to get hold of the transcript of their CEO’s closing speech, which has been reproduced below.

Well, what a year it’s been! An exhausting one but, as I’m sure you’ll agree, one of our most successful.

The market has seen some tough times lately, what with the resurgence of interest in feminism since its early noughties slump. There was a time, two or three years ago, when some of you expressed concerns that we might not get through it. Certainly there was a need for some restructuring but, while we were all sad to see Mr Clarkson and Mr Buchanan go, I know that they, too, saw the need for sexism to move with the times.

It’s important for any organisation, even one that doesn’t prioritise the subjugation of half the human race, to stay nimble and flexible. That’s why in May this year I was absolutely delighted to announce the acquisition of Libfem Corp and its subsidiaries, Everyday Feminism, Amnesty and NUS Women. While these will now operate as part of Sexism Inc family, they will retain their unique brand identities, finding new ways to market objectification and sexual exploitation to women without recourse to the more “traditional” messaging favoured by our more established brands. Continue reading

The whole ball game

In a 2012 interview, Gloria Steinem was asked why she felt that contraception was still an issue for feminism. Her answer was unequivocal:

Because it’s the whole ball game. It’s the whole thing. If our bodies weren’t the means of reproduction, we wouldn’t be in the jam we’re in. That’s the name of patriarchy game: to control reproduction and how many children and who owns them. That is the bottom line.

For someone who came of age in feminism’s third wave, it’s a strange thing to read. My instinct is to think of reproduction not as a something to be fought over, but as a biological millstone around women’s necks. Men do not live with the fear of getting pregnant and, if and when they do have children, they do not have to bear the physical costs. Hence reproductive rights matter because they enable women – some women, at least – to enjoy the same freedoms as men and in doing so become less dependent on the latter for support. Biology will no longer be destiny and all that.

But that’s not quite how things have worked out. Men, it seems, do not want women to make their own decisions regarding conception, pregnancy and birth. Rather than simply delight in their avoidance of Eve’s curse, men have remained very keen to make it known that PREGNANCY INVOLVES US, TOO. Whether a woman gets and/or remains pregnant is not just a matter for her. Abortion is entirely illegal in seven countries, even when a woman’s life is in danger; it is practically inaccessible in many more. Each year an estimated 47,000 women die from the complications of unsafe abortion. Women’s bodies might be metaphorical battlegrounds but the deaths are very real. Continue reading