I live in Singapore. This has its advantages, such as the fact that the miserable winter most of the US just shivered through was only a rumor over here (sorry!), or how when I forget an American friend’s birthday, I can post a “happy birthday” on their Facebook page the next day and it will still be on time. But it also has its disadvantages, and I suffered through one of those this morning when I read this diary. It left me with a number of things I’d have liked to add, and which I didn’t see in the comments. My apologies to anyone who did touch on what follows; I read the comments in a bit of a hurry and I may have missed a few.
For those of you who didn’t read the diary and/or comments, here’s the Readers’ Digest version: A judge in New Jersey denied a father-to-be’s request to be allowed in the delivery room while the mother of his baby gave birth (evidently there was some question as to whether he was the father, but the point is moot here – even if he was, the judge said it was her decision and hers alone). While the article was short on details of the couple’s current relationship, it appears they are no longer romantically involved – maybe they never were? – and the mother had always been unequivocal about her position on it all: she didn’t want him there, end of story. One thing the article did touch on: the mother was placed in the miserable position of contesting the matter while she was in labor.
This being Daily Kos, most of those who responded were highly supportive of the decision, since it reaffirms a woman’s right to privacy during an extremely difficult and intimate situation. But a small but vocal minority in the comments dissented, to the effect that it was unfair to men. The argument was something to the effect that feminists want it both ways, or that since men are on the hook for child support, that means they ought to have the right to be present at the birth, or some such. I’m not entirely clear on it, partially because even the dissenters didn’t seem to always agree with one another. One unfortunate thing did emerge with depressing clarity, though: a number of people felt the decision was evidence that feminists hate men, or at least always assume the worst of men. This, in turn, led to some debate about the odious “men’s rights” movement. While I saw a lot of strong rebuttals, I didn’t see anything that was quite on point in my view. That being the case, I’d like to offer my own rebuttal here. (Again, apologies if anyone did say what follows and I missed it!)
The argument seems to be that it’s unfair to assume the father in this case was less than pure of heart because he took legal action to force her to allow him in the delivery room. (To be fair, one of the dissenters – who was female, incidentally – agreed that he had no right to force his way in; but she still felt that he was somehow the victim of man-hating radical feminists.) Now, it is true that the diary itself only gave one hint that the guy was a jerk and the mother-to-be had valid reason to want nothing to do with him. But that one hint was a doozy: as numerous commenters pointed out, an unwelcome guest in the delivery room isn’t just inconsiderate and disrespectful of the mother’s privacy; it is also dangerous. It could prolong or complicate the delivery, and potentially even endanger the life of both the mother and the baby.
Nevertheless, a number of people felt that was insufficient evidence that the guy was a jerk, and that any suggestion to the contrary was nothing short of misandry. (I’m surprised to note that Word didn’t give me a red-squiggly “this isn’t a word” line, there…)
I didn’t read the link, so I can’t comment on whether or not it features any further information on the man or his relationship with the mother. But I do know a great deal about the “men’s rights” movement – far more than any reasonable person would want to know, to tell you the truth – so I feel more than qualified to explain what some of our friends in that debate were missing.
As an aside, I always, always, always use quotation marks when it comes to “men’s rights” activists (MRAs). I have two reasons for this: first, they don’t really have anything to do with promoting anyone’s rights. Rather, they want to roll back all the progress feminism has made and then some, and they also have a thing for embracing the worst of male stereotypes as the true essence of masculinity. If anything, they want to curtail a man’s right to be true to himself, in favor of some silly blend of Hemingway, Teddy Roosevelt and John Wayne that they idealize. Secondly, even if they did have any noble goals, we are still talking about the least oppressed group in history; and any rights men don’t already have (the only one I can even think of offhand is wearing skirts, though I concede there are probably a few others) are self-imposed – it’s the patriarchy that denied those rights in the first place, not feminists or anyone else.
In any event, it is a hallmark of the “men’s rights” crowd that anytime anyone says anything negative about any man, it becomes a rallying cry of the whole “feminists hate men” nonsense. Whether intentionally or not, that’s exactly what happened on that diary: because that guy in New Jersey did one extremely offensive and potentially dangerous thing, it was somehow unreasonable to suspect that such a thing was probably representative of his personality in general. If we read anything into their relationship beyond what we know for certain, it’s man-hating radical feminism and deeply unfair to men everywhere!
Here is what I don’t think the father’s defenders understood: another hallmark of the “men’s rights” crowd is that they have a long and consistent history of throwing their support behind guys (I won’t call them men) who are indisputably jerks through and through. For example, divorced fathers who never visit their kids or pay child support but go to court to block the mother from getting remarried because it would interfere with their visitation rights, even though they hadn’t been using those rights at all. Or guys who complain that “you can’t tell a woman she’s pretty anymore” when their idea of “you look pretty” is more like “nice tits” or the like.
They also have a talent for cooking up hypothetical situations where a woman could screw a man and get away with it because of laws that feminists have lobbied for. Two examples will illustrate this point: “What if a couple agree to mutually masturbate and then the woman rubs the semen in her vagina? She could get pregnant and he’s on the hook for it even though he didn’t have unprotected sex!” (There is, of course, no evidence such a thing has ever happened.) More recently, there was a rumor of a woman who got a restraining order against her ex, and then somehow cornered him in a dead-end alley where he couldn’t help but be within X feet of her. (That’s not how restraining orders work at all, of course.)
As these (and many, many other anecdotes) illustrate, the “men’s rights” movement boils down to very little more than hate and fear of women. (They’re also big on false rape accusations, even though they’re just as rare as false accusations of any other crime.) Given that track record, it is more than plausible that the father in this case was just the sort of guy who almost always turns up at the heart of their latest cause célèbre. It is true that we only know the one incident in his case. But that one incident is absolutely emblematic of the “men’s rights” crowd and their characteristic misogyny: he expressed flagrant disregard for the mother’s wishes when she had made them clear; he forced her into a legal hassle at a time when it was extremely inconvenient for her; he wanted “equality” in a situation where men and women can never be equal and in which striving for equality is actually extremely unfair; and his side of the story requires assuming that the mother had nothing but unmerited contempt for him (since it was assumed she had no good reason for declining to inform him when she went into labor).
I don’t know whether the father’s supporters in the comments yesterday were trolls, or just honestly unaware of the “men’s rights” crowd and their modus operandi. Either way, I do wish I’d had the opportunity to spell that much out for them. Yes, it was more than reasonable to be suspicious of this guy based on the little we knew about him.
It also occurs to me that in a healthy relationship, the father’s role in the pregnancy and birth is something that will be decided together. Yes, of course the final decision ought to be the woman’s; but in my experience at least, it’s usually a decision both people come to. The idea that the woman will make the decision unilaterally and freeze the man out entirely for no good reason? Yeah, that’s most definitely MRA fodder, nothing more. When it does happen, it nearly always turns out that there is a very good reason, usually to the effect that she has cause to fear for her safety. It’s very, very sad that even on Daily Kos, some people have a hard time grasping that. The fact that she did not want him involved is, again, a sign not of feminists hating men, but rather a reflection of a relationship dynamic that only the two of them understood fully.
Bottom line, folks: Where there’s smoke, there isn’t always fire…but it’s ridiculous to assume there never is.