Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Do parents own their children?

Whilst, when day dreaming I'd rather like to have kids. I guess one of the reasons I don't have them is that I've never felt that burning desire that some do to reproduce. Desire is probably putting it too weakly in fact - all consuming need might be more accurate. I on the other hand think it might be a rather quite pleasant at times.

One of the reasons why I've never quite understood those who have having children as a prime goal in life is that deep down I have a suspicion that they see children as objects to own not autonomous beings. I might be wrong, it's just a suspicion, but seeing as I'm a human being too and presumably share a lot of the genetic make up that the "needers" do, it can't simply be down down to a biological imperative - after all I and people like me would share that too.

Add to that the fantasies that some parents seem to have for their children that are essentially just extensions of their own life plan. What kind of school, wedding, career, football team, hobbies and political beliefs you have can be mapped out for you before even egg meets sperm and they give each other that special kiss, before fucking.

Somehow it seems that some parents, perhaps understandably, don't see the distinction between their lives and their children's, and that it's an important one. In the most grisly of cases it can lead parents to murder their children as part of their own suicide and I certainly see this as part of the reason why some see it as their "right" to assault their children, but usually it just leads to the usual dysfunctional family relationships that we all know and love.

The reason I'm thinking about this at all was a post at Penny Red where, quite rightly, Laurie attacks those who'd condemn single mothers and pours scorn on the idea that modern men have been emasculated. That's all fine, although there are definite areas of debate around how she chooses to pursue the argument, but it's when she moves from the general to the specific that things take a different turn.

"I love my partner deeply and would be thrilled to bear a child who carried half of his genetic material. If we are still together at the time my child is born I will be only too happy for him to help me raise it, for him to share legal guardianship and for my child to call him ‘dad’. And this is not because it’s his moral or genetic right, but because I’m lucky enough to have met an emotionally and domestically literate man who I think would make a wonderful parent. But my baby will be just that – mine. It will come from my body and carry my surname, and my money will pay for its school shoes and birthday presents.

"Sorry about your balls, guys, but these babies are ours, and they will remain ours whilst they are born from our bodies. "
I can think of nothing more repulsive than demanding ownership over another human being. Whilst there may be issues around a baby's right to have a decent parent-child relationship with their father I'm far more interested by this idea that this baby is to be the property of its mother simply because, once, it was inside her body. That seems to take quite legitimate arguments about abortion and the right of women to control their own bodies to absurd lengths.

I think it's good when parents take responsibility for their children, but even from an early age they should have choices and are their own person - not the property of someone else - which means no-one should serve as gate keeper to that child. People fall out with each other and sadly those who once seemed to be "emotionally and domestically literate" can later appear to have been spawned by Satan himself. The opinion of one party should not be the arbiter of whether the child gets to have a relationship with their Dad or not, or whether he gives them a birthday present - except of course in those cases where abuse towards the child is present.

Your opinion of him, or his parenting skills, has no bearing on whether he should be "allowed" to have a full parental role. That's not for his sake particularly, although I'm sure any parent who was cut off unfairly from their children would be distressed, but because the child has the right not to be tied so all consumingly to their mother's world view.

Frankly it seems creepy to me to extend the role of being responsible for and loving your child to that of owning your child, and demanding complete dominance over how that person is defined, due to a simple division of biological labour. Partly that's because the roles are incompatible. You cannot respect or love someone without understanding that they are a person in their own right with their own rights.

I'm not sure. I suspect having a consistent caring role for someone who starts out so vulnerable and dependent upon you would alter how you see that person, your child, but that goes for fathers, adoptive parents and foster carers too - it's irrelevant who's womb you were once lodged in when it comes to the right to be you.


Ed said...

I agree. I think she's bending the stick a bit far on that one.

And the argument seems to imply that child-rearing is wholly 'a woman's job' - a biologically given role - and that takes her in a weird direction for a feminist.

I have to admit that part of the reason why her argument annoys me is that I'm male and imagine that one day I'll be a father. Her argument just seems a bit mean spirited to me - although obviously I see what she's getting at.

I think one of the people in the comments box is right, too, that PR appears to assume that the relative economic security of a middle class professional is the norm for all single mothers.

Moll said...

I think you hit the nail on the head here, Jim, when you point out the regressive link she makes between a single biological event (pregnancy) and parenthood. The assumption is, as you say, that not only fathers but also adoptive, foster, or step-parents can't ever have a 'real' connection to their child. So where would she draw the line? Is it the pregnancy itself that makes this great claim of feminist ownership - because in which case mother's who have children through surrogates are fucked. I assume it's not genetics that she's drawing on, because in that case the father would be able to have some role. This kind of reductionist argument in itself reduces women to incubators, while making children, as you say, objects of possession.

Feminism will never move forward until it starts to think seriously about gender, which means male as well as female, rather than knee-jerk 'all men are bastards' ranting. But then one of the most influential role models in my life has always been my step-dad, who was a single father on the dole bringing up his baby daughter and her toddler half-brother in Telford in the late 70s. To hear him talk about the kind of ostracisms he lived with each day is to really start to think about gender roles and how far we have to go.

Green Gordon said...

Feminism doesn't take gender into account...? It's a developing academic field, even if every feminist doesn't have the same motivations.