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January 31, 2006

Comments

Mr. Bad

The Happy Feminist wrote: "I have heard the argument before that it's not fair for an older woman to have a child because she might not live as long as a younger woman. Of course, you never hear that when an older man has a child-- presumably I suppose because the older man is not bucking biology and because there is of necessity a younger woman still in the picture. Still, one would think, that if the ideal situation really is a two-parent household, people would also worry about an older man becoming father and possibly dying when the child is still young. Yet we never hear any kind of griping about older dads."

Perhpas you never hear these arguments about older dads because dads in general - older or not - are considered superfluous by feminists; for them, if the woman wishes to have a 'father figure' for their child, any surrogate male figure will do. Thus, arguments about the relative value of having fathers around, older or not, are moot because feminists see little value in fathers (other than the slave labor and paycheck they can provide for the mother) in the first place.

Barbara

Charming Billy, the alternative faced by Wasserstein, I would be willing to bet a lot of money, is (a) never have children or (b) have children as a single mother. Single women who decide to accept the responsibility of parenthood are not "whittling away" a child's relationship with a father when they procreate any more than when they adopt (which many single women do, probably more than those who elect the fertility treatment route). Parenthood is or should be about children, not parents, and if a woman (or man) can give a child a good and loving home, then the fact that the home isn't "ideal" by some cultural ideal that is often less than ideal and very often less than well documented, just doesn't matter. Please keep in mind: most single women find themselves in this situation, they didn't seek it out, and they are far more likely to have been rejected by than to reject men.

ricia_pd

mr bad

with all due respect, you don't hear about this contraversy with older men because becoming a widow is the only 'acceptable' circumstances in which a single mother is produced. this indeed is a more common occurrance then women pursuing scientific measures in order to become single parents. then there is the case of male officers leaving widowed spouses in numbers, or young men simply walking out when they discover they aren't ready for parenthood. these things also happen more frequently (according to stats) than there are 'feminists' ousting the father figure before taking on childrearing.

but in all cases, women take the brunt of fault for raising children in 'unstable homes'. oh - except in the case that your husband dies, here the woman is then pitied, as opposed to scorned.

you make too broad generalizations, i'm afraid.

The Happy Feminist

Right. What Barbara said. I think the problem is that people tend to see single motherhood as a choice women make just to spite men or because they don't value men. But as mythago said, it's not about you.

These women for whatever reason find themselves single and wanting a child and able to provide a lot for that child. I don't think they're saying, "mwahahaha, I shall have a child and deprive the father and that child of their bond with each other as part of my evil male-hating plan, mwahahaha." I say go for it. I also say people should focus on what these mothers are giving their children as opposed to what their children may (or may not) be missing out on.

The Happy Feminist

Mr. Bad, I don't only talk to or read things by feminists. I talk to plenty of other people. It's the NON-feminists who snipe at older women who become parents but who never mention the Tony Randalls of the world. (I believe he had his first child at 78 or so, and died when that child was about 6 or 7.)

I don't believe that feminist devalue the father-child bond. I would feel the same way about a man who was trying to become a single father.

Charming Billy

Ricia,

The view I’m presenting isn’t addressed to women who are single parents because they continue a pregnancy (I applaud this decision) or divorce. It’s addressed specifically to those who use artificial insemination. I think you’re right that those who choose a less than suitable arrangement in order to procreate are choosing something comparable to artificial insemination. That’s my point: both arrangements forego the full benefits of a valuable and important human relationship.

Barbara, I agree with you:

” Please keep in mind: most single women find themselves in this situation, they didn't seek it out, and they are far more likely to have been rejected by than to reject men.”

However, I think it’s still the case that women in this situation who choose anonymous artificial insemination are deliberately forgoing the benefits of a relationship with the child’s father. These are simply the facts of the matter – that’s how the procedure works. Furthermore, how can anyone say that even if the woman in question is a wonderful single parent, that this choice (a choice that doesn’t arise if she chooses to adopt) does not make a profound difference in the life of her child?

On the other hand, saying that parenthood should be about children, not parents, seems to me like saying that marriage should be about the husband, not the wife, or vice versa.

People speak of the “ideal” two parent family as if this means either scarce or unattainable or some kind of Platonic ideal. On my view, it’s neither; it’s a reality. I’m simply saying that it’s an established fact that, all things being equal, children do better when both parents are involved and stay involved in their children’s upbringing. That’s all. It’s not meant to be used a stick to beat single parents with. My “ideal” admits of and expects all sorts of irregularities and inadequacies provided that both parents are merely present and give a damn. It’s an “all things being equal” definition that takes into account both the reality of difficult relationships as well as the reality that children tend to do better when parents stay to together. This situation is attainable, though admittedly becoming scarcer.

Mythago,

Like you, I find anonymous artificial insemination troubling. I believe this choice is morally questionable; although I’m open to the possibility that it’s not blameworthy in every case. However, I find your dismissive characterization of women who chose this option unhelpful.

Barbara

Charming Billy, single mothers who are mothers via DS (donor sperm) aren't "choosing to forego" a relationship with father; they are choosing to become a parent by the means that is open to them. I guess they could trick a male friend into doing the insemination, but that doesn't seem quite fair. All of our choices have consequences, never more so than when they involve creating new members of the human race. If I chose to have 14 children it would have an impact on each and every one of them and many people would find it quite blameworthy of me. (I know inhabitants of such families who felt more like workers in a factory, remote from their parents, than members of a happy boisterous family.) Many people could take the same view you do towards fathers (or mothers, I presume) apply it to money and wonder why the heck poor people have children, and even if they have one or two, why should they have more than that when their resources are so inadequate.

Questioning the childbearing practices of other people always risks being fraught with arrogance and cultural blindness. The only arrangements I condemn are those in which parents abandon their parental responsibility. Don't get me wrong, I am not a single parent, my husband is a great dad, and I am awfully glad I don't have to go it alone, that my children have a great role model, and so on. But that doesn't translate into me wishing the whole world would be just like me. And I can't overlook, again, that most single women I know just felt too strong of a desire to have a child, and too sure that a suitable mate wouldn't come along on a timely basis. Indeed, by waiting so long, many of these women actually show that they likely agree with your premise -- they were waiting for the right man, but he didn't show up. I don't think this is a problem for the ages, in other words, if it's a problem at all.

Mr. Bad

ricia pd said: "with all due respect, you don't hear about this contraversy with older men because becoming a widow is the only 'acceptable' circumstances in which a single mother is produced. this indeed is a more common occurrance then women pursuing scientific measures in order to become single parents. then there is the case of male officers leaving widowed spouses in numbers, or young men simply walking out when they discover they aren't ready for parenthood. these things also happen more frequently (according to stats) than there are 'feminists' ousting the father figure before taking on childrearing."

Really? And what would those "stats" be? Got a citation?

Serial anecdote does not equal proof.

Mr. Bad

THF, I'm sorry, but whether you believe it or not is irrelevant, the fact remains that feminists have indeed been devaluing the father-child bond for decades now. It is only recently that some (few) feminists have been backtracking on this. So as I said, perhaps this is why discussions of the type we're talking about don't occur.

The Happy Feminist

Well, even if you're right Mr. Bad, I think it's an unrelated issue to the question of why old (and I mean really old fathers) aren't usually castigated for became very old fathers, whereas old mothers are blamed for waiting too long to have kids.

Barbara

Happy Feminist, don't get defensive because of Mr. Bad. He's done nothing more than make bald assertions and gross generalizations about an entire class of women who hasn't even (conveniently) defined. I'll take serial anecdotes as proof any day over Mr. Bad's alternative logic.

The Happy Feminist

Charming Billy, Now I don't get your distinction between adoption and anonymous artificial insemination.

In the latter situation , it is not just the woman choosing to forego a relationship with the father. Presumably, the father chose to forego a relationship with the child and the mother when he donated his sperm.

The Happy Feminist

Not defensive! Just talking! But thanks . . .

Charming Billy

Barbara,

Since anonymous DS rules out having a relationship with the father, women who choose this procedure are, by definition, choosing to forego such a relationship. Even if they would have preferred a different arrangement, they chose this one.

A teenage father abandoning his infant child and a wealthy older woman choosing anonymous DS to have her child are both deciding, albeit influenced by significantly different circumstances and motivations, to deny their child a paternal relationship beyond the bare biological minimum. I think the motivations and the circumstances matter, but in neither case do they render the decision to forego a meaningful paternal relationship trivial or insignificant. I think it's fair to discuss and evaluate these decisions. Doing so is far from "wishing the whole world would be just like me." Indeed, an honest discussion of these matters might just as well can into question one's own choices.

Charming Billy

Happy Feminist,

It's this: a single parent choosing adoption and a single parent choosing anonymous artifical insemination both choose to raise a child alone. However, a woman who's chosen the latter has by definition ruled out any relationship with the child's father. (Or vice versa; but unless you're Michael Jackson and pay someone to bear your child -- anyone got a problem with that? -- it's almost always a woman.) When you adopt, you don't make the decision to deprive the child of a parental relationship. The child already has no, or is considered to have no, meaningful parental relationships at all. So you're providing the child with a relationship, not ruling one out. The key difference is that with artificial insemination, you're responsible for the fact that the child will never know the father. Adoption doesn't bring this responsibility.

The Happy Feminist

OK - but I guess I come to my original point. I think that even if a two-parent household is generally preferable to a single-parenth household (and I concede that you are probably right on that score), I don't think it's the be-all and end-all.

It is also true that a higher-income home is probably preferable for a child than a lower-income home. But that doesn't mean poorer people shouldn't have children or that poorer people are morally wrong for having children or that it's morally wrong for a parent to work at a non-profit when he or she could make more money for the child at another job. What I am saying is that parents who can't provide the ideal, or who don't want to provide the ideal, still have a lot to offer as parents and I don't think that it's wrong for them to become parents.

Dan

istm as I read through these posts that the "pro-" side all seem to be focusing in on the mother, her desires, her wishes, her fulfillment, while the "anti-" side seem to be thinking more of the child. I realize that's a false dichotomy we've set up, but I still find it troubling that those who rush to support the single mother's choice to bear a child don't seem to have the child's interest in mind. The child is the truly innocent player who will have to live with the mother's choice the rest of their life. Perhaps someone who has been through this experience could share why they truly felt that raising a child alone would be in the child's best interest? I'd be glad to listen.

Barbara

No, Charming Billy, I don't quite get the point of why it's useful to "discuss" whether a household headed by a single woman who has chosen to have a child is not an "ideal" arrangement. It wasn't ideal from my father's perspective to have 4 instead of 3 children; to start having them after being married less than a year, or to have them so close together. It wasn't ideal, from my perspective, that someone as angry, anxious, paranoid, and insecure as my father should have children at all. You should meet my brother, after half a lifetime of being called inadequate for not being just like my dad but better, he has chosen, quite properly in my view, never to have children. And you know, even though my childhood was, to be nice about it, emotionally unsatisfying, on balance, I'm glad I was born and I'm sure my younger sister (the unexpected fourth) is glad she was born. I even think my brother is glad he was born. Certainly my children are glad I was born.

There's no reproductive adequacy court in session, yet, and it's a good thing. I don't see the point of using Platonic reasoning to judge, above all, the choices of a small minority of affluent single women who've met just about every other challenge life has thrown at them without the support of a husband or boyfriend. I really don't.

Barbara

Dan, the best interests of children gets thrown around a lot, but it's a standard that only applies in custody determinations. I don't see how you can ever say that it's in the best interest of a child not to have been born. (Well, not unless someone had a child in order to groom them for a life of sexual slavery or something like that.) People have children for all kinds of reasons, sane and otherwise, and, often, for no reason at all, or certainly no reason other than, "I'd like to be a parent." Why they did it is often mysterious and even more often banal; we should judge parents by their devotion to parental duty. Anything else strikes me as unfair and probably hypocritical. You just can't generalize too much about this.

In my estimation, as La Lubu said rather eloquently, these women want what almost all other women and men take for granted as a normal slice of life, frequently after having tried to get there the old fashioned way. They aren't being selfish, certainly no more selfish than I was when I decided to have children with my husband.

aldahlia

Hrm. I think I'm the only self-described feminist here that thinks Wasserstein was wrong to do what she did. I have to agree with Dan. Kids aren't all about "What I want." What she did wasn't fair to her (now orphaned) daughter. I totally agree that single mothers can parent adequately (I come from a single-parent situation), and I don't see anyone arguing for "staying in a bad marriage for the kids" here, because that's honestly not the issue. There wasn't a marriage for her to stay in.

Barbara

aldahlia, I guess from my perspective most people having children do so for a mix of selfish and other, usually inscrutable, reasons, but in all cases, the "reasons" are simply gloss to what is a strong biological imperative. I wouldn't have done what WW did, I don't think I would have had the chutzpah. But you also don't know what arrangements she has made for her daughter, and she is hardly without resources or, from what I undersand, extended family.

sophonisba

What she did wasn't fair to her (now orphaned) daughter

That rather depends on what she did, doesn't it? The affluent, older single mothers I know (well, I know one of them) planned from the day of conception or even earlier to have a number of secure, stable, loving adults of both sexes in her child's life, to serve as alternate role models and to help out with childcare, of course, but also to stand by in case of tragedy. If Wasserstein officially designated the person or people who were to adopt her child in the event of her death (as any responsible parent does) and made sure that her child had a close, loving relationship with them when she was alive (likewise), then no, she didn't do too badly.

I think that fifty is a reasonable upper limit of procreating-age for decent people of both sexes to adhere to, but Wasserstein had her child before passing that limit. (Men who have children well after fifty are, of course, the ones who despise and devalue fatherhood: they're demonstrating by their actions that a senile father or a mentally present one, a dead father or a live one, it's all the same to them.) The unfairness of having a child after that age is the unfairness of expecting a twenty year old to spend her time with her parents at a nursing home, or to take on the heavy burdens of care for the elderly with no time to prepare or choice in the matter. That's an awful thing to do to somebody.

But it's not what Wasserstein did; had she lived, she'd have been 68 when her daughter was a self-reliant adult. Not senile, not helpless, not too old. It is reasonable to expect to be unable to parent a child by 75; it is not reasonable to expect to be dead by 55.


Charming Billy

Barbara,

You took the words right out of my mouth. I noted earlier that I’m not trying to apply a platonic ideal to this situation. However, when you’re discussing general cases it’s helpful to use “all things being equal” (or Ceteribus paribus, if you want to be fancy about it) reasoning. That means you consciously confine your discussion to what generally holds true while prescinding from particular exceptions. Particulars may be admitted as shedding light on the general conclusion, but are not seen as rendering the conclusion false. True, there’s always the danger that this sort of discussion can become meaninglessly abstract. But so far that hasn’t been one of your objections.

I no more than you wish for a reproductive adequacy court. That is precisely why it is not only “useful”, but important, to discuss these matters. Society has too great a stake in the reproductive behavior of its members to license just any old thing without evaluating it beforehand in some fashion or another. That’s why I prefer a society that evaluates novel social arrangements through informal discussion before one that adjudicates them formally.

Happy Feminist,

I agree with your point: “What I am saying is that parents who can't provide the ideal, or who don't want to provide the ideal, still have a lot to offer as parents and I don't think that it's wrong for them to become parents.” But I have to confine my agreement only if I can exclude “don’t want to provide the ideal.” I mean, if you have a notion of what the ideal is – and I mean ideal in the sense that it’s something you know that you and everyone else is morally obligated to do – then of course you should do it. But I think you meant, “don’t want to provide an ideal that they regard as mistaken.”

I’m not arguing that there’s an “ideal” family in the sense that one size fits all. Even less was my intention in making my original objection to anonymous DS, namely that it trivializes parental relationships, to beat to anyone up. If I object to theft, it’s because I think there’s something wrong with it, not because I want work a hardship on thieves.


mythago

I realize that's a false dichotomy we've set up

Yes, it is. Why, then, go on to argue from it?

Mr. Bad

THF said: "Well, even if you're right Mr. Bad, I think it's an unrelated issue to the question of why old (and I mean really old fathers) aren't usually castigated for became very old fathers, whereas old mothers are blamed for waiting too long to have kids."

THF, I dispute your assertion that old fathers aren't usually castigated about having children with younger, many times much younger, women (and will cut you slack on your original allegation that we "never" hear this). Hugo has had several scathing criticisms of older men who pair with younger women, and he's not alone by any means. Such men are usually portrayed as pervs, pedophiles, exploiters, etc. What I was trying to point out is that you feminists yourselves practice double standards in this regard, however, predictably feminists dump on the male of the pair and not the female.

Barbara, I was and am only speculating in response to THF's original query as to why we usually don't, "never," etc., hear about older men with younger women, as should have been clear from the fact that the very first word I used in my original replay was "perhaps." Then again, maybe feminist logic and reason is different than that used by us normal people, so I'll cut you some slack this time for not 'getting it' even though it should have been obvious.

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