When I talk about women’s choices regarding children, pregnancy, and childbirth, someone usually asks about the men. Last month, I interviewed half a dozen men of varying ages, backgrounds, and life experience about why they never want to have children. A number of them had considered getting (or had already gotten) a vasectomy. The number one reason? It’s easier (from a surgical/recovery standpoint) and cheaper than any option women have.
It goes without saying that these were men who didn’t (so far as they told me) have gendered hang-ups about masculinity and sexual potency. While conversations about women’s reproductive options can also be littered with essentialist assumptions about gender, it seems to happen to men more often. Case in point:
There are endless problems with this clip. Between the derogatory use of the word “lame” and treating sexual harassment and cheating on your partner as a joke, it’s not very redeeming, I know. (And yes, I know the point of shows like The Family Guy is to piss off everyone at one point or another.) My point is to illustrate how this relatively simple procedure is talked about in pop culture. In this case, it’s a joke—one made at men’s expense—that without being virile, you become “half” a man.
When I tell people I can’t have children, I’m usually met with pity—or outright disapproval and scorn if they feel somehow threatened by the fact that I had my tubes tied. But if my male partner had a vasectomy instead, do you think people would so openly feel sorry for him or say nasty things? One man that I interviewed for the article linked above noted that he often gets comments about his wife’s choice not to have children. Yet, he’s the one who actually got a vasectomy!
What does this say about the legitimacy of our choices, of how we value one person’s ability to make a lifelong choice over another’s? Why do men and women report such varying experiences talking about not having children?