No Kidding: What About The Men? Pt. 2

Brittany Shoot
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When I wrote about how childfree men face different stigmas than childfree women last week, one commenter asked if I’d cover the patriarchal idea that childfree women are denying their male partners some inherent part of their masculine identity. Sure, says the gal with the male partner who doesn’t want kids either. I’d be happy to!

This idea is almost laughable to me, and probably to a lot of Bitch readers, because it relies on the idea that gender is some sort of essentialist social classification (and the assumption that sex is strictly biological, a fixed category of being) that makes us long for and pursue specific goals in life. That is, in a word, bullshit. It raises the same issue that causes me to feel compelled to talk about being childfree in the first place: the assumption that because I’m a woman, I’m driven to procreate, be pregnant, and mother. Well, I’m not. Not even close.

Aside from acknowledging that essentialist stereotypes are dated, I have little actual advice for how to combat this sort of thing. You can fight one stereotype with another, as in, “My man is more secure in his masculinity than to need to buy into normative gender roles,” but that goes straight to the heart of the issue. When you’re asking someone to back off, do you really want to dismantle social norms about gender stereotypes and biology, or do you just want to be able to say “different strokes for different folks” while politely backing away?

Today I asked my partner Andreas what he thinks of the idea that I’m robbing him of the chance to be a father. (A note: English is his second language, so while he’s got a remarkable way of translating on the spot and is arguably more skilled with words than some native English speakers, I occasionally catch him off guard with weird questions such as this.) He looked at me as if there was more to the question before simply saying, “I knew what I was getting into.” In other words, he really doesn’t care. Moreover, since I was up front with him about my lack of maternal instinct from the get-go, he doesn’t get to complain now, years after we got together.

So far, no one has told me I’m doing him a disservice, taking away his inalienable right to have kids. But should I prepare for the inevitable? What do you make of the idea that men have an inherent right to fatherhood? Is this comparable to the idea that women shouldn’t have abortions if the men in their lives say so? Or that ambivalent women should have kids to please their partners? Should parenthood be exclusively determined by women? Who’s responsible when men who want kids partner with women who don’t?

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23 Comments Have Been Posted

Men and the 'right' to fatherhood

They have the same rights to fatherhood (having offspring) that they have to marriage (straight), in that it's contingient on a woman consenting to carry to term. I have a "right" to be president, but it doesn't mean that it's owed to me.


I guess all depends on how you define femininity, masculinity and where you place yourself in that definition. For me it's not about having kids, having breasts and so on. It can be about all that and much more, but if I won't have kids I will not consider myself less woman. Being father for a kid without having one can be very masculine but can be simply mature. And you're not depriving a man of fatherhood if you're honest right from the beginning that you don't want to have kids.

I'd say men have an inherent

I'd say men have an inherent right to pursue fatherhood, provided it doesn't infringe upon anyone else's right to not be a parent. For example, I believe they have the right to select a partner based upon whether or not that partner also wants children, and to pass over potential partners based on a lack of desire for children. I believe they have the right to adopt, if they so choose. I do not believe they have the right to fatherhood if it involves pressuring a partner who does not wish to parent (again, via adoption, for example) or to become pregnant to do so, nor do I think they have the right to force a partner to remain pregnant if they desire an abortion.

Whether they contributed fifty percent of the DNA or not, until male pregnancy is possible, or unless the baby is grown in a lab, it's still going to be a woman carrying that child, nurturing it with her food intake and her body, dealing with the uncomfortable and potentially dangerous health risks and physical changes associated with pregnancy, etc. which to me means she's the one who gets to make the decisions about what to do or not do with it. And frankly, any man who wants children, and who becomes involved knowingly with a partner who does not want children, and who has made that view clear, has only himself to blame. The hope or assumption that one's partner will change their mind is not a risk one should take with one's future, or a pressure that should be put on a partner. It's not fair, and frankly, any unhappiness that stems from it is the fault of the person who chose not to take their partner seriously when they said 'no interest in kids'.

As an end note, I'm sure there have been cases wherein one partner didn't realize until later in life that they didn't want children, and while that's sad and unfortunate for the partner who now has to decide either to give up parenting or else separate from that partner and find someone who also wants to parent, I don't believe it's the responsibility of the first partner to become a reluctant parent (it's not only unfair to them, it's hugely unfair to any children they might have), or the right of the second to pressure them into making a major, irrevocable life long change if they don't want to.

Men and children

I find this argument that women who wish to remain childless are denying their male partners the, I don't know--privilege? right?-- to have offspring just another creepy way of asserting that a woman's body isn't really hers to impose her will upon. I think this idea, that women aren't truly autonomous is what's at the heart of opposition to birth control. That being said, there are many cultural forces that give men the message that having children is part of becoming a full masculine adult. But for a male, the rationale that you don't want to be burdened by children is somehow acceptable. Society doesn't look upon women who don't want the responsibilities of parenting with such forgiving eyes.

I'm in this space right now

I'm in this space right now with my husband. We're discussing the childfree lifestyle but I'm constantly doubting his sincerity. Not because he's insincere but because I'm still stuck in that "Men want babies to validate their masculinity" mode. I'm in a constant cycle of "He doesn't want babies now but what about five years from now? Will he leave me because I got my tubes tied and can't give birth to his baby(another weird notion - HIS baby), even though he said he didn't want them five years ago."

You've taken the words right

You've taken the words right out of mouth. I know my husband is sincere when he says he doesn't want kids, but it's my own mindset about men wanting babies to "carry on their name" or what have you that keeps me doubting and not completely comfortable about our decision to not have kids, even though I myself have no desire to be pregnant or adopt a child. It's like that mindset takes precedence over my own feelings.

Maybe it's just me, but isn't

Maybe it's just me, but isn't the whole baby issue part of choosing the *right* partner? If you're a man who wants kids, isn't a lack of desire for kids kind of a deal-breaker? If you knowingly partner with someone who doesn't want kids, your desire for kids is your problem, not your partner's. (Of course, people can lie, but hey, if your partner is lying to you about something as important as creating a life, well, you have more issues than just the question of children.) I also tend to think that a person (male or female) who tries to pressure their partner into having kids is utterly selfish. The partner who wants a child is thinking of him/herself, not their partner and not the child, who may grow up with an ambivalent or resentful parent.


Quoting from an article I read in the past (actually about harassment, but the idea applies here), 'Your rights end where my rights begin.' A man may have a 'right' to father a child, but his chosen partner has an equal right to refuse. If he still wants to father a child, he will need to find someone else, someone who holds his same values. No man, or woman for that matter, has a right to demand that their unwilling partner parent a child.

Not a problem for men so much

I've never thought about men being 'denied' fatherhood and being victimized by the women in their lives. The way I always saw it was if a man wants children, he should find a partner who wants them as well. It would be the same to say that some men are 'denied' a wife who can cook or one who likes to sing in the shower, if that's not the type of person with which they are partnered.

I think men have an easier time being taken on their word of whether they want kids or not. Meaning that it's not viewed as an emotional decision on their part; it's rational. Women are often viewed as baby-crazy for wanting children or mentally deranged for not wanting children. I think one factor contributing to this is that men have the option to wait and wait and wait until basically their death bed to decide if they want kids. Guys in general are not often portrayed in our culture as in a rush to have kids. Which I guess brings up another cultural staple: men who wait until they are older to have kids with a younger woman. Men have the biological ability and cultural support to date around, work on their career, become financially successful, and then have children with a younger women. This is viewed as a savvy path to take.

Now, on the other shoe, women who want children but are with partners who want to wait or don't want them at all are often portrayed as baby-hungry, crazy, manipulating ladies who will oops-forget! to take their BC and get pregnant without the consent of their partners. Our cultural obsession with the desperation of these women is the flip side to the sadism of women who will deny a partner their right to have children.

Baby = masculinity?

While I basically agree with all the above comments on the contours of men's right to parent, I'm more interested in pulling apart this idea that childfree women "are denying their male partners some inherent part of their masculine identity." I mean, what part is that? What is it about a baby that is, according to some patriarchal ideal, supposed to grant a potential father (more) masculinity? Is it his ability to be an active parent? Does childbearing equal proof that his sperm are adequately manly and capable of producing babies? The issue of negotiating a personal relationship as a childfree woman is interesting and useful, but what are the bigger issues at work here?

I had a friend once whose

I had a friend once whose boyfriend was very anxious about "leaving his legacy" via having children. A previous partner of mine thought he owed it to the world to pass on his (in his view) "genius" by having children. There are lots of reasons men want children that don't really involve caring for a baby. I'm not sure being an active parent really comes into it since society is so lenient on men who leave their children or are otherwise absent from their lives.

If a man who wants kids is

If a man who wants kids is with a woman who doesn't, he can't force her to have kids. (Isn't it funny how men have an unalienable right to have kids, but supposedly women are evil and trick men into having babies?) In a case like you're asking about, the woman is presumably not going to change her mind. The man has to make a decision: Does he want the woman he's with, or does he want the kids? If she doesn't want kids, he can't have both and he doesn't get to whine about it.

When I tell people I'm child-free they often ask how my fiance feels about it. He doesn't want kids either but I don't see why it matters. I don't want kids so I won't have them whether I'm with someone who wants them or not.

You haven't really been talking about men in these articles

So I've read both these articles ("What about the Men?") and I really think you dropped the ball.

Men who have children are fathers; men have a stake in reproductive rights just as much as women do, and yet we always frame the conversation as if men are unrelated to child-creating and child-raising. You're not allowed to be angry that procreating is treated as inherently-a-woman-thing and still treat it as inherently-not-a-man-thing.

We live in a world where it is expected that men "accept" the "burden" of raising children as a mark of a "responsible, manly adult". You mentioned in your previous article that women treated with shock and outrage when they don't want children, and that men are not; but if you look at the other side of the coin, men who like children are treated as either pedophiles or Mr. Mom (they can't both be men and like children). Look at men raising children in media representations (bumbling and incompetent, out of their element) look at the legal implications in child custody, look at people's negative reaction to men talking to other people's children (there is a WWYD segment I can't find, but a man tries to walk away with a child, and I promise people would not have been so horrified had the kidnapper been a woman).

If you talk about women being systematically pigeonholed into wanting, caring for and raising children then you have to look at how men are systematically barred from doing those things. You can't expect help and support in banishing one kind of oppression while ignoring the system that supports the same oppression.

Good points, especially about

Good points, especially about how men who do want to display their nurturing behavior toward children are marginalized. There are socially-prescribed ways for parents to interact with their children that are often dictated by gender. Witness the recent Tiger Mother backlash--moms are supposed to love unconditionally and offer soothing support, not demand perfection and go to any lengths to push their children to succeed. In the same way, fathers aren't often looked to to provide emotional support for their children.

Our society largely believes that the "correct" way to be a father is by emphasizing the "responsible, manly adult" acts that you mentioned above. The stereotype that all women want to care for children is just as limiting and harmful as the stereotype that men don't want to /aren't capable of caring for their children outside of the "manly" acts of financial support and discipline.

Men don't have children...

Men <i>parent</i> children. There is a huge difference.

Since pregnancy and birth only occur in women, then yes, it is inherently a "woman thing" as you say.

Now, I will acknowledge being a privileged white male, so I have to concede that whether or not a woman decides to go through with a pregnancy is absolutely none of my concern.

Let me rephrase that.

It's not my place to "weigh in" on that decision by them unless the woman I'm with specifically asks for my opinion, and even then, I must do so with the recognition that no matter what my opinion, I will never have to physically endure the process and will <i>never</i> understand the experience on a 1:1 ratio.

The best I can do is find a partner who wants to have and/or raise children with me, or, in my case, be with someone who shares my choice to remain childless.

I don't think it gets simpler than that.

Just have to remind you that...

Trans men <i>do</i> sometimes give birth to children.

Ah, absolutely.

Sorry, didn't mean to imply otherwise. Thanks.

Men seem ambivalent about children

What I find interesting, (and this is confirmed by my other ChildFree girlfriends) is that men seem pretty ambivalent about having children. It's rare to find a man who is really committed to either camp: being childfree or being a father. They seem to leave that decision to the woman in their life - along with the blame if it doesn't turn out rosy. This seems to have something in common with their general shifting of responsibility for contraception to the female. While they support their woman taking the pill, getting an IUD, or even permanent sterilization, seldom have I met a man who has expressed his commitment to his choice by taking responsibility for contraception (or childfreedom by getting a vasectomy). Has this been anyone else's observation or experience? If yes, why do you think that is the case?

This has always been my

I have been asked by a

I have been asked by a variety of people about changing my mind if I met/dated/married someone who wanted children. I've heard the same argument applied to men as well - you're not going to give your girlfriend/wife babies??? OMGWTFBBQ! It seems to sail right over their head that the man in question wouldn't be Mr. Right if he wanted kids.

As an aside, I've listened to Dan Savage long enough to know there are men out there who think sperm = manly and would never get a vasectomy, even if they never wanted children or had as many as they wanted/could support/etc. In the past, I've also had some charming males tell me that their spunk is so super that they would blow right through my essure scar tissue and knock me up. *gag* Rape culture, anyone?

I agree, I was a bit confused with the turn this part of the blog took. Nearly every man I know has never really committed one way or another and leave the decision to their girlfriend/wife. Frequently, if their lifestyle is altered for the worse with the addition of children, many men seem to continue to live as though their lives haven't changed, or use it as an excuse to bad mouth their partner to friends/family.

You'd think men would be more invested in what happens with their sperm - they do have a horse in this race. Especially when you have douchebags like Kanye West insisting that women use pregnancy and children as a weapon to entrap and blackmail men. If they were so concerned about the honesty or honor of their bedmates, they should probably take personal responsibility for contraception.

I agree with most of the

I agree with most of the comments on here. While I think men have the right to father a child, I don't think that their partners are under an obligation to bear children for them. They're perfectly free to find partners who do want to have children.

It can seem more complicated with long-term commitments where the relationship is partially based on the belief that both partners want children, yet we have to be free to change our minds about the lives that we want to lead. So, while it might be sad for a person to have to weigh his or her desire to have children against his or her love for a partner, this should not mean that women are denying men their rights to fatherhood by changing their minds.

What exactly does "inherent

What exactly does "inherent right" entail? I believe people who want to be parents have as much right to pursue that as people who wish to remain childfree have a right to live that way. I do NOT believe anyone has a right to enforce their reproductive desires on an unwilling party, however, under any circumstances. If a man desires fatherhood, he should seek out a partner who also desires to be a parent.

I think it would be advisable for people in any kind of long term serious relationship should sit down and discuss the kid question. I have seen relationships fall apart because one wanted kids, the other didn't, and each secretly harbored the idea that "he/she will come around to my way of thinking one day!"

a note about the antichoice community

I cannot tolerate the antichoice community. I''ve had more than a few antis tell me that "abortion is wrong" because it denies the father his "right" to "have" the child. What about the woman's right to choose to terminate the pregnancy or carry it to term? Is this the man's decision? What if they are in a polyamorous relationship? Does only the biological father get to decide? Of course, antis don't care about women's rights, anyway.

"I knew what I was getting

"I knew what I was getting into" is not a ringing endorsement of the state of things, although quite a compliment in its way.

I'm with Anonymous #1; everyone is free to pursue a relationship with a like-minded partner. This isn't to say that people don't change their minds - many do - and that the change isn't going to be tremendously painful.

I don't know where everyone's meeting these loser men who aren't invested in the children they have. Y'all need to seek out a better class of friends.

If mens' families of origin are healthy, if they feel valuable to and respect their parents and find family life a source of pleasure, they're more likely to want to recreate that. Some men have wanted kids since childhood, my brothers among them. NOTE: I didn't say that if you don't want to have kids, your family life must have sucked. I did that growing up in a good, loving family offers a model that might make people more likely to value creating a family.

As for abortion, please, it's just not that simple. Of course the choice is the woman's, period. But my abortion was a cause of intense grief for my partner, now husband and dedicated father to our children. Did he have a right to have me continue the pregnancy? No. Did he lose something that he helped create, in which he was deeply (and properly) invested? Absolutely. I'm not interested in any construction of reproductive freedom that minimizes the investment of either partner.

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