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?