This is a digression so I’ll keep it short.
Some days I just think the world has gone slightly mad. I’m feeling that way today as I read this. New legislation in Arizona (that has actually passed one chamber of the legislature and is moving along in the other!) allows employers to ask for proof that women who are using contraceptives are doing so for non-contraceptive reasons. It seems that it is possible that failure to produce such proof could provide justification for firing a woman. In other words, if a woman is using contraceptives as contraceptives an employer have grounds to fire her. There is apparently no parallel provision for men who use contraceptives.
This is staggering to me. But rather than simply let my jaw drop at the arrogance of legislators who would vote for this, I thought I’d think about what is going on these days. Of course, many things are and there’s much to say. But consistent with my focus here I had one thought I’d toss out. (And here’s hoping this doesn’t lead to the entire conversation being hijacked.)
One of the problems I see consistently in the field of parentage law is gender difference. We may be generally committed to ideals of gender equality, but the fact remains (at least for now) that vis-a-vis conception and birth men and women are differently situated. I mean the obvious difference–women get pregnant and give birth while men to not.
You can consider this difference to be legally important or not. If, for instance, you say that the key thing is genetics, then the difference between men and women isn’t important (for parentage purposes). If instead you say that the key thing is function/nurturing, then it might be important, at least for a time. Since I prefer the latter approach this is something I think about.
That’s a bit of a problem for me. I understand wanting to play up the equality between men and women. In the large scheme of things, in the long run, I believe in it. I think men can make fine nurturing parents and women can make terrific breadwinners. I think the difference among men in parenting styles is at least as broad as the difference between the average male parenting style and the average female, and I’d say the same for the difference among women in parenting styles. What that means is that if you have specific men and women to consider, as opposed to the mythical “average man” and “average woman” you cannot say much about who will be what kind of parent.
I feel this even more strongly as you move away from issues directly tied to reproduction. There’s no reason (apart from cultural practices) why women cannot excel in any profession. The sooner we get to a place where women are welcome in all workplaces, the better (at least in my book).
But much as I would like the differences between men and women to fade away, they aren’t doing that. And the current assertion of the importance of gender difference is particularly troubling because it is being used to justify regulating women in all aspects of life.
That’s what the story from Arizona makes me think about. And this one from Pennsylvania, too. It seems that the unique reproductive capacity of women justifies all sorts of different/special treatment by the state. Men don’t stand to get fired because they use birth control and men don’t have the state telling their doctors what they have to be showed/told before they make decisions about their care.
Like it or not, the difference between men and women remains all important these days. If anything it’s grown more important over the last months. I don’t know exactly what this means for the issues I think about here–about who’s a parent and why. But it seems to me that acting like there isn’t something going on out there isn’t the right choice.
End of my little rant. So next, back to unmarried fathers in Arkansas.