Recently I wrote a post about the creation of fatherless families. In the lively debate in the comments to that post, I’ve frequently been accused of discriminating against men. I don’t think that’s a fair accusation (as is discussed in those comments) but I’ll now take a turn at discussing motherless families. If folks think that this discriminates against women, perhaps at least I can claim to discriminate equally against both men and women.
According the The Guardian, a new law in Britain will ease the path of gay men seeking to create motherless families via surrogacy. (While gay male couples may become parents via adoption, some also choose to go the surrogacy route. Note that surrogacy is not particularly important to lesbian couples seeking to become parents.)
Up until now, married heterosexual couples using surrogacy in the UK have had simple access to a device that makes them legal parents of the child born as a result of surrogacy: They could obtain a parental order that results in them being named on the birth certificate. Continue reading
I’ve had this article open in a tab for a few weeks now, always meaning to comment on it. Today’s the day.
It’s an opinion piece from the Telegraph in the UK. I actually don’t plan to discuss the first point (about birth certificates) at this moment. There’s been substantial discussion here in the past. (You can start to track back on that here or you can just use the handy tag.) The only thing I’ll add now is to say that there are perhaps two intertwined issues here–which people get to be parents automatically upon the birth of a child and what sort of certificate is issued upon the birth of a child. I think it would be helpful to untangle them.
At the moment I am more interested in the second point raised–the one that garners the headline–the statement that the role of the father has been downgraded. Continue reading
If you look back over the past several weeks, you’ll notice that many of my posts are about legal matters related to gay fathers or lesbian mothers. (You’ll find them if you use the tags.) That’s not surprising. As I’ve noted, lesbian and gay parents have become a visible center of the broader struggle around lesbian and gay rights generally, and lots of these struggles get worked out either in the courts or the legislature.
In many ways, lesbian mothers and gay fathers have much in common. Anti-same-sex parenting campaigns rarely if ever distinguish between them. For example, proposed statutory restrictions bar all unmarried couples–including both lesbian couples and gay couples as well as unmarried heterosexual couples–from adoption. Lesbian mothers and gay fathers, and perhaps especially lesbian and gay couples who are parenting, are seen to threaten the fundamental gendered dynamic of parenting. Lesbian and gay parents don’t offer children the proper gendered model of the world.
But even as lesbian and gay parents may challenge gendered practices, lesbian and gay parents also live in a highly gendered world. As I’ve noted before, there are some real differences between men and women with regard to the process by which children are brought into the world. I mean, of course, that women are pregnant and give birth while men (with a very small number of exceptions) do not. Beyond that, while the individual day-to-day performances of male and female parents vary widely, the idea of “mother” is quite distinct from the idea of “father.” Continue reading
Within the past week, on consecutive days, there were two interesting articles in the New York Times sports section. They’re especially interesting if you take them together.
Both are about sports figures who are also parents. The first article is about Travis Henry, a professional football player, who has had nine children with nine different women. (There’s also an accompanying short bit about his lawyer, that notes some other similar situations with sports figures.) The second article is about Brynn Cameron, a female college basketball player who is the single mother of a two year old.
There’s a part of me that thinks I should just stop writing here and say “See?” I mean, isn’t there something pretty obvious here. This is gender compounded. First (and less importantly), because a female sports figure and a male sports figure typically exist in different worlds. Second, and for my purposes, far more importantly, because sex/gender matters when it comes to parenthood. Even the most sensationally successful female sports figure isn’t going to be the mother of nine children, each conceived with a different man. Continue reading
I’ve been resisting the coverage of Bristol Palin’s big break-up for several days. But after several days, some of the coverage has actually become just a trifle more reflective. This has actually made me think a bit more and I’ve decided that there might be something for me to say.
Now that it is clear that Bristol Palin will not be marrying Levi Johnston is she a “single mother?” Of course, technically she was always a single mother–as in an unmarried mother. I think part of the reason for the emphasis on her wedding plans during the past presidential campaign was to keep her out of the dread “single mother” category. At the very worst, she was only passing through it briefly, on her way to the more respectable “married mother” category. (Which, by the way, isn’t a category at all. If she had gotten married she would not be a “married mother” but instead a simple, pure and unmodified “mother.”)
Thinking about this seems to demonstrate that the label–“single mother” is deployed for a variety of reasons, some of which are clearly political. I’ve taken to wondering about what it means–what is summoned up when you hear “single mother?” I think it can mean many different things, and that can be unhelpful or confusing. Continue reading
I feel some need to add this to the last post, and really the title says it all. I think it is perfectly consistent to think both
1. That the societal/media/public policy obsession with fatherlessness and finding fathers for supposedly fatherless children is misguided and
2. Men can make excellent parents.
I think our law and our culture ought to recognize the realities of a child’s life. The person who is always there, the one whose made the commitment to be there AND follows through on it, the one who gets up in the night, takes on the endless list of tiresome tasks involved in raising a child–that’s a parent. Perhaps there is one such person in a child’s life. Maybe there are two. Perhaps even three or four, though I must admit I find it hard to envision a scenario where a much larger number of people can each play the role. (There’s only so many hours in a day.) Continue reading
If a woman is a single mother some might say that her child is fatherless. I think this is often the equation drawn in the media and I think that it warrants some scrutiny. This is brought to mind by the confluence of a couple of different things.
First, there is the discussion of single-motherhood I began here last week with that article from the NYT magazine. In the course of that, I learned of another blog, O Solo Mama, which focuses on being a single-mother. And that got me thinking a bit more about women who choose to raise children on their own.
Then there is a class I taught. We discussed a reading by Martha Fineman called Images of Mothers in Poverty Discourse, which you can find at 1991 Duke Law Journal 274. (Yes, it is a cite to a law review article. I think it might be my first. And it may not be as readily available as some thing I can link to, but it’s very good if you can lay your hands on it.) One point of the reading (written in 1991, but applicable still today) is that we attribute much harm to single-mother families. And the cure we often seek is to assign the single-mother family a man to be the “missing” father. Alternative solutions (good child-care, flexible workplaces, adequate health care, general parental support services) are rarely considered. Continue reading