DOUBLE STANDARDS – And Sexist Piggery – Her Husband Has No Say In the Matter, Of Course


Caroline Hax had an article recently in which a woman came to her about her husband who didn’t want her pregnancy to continue. He didn’t want another child. This pregnancy was the result of years of IVF attempts, and the husband had changed his mind at some point.

Hax asks:

“He wants his wife to abort a child she has ached for six years to conceive.

And you’re the one worried you’re selfish?”

Oh that’s right, he’s the selfish asshole here. She has ached for the baby for six years; what else matters here? After all his reproduction is really none of his business. Or something.

This decision not have another child or not, to abort or not, is absolutely not a case of her body her choice. This is about her imposing her will and making decisions for her husband about his life. Let’s just be real clear about that.

Of course an abortion is an issue of her bodily autonomy, but not the issue in this case. This is about press-ganging someone into parenthood to pander to her baby rabies.

This is not an uncommon attitude apparently. Here’s a woman who threatens to withhold sex, to withdraw from the marriage basically, if her husband has a vasectomy. They have two kids, he doesn’t want any more, and she thinks that is solely her decision. (That, and it makes infidelity so much trickier, I suppose.)

Hax is really not a sexist pig. This seems to be a particular blind spot for Hax rather than a pattern of gender bigotry. When it comes to spouses and partners who have trouble finding work, she is completely even-handed in her advice, whether it’s about a wife or a husband.

On the other hand, food issues seem to be another blind spot. When it’s a husband insisting his wife lose some weight before they have a baby, he’s a controlling asshole. When it’s a wife who decides to go all vegetarian and Puritanical after the marriage, Hax counsels the wife to back off on what the on what the husband chooses to eat but require that he not eat it around the kids – translation: Mother decides the kid’s diet, because after all she’s the real parent. So maybe this is the same blind spot – a Golden Uterus conception of roles and responsibilities in parenting.

So maybe parenting is the final battleground when it comes to gender equality, and even generally sane and decent people like Carolyn Hax haven’t gotten quite all the way there yet. Getting clear of sexist enculturation is a battle of inches, it isn’t just throwing a switch and suddenly everything is all better.

Jim Doyle
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  • Clarification for those who haven’t read the advice column. The woman had tried to get pregnant for 4 years and then gave up at age 40. She got pregnant by accident 2 years later. This wasn’t about the man changing his mind about it after she got pregnant or any such nonsense. This was about them having sex with the expectation that she couldn’t possibly get pregnant and she said so herself – she had given up on trying to have a baby. As far as we should be concerned, this lady may have wanted to get pregnant one when she was in high school, too, but that’s neither here nor now. Now, the man is getting older and is concerned that he will never get to enjoy a retirement. This woman is basically asking, “So… dear advice columnist… am I being selfish by making my husband work until the day he dies so that I can be a housewife and have my dream of having a 2nd baby?” And the advice columnist is saying, “No, you crazy lady! You want a baby, who is he to tell you otherwise?!?!?”

  • The Australian federal government knows whats right. The family is “women and their children”.

  • Unlike some here, I don’t fret about if “some woman” is “fit” to have a baby, and I rather like baby humans.

    But men should still have some say over whether they want to get involved if a woman is bound and determined to make herself a mommy.
    This wouldn’t be so bad IF:
    A. This was the expectation of marriage – in the contract, so to speak , so that he knew ahead of time the risks
    B. He had an “opt out” provision. Let her have the kid. Short of feeding/clothing the sprat (hubby and wife are a household after all) let her be responsible for all upkeep, cost of schooling, etc. Or if he divorces, she should have to waive child support, and the waiver should be respected as a matter of law.

    Alas, we don’t live in any kind of fair world when it comes to this issue, and so Dungone is correct.

  • An added confusion here is the reality that the definition of what “marriage” is exactly has been shaken to its core since the invention of cheap reliable readily accessible birth control (for women). For thousands of years it’s been just a given: having children is just plain part of marriage, period, with only some exceptions. Now that has pretty much changed, but the assumption implicit culturally still for an awful lot of people is “if you’re getting married of course you’re having kids.” Indeed, at times I have argued that the only reason *to* get married is because you want kids (and indeed, this *is* the assumption in orthodox Christian, Jewish, and other traditions).

    So it really isn’t just a simple question here: in my view, while we may view the wife’s attitude here as selfish, it is arguably implicit in the marriage contract that there will be children and that you accepted that joint responsibility when you got married.

    I find women who do this sort of thing intentionally (by lying about being on birth control for example, which is much too common) execrable, but if this was not intentional, what exactly would you advise this woman to do? Abort because her husband said so? Divorce and raise the new child herself?

    I’m not sure that’s the right answer either. Life can suck sometimes. But if you think this is complicated, just wait until the reliable artificial wombs become broadly available. %-)

  • If she was against abortion on principle (ie. she views it as taking a life), would she still be selfish to continue the pregnancy?

  • @Dean, it was never implicit in “until death do us part” that your wife would be having kids well into your retirement. That was never an expectation, or at least far from routine. It has always been true, on the other hand, that families who did family planning were happier and richer than families who didn’t. Only a bunch of religious troglodytes with no concept of where babies come from ever truly followed the get married and pump out spawn as you describe.

  • @gjdj, yes, absolutely, even more so. It’s probably a post facto rationalization used to justify selfish, irrational behavior. But that’s besides the point. People can believe whatever they like personally, but then there is even more reason for them to take appropriate steps to ensure that their belief system will not adversely affect those around them. The anti-abortion belief is not sacred and does not deserve more respect than the abortion-is-ok belief. In this case, to her credit, the woman does not appear to be pro-life, so she is not being a total asshole for trying to twist destroying a man’s retirement years into a moral virtue.

  • What Dean said. Very sensible comment.

    But yeah, Dungone has a point about old people now becoming parents, that is a totally new development. A friend recently told me she is having a baby through IVF.. we are PEERS, and I have GRANDCHILDREN okay? I dunno what to think about that. It used to be just men doing this, now we have women doing it too. (I just read the interesting fact that Nancy Sinatra is 5 years older than her one-time stepmother, Mia Farrow. Wow! They have been very close throughout their lives, so at least thats a nice thing.)

    I didn’t like it when men did it, and I am disappointed to see women follow suit. I am old fashioned enough to think its good for kids to have young parents who have the energy to deal with them. Then again, maybe that is simply an old fashioned idea?

  • TB, do you think that’s a good thing for child-rearing? I think its a minus, overall. Also, cynicism increases with age… (if not cynicism, its flip side, sentimentality). Neither are very good for kids in large amounts.

    All my opinion, of course… this has not been empirically proven!

  • @ Daisy

    Do I think cunning is good for child rearing? Yep.

    My father was cunning and it required me to develop my cunningness in return.

  • Hi All, this is my first comment on your site. I’ve been reading it for a while and think it’s really excellent. It’s pretty hard to find common sense on gender issues, and I think in talking about compassion for men and agency for women you’ve hit on the right topics.

    Dean and Daisy’s comments above are interesting to me, I guess because I have reservations about the ideas expressed! Is having children really a right once you’re married to someone? Perhaps it is but I think that raises questions.

    Do men have the right to prevent their wife from having an abortion, if her having a kid was the point of marriage? Do men have the right to their wife’s body until she’s produced 2.4 children?

    I know I’m being provocative – no offense or personal criticism is intended at all! I appreciate all of your comments. 😀

  • @Sensitive,

    No need to worry about offending people here, I think. We pretty well understand that as long as you are arguing in good faith, if someone gets offended, that’s their deal, not yours.

    I do understand what Dean said, about the link between being married and children being ironclad up until recently (which is not actually entirely true, women have been attempting birth control since at least ancient Greek times, an entire plant species was actually killed off for it). It helps to understand the context of some gender relations to remember that having children was a pretty unavoidable consequence of sex for a long, long time.

    However, it would be too easy if that were the end of the story. We have outlawed, rightfully, marital rape. Why have we not then extended the same protection, at least in our own minds, to childbirth? Perhaps it’s because we don’t have any legal protections for a man who is the genetic co-creator of a baby he doesn’t want. If a man can’t get a paper abortion outside of marriage, how can we possibly expect that he can get one inside the marriage?

  • “I know I’m being provocative – no offense or personal criticism is intended at all! I appreciate all of your comments. :D”

    Welcome, Sensitive,

    Provocative be fucked; you are asking all the right questions and there is no such thing as too much clarity.

    “Do I think cunning is good for child rearing? Yep. ”

    I think all those things should be learned first at home, in a safe environment, like alchol. Anfd the same rules apply – the kid should observe rather than experience it, unless it takes direct experience to get the kid to pay attention. NO endless mind games, no general atmosphere of substance abuse though.

    I grew up around solidly agentive women, all of them as far as I knew, and then in the Army that’s the only kind that managed to hang around for very long. How woefully unprepared for life outside my family and for civilian life I was!

  • I think the more society becomes about the individual the more you will see people having children when they are older. The all about me comes into play. Education for me first, job for me first, marriage or cohabitation for me first………..typically for many of these individuals it isnt about the actual child but about having one for themselves. Truth is, if it was about the community and safety of the children most people would be having them much earlier. Studies show considerably more health complications from having children later in life. Not only that, there is a much greater chance that the parents could either die or not be physically able to take care of their offspring. This doesnt even address the 55yr old trying to run around and play with an 8yr old kid. I guess that is why everyone now wants child care to be covered by the state. Gotta get me a nice new car and a 3600 sq. foot home.

  • My wife had her last child at age 42. And 8 years later my wife can still beat up on college aged men on the tennis court.

    Opinions noted.

  • I should also mention that I myself was raised by my great grandmother and her brother (my great great uncle). I must have turned out terrible with such old folk raising me!

  • “…typically for many of these individuals it isnt about the actual child but about having one for themselves.”

    Thus the international adoption market. Bonus: they get to dress it up as some kind of charity effort.

    I get the questions about what this woman is actually supposed to do. Not my call, but my point is that whatever it is, it cannot include forcing her husband into parenthood. Since there is one child in the picture, a dicorce would impact hat child without her consent. What options does that exactly leave.

    Dean has a good point about traditional expectations. All I can say is till death do us part used to eb an expectation, but changes in divorce law changed that, aranged marriages for the good of the family used ot be the expectation, sexual access used to be the expectation – what is so saced about the baby expectation? Well we all know the answer to that. it all depends on who’s doing the expecting, apparently.

  • @debaser

    Just like some children of feminists can turn out to be misogynists. There are exceptions. I was generalizing, which Im sure you were aware of. 😉

  • Debaser, ideally, I think extended families are best for child-rearing… a mix of ages and personality types is optimal. Just my opinion. I have no idea which familial configuration is considered “best”–and I think that is highly subjective anyway.

  • Let’s focus on this retirement thing. Women outlive men by 5 years in the US. We can also assume that her husband is older than her, let’s say by 3 years. So the husband will be paying for college when he is 65, with 10 years left in his life and she’ll be 60, with kids out of her hair, and still have 20 years left. She might even live long enough to enjoy seeing her grandchildren grow up. There’s a lot more in it for her than for him.

    This is what I think. I think that 1 kid is enough. I also think, beggars can’t be choosers. I think the only fair solution to this is a SAHD solution. In the future, maybe more women will go for that. But until they do, I think that men’s retirement has to be given a little bit more of a priority. Otherwise, men will just stop getting married altogether. Younger guys like me are looking at this kind of situation and thinking what the fuck…

  • daisy, I totally agree that extended families are best for kids. There are lots of variations on this – one is the grandparents essentially raising the kids, and we see a lot of this when the parents fall apart. Then ther eis the more usual sort of setting, where grnadparents and aunts and uncles exert an influence just by being present. It can take a lot of pressure off of parent-child relationships when there is annother adult in the family acting as sounding board, voice of reason, counter-balance to a lot of teen angst. I saw this kind of thing more than once in my family, and it held the family together when the parentla bond might not have.

    Besides multi-generational famlies give a kid a sense of identity strong enough that he doesn’t have to seek it from peers and peer tribes and or consumerism, or a gang. That can quite plainly save his life.

  • Re: dungone on November 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm, specifically 65 years old and SAHD solution;

    I agree with that statement.
    There is a similar situation in my relationship. I’m in my 20s, my partner is in his 50s, he has 3 teenagers from a previous marriage, and our son makes 4 (his 4th my 1st), our son is as you can imagine an infant. The relationship has been made to work despite such a large age gap in that I have got to have children (to leave it too long to have children with an older partner meant risking I might never be able to have them because I refuse to dump someone based on their age or accept from a donor, also the younger the better for him because he’s still physically well and capable, he won’t have to “slow down” until jr is a teenager and probably won’t want to spend time with dull mum and dad anyway ), my partner and I both wanted our son and entered into it willingly and I will be the SAHM until my partner retires, after which we will swap roles he will be a SAHD and I will earn the money, and support his retirement. Although I may go back to work early to build up the retirement money with a period of us both working beforehand when my day times are freed by jr going to school. Eitherway my partner is not being denied his retirement.

    The focus point I’m getting at is the willingness of both parties and compromise being reached, if she wont get an abortion, and he can’t have a ‘paper’ abortion it is a perfectly reasonable alternative.

  • Welcome, MMoi, and especially after a comment like that. Nice of you to drop a civilized solution into our angst-fest. Well done. Happy with yourself?

    “The focus point I’m getting at is the willingness of both parties and compromise being reached”

    Exactly. It’s about trust and real, solid commitment to each other. And maturity too.

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