Parenthood and Power

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Time for an observation here. This fits with my ongoing discussion on the parenthood of the man from the one-night-stand. (It’s a rather long thread and I’ve linked to an early part of it. I’m not going to repeat the main points here.)

Being recognized as a parent gives you power. I don’t just mean the obvious power over a child, though it does that of course. Or even just the power to exclude others from a child’s life.

A parent can insist on being involved in a child’s life and in the decisions regarding the child. That means that a parent has the power to constrain, or at least to challenge, the actions of another parent. A parent can claim that it is her or his right to be engaged in this way. That claim of right is one that carries great weight in our culture. We readily recognize (indeed, we naturalize) the rights of parents. When someone says “I’m a parent and I have the right….” it counts for something.

Though I’ve stated it somewhat dramatically, I don’t mean to raise any general objection to the idea of parental rights or to the idea that one parent can constrain the liberty of another. Each parent has similar authority.

But that’s after we’ve decided the person is a parent. Deciding that a particular person is a grant of this power. What I’m concerned with is how we decide which people are parents, which people have access to these claims of authority.

I’m thinking about this now because when we make the one-night-stand guy a father, we give him the power I’ve described above. Not absolute power. But enough power to interfere with the mother’s choices. If, for example, the mother wants to move with the child to another city, he can take her to court and challenge her right to relocate with the child. (And that same claim of right could support a man’s argument that he be consulted before the woman elects to have an abortion.)

Remember, too, that for now I am confining myself to instances where there is no pre-existing relationship between the man and the woman. Thus, we contemplate leaving the woman not only unexpectedly pregnant but also potentially subject to the demands of a stranger.

I do not mean to suggest that concerns about power alone justify declaring that the man is not a father. But I think the “is he a parent question” is one worth asking, one that warrants careful consideration. All these recent posts have attempted to examine that question from differing angles. Particularly if one is trying to work from a feminist perspective, the power dynamic is worthy of note.

-Julie Shapiro (cross posted to Related Topics)

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0 Responses to Parenthood and Power

  1. TheOppressor says:

    Who are you to decide who a parent is? A parent is the biological MOTHER or FATHER, or whoever the legal adoptive guardians are. What about the woman in a one night stand? How is this all the guys fault? It’s his child as much as it is hers. Who is she to take another person’s child and move? Or have it killed before birth? It’s as much his choice as hers. This is fucking classic.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    You chose your pseudonym well. This is your only warning: keep it civil.

  3. ljean says:

    Not to belabor the obvious but it seems to me that the reason one-night-stand-guys get “rights” and “responsibilities” are two-fold.

    First the idea that if you have sex with a woman she is somehow yours. A kind of you-broke-it-you-bought-it-argument.

    Second is the recognition that if we can blame fathers for poverty and the horrific conditions we tolerate for children (re health care, housing, protection against violence …) then these are _moral_ and not _policy_ problems. As Nancy so famously said, most women are one husband away from poverty. Of course, they are also usually one good childcare opening per child away from poverty as well. But then we could blame no one else for not solving the problem by being moral.

    Without the ability to empower/garnish-wages-of single men we might, as a society, less easily reject our common responsibility to see all children fed, housed, and educated. We could be pushed into a recognition that each child has part in all of our futures. And of course this would require taxes and government. So such a recognition and commitment is defined as “bad”.

    And once again, feminism would be good for everyone except the people who hate everyone else …

  4. YF says:

    I think that before you can answer whether the “one-night-stand-guy” should be conferred parent status, you need to have an examination into what process confers parent-hood on anyone.

    You take it for granted that the one-night-stand-woman is automatically considered a parent. I have to ask why the women’s role in the reproductive process, fertilization and incubation, is sufficient to prima facie establish parenthood while the man’s role, fertilization, is more suspect.

    Even if we accept that a fetus is nothing more than a part of the woman’s body, I don’t see why the woman retains any greater interest in the child after it has been born. Could you expound a bit on why you view the mother’s role in the creation of the child as sufficiently superior to the father’s as to make a one-night-stand-guy’s claim to parenthood suspect?

  5. I actually do not take it for granted that the one-night-stand woman is automatically a parent. Initially, I think she has control over her own body and hence, the right to decide what she wants to do about being pregnant. If she decides she wants to continue the pregnancy I am inclined to believe that at some point she does become a parent. Perhaps that is when the child is born. I’m a bit tentative about this still, but I’d say her parental status is established by virtue of her performance of the most intimate of parental roles for a significant period of time. (Say 24/7 for forty weeks?) Of course, in deciding to continue the pregnancy she might also claim the intent to be a parent, but I’m less impressed by that than I am by her actual performance.