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)