Nine Children, Nine Mothers, One Father: Why Isn’t He the Novem-Dad?

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The  media dubbed Nadya Suleman the “octo-mom,” but noone calls Travis Henry  the “novem-dad.”  

The former NFL running back has fathered nine children with nine different women in six years (see NY Times story here). He is engaged to a tenth woman.  Henry has gone to jail for failing to pay child support (this year) and after being arrested on cocaine trafficking charges (last year).  Yet Henry has received far less attention than Suleman.  When a man has an “excessive” number of children, he is considered foolish or potent or maybe a victim of an opportunistic (read: gold-digging) woman.  But a woman who has an “excessive” number of children?    She must be crazy.

In our Multiple Anxieties piece, Lolita Buckner Inniss and I are critical of the epithet “octo-mom.” It likens Suleman to an animal or reduces her to a metonymic body part.  In their excellent article Eight is Enough, Naomi Cahn and Jennifer Collins  describe some of the cultural backlash against  Suleman as arising out of her singleness and her unemployed status, among other factors.  But where’s the backlash against Travis Henry?  He may have been a well-paid professional athlete, but now Henry’s lawyer claims  (here)  that his client is “virtually broke.”  He fathered his first child while still in high school.  Eight of the nine children were unplanned, according to Henry, who also claims in the NY Times article that “[e]verything was cool” with the mothers of his then-existing children,” but once he signed with a professional football team, “[t]hen they were out for blood.”

A man who conceives a child unintentionally receives far less scrutiny than a woman who conceives intentionally.  (BTW, Henry says that he was surprised every time one of his partners became pregnant.)  

A story of an African-American man with nine children whom he claims he cannot support  does not receive much attention because it plays into deeply entrenched racial stereotypes about black men and black families.  But a single woman — who turns out to be “kinda” white (read: not black, not Latina, so she must be “white” in America) — who has fourteen children?  Her story receives attention, at least in part, because we have no racial narrative to explain her reproductive choices.

-Bridget Crawford

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9 Responses to Nine Children, Nine Mothers, One Father: Why Isn’t He the Novem-Dad?

  1. Aosher says:

    Pedantic aside: octo-mum is octo-mum because octo is Latin for 8; the month got the name when October was the 8th month of the year, before January and February were added. Nine is “nono”, so Travis Henry should really be the nono-dad rather than the novem-dad.

  2. Bridget Crawford says:

    Here’s the OED on novem:

    [< classical Latin novem, cognate with NINE adj.
    Compare classical Latin novemdilis, variant of novendilis NOVENDIAL adj. and n.
    Recorded earliest in late 18th cent. in NOVEMFID adj., and otherwise only in rare 19th-cent. adjectives modelled directly on scientific Latin words: e.g. the botanical specific epithets novemnervium (also novemnervia: A. P. de Candolle Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni Vegetabilis (1828) III. 107, 173) and novemlobum (M. F. Dunal 1852, in de Candolle's Prodromus XIII. I. 70); Novempennatae was proposed by C. J. Sundevall in his classification of birds (1873). In novemarticulate adj. at sense 2 after post-classical Latin novemarticulatus (1849 in the source translated in quot. 1856-8 for novemarticulate adj. at sense 2).
    N.E.D. (1907) gives the pronunciation as (nu·vem) /nvm/.]

    A1. Forming adjectives denoting the presence of nine of a particular anatomical structure or other item.

    novemcostate adj.

    1857 R. G. MAYNE Expos. Lexicon Med. Sci. (1860), Novemcostatus, having nine ribs or longitudinal projections..: *novemcostate.
    novem-digitate adj.

    1857 R. G. MAYNE Expos. Lexicon Med. Sci. (1860), Novemdigitatus,..*novemdigitate.
    novem-lobate adj.

    Aosher may still be right on nono- vs. novem- but it’s not so obvious to me, in referring to the OED.

  3. Pingback: Octomom v. Novemdad? « The Legal Satyricon

  4. willko5 says:

    I was under the impression that Nadya Suleman was getting lots of attention because she had all eight children at once. Lots of families have eight or nine children, regardless of whether they are white or black or male or female, but they don’t get attention because they have them one or two at a time. Apparently after a week Suleman’s octuplets were already the oldest octuplets ever.

    I’m not denying that their are racist and sexist aspects of Suleman’s treatment by the media and the public, but comparing her to Henry to make this point is a little disingenuous.

  5. DeniseBrunsdon says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s sexism.

  6. cyrachoudhury says:

    The comparison is not disingenuous. Other than the politics of disgust attached to birthing 8 children at once, does it matter that Ms. Suleman had 8 children at once rather than serially? While interesting, that might be simply the superficial difference in these two cases. It seems that we might not have paid her nearly as much attention as a serial reproducer. But deconstructing the reaction to her as compared to Novemdad who can only birth 9 in some serial fashion shows up the sexism that attaches to a woman who chooses to reproduce in a nonconventional way as opposed to the rather mundane treatment of a serial impregnator who then rather conventionally fails to take responsibility for his children.

  7. areino says:

    He actually has 11 children by 10 women after the birth of twin girls. The article that discusses his ways truly does merit some discussion as it contains some awfully pathetic, clearly sexist statements. Like, after two or three times having sex with each woman, they tell him they’re on the pill so he stops wearing condoms. Then whoops! He’s an unwitting father again.

    Even on sports talk radio when this subject comes up, they condemn him while qualifying it with statements certain that yes, all of these women wanted to trap him. I think he is just as crazy as Suleman. If what he says is true, then he’s an idiot. But I think he’s a liar who never wears a condom because he doesn’t like wearing them and he is all about power and control. There are men out there who are like this and they deserve more attention than they are given. It’s a vile example of sexism because they are indifferent to their procreating.

    I think Crawford is right. Progressives are uncomfortable with this issue because it implicates men of color and none of us want to sound like southern conservatives. But that should also make us think, because while we’re tiptoeing around Henry and others like him, we’ve been indifferent to the kind of vitriol aimed at Suleman.

  8. bob coley jr says:

    In keeping with the quotations under the title of this blog (early and now) I must say this. There is no “isms” in what I say here. It would seem to me that this discusion should lead directly to the future. SOME KIND OF LEGALY BINDING POLICY is warranted in fertility intervention. Both the medical provider and the recipiant of services must agree to the perameters before signing on. Where is the concern for the children?? Family court, thus the law and the judge, is the gardian of constitutional rights of the children. Although I would like to see some laws involving prefertilization, I am not sure how they could be constructed withoiut playing into the hands of those that want ROE overturned. No one is forcing anyone to sign on if they don’t want to. If one is getting food to keep one from starving, does the starving person have the right to demand their favorite food? Can they be forced to consume what they don’t want? Is the decision to eat or starve overidden by the wishes of one or the other participants? We need law to keep up with our available choices so all know the rules of the game going in. Does not getting pregnant mean your killing an egg with each menses? Is fertilization the begining of legal rights? Who decides viability? Is there even an answer to this debate, or just a never ending supply of opinions? We need this resolved in compromise not unmovable ideology. Or one size fits all.
    And having 9 children you do not suport, for whatever the reason or excuse or happenstance is just wrong. Don’t engage the behavior if you don’t want the possible failures, let alone 9 or 10 times. Ben Franklin once described insanity as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.
    I do agree that some will inject or percieve an “ism” where none is intended so clear and honest dialoge must take place, so thanks to Ms. Crawford for this post.

  9. Pingback: `Octomom´ Nadya Suleman is the New PETA Poster Child « Animal Blawg

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