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.