A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Thursday, November 03, 2005
WHY A WOMAN"S RIGHT TO CHOOSE IS NOT ABSOLUTELY AN ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO PRIVACY: I wondered over to Digby today, via Atrios. and read this extraordinary passage about a "woman's right to choose:"

"And if men choose to define their "concept of existence, of meaning, of the mystery of life" as being pregnant, the law should give them equal rights to the female body that is actually, you know, biologically pregnant. That's called equality."

No, that is called an argumentive fallacy of the excluded middle. One does not have to make the claim Digby makes that opening the possibility to male co-responsibility for pregnancy requires an equal say in what happens.

Claim that Digby doesn't like: "The fetus may be physically growing in the woman’s belly, but in the geography of the psyche, it is inside the man as well. To exclude expectant fathers from juridical notice on grounds of biology is to miss the importance of pregnancy in a man’s concept of himself as a parent and a procreative being and his vision of the meaning of his life."

Claim that Digby then advances: "I suspect that this guy's concept of himself would be less enthusiastic about sharing the burden of pregnancy if the geography of the testicles were squeezed in a vise for 18 hours as he tried to expel a cantaloupe through his penis. It would very likely change his vision of the meaning of his life, as well."

I dislike this argument for a couple of reasons. First, continuing what I started with above, I want to say first, that if the law says that women have to obey their husbands decision in this matter, than yes, I can understand why folks are upset, and why they are going to fight this as a kind of coercive notification law. But if the issue is about just telling the husband of the preganancy--well then yes, I think Digby's argument is missing alternative possible outcomes. Such outcomes might include a frank discussion about the state of the marriage, what the partners want, etc. Such conversations are never easy, but they should take place. And, frankly, pregnancy (expected or otherwise) is an amazingly potent starter and sustainer of such important conversations. If one believes that a marriage is about a meeting and bonding of equals, it would appear clear that a husband has a right to have his opinion heard/asked for in a decision like this. He has some responsibility for the fetus' creation (unless this will be a virgin birth). On that basis alone, he is owed that much at least.

What if the woman says nothing to the man? Then, if you are a Kantian, you would have no hesitation in saying that the woman was using her husband as a means to an end, as someone to be manipulated. Good luck to the success of this marriage!

An argument will be advanced that this is really a problem of inequality in a relationship. What if the husband seeks to coerce the woman with threats of force--economic. physical, or emotional, due to an inequality of resources? Is this a problem of the pregnancy or a problem with the marriage or the concept of marriage itself? A symptom or a cause of stress? The bottom line is that if this the bottom line problem, the argument advanced is not really about a right to privacy, its about what is the function of a marriage in our day and age. If that is true, then the liberal elements that are up in arms about this issue, need to be more honest about what the issues are. But doing that would be horribly controversial and against mainstream American values about what marriage stands for.

Second problem: The way in which Digby dismisses psychic realities against the priority of corporeal-biological imperatives. As much as I dislike that move given the great work that Deleuze has done on what a body might actually consist of (thus an idea is just as much a "body" as one's actual physical body), let us grant Digby the basis of his cynicism. Yes, his point is that men have no real idea of what women experience when they are pregnant on a physical level, so why should they have a say? Let us grant that immediately. Yet, when that "bundle of joy" comes brightly into the world, as a PHYSICAL phenomenon, guess what we now have? Men interacting with a physical entity; and my guess is, experiencing emotions and real events not much different to the recently pregnant woman; and will do so for quite some time. So, from what I gather, Digby is making a claim to privilege the suffering of women, and the impact of pregnancy on their physical bodies in the carrying and bearing of these children. OK, that is one possible choice to privilege that part of the child-creating and rearing process above others. Yet, to do so by effacing the post-birth experience of the father? Isn't that a bit extreme?
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