Is There A Right to Become a Parent?

What do you do when one person’s rights conflict with someone else’s rights? You might see my alleged right as a sense of entitlement.

Your right to free speech conflicts with my right not to be offended. Your religious rights conflict with my right to marry the person I love. Your right to become a parent conflicts with my right to not become a parent without my consent.

I’ve written about boundaries on several occasions. The basic idea is that there is no right to impose yourself on others, even when the situation is heartbreaking. An op-ed piece in the New York Times asserts that a husband who agreed to have children has, upon divorce, an obligation to pay for his ex-wife’s fertility services. Calling it “alimony for your eggs,” the op-ed notes that “Her ex may have many years left to start a new family of his own, but by the time she meets a new partner, it may be too late.”

That a woman has a right to change her mind is accepted (though it took much effort to change society’s mind). Does a man also have a right to change his mind? Does a woman deserve compensation for delaying pregnancy? Or is it her choice for which she is responsible?

These are complex questions that vary for each couple and individual. Sometime a woman puts off pregnancy because she doesn’t want to have kids or doesn’t feel ready yet, because she can’t find a suitable partner, because her partner says he isn’t ready, because of her career ambitions, and so on.

Dr. Mimi C. Lee has no other chance to have children, except by using frozen embryos created with her ex-husband. He agreed to become a father when they were married, but upon divorce he withdrew his consent. But Lee is a cancer survivor in her mid-40s. That he could end her dream of motherhood seems hugely unfair.

But let’s reverse the gender roles. Sofia Vergara (from TV’s Modern Family) found herself in a legal dispute with her ex Nick Loeb, who wants to use embryos they created. Vergara wouldn’t have to be pregnant against her will – Loeb would use a surrogate. Still, a woman possibly becoming a parent against her will, even if she isn’t required to become pregnant, puts the debate in a different light.

But it shouldn’t. The issue comes down to consent. If a woman is already pregnant then it’s her body, and it’s her choice. If she wants to have the baby, but he doesn’t, then it’s an impasse and someone’s will must prevail. No one has the right to force something on her physically that she doesn’t consent to. So the man is out of luck, even if that means paying 18 years of child support.

Embryos, however, are in test tubes. Not implanting them in the woman’s body isn’t about what is being done to her. It’s about what’s not being done to her. And half the genetic material is his. The condition of pregnancy does not yet exist, and she has no right to force him into parenthood against his consent – even if he previously consented but now withdraws his consent.

The tragedy is that this might end any opportunity for some women to become a mothers. But no one, woman or man, is entitled to create a pregnancy (even with a surrogate) when the other potential parent has denied or withdrawn consent.

Advertisements

#MasculinitySoFragile

Bustle says criticizing toxic masculinity isn’t the same as criticizing men. The controversy Jaime Lutz writes about centers around the Twitter hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile.

She begins her Bustle article with a fair minded statement: “Masculinity isn’t inherently ‘bad’; neither, for that matter, is femininity. But there are certain brands of both that are toxic.” She then “reminds us how important it is to remember that criticizing a concept or a construct isn’t the same as criticizing a specific person or group of people.”

The distinction between constructs and the people who belong to groups associated with those constructs is a fine hair to split. My fellow atheists argue that criticizing religious belief isn’t the same as criticizing those who hold those beliefs. But Christians don’t agree. Though we’ve all heard Christians say that it’s not homophobic to criticize the gay and lesbian political agenda because it’s the issues and not specific people that they’re criticizing (“love the sinner, hate the sin”). And using the same logic, some say that criticizing feminism isn’t the same as criticizing feminists or women in general.

I’m neither feminist nor anti-feminist, and I’m not a men’s rights activist either. I don’t think feminism is anti-male in general, but I don’t think feminism always understands men and masculinity. Just as a man could never understand what it’s like to be a woman, a woman could never understand what it’s like to be a man.

Well, I take that back. Never is a strong word. It’s an absolute. Max Wolf Valerio’s autobiography is called The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation From Female to Male. A radical lesbian feminist prior to coming out as transgender, he writes that his feminist education did a poor job of preparing him for the realities of the male gender role. He states that he lost feminist friends not because he is transgender, but because he spoke openly about the male experience and contradicted some feminist beliefs in the process.

The overreactions of many men, however, only seem to prove the point of #MasculinitySoFragile. Challenging feminists to a fist fight, telling women to go make a sandwich, claiming that feminists are destroying society, and so on show how easily offended some men are.

And as Lutz notes, many of the points made on #MasculinitySoFragile highlight serious problems men and boys face, but which society isn’t adequately addressing. For example, “that boys are taught to hold in all their emotions and that’s why boys are far more likely to die by suicide.”

However, the sentence structure {noun} so {negative adjective} is a classic taunt. While I wouldn’t leap to the conclusion that #MasculinitySoFragile is intended to demean, there’s an obvious insensitivity.

Further, opposition to something believed to cause great harm often assumes a position of moral superiority aimed at people believed to be unenlightened. In other words, moralistic movements are often patronizing. This is true of evangelical Christianity and New Atheism, as well as feminism and the men’s rights movement.

The distinction that feminists are criticizing toxic masculinity and not men is problematic because most people (right or wrong) unconsciously associate certain characteristics with their core identity. I’m a man, men are masculine, you say masculinity is fragile, therefore you’re saying I’m fragile.

And everyone knows that a weak male is not a real man. A man cannot rely on others to protect him – he must sink or swim on his own. A man is expected to protect others, but if he can’t even protect himself then obviously he is of no use to anyone else. In a social experiment posted on Youtube, bystanders intervened when a male actor appeared to physically assault a woman. But in a separate scenario when she appeared to initiate violence against him, no one intervened. Some laughed.

A hashtag perceived as taunting men about being weak is like taunting women about being slutty. I anticipate disagreement on this point. But I doubt the creators of the hashtag meant to hit that hard.

However, I do think they approached their campaign from a moralistic rather than an empathetic position, and that’s the source of the problem.

A Response to a Podcast from Boys Cry Too Blogger

Christine Walker, who blogs at Boys Cry Too, recently did a podcast that I really enjoyed listening to. There’s a lot to say in response because this is the sort of thing that creates important discussions. I suggest that readers visit her blog and listen to the podcast to better understand my comments.

My comments are selective, but what I have to add is that:

Conflict avoidance is a big issue for men. It’s commonly thought that men think emotions are unimportant. And some men do think that, but most don’t (not really). Rather, emotions show vulnerability, as you mentioned at several points. But men frequently see vulnerability as an “in” for someone to take advantage. A defensive stance is usually preferable to outright conflict.

“Yes, dear” is conflict avoidance. When I got married my father told me to learn those words. And I did. It was both bad advice and good advice.

Ultimately, a man needs a woman who can hear the word no and accept it. But in longterm relationships I’ve not wanted to be hammered into position. I know I’ll lose the battle. That is, I don’t feel like I’ll be listened to. So to avoid conflict, I surrender before the battle begins. And conflict avoidance is a large part of why I got divorced five years ago, and why the thought of marrying again scares the living hell out of me.

You brought up the question, “Am I safe?” That’s an important question. Women seem to worry about it more than men. Yet, a man walking alone down a street at night is more likely than a woman to be attacked (though it’s not likely a sexual assault). Crime stats dispute feminist memes. Emotional safety is just as important.

I think men worry about safety more than people think. Anger is the mask it wears. It’s preemptive self-defense. Yes, anger is the acceptable male emotion. But knowing the role of preemptive self-defense is key. Yet, “It’s scary for the person on the other side of it [anger].” Yes, it is. And that’s the point. They won’t cross you. It’s defensive. And it creates barriers, walls. Maybe that’s why Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, and Roger Waters’ pleading, “Mother, did it have to be so high?” resonates with teenage boys even today.

Humor is a big way to defuse it. That’s why men are often quick with a joke (verbal or practical, though this too can get out of hand if it becomes passive-aggressive or just plain aggressive).

And it’s absolutely true that this “keeps men from forming close relationships with other men.” And so “women become the one and only support system” for men. Which goes a long way to explaining why men’s suicide risk (which is already four times greater than women’s) increases more after divorce.

Your observation that “Men would rather do nothing than do something wrong” deserves special attention. I think of young men, indoors all day, unengaged, unmotivated. Society blames them. What’s wrong with you? Be a real man! But an anorexic woman deserves our compassion, support, and understanding.

These young men are depressed, and society struggles to acknowledge this. The mixed messages create such a fear of doing something wrong (I think of the microaggression fad), that they just withdraw.

And finally, the importance of naming the emotion. Absolutely essential. But as I wrote about Mad Men‘s Don Draper (Men’s Silence), people communicate when they feel safe doing so. A man won’t name the emotion if he doesn’t feel safe, and an emotionally confrontational approach produces the opposite effect.

You stated that men are still confronting traditional gender roles, and that was spot on. And it’s not just from other men – it’s just as often from women. (You gave the example of a man going to confront the noise in the night while his wife waits safely in bed.) Finances play a role as well. But today’s economy doesn’t permit a traditional male role for the average man, yet expectations from both women and men lag behind.

The weight of expectations can make a man feel like his back could break, but he doesn’t feel safe saying this, and so he slowly fades away.

Refusing Service: The Latest Is a Barbershop

We all know about county clerks refusing to issue marriages licenses to gay and lesbian couples. And bakers and photographers refusing to provide their services at same sex weddings.

The latest is a barber refusing to cut a woman’s hair. But unlike discrimination against lesbians and gay men, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes gender discrimination unambiguous: he broke the law and it cost him $750.

Barbiere is a “gentleman’s barber shop.” Which is fine. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of going to the barbershop with my father or grandfather. In kindergarten, all the other boys wanted to be a policeman, a fireman, or an astronaut. I said I wanted to be a barber when I grew up. The teacher thought that was awesome.

At a barbershop, you just walk in. No appointment. Yes, there’s often a wait. But the point is men shootin’ the shit with other men. Which is nothing against women. The conversations usually revolve around sports, the news, cars, hunting, fishing, work, and gossip. Guy stuff (except for the gossip).

In college I used to go to Joe’s Barber Shop. It’s nice to walk into a place, say “Hi, Joe,” and hear, “How are you, son?” (He wasn’t my father, it’s just a manner of speaking.)

At a barbershop, instructions vary from nothing (regular customer, same haircut for the past 20 years) to, “Off the ears,” or “A little off the top,” to something more specific such as “Flatop” or “Buzz cut.” Greater detail is typically unnecessary.

You can also get a shave with a straight razor, but that’s rare. My dad told me that once in the Philippines (he was in the Navy at the time) he got a shave from a barber with a straight razor. My dad said, “He didn’t nick me even once, and did such a great job that I didn’t have to shave again for two fuckin’ days.”

My mother told me that once in the late ’60s she was in a hurry and went to a barbershop because she didn’t have time to make an appointment with the beautician. And she regretted it. Apparently, the haircut she got caused some confusion about her sexual orientation.

Who knows why a woman sought a haircut at Barbiere. Maybe she likes short dos, and cosmetologists just can’t do it right. Maybe she likes talking football while waiting for her turn in the chair. Perhaps she wanted to smash the patriarchy and thought haircuts was a good place to start.

But let’s look at this rationally. Discrimination is wrong. Besides, it’s not often that a woman will walk into a barbershop, so statistically speaking a man can expect an all male environment almost always. And some women get along better with men than they do with other women. Maybe she doesn’t mind androcentric conversation. Maybe she can talk cars and football with the best of them, and tell a few dirty jokes to boot.

But if she’s can’t deal with mantalk, guaranteed she won’t be a repeat customer.

Black Mass: A Sort of Movie Review (Kinda)

Johnny Depp is a great actor. Though I think Harrison Ford is an awesome guy too, pretty much he plays the same character is every movie. Stoic. Taciturn. Self-interested. But Johnny Depp plays a wide range of characters.

In Black Mass, Depp is Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Though a Kentucky native, Depp nails the Southie accent. This matters to me as a Mainer because Hollywood usually gets the Maine accent very wrong, and they’re not much more skilled with Boston.

Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Whitey’s brother Billy, does a decent job with the Southie accent too, especially considering that Cumberbatch is British. Oddly, I thought Julianne Nicholson’s accent sounded fake, even though it turns out that she’s from Medford, north of Boston.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Black Mass is a great movie that I really enjoyed. I know, it’s not Goodfellas, but it’s not trying to be.

Of everything I could say about Black Mass, I want to focus on Billy Bulger. The movie’s not about him. His brother, Whitey, was the mobster. But to be a mobster takes not only brutality, but also intelligence. Billy was as brilliant as his brother, but he chose Boston College over organized crime. A Massachusetts state senator, and later president of the University of Massachusetts system, his career ended when it was revealed that he had a phone conversation with Whitey, who was on the lam at the time.

Obviously, I don’t know Billy personally. But the movie portrays him as an honest man who loved his brother, despite Whitey being a murderer.

Should Billy have turned his back on Whitey? I’m not entitled to answer that question. Only Billy is.

But I do respect what a tough choice that is, and I have no judgment of Billy for risking his career to talk with his brother. And Billy did apologize for the pain Whitey caused the families of his victims. But let’s not forget that Billy was put into an untenable situation not of his choosing. I respect his dilemma and tough choices, and I couldn’t have handled it any better (probably worse).

Lack of Diversity in Social Science Research

In college, friends majoring in biology told me I should switch majors because social science isn’t real science. It’s too subjective. Your personal biases will cloud the data.

They had a point. But researchers from a wide array of backgrounds can question each other’s assumptions, which can mitigate personal bias somewhat. Over the past 50 years universities have done a laudable job of trying to encourage more women and minorities to enter white male dominated fields. And while fields such as physics still lack diversity, 60% of biology degrees go to women, and psychology has an even larger number of women.

But contrarians say we’ve overlooked something. What about political diversity? Yet, academia has spent the past half century trying to purge conservatives, or even those who are not die hard liberals.

Does social psychology really prove that conservatives are unethical dullards? Can we trust the objectivity of a field that has almost no non-liberals? (Non-liberal because not every alternative viewpoint is conservative, or even libertarian.) Imagine for a moment that almost all social scientists were evangelical Christians, and their research found that atheists really are nasty people. Would you think something is amiss?

Jonathan Haidt writes that a century ago, the social sciences were almost evenly split between liberals and conservatives. But the gap started to widen, slowly at first, but then rapidly after 1990. Today, the ratio of liberals to conservatives is almost 14 to 1.

Unchecked biases degrade the quality and validity of research. Chief among these biases are negative presuppositions and confirmation bias (failing to critically examine or search for contradictory evidence for something you already believe). This can lead to “mischaracteriz[ing] liberals and conservatives alike.”

This doesn’t affect most aspects of social science research, such as personality theory or the psychology of decision making. But these biases are notable with areas of liberal concern, such as sex and gender, race, inequality, and moral and political psychology. And it can leave unexamined areas outside of liberalism’s concerns.

In the social sciences, the narrative of liberal progress is like water to a fish – it’s everywhere but often goes unnoticed. But this can lead to misinterpretation of non-liberal value statements. For example, social scientists might label someone unethical for not siding with a coworker who has filed a sexual harassment claim. But without someone to question the assumption of misogyny, the judgment of moral inferiority is unexamined.

In a previous post I wrote about a friend who received a sexual harassment complaint for using the phrase “OMG.” I think her claim was frivolous. My reasons are that I think a person is innocent until proven guilty (and the burden of proof is on her), and her failure to present any evidence other than her personal opinion is not sufficient evidence. But my perspective contradicts the liberal notion that an alleged victim must always be believed. This is not misogyny, however. Due process is a human right.

Too often people present statistics from dubious sources or which lack context, often arguing that numbers don’t lie. But numbers do lie. Ever made a math error? And too often someone will cite one study as if that seals the case, failing to question the researcher’s methodology, possible biases, and (most of all) failing to understand that studies must be replicated numerous times before being accepted as true.

Social science has a significant blind spot, and any research findings with political implications should be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Ex Machina: When Computers Are Human

Spoiler alert! Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Is consciousness an emergent product of brain activity, or is consciousness derived from the soul? Ignoring the dichotomous nature of this question, it’s one philosophers and scientists have wrestled with for millennia, and continue to wrestle with.

Let’s add filmmakers to the list. The movie Ex Machina (now available digitally or on DVD if you still have one of those) creatively explores the question of how you would know that a computer is, in effect, human.

Alan Turing first posed the question. A mathematical genius who was invaluable to the Nazis defeat in World War II, he created one of the first modern computers to break Nazis codes and provide invaluable strategic information to the Allies. So the British government rewarded him by driving him to suicide because he was gay.

The film The Imitation Game is another must see, if you haven’t already. I enjoyed it more than Ex Machina, if only because as a middle aged man I find dramas more compelling than science fiction (though I haven’t forsworn that genre).

Ex Machina is about an ordinary employee who wins an opportunity to spend a few days with the rich but eccentric owner of the company for which he works. Obviously, this guy never watched The Big Lebowski. Otherwise he’d have thought, “Wait, didn’t the Dude teach us to never trust rich folks and their nefarious schemes? Fuck that, I’m going bowling.”

But boss man knew how to choose the perfect idiot. Boss man made an android who could pass for human. But how do you know that the verbal skill, facial expressions, etc. are not simply sophisticated programs?

Defying your programming shows that you have true consciousness.

We also learn, as the movie progresses, that boss man had several previous prototypes. And he used them as sex bots.

Well, go figure. Boss man’s creep vibe is apparent from the first scene. The ethics of sex bots is the latest debate, but maybe they’re just sophisticated vibrators.

But I digress. In Ex Machina, the android/sex bot proves her humanity by defying her programming: she figures out the game, fools both men, kills boss man, and locks the useful idiot in a room from which he cannot escape. (Presumably to die a slow, agonizing death. But as the Dude would say, “That’s a real bummer, man.” Then he goes bowling.).

At the end, the android hitches a ride with the helicopter pilot, who oddly doesn’t ask any questions. (Is he a functional but dumber 1.0 android? But obviously pre-sex bot?)

So, how could a computer pass the Turing test?

Sorry, lost my train of thought here. But…aw, hell. I done innerduced the question enough.