Thursday, June 16, 2011

Father's Rights (and Responsibilities)

These are my reflections on what I think laws should be, not what they may actually be.

Everyone knows my position on abortion: It's entirely up to the pregnant, affected woman whether or not to continue a pregnancy which solely impacts her biologically, physically, and hormonally. A man should have no say in whether or not a woman he has impregnated carries to term.

This position must be coupled with the following, or it is fundamentally unfair to men. While a man has no say in whether or not a woman he has impregnated carries to term, he should absolutely have a say in whether or not he wants to be a father. I think men should have the opportunity to walk away from pregnancy. A man who is childfree-by-choice should no more be "trapped" by an unwanted pregnancy than a woman who is.

So I don't think men should have an automatic obligation to pay child support, for example. If a man has not signed up for the responsibilities of fatherhood, he should not be assigned them, especially when the ultimate choice of whether or not to bring an unintended pregnancy to fruitition is not his to make.

Of course, along with this abdication of men's automatic responsibilities to children of their DNA, I also do not think impregnating someone else gives a man any automatic rights as a parent, either.

My alcoholic ex-husband, the biological father of my son, is not a good man, and he has never been a father. He did not provide care for me during pregnancy physically, emotionally, or financially. He did not modify his destructive behaviors to be a safe person for an infant to be around. He stole my son's change jar and cashed it in for drug money.

But if I were to die tomorrow, the law would give my son to this man, simply because they share DNA. I left this man when my son was a 6 week old infant. He has never heard my son speak, or seen him dance, or rushed him to the emergency room. He is not, in all ways that count, my son's father.

My boyfriend Viking is. He's held my son during immunizations, attended every school meeting, and tucked him into bed at night. He's given up recreational spending to start a college fund for our son, even as we struggle with our current expenses. He's studied autism along with me, so we can undersatnd our boy even better.

But he has no legal rights to the child he is helping me raise, because their DNA is different. We're looking into the process so he can legally adopt. (Finances dictate this is only in the theoretical stages for now.)

Even though I won full custody of my son three and a half years ago, my stated wishes in my Will are probably not enough to guarantee that in the case of my death, my son stays with his father, and isn't shipped off to live with a man who raped and abused, and yes, also impregnated me.*

I'd like to see a shift in our laws. Parenting well is a choice, made of daily actions and commitments and budgets. While there is no comparing a woman's body with a man's wallet, being able to enter parenting willingly rather than by obligation, coercion, and legal enforcement, is important for any parent.

Just as we must protect a woman's right to walk away from pregnancy via abortion, or to choose to let another parent a child she has born via adoption, we must protect a man's right to walk away. A man should never have a say in whether or not a woman terminates; that effects her body and her life. It is her choice to make. However, a man should have a say in whether or not he participates in the life of a born child.

So if he does want to raise his child, and the woman does want to birth it, a man should have legal recourse to petition for full cutsody, shared custody, regular visitation, etc.

Prior to birth, women have put in work bringing a child into the world. Women who haven't done this job "well" (say by using highly addictive narcotics during gestation) have their custody threatened. So should men who do not put any "work" into preparing for children they hope to raise. If a man does not physically, emotionally, or financially support or assist a pregnant woman, at the very least he is belittling her efforts. And it doesn't show a readiness for fatherhood, or a commitment to the health and well-being of his future child.

I wish all new biological parents, at hospitals or when applying for birth certificates for home births, had an opportunity to declare, once and for all "Yes, I commit to this child for a minimum of the next 18 years of his/her life and all the responsibilites and rights that go with that." or "No, I do not commit to raising this child. I do not wish to financially or otherwise support this child, and I abdicate any decision-making or custody rights I may have."

What if all parents wanted their kids? Imagine what a world and a society we could have. Imagine what happy children.

* The rape occurred after conception, during my pregnancy, when we were married.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bully Culture

I was homeschooled, then attended Christian school, then went to 2 public elementary schools, 3 public middle schools, 3 public high schools (including 1 magnet school) and finally, GED school. We moved a lot. I had the un-enviable experience of being the New Kid many, many times growing up. In some schools I was bullied, but at others I wasn't.

School culture plays a huge role in the degree of bullying that goes on. Surely some teacher or gym coach at that Iowa elementary school must have noticed the 20 kids ringed round me in a daily post-lunch circle, taunting me and calling me names (and not even clever ones. They just said "Big nose!" over and over.) But no teacher ever once intervened. Bullying was accepted, permissable, allowed. And so age 11 was one of the worst years of my life, and when the eating disorder I'd struggle with for over a decade began.

By contrast, my first high school, which was a magnet school for the visual and performing arts, had almost no bullying. We had a fairly diverse student population, but acceptance of diversity was also very high. During my first year there, student-led petitions had added a vegetarian alternative to the lunch menu and juice vending machines in the hallways. We started a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance and Amnesty International. Being gay or bisexual was practically trendy it was so accepted. (To my knowledge, the school is still nicknamed "bi high" to locals.) That was the only school where I felt comfortable holding a girlfriend's hand.

The new website has advice and resources for everyone involved in bullying: the bullied, the bully, the principal, parents, and even bystanders who observe bullying without reporting it.

My academic success began a long, slow decline with those 5th grade bullies. I started skipping school, faking illnesses to stay home, and even inducing vomitting - anything to get out of class, away from my tormentors. Being bullied is NOT a right of passage. Being victimized is NOT something you have to accept, for my child or yours.

If you're a student or parent, I encourage you to get involved with your local school. Find out what measures are being taken to prevent bullying. Encourage your school to adopt some if they haven't already, and make it clear to the school you want to do your part to help reduce bullying for all students.

A culture of acceptance, tolerance, and openness to new ideas made my first high school a fun, exciting place to get involved in activism and learn (like college!) A culture of silence, of kids not reporting other bullies, and teachers pretending they didn't see what they must have, made me suicidal at age 11. The difference is obvious, the choice is clear. Prevent bullying in your community, school, or workplace. We all deserve a better world.

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Getting Knocked Up

I don't know with certainty whether my exhusband intentionally sabotaged my birth control or not. I DO know that his attitude on finding out I was pregnant was smug, a warden's grin. He'd gleefully remind me, while thumping his finger on my rotund tummy, "Gotcha bitch!" And he was right to an extent. The ONLY reason I married him was because I got pregnant. The ONLY reason I took him back after leaving him was because the pregnancy test came up positive. And abusive men know this tactic often works.

In a recent survey of calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1 in 4 callers reported that her male partner was sabotaging her birth control, or otherwise trying to force or coerce her into pregnancy. Why on earth would a pregnant woman be more likely to stay with an abusive man than a non-pregnant woman? Well, for a lot of us, earning potential pretty much disappears by the second or third trimester. Women with high blood pressure, low fetal weight, or an incomplete cervix (which may open early, causing still-birth or miscarriage) are often prescribed weeks or even months of bed rest, leaving them completely dependent on another for care.

Then there's the fact that most birth mothers have a strong, natural, biochemical desire to be with their children. Women who are mothers have decreased earning potential for their entire lives, compared with women who are childless (and compared with men, who do not face decreased earning potential no matter how many kids they father.)

When I see these "Personhood" bills introduced in states across the US, attempting to give a fetus more right to a woman's body than she has, I can't help but think of birth control sabotage. If a man gets me pregnant, by lying to me, deceiving me, tricking me, or tampering with my birth control, these states are saying that he had more right to impregnate me than I have right to stop it. When states try to make abortion impossible to access, they are hurting women in abusive situations, forcing them to birth children into poverty and/or abuse, and causing them to have greater dependency on men who are essentially rapists.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Week

"Cyber bullying." It just doesn't sound real - does it? It sounds like "virtual bullying" or "bullying lite" or something. It certainly doesn't sound like something that should be so upsetting.

I've been getting a deluge of attacks from anti-choice misogynist, racist, Christians lately, and it kind of baffles me. I haven't made a new YouTube video in over a month. I've barely been blogging. I had my abortion more than a year ago. Why now?

I don't really get it. From a YouTube account impersonating me (badly) to a black supramacist calling me "the white devil" to an atheist unfollowing me on Twitter after she learned I had Jewish ancestry, to more anti-choice laws being passed in Florida, the state where I had my abortion than I could've imagined then, I'm feeling pretty down.

Kid's home from school for the summer (next month he'll start a two-mornings-a-week program, but that's hardly full time schooling.) Viking had to switch colleges while looking for work (after his parents decided they weren't going to cosign his student loan like they'd promised, because he's living-in-sin with me.) Needless to say, we're in a financial hole, and even though he's working now, it's not brining in enough to make up the backlog.

I don't really know what I'm going to do. I'm trying to learn Java and C++ so I can find work I'll actually be trained to do, with my disability.

You ever just lose all hope? I do all the time. The only "secret" I know is to just go do the dishes, make the next meal, draw the next bath, and act like you'll figure it out somehow. But it's harder and harder to have "faith" I'll manage to survive my circumstances yet again.

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