What is the Powder Room?

Every time the debate about men’s reproductive rights comes around, I end up headdesking, and the latest round is no exception. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Laurie Shrage, a professor of women’s and gender studies, examines the current state of men’s reproductive rights in America. And then, posts went up on Jezebel and Salon refuting the professor’s argument, and I left to go find Neosporin for my bleeding head.


There’s a shocking disconnect between the arguments feminists put forth for women’s right to abortions, and the counter-arguments they put forth for why men should not have the right to terminate their parental rights. All of a sudden, when men are the parents in question, talk of “personal responsibility”, “consequences for your actions”, and “keeping it in your pants” fly about, even though the second one of those arguments was used to justify why women shouldn't be able to get abortions the exact same group would call those argument “slut-shaming” and “misogynistic”. Even the arguments about how forcing men to pay child support is in the child’s best interest sound tone-deaf at best – yes, a person’s right to bodily autonomy is the reason why the choice to abort ultimately belongs to the woman, but the reason for allowing abortion at all and not forcing women to carry to term and either raise the child herself or give the child up for adoption is because we believe that it is cruel and inhumane to make someone be a parent against their will, even if they don't have to do any parenting. So why does that suddenly go out the window when it’s men who are forced to be parents against their will? What happened to “every child a wanted child”? How can we claim to be for equality if we can’t even manage to make our own arguments equitable, much less anything on a practical level?

While everyone’s been decrying Shrage’s hyperbolic provocation that “men now arguably have less reproductive autonomy than women”, they've skipped over her point – that we can change how we think of “family”, “mother”, and yes, “father”. We've already moved away from the strict nuclear family argument, to include same-sex parents, adoptive parents, single mothers and fathers, and grandparents. Why can't we take it further, and restructure who is responsible for children, who is “family”, and who has reproductive rights and autonomy? Why shouldn't we live in a world where both men and women have a variety of contraceptive options, where women can get abortions and sign away their parental rights by dropping off an infant at a hospital, and where men can also sign away their parental rights as well as an obligation to provide child support? Why can’t we figure out some other way to make sure women get the financial support they need to raise the child they chose to keep? Despite the fact that the current state of radical feminism amounts to an anti-trans, anti-sex work/er crusade that believes that if they can just police women into uniting as a single mind, then they can really overthrow patriarchy, THIS is what radical feminism was at its core, and what it should be again: a movement to fundamentally restructure society in a way that makes it more equitable for everyone. Instead of falling back on conservative arguments for why men can't terminate their parental rights and trying to replicate the nuclear family as best we can, we need to figure out new solutions and new structures for families and children that make more sense for single moms and dads, gay and lesbian parents, and yes, teh menz.

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