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War of the Genders

A confrontational soapbox for rants and politically incorrect manifestos regarding feminism, chauvinism, dating and gender issues.

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Location: Jerusalem, Israel

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Legal Coat Hangers

Today, I feel like exploring the fringes of a random contentious gender issue and analyzing it: Child support.

Now that women have fought and won for the right to make a decision whether to keep the baby, and many effective birth control methods are easy to acquire, why are there still laws that force a man to pay for child support? You can't have it both ways. At first sight, if a man chooses to have sex then he should be responsible for consequences, but not if they are out of his control.

But things aren't that simple. One can't suggest that men not be held responsible in all cases. Let's try to discuss this objectively from a legal standpoint:

One point of view may say that the man should make his own decisions whether to risk having a baby and wear a condom. If he didn't, then he should be responsible for any consequences regardless of what her decisions were. But the condom is the only birth control device available for men (besides a vasectomy which doesn't leave room for future choices) and it is only 97% reliable as opposed to at least 5 methods for women, many with higher effectiveness (not to mention the choice of abortion). So should a man just abstain from sex to be sure?

Then again, just because the 'risk' is higher for men, that doesn't make it unfair to hold them responsible for their own decisions. It only makes their decisions tougher.

But then there are the allegations that some women lie and the men who trust them find themselves forced fathers. While I find it impossible to believe a woman would lie, go through the torture of getting pregnant, giving birth and having a child just in order to get some money, I would find it very easy to believe that if a woman wanted a baby and he didn't, she would lie about it.

So what is the man to do in this case? He can't prove she lied and it wouldn't make a difference in court in any case. It was her choice alone, he was tricked, and he is held responsible. Should people be held responsible for being conned?

Then there's abortion. One can say that she has a choice whether to have it or not, but it could also be against her religious beliefs or ideals and is therefore not an option. So on the one hand, the law should place responsibility in the hands of the one the law gave final decision to. But the law can't ignore those who have no choice either.

So what exceptional cases do we have so far? It can be argued that if the woman does not object to abortion, the man should not be made legally responsible since he is not legally involved in that final decision. This is even more true if he wore a condom. If she lied about birth control, it's also not his fault. In both these cases, the decision was not his.

But is having a say in the matter all that counts? Obviously not. People are held responsible for accidents and consequences all the time despite the lack of a direct decision on their part. You drove a car? You had sex? You pay for the consequences.

Is there a legal example that closely matches the elements of this case? The consequence is somewhat indirect, it involves a mutual choice, the consequence is a financial responsibility that has nothing to do with damages, and one of the parties has a second choice that can undo the consequence. It's not so simple after all and is probably unique.

One very different but perhaps slightly comparable example may be an employer who offers jobs with dangerous machinery. The employer chose to offer the job, the employee chose to work there, and in case of an accident, the employer has to pay for consequences. But the only reason the employee agreed to do this is because of an explicit contract that compensates him in case something goes wrong.

So what does this mean? That sex is an unwritten legal contract that is there to make the woman feel safer in case of unwanted consequences?

I can turn it around and say that if men should be held responsible despite the higher risk for them just because they chose to have sex, then I can also argue that it's her body that gets pregnant, not his, and it's therefore her risk and sole reponsibility.

But that's not right of course. And why? Fatherhood.

Aha! So legally, fatherhood is recognized as a shared responsibility for the pregnancy and baby. Then why is abortion a decision that is left only to her? Does his responsiblity only start when the baby is born? Is it only his sperm when it develops into something external from her body? You can't have it both ways. Is it her body and therefore only her choice, or is it their baby? This is a legal contradiction. Think about it.

So what's the answer? I'm no lawyer and I haven't done the research, and probably (hopefully) laywers have already trodden the same ground and come to some conclusions. But I think I raised enough issues here to show that logically, this isn't a simple case of 'you went to bed with me, you pay'.

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