October 13, 2005

Female autonomy: Does it frighten you?

Women without men who want children: Must they find a man first? Must they behave so indirectly in the pursuit of what they want?
On the Internet, ... hundreds of pregnant single women trad[e] notes....

"Five years ago you never heard about this," said Ms. Carr, who had the insemination procedure performed last month. "Now you can talk about it, and it's O.K."

...Sperm banks, which once catered largely to infertile and lesbian couples, are seeing a surge in business from single women, as are obstetricians who perform artificial inseminations.

The groundswell of single women deliberately having babies reflects their increased ability to support a family. It helps, too, that the Internet has done away with the need to leave the house to find a donor. A woman can now select the father of her child from her living room and have his sperm sent directly to her doctor. It is faster and cheaper than adoption, and allows women to bear their own genetic offspring.

Single women have always found adoption rules more restrictive than they are even for gay couples. Many hesitate to simply have a sexual fling or use a "known donor" for fear that the father may someday stake a claim to the child. But thousands are now gravitating to sperm bank Web sites, where donor profiles can be sorted by medical history, ethnic background and a wide range of physical characteristics. Like an online dating service where no one ever dates, written answers are given to questions like "What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?" Some women screen for men with no cancer in their family. Some look for signs of high I.Q. Some search for a man who might have been their soul mate. Others are more pragmatic.

"You're paying for it, so you kind of want the best of the best," said Anna Aiello, 38, of Moriches, N.Y., on Long Island, the mother of 1-year-old twins, who saw her ability to select a 6-foot-2 blond, blue-eyed, genetic-disease-free donor as some consolation for not getting to fall in love with someone who would most likely have been more flawed.
Economic independence and the ability to leap over one's immediate environment through the internet have accelerated this social change. Many will tsk and try to shame women who do this, but now they find their allies and escape the traditional means of constraint:
"I had one psychologist friend actually suggest that I 'channel' my (neurotic?) need to parent into volunteer work in a children's hospital," wrote one mother on a support group Web site. "Can you say 'condescending'??"


bearing said...

Kids need dads.

Ann Althouse said...

For the kids we're talking about, the alternative is nonexistence. Are you saying that 38-year-old women who can't find suitable matches should not have children? Or that they should make dads out of unsuitable men? Talk about the real world, not just your ideal.

Pete said...

“For the kids we’re talking about, the alternative is nonexistence.” Wow, Ann, that’s some kind of statement. Are you saying these women have a duty to bring these children into existence? That if they didn’t do it, no one would? Kinda strange way to look at things, if you ask me.

Should 38 year old women who can’t find suitable matches not have children? Um, yeah. Same thing for 38 year old men who can’t find suitable matches. I’m with Bearing, kids need dads. True, they don’t always get them but these women are going into motherhood with their eyes wide open, making clear choices. Why anyone would plan to inflict single parenthood on a child is beyond me. Parenting is hard enough with two. Why put additional obstacles in your child’s way?

Of course women shouldn’t make dads out of unsuitable men. That’s irresponsible. Look, some circumstances demand that single parenthood is superior to having another parent around. That doesn’t seem to be the case in the story you link to. It’s a fine line between having the power to make choices and acting selfishly.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Hoh said...

When the children conceived by donor insemination grow up, will we listen to their perspective on this practice?

Also -- is it okay to create children for single men who wish to be parents? Should they (the single men) and their desire to have children without a mother be given the same consideration that we give the women in this article?

Ann Althouse said...

Sippican: By traditional means of constraint, I did not mean husbands, I meant the chiding and disapproval and pressure put on women who are thinking of going it alone. These women today find support on the web. Telling a woman she's "neurotic" to want a child is a typical example of the traditional pressure put on women. If she finds a husband, she doesn't have the problem under discussion.

But I can see that people will find it disturbing that the normal desire for a child doesn't stay part of the pressure on women to make matches with men. This is hard on men, but maybe it will put a good pressure on them to become better husband material.

As for the children, I'll say it again. Those who are born to these women would simply not have been born otherwise. Are you telling me that it's better not to be born than to be born into this situation?

Ron said...

I still think you're setting up a false dichotomy. Of course we want children in the world, rather than not. But we also want there to be two parents, and we strive mightily to create and support that situation. We accept how circumstances create situations where there is only one parent, but that single parent gets both some degree of pity and some degree of support and respect for doing something difficult. But we don't want people to actively choose single parenthood, and that applies to men and women both. There may be some fear of female autonomy here, but we also believe strongly that this is not good for the child. A woman (or a man) may have a desire for a child, but we don't consider just that desire enough justification for having and raising a child.

Meade said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shanti Mangala said...

Ann, this is almost treating children like pets. Let's see, I am really bored being by myself and need someone or something to love and to keep me occupied, so I will get pregnant.

As for men choosing to be better husband material, I am not really convinced it is all mens' fault these women are unmarried or mate-less.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Children aren't objects to be owned and possessed, or wantonly discarded. I see a connection with this to abortion. It boils down to self-centeredness on the part of the women. "A baby isn't convenient for me now" [the reason behind a majority of abortions today]. The converse: "I want a baby NOW!" It reminds me of that brat Veruca Salt in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". As a woman who became a late-in-life mother, I can say how GRATEFUL I am every day for a husband who's also a great dad. It's worth the wait.And, yes, that might mean "not at all".

P_J said...

Media and culture feed us impossible fantasies which shape our expectations for life and fuel narcissistic egotism. Life is neither a Nora Ephron movie nor an endless Bud commercial, and anybody who demands a Tom Hanks or the Swedish bikini team is going to be disappointed. And when our selfish expectations aren't met, the solutions are designer babies and internet porn.

Meade said...

Female autonomy: Does it frighten me?

Well, inasmuch as I've spent the last twenty-five years of my life actively encouraging the female people close to me to be strong and free and independent, no, their autonomy doesn't frighten me and neither does this.

Although they need me less and less, the females close to me do seem to still want me and so I try to remain useful, desirable, and responsible largely because I enjoy being with them.

Incidentally, I place a high value on my genetic heritage and strongly prefer that the proliferation of my DNA comes to an end rather than to have my semen distributed willy-nilly. That may have something to do with an inherent distrust of middlemen.

Recommended listening: Take Time to Know Her - Percy Sledge

Peter Hoh said...

Ann wrote: As for the children, I'll say it again. Those who are born to these women would simply not have been born otherwise. Are you telling me that it's better not to be born than to be born into this situation?

I know someone who was conceived as the result of a rape. Without the rape, this person would not have been born. Perhaps I will be attacked for creating a false analogy, but I am not equating rape with donor insemination. I am trying to get at the question of not being born vs. being born into a less-than-ideal situation.

Birth does not affirm that the conception was morally sound. I think we can debate the morality of a certain conception without negating the reality of those who are born of it.

Joan said...

I, too, think that Ann's "alternative is nonexistence" comment, while obviously true, is a non-starter. There are so many children born today to parents who don't want them or can't keep them, there is no shortage of parenting opportunities.

I agree with the assessment that women who willingly choose to become single mothers are using children to accessorize their lives. I know women like this. It is distressing how they expect their children to complement their lives and fit seamlessly into their schedules. It's completely unrealistic. And when the baby arrives and doesn't conform to Mama's expectations, family and friends pick up the support tasks that normally would be Dad's. It's particularly interesting to note how the new baby's cousins feel about his existence, especially if they're old enough to understand reproduction.

As adults, we all have to face the fact that there a lot of things we want that we can't have. The decision to create a child, knowing you will raise that child as a single parent from the get-go, demonstrates a pathological level of selfishness.

This is another frontier in which technology could use some ethical restraint. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.

bearing said...

Are you saying that 38-year-old women who can't find suitable matches should not have children? Or that they should make dads out of unsuitable men? Talk about the real world, not just your ideal.

Using a sperm donor to get pregnant is making a dad out of an unsuitable man.

Perhaps in some idealized world, fatherless children thrive. In the real world, kids need dads.

JBlog said...

Wow, the convenience of selecting a suitable sperm donor from the comfort of your own livingroom.

How wonderfully...antiseptic.

Too bad life isn't like that. And that goes double for having and raising kids too.

I suspect the convenience and luxury of it all will wear off the first time a kid gets sick, or needs to get to Karate practice, or asks for help with homework, or wants dinner, and there's no one to share those responsbilities with.

Based on the single parents I know, I'd say the glamour of single-parenthood is highly overrated.

If you don't believe me, ask them. I suspect most of them would give anything to have someone to share the joys and responsibilities of parenthood with.

Kids needs Dads AND Moms.

Bennett said...

NYT article - more on the same woman who felt condescended to:

Ms. Carr said she found herself waiting impatiently through the beginnings of relationships, acutely aware of her biological deadline. "What a difference dating is when you don't need them for that," she said. Ms. Carr's mother was initially skeptical: "It's not like a puppy; you can't give it back," Mary Gordon told her daughter, reminding Ms. Carr of the dog she had deposited at her parents' house after graduating from college.

"Mom," said Ms. Carr, who has long owned another dog, "I have a home and two cars. I know what I'm doing."

I empathize with her impatience, but also find it to reveal a self-centered personality who has a long way to go to be "ready".

No one is actually fully prepared to raise a child. It's something you just have to do. And autonomy is not the key on parenting. Neither is wealth. There is plenty of evidence of this, and I imagine the next generation will yield more. You have to negotiate literally a million things that go into relationships with others, and, where parenting is concerned, when the chips are down, you have to be there. And for the single parent more than anyone, the chips are practically always down. Has Ms. Carr ever had not had the luxury of saying "I'd rather not."...? Some evidence that she had would go a small, significant step toward changing my mind.

That these single parents are more financially cushioned and doing it voluntarily doesn't make it right. My objection is emphatically NOT that women like Ms. Carr haven't been "won" by a man. It's that they haven't been willing or able to negotiate the uncertain and imperfect situations that are not only the biological but emotional and psychological precursors to parenting ability.

There seems to be an idea that where you haven't been able to work with another person over the long haul yet, you can just start "from scratch" with a brand new child. A child who won't demand that you compromise, soften your edges, make sacrifices the way a romantic partner would. This flips the experience (and, yes, the progression) of partnership, marriage, and children on its ear.

It might work for some, who step up to the multifarious demands of parenting. But a child's entrance into, and growth within, the world is not made stable just by money, a team of child-care professionals, and "I want".

sean said...

I find it very troubling that these women who are unable to form a lasting relationship with another adult human being think themselves qualified to assume the power of life and death (which is basically what being a parent entails) over a totally helpless human being. I'm very glad I wasn't born to a mother so vain, so self-centered and so unable to form relationships with adults that she had to look to me for the meaning in her life. It would be really frightening to be raised like that, like living in a country ruled by a mad dictator.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Certainly I would not say these women have a corner on the "selfishness" market. I fight that human nature every day myself, while still striving for a better ideal. What I am saying is that out of selfishness we often make poor choices that affect the lives of others.

It's o.k. in my book to be judgmental in the sense of "making good judgments" as opposed to "casting unnecessary aspersions" without knowing facts. I know I fall shy of the ideal more often than I'd care to admit. Most people do.

Peter Hoh said...

I reject the line of thinking that assigns selfish motives to these women who wish to have children. Among other things, it assumes that children created in a marriage are somehow never the result of selfish motives.

The motivation to reproduce is strong, and it can be construed as selfish if we want to construe it that way. Traditional marriage creates a shield -- people won't question your desire to have children, unless you have to go to lengths to conceive them, or do something else that is perceived to be out of the ordinary.

When there is a strong gender component to an issue, I like to run a thought experiment in which the genders are reversed. Would it sound acceptable for a man of some means to decide that he'd like a child without the hassle of having to find a woman who'd like to make a baby with him?

Perhaps he's seen too many of his friends end up paying child support for a kid they see every other weekend. Going solo creates fatherhood in which such a scenario is inconceivable. Are we comfortable with the idea of men exercising their right to purchase/acquire a donor egg and the services of a surrogate gestational carrier?

After the article about this trend runs in the NYT, can we expect a blogger to head the post like this:
Male autonomy: Does it frighten you?

Will such a post create comments like this:
Kids need moms.
Kids should come from a relationship -- not a lab.

And will such comments be perceived as sexist?

bearing said...

Ann's question does raise an interesting philosophical conundrum. I blogged about it here some time ago in response to an article in my local paper about a bunch of kids fathered by "Donor 1047."

The question: Is it, in fact, possible to violate a right that does not yet exist, by an act that brings about the existence of those rights?

Interesting side note: When I posted pieces of the original article on my blog and commented on it, the women (married women in this case) posted comments. (They didn't like my opinion.) But, if you're interested, you can see what they had to say to me in the comments here.

Second interesting side note: To this day the number one search term bringing visitors to my site is "donor 1047."

Bruce Hayden said...


Are you somewhat surprised at the tone and fever of these comments? Just curious because they seem fairly "right wing" here, and I expect a fairly balanced audience on your blog.

Not saying that I don't agree with most of them, because I do. But then, I admit to being a little right of center.

goesh said...

- with tears in the eyes the young child plaintively asks mommy why the test tube never calls or sends him birthday cards or christmas presents - HA HA - if it weren't for black humor, I don't know what I would do with my life - apologies for being warped, MS. Ann

Bennett said...

sblue9, jody, md, and anyone else indignant at the aspersions being cast on voluntary single moms:

Raising a concern based on a generalization doesn't mean there aren't strong, stable, empathetic women who would be good single moms. And jody's "fallen women" straw horse is off base. At least personally, it's about farsighted pragamtism, not moral pigeonholing.

But the primary way of developing and proving parenting skills is through relationships. Not necessarily straight relationships, not necessarily marriage, but more necessarily, intimate. What you give in a an intimate relationship is a shadow of what you give in parenthood, and if you can't give that, then there are better hobbies for you than parenting.

But that's an if - many of the women who do this will be capable and have solid motivations. But instead of testing people's motivations and capability, the only requirements are money and desire. This reflects a troubling social trend that absolutely(!) extends to all of society, including married couples with children, absent or delinquent dads, and everyone else. That doesn't minimize the risk here though.

Where the predominant commitment testing ground of marriage (or equivalent) has simply been skipped, big questions loom. That doesn't amount to a blanket condemnation of this form of parenthood. But the growing pains of creating natural-social standards of human competency are potentially very great.

sean said...

md, people who know that they are going to get divorced shouldn't have children; is that so hard? People who are considering divorce should consider that it will probably have detrimental effects on their children; is that so hard?

What's strange to me is that the same people who denounce social science statistics in this context would generally be the first to condemn smokers for exposing their children to second hand smoke.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
goesh said...

you betcha' - a fat bank account and a passive nanny can go a long ways these days when it comes to shaping children's minds...

Pete said...


I’m not quite sure I see where you make the leap that these women are actually being more clear-eyed in their decision and less selfish. By not troubling themselves to find a suitable father for their children, I think they’re being selfish by going ahead with their plan for single-parenthood when they can choose not to. (I will concede that there is some degree of selfishness when two people plan to become parents but at least they manage to subvert some of that selfishness by going through the “constraining” process of courtship. So I’ll boldly state that these couples are selfish to a lesser degree.)

If it makes you feel better, I’d have the same view if we were talking about men exercising their autonomy to purposely become a single parent. Though Ann started this discussion with gender, I don’t see where gender really comes to play. It’s a poor choice for either male or female to inflict single parenthood on a child when it’s merely inconvenient to find a suitable partner.

Bennett said...

Some of Ursula LeGuin's writing is great material for opening up your imagination on these social gender construct issues, including parenting. This discussion reminds me of The Matter of Seggri, a short story in the collection "The Birthday of the World".

Bruce Hayden said...


I think you can delete but not edit the comments. Look for the trash can by your own posts.

I don't even think that Ann can edit your comments, just, again, delete, though she can obviously change her original post.

Bruce Hayden said...

Isn't one of those women having twin boys? That is really scary. I don't think that she has thought that through at all.

Can you envision a 40+ year old woman trying to keep up with two hellions every day? Instead of the parents being able to tag team the kids, they will do it to her.

I had my daughter at about that age, but we had two parents and one girl. And on average, girls are a lot more sedentary than boys are. Frankly, the two boys I sometimes help with exhaust me, as they do their grandmother. But we don't face it day in and day out.

JBlog said...

I'm not suggesting that these women will be bad mothers -- although some of them may be if the approach this with unrealistic expectations.

Most of the single moms I know are good mothers.

What I'm saying is that while parenthood is a joy, it is also a slog, and at its most unglamorous it is best played as a team sport.

It can mean the difference between leaving a sick five-year-old home asleep with your partner while you run to the pharmacy and packing that sick five-year-old into the car at 10 p.m. for that pharmacy run because there is no one to leave him with.

Bruce Hayden said...

One thing that has always worried me about sperm donors is the legality side. Sure, they can insist on a contract with the woman promising them that they won't be legally responsible. But at least some courts seem to ignore any sort of contracts between parents as being in the Best Interests of the Children.

Look, in CA, they seem to be assigning paternity (for the purpose of child support) on the basis of being the one guy served who didn't show up in court. There are cases where a woman will go through the phone book and have all the people legally served who have the same name as the putative genetic father, and the guy who doesn't respond is determined by the court to be "it". (There was a great take off on this in the Day by Day cartoon where one of the female main characters was served this way - she showed she wasn't the father by flashing her breasts at the judge).

So, if courts are willing to almost arbitrarily assert parternity for the purpose of child support, why shouldn't they be just as willing to impose legal paternity on the genetic father?

Unknown said...

I have tons of friends who were raised by crappy parents. Parents who just had kids because that was what society expected them to do, but they didn't have the first clue as to how to actually raise children.

If a single mother WANTS to have kids, despite all of the pressure from society not to, I would be willing to bet a lot of money that they'll do a better job of raising kids than many married couples do.

I know a couple of single, straight, successful women who have done this, and their kids appear to be extremely well adjusted.

sean said...

Well, downtownlad, you could also be willing to bet a lot of money, based on the people you know, that smokers are healthier than non-smokers. What a shame that actual statistical evidence doesn't support your point. (And how fortunate that no one can actually take your bet.)

Unknown said...

I don't know why this newfound autonomy--here defined as the ability to mother a child without a present father--would "frighten" anyone. Do other women choose marriage and then family only becuase they have to? I don't think so.

Establishing a stable, loving family is different than conceiving a child. A woman I know who went the sperm donor way 15 years ago now has a child who yearns for a father figure and needs one desperately, IMO. She has the same issues with the child as she did with the men she has rejected over the years and with her family of origin.

So, I say it's not a good idea unless you have a close and supportive family and, additionally, if you have really looked at your own part in the inability-to-form-relationships department.

Ann Althouse said...

On the subject of editing comments: You can't. For good reason: it would make the thread incoherent. If you don't like your comment, you can delete it. Then just write a new one. I can't edit my own comments. I recommend using the preview and thinking about the lack of an editing function before hitting publish.

On the substance of this thread: It really hit a nerve, didn't it! I just got email from someone who said: "You know, I'm 55 years old. I'm glad that I won't be living that much longer. I don't want to live in the same world as you. What a monster you are. Discussing anything of any substance with a woman of such complete moral and spiritual emptiness would be a mistake. So, I won't. I hope that you succeed in creating the insane world of your dreams. That would be about what you deserve."

So the answer to the question in my title really is, for a lot of people: yes. Why get so upset about what these women are doing? They are at the end of their fertility and have not been able to find a mate. They want to love and care for a child, as much as or maybe more than a married couple. They will have to be altruistic and unselfish to take care of a child, so it's not fair to label this selfish. And the assumption that they can easily adopt, as the article points out, is wrong.

Bennett said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bennett said...


The single motherhood=autonomy equation is wrong, and in some cases perverse. Any type of parenthood entails loads of dependence, and the critics on this thread have been vocal in pointing out that that the lines of dependence in a single mom-child situation are not of the (typically) strongest, broadest, most reliable, and most lasting kind - family.

Autonomy is an ideal - it can be sought, but never fully achieved. Taken to its logical conclusion is just isolation. Whereas, parenthood is practice and anathema to autonomy/isolation.

To implicitly label as cultural reactionaries those who are startled by the elevation of individual autonomy to a parenting virtue, strikes me as snarky and logically skewed.

The skeptical comments on this thread do not necessarily constitute a "yes" answer to the title question.

Sloanasaurus said...

I am mixed about this topic. I think that women should be able to take advantage of these technologies. What is the difference than a woman trying to get pregnant on a one night stand, or someone getting pregnant with "a friend."

However, at the same time, I think society should continue to look down on these types of practices (just as society should continue to disapprove, in general, of divorce). I think purposely creating one parent familes creates more risk for society in general because it is more risky to raise a child with a single parent.

Social pressures are the glue that holds our civilization together. If we start abandoning them, we essentially lose our civilization.

However, in contrast, and along the lines of what Althouse was saying, consider what effects having less kids would have on society. I heard one report a few weeks ago by a French commentator about what would happen if a French city was flooded out in the future like New Orleans was with Katrina. He was commenting about how few temporary houses the U.S. government had to provide because so many people were able to stay with family. His concern was that because the trend in France is to have no children or less children, many of the citizens in a flooded out French city would be familyless. In otherwords they would have no family to rely on to stay with after the disaster. Therefore, it would be up to the State to take care of many more flooded out victims than it can handle.

An interesting thought.

goesh said...

- and during the Smith Elementary School's 4th grade recital, everyone in the audience kept wondering why the woman in the front row had a test tube sitting in the vacant chair beside her - OMG! I proabably should be banned from this forum.

Ron said...

So the answer to the question in my title really is, for a lot of people: yes.

I think this is a false assumption on your part and somewhat insulting to the commenters. There are reasons to object to single parenthood without fearing female autonomy.

Why get so upset about what these women are doing?
Well, people are just funny that way when it comes to the who, how and whys of raising children, THAT's why! Of course, you may disagree with what they are objecting to, but please, it's obvious why people get upset.

They are at the end of their fertility and have not been able to find a mate.
The inability to find a mate, rightly or wrongly, is a standard by which we evaluate if people can raise a child.

They want to love and care for a child, as much as or maybe more than a married couple.
And you know this how? Again, we assume that if people are unable to find a mate, they may not be able to care for a child. Again, this assumption may be wrong, but isn't it a reasonable thing to be discuss and not merely dismissed?

They will have to be altruistic and unselfish to take care of a child, so it's not fair to label this selfish.
If a person cannot find it in themselves to be a mate, we don't assume that they are altrusitic and unselfish. This, again, may be unfair, but isn't the idea that learning to be a spouse with all that requires, is a level of maturity that precedes the even greater responsibility of raising a child?

I'm not saying that I necessarily agree with all these traditional notions, but they do have some basis in human understanding such that disagreeing with them will have some hurdles to overcome.

Wade Garrett said...

Not to sound trite, but whatever happened to live and let live? If these women want to do this, it is their bodies we're discussing here, and I say more power to them. I for one do not feel as if my masculinity is threatened by independent women raising children without husbands. In fact, I'm sure that most of them will prove to be better parents than a lot of couples.

There have always been single mothers, whose husbands left them, or whose husbands passed away at a young age. Divorced parents are something else, because the father usually has some role in raising the children, even if he is the non-custodial parent. I don't see how these women having children on their own is such an abomination, when its been happening forever and ever.

In general, I think that more single women who want to be mothers -- and more hetero and gay couples who want to be parents -- should consider adoption to a greater extent than they do currently. Some of my best friends in school were adopted, and the thought of them spending any more time in an orphanage than they absolutely need to is painful. Having said that, I realize how hard it can be to adopt a child, if you are single, or a gay couple. For that matter, even Chief Justice Roberts and his wife had to jump through hoops in order to adopt their son. You can't let just anybody adopt a child; they have to be responsible and able to provide for them. However, if the adoption policies were liberalized to allow singles and gay couples a level playing field, I think it would be of enormous benefit to the children, and to the country in general.

Synova said...

And what about donor eggs is different from donor sperm?

Anyway... this is interesting.

The answer, of course, is that people should get married when they are young, stupid, and hormonal. And have kids. ;-)

More seriously, some people don't care if they ever know their biological parents, but most people do care. It matters to them. This is one reason that open adoptions are ever more popular. I do hope that these women don't think that their kids aren't going to care who daddy is. BUT, I have to say this is probably better than having a child with some guy you like but not enough to get married to. I have a friend who did that... now she has a live in (because of *course* the man wanted to be involved in his son's life) and an extended family of aunts and uncles and grandparents and the fear that if she tried to be "single" that her son would disappear to Peru. I blame the feminist rhetoric that led her to believe that she could be a single mom by design.

With sperm donors that's a little bit more possible, but still not perfectly so.

As for the charge of selfishness... it's a darned good thing that we still have the biological urge to reproduce our own genes. When we don't have that anymore we may as well roll over as a species and die.

Unknown said...

Luckily - These women don't have to check wih the religious right before having a child.

What about the women who were pregnant and whose husbands died in the twin towers? Are their children going to be messed up because they will be raised without a father? Let's face it - they'll be raised the exact same way as the women Ann refers to.

And these women arent' stupid - I'm sure they're going to make sure that there is a proper male role model for their kids, be it an uncle, a grandfather, a good male friend, etc.

XWL said...

Female anatomy? Who said I was afraid of female anatomy.

The curves and slopes and hidden places are all so tasty, mmmmmm.

What? ohhhhh, female autonomy that's what this thread is about?


/end of Emily Litella mode

Now to treat this topic with the seriousness it deserves.

I think there are two competing ideas at work that are getting conflated.

Should individuals be free to make choices in their lives that make them happy, absolutely.

Are there women who can parent happy healthy children alone, yep.

But should this be the cultural norm, or even be done without some embarrassment or sense of shame, I personally don't think so.

What is wise, moral or socially acceptable can be at odds with what is good for some individuals but that doesn't mean that society should bend towards the exceptions.

Shame and embarrassment are great but somewhat amorphous and unpredictable tools in regulating social structures. I can accept arguments that say individual women can do this successfully, but any argument that suggests that this practice should be welcomed, normalized, or accepted without a second thought will meet with resistance (as made obvious by this thread) and that resistance is a very good thing.

Some traditions though tough on individuals are better for society as a whole, and the privileging of two parent nuclear families is one of those traditions.

Meade said...

I do have to admit that one thing about this raises a bit of fear in my mind. Dread, really. No, terror is more like it... What if the only males to donate their sperm into these antiseptic banks are exactly like... David "TeachYourChildren" Crosby? You know, "you, who are on the road..."

Not sure I'm brave enough for that new world.

Ann Althouse said...

Just a technical, scientific point: we are not talking about "test tube" babies or in vitro fertilization. This is artificial insemination. It's not high tech. You scarcely even need the doctor.

Oh, and as to the idea that being able to find a mate is the appropriate test of when you will be a good enough parent? Have you taken a look at some of the people who pair up? Women can find men by lowering their standards enough. Why do you think women who do that are more deserving than women who see that they haven't been able to find a match, assess their real situation and see that unless they go it alone they will remain childless?

Ann Althouse said...

Dogtown: I agree that there is a real problem with males becoming unproductive and unstable if women do not bond with them. Pre-feminism, women had to pair with men and the problem of unpaired men was minimized. That's actually the most frightening thing about female autonomy. Accusing me of being a man-hater, however, if just dredging up the oldest anti-feminist argument in the book. I am not impressed, and I am not cowed. (Or bull-ied.)

reader_iam said...

I guess my problem with many of these comments is the same as the one I have with the original question headlining this post. It instantly sets the default central question, the default central point of reference, as "of course" the mother(-to-be)'s point of view. In other words, "It's all about me!"

That contradicts the very essence of parenthood, whether we're talking about mothering OR fathering.

I agree that many of the same concerns can be related to children of divorced parents, and that the same charges of selfishness can be made (righly or wrongly, fairly or not) of those parents. But there is one FUNDAMENTAL difference: those parents, and particularly the mother, did not set out to create a situation in which a child, from the outset, is down one parent. (This of course doesn't even take into account that in most cases, the child of divorced parents still do have two parents, even if one is more "active" than another.) In fact, the opposite is true. And, yes, this does indeed reveal fundamentally different mindsets, philosophical starting points, and world views.

I can understand the motivations of these women, and I'm not judging those motivations and in fact can feel great, and personal, compassion for them. But I AM judging their INTENT, and cannot validate their choice.

And yes, we all have flaws and deficits; we all have tendencies to selfishness. However:

1) Having two parents (ideally, together, but practically, even if not) is helpful in that way, in that weaknesses and strengths of each parent can help provide balance.
2) Not having a father (or mother, if using the other scenario) AT ALL is not a just a deficit which can somehow be truly balanced out by other factors, it is an outright lack that can't really be redressed. I truly don't see how "CHOOSING" that, unilaterally, for another person--dismissing at the outset the profound implications as less important than adult self-fulfillment--can be viewed as anything but selfish from the child's point of view.

Finally, if we can criticize dads, whether in the home or not, for not being involved enough in their children's lives; if we can accuse them of selfishness, whether in the home or not, which we (women especially) do; if we can whack those who are deadbeats; if we can DO all that, very appropriately, on the basis of the best interests of children, then why the HECK is it off limits as "dinosaur territory" to criticize women who decide, in advance, to cut off all the potential advantages of having a father, and welcome all the potential disadvantages, of not having one?

Well, there's only one way that you can approve of the former but disavow the latter: If in fact your point of view is that it's all about the mothers. The kids? Well, they're just extensions of their mothers, with their own autonomous interests a distant second in priority.


Accidents and sad circumstances happen; then we make the best of it. But INTENT does matter, at least sometimes, and IS an indicator of character--and this is one of those times.

Ann Althouse said...

Lmeade: I think there are some smart, good-looking young guys who are making a lot of money for doing next to nothing. I'm picturing students at elite universities. Maybe we should worry that the next generation will have inherited the propensity not to care who their kids are.

Bennett said...

Maybe we should worry that the next generation will have inherited the propensity not to care who their kids are.

You are presumably leveling this criticism at today's young men.

In which case, what better way to ensure such a future than to institutionalize fatherlessness?

Shanti Mangala said...

Here is what really set me off -

"Even though it's only you, it really is only you," said Stacia Snapp, 43, of Woodinville, Wash., a technical writer for Microsoft who had two children with her ex-husband and used a sperm donor to have two more on her own. "It's really hard to balance when you have someone who disagrees with what you want to do. You're trying to be a good mom, you're trying to be a good wife, you don't feel understood by anybody."

Here is a woman who does not want any interference with her raising of her kids, so she chooses not to have a dad for her child. I am sorry, but I cannot see anything noble or unselfish in that.

reader_iam said...

Just curious, Ann: Do you keep track of which of your posts have generated the most comments? Or the greatest number of comments generated by a single post? You post on such diverse topics and your readers seem so none-monolithic that, in your case, such statistics would be very interesting.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: Women who marry unsuitable men are also being unrealistic. That's not to say women going for single motherhood may not also be unrealistic. Actually, everyone goes into pregnancy with some lack of realism.

Peter Hoh said...

If you really want autonomy, don't have children.

Bennett said...

Shanti - ditto.


And it ain't just cause the women are picky and looking only for Mr. Right or their 'equal'.

Then what is it? The dating & mating scene may tilt against professional women as you say. However, the women in the article seem to prefer the uninhibited control that comes with such "autonomy" as they can buy. The hired help does not question their parenting decisions, but nor is it a father to the child.

You confuse legit concern over the lack of two parents for a punitive desire to brand unattached women as spinsters.


Accusing me of being a man-hater, however, if just dredging up the oldest anti-feminist argument in the book.

You've written that "the most frightening thing about female autonomy [is males becoming unproductive and unstable]." You have labelled those who point to longevity, stability, and intimacy of family ties as threatened by "female autonomy." You've implied that men are merely a liability and written that all worthy females but settle for inferior males.

Taken as a whole, it does beg the question of whether you see anything uniquely good about men. If not, "man-hater" would seem to be pretty much accurate.

And where autonomy is concerned, absence of an opposite is not the equivalent of autonomy.

Buying help to stand in for a mate and co-parent is a farce of autonomy.

Refusal to accept help or criticism from an equal is not autonomy.

You ask,

"Have you taken a look at some of the people who pair up? Women can find men [only?] by lowering their standards enough."

- but then hedge with:

"Women who marry unsuitable men are also being unrealistic."

Aside from leaving no room for a satisfactory reality (something the women in the article seem to have done) your combined arguments still fail to tear down two-parent families to the extent that single-parent families magically become equal to them.

Peter Hoh said...

I really want to know if the defenders of this practice think it's okay for a single man to use a donor egg and a surrogate gestational carrier to create his own biological child.

Ann Althouse said...

"Unsuitable" is meant to refer to the individual's own standards. I assume for most it would include various elements of compatibility and attraction, with some things being more absolute than others. Why are you getting weirded out by that word? Does the word "marriageable" bother you?

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Pooka: You'd think I'd said that having a man in the family was detrimental and the more single mothers the better! It's too bad people are so quick to blame women for problems. Why not blame men for not putting more effort into making families for the sake of the next generation? If this were really about how wrong selfishness is, single men ought to be held accountable for failing to embrace fatherhood.

I think most women, myself included, would avoid becoming a parent alone. It sounds very hard! I don't think I would have credited myself with being unselfish for shirking solo parenthood if I had found myself unmarried, childless, and approaching age 40. I grew up thinking that's what self-centered women do!

Shanti Mangala said...

Allicent, talking of gender politics why is it always OK to berate men in a discussion (see your men/boys), but it makes people neanderthals to say some women can be selfish? Why is it always that men are unsuitable, but women are never at fault when it comes to non-working relationships?

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't really have any opinion on these women.

It does, however, give me a bit of a sad feeling that men are treated so inconsequentially. A woman has the right to kill a man's child without his say before it is born. Now she can make a child without having to deal with a man at all.

Just as I think women add a lot to the lives of men, men certainly add a lot to the lives of women, and I think men go mostly unrecognized for that while women are usually lauded for the same.

Freeman Hunt said...

If doing what comes natural to many women - procreating - continues, despite the present boy/man culture, perhaps these boy/men will evolve.

I actually think the opposite. I think a lot of the boy/man culture comes from men being constantly infantilized. Constant jokes that they are children, buffoons, helpless beasts, etc. Lower expectations=lower outcomes.

ShadyCharacter said...

ann althouse writes:

"It's too bad people are so quick to blame women for problems. Why not blame men for not putting more effort into making families for the sake of the next generation?"

This certainly does not seem like very coherent comment given the topic of the post. The debate at hand involves the propriety of women "choosing" single-motherhood. Given the context, if the problem is single-parenthood (which itself is a point of debate), who else would you blame but the women "choosing" to take that path? Apparently, men. That's just odd.

Ann Althouse said...

Shady: It's not incoherent. I'm saying there should be more men who want to be in families and who are developing themselves into the kind of people who would have matched these women who find themselves without partners. Look at how many young men behave in our culture. A lot of them are in prison, for one thing. Others do not look for women to be faithfully devoted to. They seek selfish pleasures, not more responsibilities. Many have substance abuse problems. They are not pursuing higher education at the same rate as women. There is a disparity that leaves a lot of women without partners. I'm sure some of the women are too picky or too conceited or whatever your stereotype is, but a lot of them are good women who haven't got reasonable marriage prospects. Show some sympathy for their plight!

Shanti Mangala said...

Allicent, I am 31 myself and have been married for almost 7 years now. I have an infant child myself and I see how much work it is. I have seen a couple of my friends' homes break-up and in my experience it has been because because the women didn't feel "ready" to settle down and have kids. In our relationship itself, my husband wanted the baby way more than I ever did, even though I wouldn't give him up for anything.

I think I am a little alarmed by the marginalization of men being the mother of a boy.

Also, now that I see how much work my little boy is, I could NOT have done this without my husband being around to help out.

Shanti Mangala said...

Of course, my previous comment was not to say I haven't met any immature jerks in my time. I probably would have remained single if not for my husband and probably would never remarry if I got divorced.

Meade said...

Great posts, Henry Woodbury. I especially liked your two anecdotal points.

reader_iam said...


1) Calling me TRex doesn't address the issue I was raising in the paragraph where I referred to "dinosaur territory."
2) Nowhere did I use the word normal, in quotation marks or out of them. That's strictly your terminology.
3) Strictly speaking, they're avoiding an "accident" in that they're becoming pregnant deliberately. But as to avoiding "sad circumstances," that would be true only if you don't consider it's possible that the child may find it sad that he or she doesn't have a father. Or if you don't consider it possible that not having one may have implications and affects that are negative.
4)True, they are ruling out deadbeat dads. They aren't ruling out divorce fallout, of course, because they may yet marry and even divorce ... which would still affect their child. And while the reference to bride-blindness is amusing, it begs the issue of the "fathers-are-irrelevant" blindness to which I was referring, in terms of what might be in the best interests of the children and what their choice or opinion might be as to what best serves it.

Finally, I thought it was clear (but obviously, I failed to make it so) that I brought those up in the specific context of questioning, from the point of view of the best interests of children how it makes sense that fathers can be important enough to criticise when they fall short in the ways to which I alluded, but yet are so unimportant that they can be dismissed as in any way necessary. I was suggesting that to say you can criticize dads for not choosing in the best interests of kids but not moms when they similarly fail to do so doesn't make sense to me. I standy by the concept that saying one is OK but not the other means that we're really not talking making judgements from an objective point of view of what's best for kids, but rather how things affect, or don't affect, the mother. (Thus, the real objection to lazy, selfish, uninvolved or deadbat dads isn't that they are failing the best interests of the kids, but rather that the consequences of their actions or inactions negatively affect MOTHERS.) If that's your point of view, then it IS coherent to make a judgement regarding sperm moms strictly from the view of the mother.

I was trying to point out that it seemed to me inherent in the original post headline and many comments that the BENCHMARK for evaluation assumed the "mother's point of view" as the starting point. I'm saying that I find that default assumption the wrong benchmark: I believe it should a "child's best interests."

No doubt you still disagree, but did I make my point more clear?

Maybe my lack of an opposable thumb (as a dinosaur) is hampering my typing ...

ShadyCharacter said...

ann: I have sympathy! I really do. I just don't see how the argument that men are knuckleheads supports the argument that choosing single-motherhood is a good or even acceptable choice for a woman, her child or society. While at the margins highly successful women (read wealthy, nanny-hiring women) may be able to pull it off, the practice, if widely-adopted, would lead to massive problems IN MY OPINION. Thus, this phenomenon, to the extent it actually exists and is not the fancy of a NYT editor, is troubling to me and apparently to many other "dinosaurs" on this board:)

Maybe the conversation has moved beyond the choosing of single-motherhood to the problems women (and men too, I might add) have trying to find a life partner. I don't believe anything I have written would indicate that I hold to the stereotype that women are "too picky or too conceited". If anything, I think the problem is that the general dating culture as it now exists (and at 27 it's the only culture I've known) is disfunctional and is simply not conducive to the formation of healthy relationships. A way for any man or woman to succeed in spite of that is to sidestep the dating culture (bars and the like) and connect with others in a more organic way. Maybe join a church-group or civic organization etc...

BTW, this highly charged debate is not without precedent - it's Murphy Brown-redux!

Also, I love the blog. It's moved to the top of my list. You're costing me many billable hours each week!

Bennett said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bennett said...


You so readily exclaim how difficult single-motherhood is on the mother. Yet at the same time, any mention of difficulties to the children has mostly been met with, "tell that to the men who are either not up to the level of "these women", or stubbornly refuse to be their mates!" How does simply passing the blame account for the difficulty the kids will face - or is it just the moms who find it hard, while the kids breeze through?

No doubt that there are loutish men just as there are shrewish women. That's neither new, or at issue here.

There is a disparity that leaves a lot of women without partners. I'm sure some of the women are too picky or too conceited or whatever your stereotype is, but a lot of them are good women who haven't got reasonable marriage prospects. Show some sympathy for their plight!

Consider it shown. But you crying foul on the stereotyping is a little pot-kettleish. We've heard loads from you on the "smart, good-looking young guys who are making a lot of money for doing next to nothing", and then "A lot of them are in prison, for one thing. Others do not look for women to be faithfully devoted to. They seek selfish pleasures, not more responsibilities. Many have substance abuse problems. They are not pursuing higher education at the same rate as women."

Men are on the downswing, no doubt. But when women were out of the loop professionally, society worked to get them in, as did the women themselves. If now men are out of the loop domestically, do we blame them for the actions of a small group of unpartnered women and shit on the good attempts of the conscientious "men's-movement neanderthals"?

Those of us who feel two-parent families are better for kids, where possible, and reduce problems down the line, are not necessarily afraid of female autonomy. It seems convenient for you to make such a claim but you haven't explained it, choosing rather to engage in bobble-headed self-talk like "It's too bad people are so quick to blame women for problems." Why be so thin-skinned in a discussion you opened up, presumably to have different viewpoints aired?

Shanti Mangala said...

Allicent, I come from a SouthAsian community where it is kinda hard to remain unmarried too long. I do agree that I have seen one guy remain unmarried till he was 30-something - he was a jerk.

I have had many friends who were unmarried and older form work that I went drinking with. Usually, the women are big-earners, just trying to get by - great personalities. The older men that I have seen have been mostly shallow, although better looking than the women. I have no idea where I am going with this, so I will stop by saying that that was just my personal experience :)

vbspurs said...

As for the children, I'll say it again. Those who are born to these women would simply not have been born otherwise. Are you telling me that it's better not to be born than to be born into this situation?

I may not, but my mother (a child psychiatrist) certainly would.

The single most important component of a child's mental health is to have a biological father sharing the life of that child with its mother.

Sure, I see you have raised a valid point -- that modern-day society precludes this ideal at times.

But that doesn't change the fact that if this is what you want for your child, the best possible start to its life, at least you should try it.

Personal Disclosure: I'm not married (yet). I don't have kids. My parents, who both lean left politically, are together over 30 years now. I'm grateful to them for the life they've given me thus far, warts and all. I hope to duplicate it when my turn comes.


Freeman Hunt said...

Boys will see this as well and perhaps society will not take these fantastic women for granted.

And my point is that it's not going to work this way. (Especially when these "fantastic women" will still sleep with them.)

Also I think you could just as easily say that men don't want to commit because they can't find satisfactory women.

Jennifer said...

After spending the better part of the last year and a half on a base where almost every single soldier was mobilized, I've seen more than my fair share of children who are miserable without their daddies - including my own.

I suppose the argument can be made that we volunteer for a lifestyle where Daddy comes and goes - maybe that's no better than eliminating him entirely. So maybe I don't have any real leg to stand on here.

But, I cannot blithely accept that children are A-OK without a father.

And, speaking from my own personal experience, my son would likely be a wimp if he were just parented by me and he would likely be dead if he were just parented by Dad. It's good to have mitigating forces at work here. :)

Unknown said...

We're all talking about cultural trends, like AI, that have existed for only nanoseconds in historical terms. Every generation has regrets: my mother's generation was constrained by sexism and lack of reliable birth control and so had regrets about lack of intellectual fulfillment. How many successful women today followed the "don't be dependent on a man" call? Now, a scant 30 years after the bombshell of the Pill, boomers are constrained by the problems caused by too much independence. So it's way too early to say that the world has been reinvented.

As for men, who I think are taking a hugely bad rap from the women's movement, if they aren't as responsible as previous generations, I would suggest that women should look to their own behavior for part of the reason. Women today provide men with sex, companionship, homemaking, all without marriage--enough comfort for any man who chooses to live well and avoid maturing indefinitely. It tells me that women today are just as confused as men, so take resonsibility and give them a break!

Cathy Young said...

Interesting debate.

See my take here.

SippicanCottage said...

Troglodytic misogyne dinosaur traditional means of restraint here again-

victoria's point is right on the money. I can't imagine what statistical rock jody looks under, but it's almost impossible to find any stronger correlation between grave social ills and causes than lack of a real at home father.

A. I am a husband and father. I've earned the right to be called that, and I resent anybody using it to describe someone who masturbates into a turkey baster for a female to become pregnant with an illegitimate child.

B. A woman inpregnated with sperm using a selection process that affords the "ability to select a 6-foot-2 blond, blue-eyed, genetic-disease-free donor," with the state as its putative father has a familiar ring to it. Can't quite place that one. East of here, 70 years ago or so, if I recall. Worked out swell for everyone.

C. The idea that money is a substitute for a father is pandemic in this thread. Lovely.

D. The portrayal that people who decry voluntarily having illegitimate kids as backward is laughable. The institution of marriage as a fundamental construct for the raisng of children is the sophisticated outlook here. Widespread illegitimacy is a retreat to barbarism, and nothing new, whether you're a camp follower in the middle ages or a turkey baster buyer who watched Murphy Brown once. You're the dinosaur here, Sex in the City Trollops, not us. We're the monks hiding the latin manuscripts from the barbarians until the modern dark age of faux rousseauism is over.

E. Children raised without fathers for other reasons used to be quite common with many of our recent ancestors. Work was hard and dangerous for a man 150 years ago, and many small children buried their fathers. Many of the most compelling public characters of the last century lost their fathers as small children, and became prominent citizens. James Michael Curley and Fiorello La Guardia come to mind. The method of raising these children, to make them into men, was for the mother of the boys to essentially become the father of the family. The longsuffering, hardworking, strict disciplinarian was quite common among widows who were quite meek and mild when their husbands were alive. They realized that the absolute worst situation for a male child is to be raised by a single mother. Any survey of the prison system will bear that out.

F. Ultimately, I don't care much what these women do. I care deeply about their children, because they deserve better, but what are you gonna do?

Cathy Young said...

(By the way, sorry about the hit-and-run posting -- I'd love to add to the discussion here, but have to dash off on a trip to Washington, DC.)

vbspurs said...

SippicanCottage wrote:

A. I am a husband and father. I've earned the right to be called that, and I resent anybody using it to describe someone who masturbates into a turkey baster for a female to become pregnant with an illegitimate child.

Heh. Very well put.

I don't want to start a whole other side argument (oh, go on then!), but one of the Pro-Choice arguments that MOST irritates me, is the one which constantly refers to the right to abort a child as "a woman's right over her own body".

Fine. Dandy. Where's the dad's input into all of this?

Didn't he have 50% of responsibility, and therefore, some kind of moral and legal authority to intervene if he doesn't want to kill his own child?

Why do we, in modern Western society, always always discount or reduce the male-sphere when we speak of women?

I understand it might be a reaction to all those years when women were brutally subjugated by men around the world.

But it seems to me that doing the same thing, just when you're in charge of the situation now, is no legitimate response.

B. A woman inpregnated with sperm using a selection process that affords the "ability to select a 6-foot-2 blond, blue-eyed, genetic-disease-free donor," with the state as its putative father has a familiar ring to it. Can't quite place that one. East of here, 70 years ago or so, if I recall. Worked out swell for everyone.

Double Heh.

When I read, "6'2, Blond, Blue-eyed" I thought very much the same thing.


Eli Blake said...

I think this is great.

It is a fact that, between wars, the greater death rates of young males due to accidents, homicide, suicide, and a number of childhood diseases, together with the higher rates of male incarceration, (and I've seen one study that also suggests a higher rate of male homosexuality) there are, by the age of 30, significantly more available single women than single men. That's just the math of the matter.

If you follow this through, there will always be a few women dealt out of the game. Why shouldn't they still be able to have children if they want to?

I am a male and I don't feel threatened by this kind of thing at all.

vbspurs said...

The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank

I just finished reading that last week, and our general topic in this thread reminded me of some of its points.

It's a good read, as long as you don't mind being irritated by the constant interpolation of the author, David Plotz, into the story.

(OTOH, it makes what he has to say especially interesting to men, since his perspective is from the vantage point of a father donating sperm, which he actually does just to see what it is like, with all that implies)

The creator of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, Robert Graham, refused to accept applications from people he thought unfit to bear genius babies (certain women, like lesbians), but it turns out that most of the married women who sought his services, ended up divorced, or separated anyway.

The way the author describes the life of the DI kids, with the various psychological implications this type of sperm donation have, are worth the read alone.


Bruce Hayden said...

Intesting change since I took off from the thread this morning.

A poster way up above brought up a book by Ursela LeGuinn. My initial response was that my favorite fantasy book on sex and child rearing issues was Sheri S. Tepper's "The Gate to Women's Country". I then rethought it, given that Tepper is a militant feminist who would often seem to fall in with these women.

But the last 20 or so posts make that book somewhat relevant. In it, the women live in villages, where they maintain science, medicine, etc. Outside, the men live as Roman legions. The boys go to the men at five, and are given a chance to move back as teenagers if they agree to be guilded (they aren't and turn out to be the real fathers of the next generation).

The reason that it struck a chord with me when I read it years ago, is that it well described the bad sides of both sexes. The men would really prefer occasional copulation, then spend the rest of their time running around with the guys. The women fall in love with these guys and have sex with them, no matter how inappropriate.

Which brings us to today. A lot of men are perfectly happy to do just that. The difference between now and before is that then the women and society wouldn't let them get away with it. Sex and marriage were tightly interlinked. Even if you didn't wait until marriage, if a woman got pregnant, they got married.

Today, we have all these liberated women who let the guys get away with regular sex without responsibility for, in some cases, decades. And why should they settle down? Some other woman is often willing to pick up where if one gives up.

How does that tie into this discussion? I see these women contributing to this for at least two generations. On the first, they aren't doing their part in domesticating a male.

Worse, males raised without a father are significantly more likely to end up running in male packs and, in our society, ending up in prison. Some 90% of those there were raised w/o fathers.

The problem that we have seen in the lower economic African-American communities is a direcct result of both of these trends. The men didn't have to settle down to have sex and procreate, so they didn't. And they didn't have to because the women didn't need them, being for a long time supported in this by the state.

Lest you think that this won't happen with these women, as they are rich enough and well educated enough to not make this mistake, I have seen it happen more than once. A decade or so ago, I dated a couple of single mothers in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Chicago. Both had teenaged sons, and one, believe it or not, had a PhD in child psychology. The sons were out of control, in and out of trouble at school and with the law. Both of the older kids of the child psychologist were thrown out of high school. (However, to be fair to the women in the article, both of these women had their kids in wedlock).

Back to my point though. I don't like where this is taking us. I don't see any good from it at all, and this has nothing to do with religion.

Bruce Hayden said...

Allicent said:
"If I could give young women advice it would be threefold 1. don't live with a man before marriage 2. don't date for more than a year 3. don't be too nice. Men love bitches."

I don't know about the last point. But tonight as I drove home from dinner, I was listening to the infamous Dr. Laura. A woman had been dating a guy for five years (but no sex) and he didn't want to get married yet. Dr. Laura told her that she had just wasted the last four years.

And she is right, esp. as they were five critical years through her mid twenties. Now she is nearing 30 and hopefully starting over.

The problem is that dating, and in particular, living with, a guy for years is not a good thing for either of them. In particular here, it enables the male behavior that is one of the things at the heart of this matter.

amba said...

XWL (I'm only halfway through all these Comments),

Go read Gruntled Center's posts here and here about the need to have three categories: best, good enough, and bad; the preferred, the tolerated, and the prohibited. He says:

For example, historically and cross-culturally, marriage is the preferred institution in which to raise children, and incestuous unions are a prohibited way. What centrists need to be able to say is that marriage is preferred for raising children, and some other ways – my nominees would be single parenthood and same-sex unions -- are tolerated, acceptable, good enough. This is true of any social policy. The best way is still better, and social policy should provide incentives to promote the best way. But those who fall in the middle category, the good enough way, should not be penalized beyond the natural inefficiencies of doing something in a less than optimal way.

For liberal egalitarians having any kind of second class status is unacceptable.
For conservative perfectionists permitting any but the preferred way is to connive at social breakdown.

The primary political and philosophical problem of centrism is legitimizing the distinctions among the good, the bad, and the good enough.

amba said...

Tangentially pertinent to this subject is a book my friend Dalma Heyn has coming out next month called DRAMA KINGS: The Men Who Drive Strong Women Crazy. The men who are good at relationships usually pair up early and stay married. That means that the men who are still out there when a woman is looking for a mate in her 30s or 40s are, if not exactly unsuitable, then psychologically incapable or unwilling. Dalma describes several behavior patterns of men who are attracted to strong women but equally compelled to frustrate, sabotage, or deceive them. Unlike books that lament the terrible prospects of aging women doomed to be alone, DRAMA KINGS is exhilarating in its depiction of women who learn and gain strength and experience through these crazy relationships and don't regret them. The women emerge ready and happy either to live "alone" (surrounded by friends, children, even part-time lovers) or to connect with the rare man who's really ready for them. . . . Am I advertising her book? No, I frankly loved it, and not just because I love her. "Exhilarating" is the word that comes to mind for the way she depicts . . . well, female autonomy, and real, un-self-censoring relatedness.

Eli Blake said...


the one which constantly refers to the right to abort a child as "a woman's right over her own body".

Fine. Dandy. Where's the dad's input into all of this?

Didn't he have 50% of responsibility, and therefore, some kind of moral and legal authority to intervene if he doesn't want to kill his own child?

The problem is that men don't have to sacrifice their own health and body to carry a fetus for nine months.

I think it is great if a woman does consult with the father and reaches a decision on whether to abort or not together, but ultimately, it is the woman, not the man, who gets pregnant, so the decision should lay with her in the end.

My fifteen year old daughter got pregnant three years ago. We both agreed that abortion was not the way to 'fix' it (I am actually against abortion, but I don't think the way to end abortion is by banning it). After that we disagreed (I thought adoption was the best choice, she decided to keep the baby, who is now a very enjoyable little granddaughter). But if she had chosen an abortion, then it would have been her choice, and neither me nor my wife nor her boyfriend nor her boyfriend's family would have had the right to make that decision for her.

Wade Garrett said...

Let's say you're a professional woman. You're in school until your mid-to-late 20s, spend the first five years or so of your career in a residency or associateship. You're 35, single, never married. Odds are, men your age will be interested in dating women younger than you. Odds are also good that the men slightly older than you, who are interested in dating you, have kids of their own -- kids who will always see you as their father's new wife.

What are you to do in that situation? By the time you're 35 you are probably pretty set in your ways; if you've been doing what you want when you want for 15 years of adulthood then its hard to suddenly start sharing and compromising your life with somebody else. Furthermore, meeting somebody at that age isn't like meeting somebody in college, when you can get to know them over a period of time and become increasingly serious and then try moving in together and then eventually get married after several years.

About 50% of marriages in this country end in divorce. The statistics I've read show that people who get married for the first time in their mid-30s tend to divorce at higher rates than people who get married in their late 20s. A two-parent household might be ideal, but those are increasingly rare. I don't see how a single woman having a child on her own is any worse than so much of the other stuff that goes on.

Wade Garrett said...

Furthermore, ask a single, professional black woman what she thinks about this. Let's say you're a 35 year old black female attorney, living in Madison, Wisconsin, or for that matter, almost anywhere other than five or six metro areas. What are your chances of finding a professional black man who is also single and who has a clean criminal record? According to my friends who are in that situation, not good. I haven't talked about this with any of them, and I don't really want to, but could you blame them for wanting to have a child on their own? Are you going to ask them to wait until somebody right comes along? How long would that take, in Madison, WI? How long would that take in the town in which you live?

Shanti Mangala said...

No, Jody - "grown" women don't have to deny men sex. They also don't have the right then to cry about men who are not ready to get married and settle down.

knox said...

I'm ambivalent on this one, but I definitely don't like the posts that say that as long as the woman has enough income it's ok, no dad needed. If single parenthood is not good for a poor woman, it's not good for a rich one either! As long as you have enough money to provide the bare essentials, it's your emotional maturity that dictates if you'll be a good parent, not your money. It's gross to talk about it in terms of income.

(This is part of the reason why I think adoption should be free. It makes it hard for anyone who's not wealthy to adopt. Unrelated, sorry.)

Freeman Hunt said...

The problem is that men don't have to sacrifice their own health and body to carry a fetus for nine months.

Interesting how a baby becomes a "fetus" once one talks about killing it but remains a "baby" so long as the woman wants it.

Sacrifice their own health and body? So it's okay to sacrifice another person (the baby/fetus) on the altar of one's health and body? Oops, I guess this is off topic. Back to the topic. . .

Maybe our fully empowered me-first society makes it harder for people to adapt to marriage. When you're used to getting your own way and wanting what you want, it's hard to adapt to taking another person into account at all times. I think that's why the first year of marriage is usually the hardest for people. There's a big learning curve.

bearing said...

Isn't it possible that the "eternal boy" syndrome is a direct result of current trends that value little boys but disdain grown men?

If men are useless, not even necessary for reproduction, why would any boy bother growing up?

Bennett said...


It's just too bad you choose to hold individuals responsible for the decisions they make.

Don't you know they're forced to, through no fault of their own, by social forces?

Can't you recognize your own narrow-mindedness in yapping on about children's need for parents, parents' need for support, etc?

Denying access to any commodity such as motherhood to any indidual who really wants it, and can pay for it, is elitist, sexist, and downright mean of you.

Unknown said...

You're paraphrasing the arguments here, I believe, in a rather extreme way. No one has advocated "denying men sex to get what they want." Does a woman have to have sex with everybody to be a true feminist??

Women should be clear about what they want in life and stop blaming men if it didn't turn out perfect, in spite of their behavior. If a woman is looking for a mate, she should think carefully before embarking on a sexual relationship. She would be wise to start looking in her 20s since that's when most men are single, rather than 40s. If she's out for fun, fine, just understand that a one-night stand is a one-night stand. These seem like pretty reasonable, self-evident prescriptives. But maybe that's me.

SippicanCottage said...

"professor emeritus of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell."

Trying not to burst out laughing...

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

I think it is great if a woman does consult with the father and reaches a decision on whether to abort or not together, but ultimately, it is the woman, not the man, who gets pregnant, so the decision should lay with her in the end.

I concede it's a difficult decision for all concerned.

In a perfect world, or at least a workable world, I would want a woman to realise that 50% of that child is not hers, and act accordingly.

It has a lineage, a history and a genetic code that has nothing to do with her, unless she's marrying kinfolk.

How many women abort a child without even telling the father?


It's that sense of shared responsibility that makes women less like human incubators when she's bearing a child.


Peter Hoh said...

Henry Woodbury: yesterday around 3:30 you responded to my question about single men who might do something like this. Thanks. You're the only one so far. I wasn't trying to set a trap -- I don't have a "gotcha" follow up. I was just trying to make sure that there was acceptance for the idea of gender equality, or if women are allowed to play by a set of rules that men are not allowed to follow.

I knew someone who became a single mom by choice. I think she was about as responsible about it as is possible. I think the most interesting questions raised in this thread relate to the lack of suitable men -- which was her problem -- and I'm not inclined to blame her for being too picky.

I don't think we'll see a grassroots effort to end the practice of donor sperm and donor eggs. Certainly the tsking of the dinosaurs won't bring about change.

The people who would be most effective critics of the practice are the ones conceived in this manner. If, upon reaching adulthood, they are inclined to raise hell about this, it will be hard to ignore their voices. There are a handful of such donor-conceived activists out there currently. Should be interesting to see where this goes.

MT said...

I think vibrators are the more threatening development for men.

MT said...

One downside for the future of the species and culture is that being able to love and get along with somebody are good a kind of natural selection or screening force. Egg donor and sperm donor alike may be unloving and unlovable in this scenario. To the extent there's a genetic component to lovability and to the extent it correlates with sociability in general, we may be making the world less friendly by encouraging these people to reproduce.

Kev said...

Allicent: "A 45 year old date would comment on the difficult of aging for a woman my age (28 at the time). I've experienced such comments from older men frequently. But there was always something sad about such older men who had never been married but were now wanting it - I could tell - but with a woman 15 - 20 years younger."

Why is this "sad?" A 45-year-old man who wants kids will have great difficulty doing so with the vast majority of women his age, for biological-clock reasons. If you're going to support the choices of women choosing single parenthood later in life, shouldn't you also be supportive of men who want married parenthood at the same time in their lives?

vbspurs: "I don't want to start a whole other side argument (oh, go on then!), but one of the Pro-Choice arguments that MOST irritates me, is the one which constantly refers to the right to abort a child as "a woman's right over her own body".

Fine. Dandy. Where's the dad's input into all of this?

Amen, Victoria! That's always bugged me as well. And it's not only the dad's input that needs to be considered, but the rights of the child him/herself. Just like in those old sixties sitcoms and commercials where the pickles-and-ice-cream-scarfing mother-to-be joked about "eating for two," isn't anyone making the "choice" to abort also "choosing for two" (or three, if you consider the dad)? And shouldn't we assume that the child would vote "yes" to the question of whether he/she should be allowed to come to term?

OK, I got a bit OT here, but I was happy to see someone agreeing with me that the "choice" of one party to a pregnancy doesn't automatically trump that of the other(s).

Thierrion said...

Part Pygmalion, and part Oedipus, women who shop at sperm banks are looking to create the man they always wanted to f*ck.

With no regard for the emotional and spiritual well-being only a two-parent household can bring, these women selfishly refuse to adopt older children who need homes, who want so badly to just be loved, so they can breed a race of supermen.

The Nazis really won World War II.

By "unsuitable" men, they don't mean felons or cancer victims. That's a cover-up. By unsuitable they mean "five-nine and under".

Am I “afraid of female autonomy”? No. I see they’ve finally taken my advice: go f*ck yourself.

What I am is appalled by their arrogance.

Must they find a man first? Um, yeah. That's generally how it works. But, in the future, maybe all you need is a jackknifed big rig spilling a load of superman sperm. Then you just go sit down in the middle of the freeway.

Sprudeln said...

When I turned 30, the joke was '40 is the new 30'. But it's true - how many articles have been written about the rising number of college graduates (male and female) who live with their parents?

We can lay blame all day for how this state of affairs came to be, and it is all irrelevant to this discussion. My generation is here now, and in an unfortunate position.

The fact is, many of us 30-something women were unprepared to have children in our 20's. We took this time to be selfish (traveling, educating ourselves, establishing ourselves professionally, etc) knowing that when the time came for children our focus would be completely on them.

Now we are in our 30's and trying to meet partners for life, and trying to convince that prospective partner to trade a beer bottle for a baby bottle. It's harder than you think. Men have the luxury of delaying growing up, settling down, and procreating - those who are not fathers already don't feel the pressure to attend little league instead of the major league.

When guys out there break up with women for not wearing skimpy lingerie to bed every night (oh yes, it's true, a professional computer programmer thought my choice of t-shirt as pyjamas was grounds for splitting), Grandpa as the male figure doesn't seem unreasonable.

Realistically, what are our options? Time machines are out, so we can't warn ourselves to mature earlier. We date, and hope, to find someone with whom to share our lives. Some of us get lucky (after meeting loads of confirmed bachelors) and meet a loving, stable guy. But what happens if the relationship doesn't work out? We go out and try to meet someone else with their eye towards commitment. Repeat this once or twice, and you can easily be past 35 and facing diminishing fertility.

We've also learned to be strong and independent women. Our parents taught us this when they encouraged us to take math with the boys, and we reinforced these lessons when we fought our way through glass ceilings (which are not history yet, much as we'd like to think).

Now we're told we're selfish for our innate drive to nurture children, and that we can't do it alone. We need a man.

Phooey. Support systems are important. Good male and female role models are important. Health, security, love are important. The marital status of the mother - not so much. Of course these families face challenges, but who doesn't? Plenty of couples enter parenthood with different, but no less significant problems from the get-go, with wide open eyes. Are people in Iraq selfish for having children to raise in a war zone? What about prospective parents who are ill?