Cultural Reproductive Coercion: What About the Men?

[Content Note: Reproductive coercion; hostility to consent.]

Since I wrote about cultural reproductive coercion last week, I've gotten a number of emails and linkage from people Very Concerned about the men who are victimized by women who get pregnant without their male partner's consent. So let's talk about that.

First of all, that happens. And it is no less shitty or unethical when women deceive men into parenting against their wills than when men deceive women in the same way. Full stop. No caveats.

There are, however, some related issues that warrant further discussion.

1. The perception that female coercion is more pervasive is almost certainly based on the fact that narratives of female reproductive coercion are more pervasive. We are all socialized with stories of desperate or vindictive women who "get themselves" pregnant to "trap" a man (or to enrich herself some other way, i.e. "welfare queen" tropes), but there is no equivalent archetype in mainstream culture of the man who sabotages a partner's birth control and/or coerces her into pregnancy. To the contrary, a man who puts pressure on his female partner to have a baby is often celebrated as a rare specimen. "Isn't she lucky to have a man who wants to be a father?" These disparate gender narratives about coercive partners act in service to the perception that women are predominantly the perpetrators of reproductive coercion.

2. Contraception user error, which is the primary cause of contraception failure, is frequently conflated with birth control fraud. These are not the same thing. A woman who is taking a daily birth control pill, for example, might undermine its efficacy because she doesn't understand the importance of taking the pill every day. One of the effects of contraception-averse sex ed is leaving young women with less knowledge about how contraception actually works. A woman who lacks information, or who has the right information but is careless about taking her pills daily, is not malicious. (Also note that trouble with maintaining self-care is a feature of some very common neurological disorders and mental illnesses.)

3. Women are not exclusively responsible for pregnancy prevention. Sexually active cis men who don't want to become fathers can wear condoms. And should. Condoms they take the responsibility to purchase and unwrap and put on before engaging in PIV intercourse. Taking no active role in pregnancy prevention, and simply trusting that a partner will be wholly responsible for contraception—using it at all, and using it correctly—is lazy and irresponsible garbage. Men can (and should) empower themselves to be part of pregnancy prevention. Put a raincoat on your dick, fellas.

4. Finally, we need to acknowledge the disparity in reasons why men and women tend to engage in reproductive coercion. Generally, men engage in reproductive coercion to control partners by making them dependent, not explicitly (or at all) because they want to be fathers. Generally, women engage in reproductive coercion because their value as humans is deeply tied to their reproduction—they explicitly want to be mothers. That doesn't make one less problematic than the other, but it's an important difference to understand, because they require some different solutions.

Dismantling cultural reproductive coercion is important in both cases. It condones and abets the pressuring of partners, and it is a key tool in conveying to girls and women that they are only worth as much as their willingness and ability to birth babies.

What about the men? Well, the patriarchy and its culture of systemic cultural coercion is bad for them, too.

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