From this week's NY Times 'Sunday Styles' section comes a new assault on the American family: single fathers by choice. Sources on surrogacy and adoption say the number of such fathers is growing, and they have been thrust into the forefront by none other than Ricky Martin, who recently became a father to twins. Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether Ricky Martin is really capable of thrusting anything into the forefront anymore, single fathers by choice are definitely worth a little feminist attention. They face many of the same issues as that group much maligned by the right, single mothers by choice, but with their economic and political clout, they may have a shot at making single parenthood easier for everyone.Single mothers by choice are often second-guessed by people who think they can't handle the job. Turns out men come in for such second-guessing too. Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute says that men run into the stereotype that "Women are better nurturers. Why would a man want to raise a child?" So while single mothers get pegged as lonely or selfish, single fathers are chromosomally unprepared or possibly unmanly. Single dad Gene Flanders says strangers are likely to assume he doesn't know how to raise his son. When he let his baby boy taste some butter from his finger at a restaurant, "one woman almost reached up to stop me - little slights like that." Of course, women get plenty of criticism for how they raise their kids. But it's worth noting that the same annoying stereotypes that make men out to be Neanderthals who can't make their own dinner may also damage their ability to be fathers. And we should be supporting this ability! Why? Well, because experts say that single parents "can still raise children successfully, if they enlist the support of family and friends to help provide a nurturing environment and structure." And because supporting single fatherhood means affirming men's capacity to raise kids without a woman in the house, which is good for gay couples. But this is Jezebel, and since we are feminazis who only care about women, let's get to the point! Take a look at that picture above. It's lawyer Steve Harris wearing a business suit, sitting in a posh office — with his baby. If that were a woman, the article would probably be about how impossible it is to juggle personal and professional responsibilities, and how she's worried her child will grow up damaged because of their high-powered career. But the NYT offers the following description of Harris's lifestyle: "His office now looks different. He's brought in a playpen; there are toys and books, all there in case the nanny calls in sick." So, uh, he adapted to his situation and somehow manages to balance family and career (albeit with a nanny)? Shocking! Single parenthood is still associated with a disempowered group in society — women, and often poor women at that. But if a powerful group — professional men, often the only ones who can afford six-figure surrogacy fees — joins in, perhaps raising a child on one's own will receive much-needed legitimacy. If besuited dudes in Manhattan juggle story hour and billable hours, perhaps society will wake up to the fact that women have been doing this for years, and doing it without raising a generation of axe murderers. And more importantly, perhaps when more men become single parents, less fortunate single parents will get more of the resources they badly need — like child care, health care, and other services that can be difficult to afford when you're raising a kid on your own. So kudos to the Steve Harrises of the world, not only for doing a tough job all by themselves, but for potentially making that job a little easier for others. The Bachelor Life Includes A Family [NY Times]
Perhaps I'm too jaded, too cynical, but I'd sooner see the world telling women that "see, these men can raise a kid and still work 70 hours a week" even though they make use of a nanny and such.
Also, I've a feeling that if all single mothers started putting playpens in their offices and cubicles they'd soon be out of a job.