With regard to the marital hiccups of the Wilsons, I totally agree that the debate shouldn’t be about who’s right and who’s wrong. That was, in fact, the exact point I was trying to make. Everybody seems to have responded to this with their opinion about who’s right and who’s wrong, and I was trying to point out that that isn’t really solving anything. What everyone seems to be responding with is their ideas about what they’d do in that situation, when what James and Valentina really need is to work out a way of compromising and finding a solution they as a couple can both live with.
(As a side point – while I would quite agree that statistically speaking it’s highly likely that James isn’t doing the major part of the childcare, this is certainly not something I’d infer from his attitudes on how things should be done. Seems like every attachment parenting forum I’ve read has, somewhere or other, lamented the existence of full-time mothers who consider it normal and appropriate to put babies to sleep in separate rooms/make a plethora of other non-AP-sanctioned choices.)
Anyway, that was a relatively minor issue for me. What bothered me much more was the idea that a proposed family life utopia only needs to be a utopia for the female part of the population.
I’m a little baffled by the comment "I must have more faith in men than she does, because I think there would be way more fathers than shitheads". Without wishing to be egotistical, I can’t see who the ‘she’ could be referring to other than me. But I’m not sure where Kateri got the idea that I think otherwise. If I thought there were way more shitheads than fathers around, I’d be all for making Kateri’s model the standard. It’s precisely because I think most fathers want to be fathers that this model makes me decidedly uneasy. I think that most fathers want to be involved in their children’s lives on the sort of day-to-day basis that is only possible if you live with them and are involved in making the parenting decisions. I do not think that most fathers see anything idyllic about being relegated to the sidelines.
Kateri says she feels comfortable with the idea of a woman-only commune because she knows that her husband would always want to be an involved, loving father even if the two of them separated. What she doesn’t say is how comfortable her husband would be with having to be an involved and loving father on weekends only, with spending more time apart from his children than he got to spend with them, with being shut out of the majority of their day-to-day life and the day-to-day parenting duties. There are a lot of men in that situation now, and they see it as very, very much a second-best.
Why, of course men would enter the equation, Kateri says. Who says a man would not be welcome in the house if he wanted to be there? Well, Kateri did, or at least that’s what it sounded like to me. Call me crazy, but ‘We could… ignore men as much as we saw fit’ did not sound to me as though it allowed much scope for a man to get a say in the matter if the mother of his child decided that she saw fit to ignore him completely. Still, in all fairness, that was written as an offhand comment made at a time of frustration, not as the Final Plan For Changing Society. So I’m open to the possibility that Kateri didn’t mean that quite as harshly as it sounded, that she’s actually happy with the idea of allowing fathers to see their children on a regular basis. What would that be? Weekend visits, maybe? A week or two in the holidays, for older children? What kind of utopia would that be for men? Seeing your children only intermittently, going back to a separate house, living apart from them, having only a minimum of say in their lives, knowing that even those crumbs are entirely dependent on the good will of a woman who might choose to cut them off for all sorts of complex reasons that may or may not include your feelings as anything to which she feels she needs to give priority? (Anything about that life sounding familiar to you, Kateri?)
Last year, a well-known member of the blogging world (whose name I decided to leave out of this, because my intention here is to draw an analogy rather than criticise this person or rehash that particular dead-and-buried argument) told a story about the child she would have ended up adopting if she hadn’t become pregnant through IVF. Through sheer chance, she met the woman who did adopt that child, and saw how happy the two of them were together, while she herself was just as happy with her two babies. Commenters chorused about how blissfully happy this ending was for EVERYONE involved. People couldn’t quite understand why Kateri was so upset.
After all, why did it matter that the happy ending wasn’t happy for everyone involved? It was happy for both of the infertile women involved – the characters that the commentators on Tertia’s blog could identify with – so why bother to consider the feelings of the other person who must necessarily have been involved? Sure, the happy ending was only possible because of someone else’s agonising pain, but what was the big deal about the fact that that person didn’t even merit a mention when it came to basking in the happiness of the ending? The important people involved got their happy ending. Why worry about how anyone else involved may have felt?
I know that’s not an exact analogy. After all, men weren’t ignored in Kateri’s description of utopia, were they? They got mentioned, all right. As penises for sex. And then, as the New And Improved Mention, as fathers for children. Not as people with their own feelings on the matter, people with their own parenting values that might just include getting to live in the same house as their own children.
Kateri’s perfect family situation was worked out entirely in terms of what suited women and children. The way that it might feel for men wasn’t even considered worthy of passing mention or consideration. Men are the chopped liver of this utopia, the ones who don’t count. An idyll that depends on treating a huge section of the population as chopped liver just doesn’t strike me as that idyllic.