What’s a Man to Do?!

Catherine CoyleAt a recent pro-abortion rally in Dublin, Ireland, male attendees were reminded (by a speaker referred to as Amanda) to “know their place.” The men being stridently scolded weren’t protesting abortion; rather, they were there to support women. Yet, they were targeted by the speaker who emphasized that men may be permitted to support women’s right to abortion as long as they remember that “this is a woman’s movement.” Stephanie Lord of Choice Ireland sought to further clarify Amanda’s comments by stating that “men involved in the prochoice movement should be supporting and not dominating the conversation.” The concern was that, if men take too active a role in supporting abortion as a woman’s right, they will be perpetuating a male-dominated system.

So, what are men to do with this latest directive? It sounds like they are supposed to support women quietly, in the background, without exercising their right to free speech. They are to remember that they were the bad guys for too long and their paternalistic nature needs to be repressed lest patriarchy rear its ugly head. Women have worked long and hard over the last several decades for equality and they have made great progress toward that goal. Still, aren’t women in danger of perpetuating against men exactly that which they have fought so hard to free themselves from? Might their intense demands for domination be alienating them from men and discouraging men from offering that which only men can provide?

Men can and do make valuable contributions to society and particularly to the family. They have significant and positive effects on their children’s cognitive and emotional development as well as on their educational achievement (Cabrera, Shannon & Tamis-LeMonda, 2007; Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006). Children who live without their fathers are four times more likely to be living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011) and are significantly more likely to engage in delinquent behavior (Bush, Mullis & Mullis, 2000) and be incarcerated (Harper & McLanahan, 2004). Father absence can also affect children’s physical health. Obesity (National Longitudinal Survey of Youth), drug and alcohol abuse (Hoffmann, 2002) and teen pregnancy (Teachman, 2004) are all associated with father absence. Furthermore, the positive effects of active father involvement have been observed to persist into adulthood. For example, adolescents who report having close relationships with their fathers have more satisfactory adult marriage relationships as well as less psychological distress during adulthood (Flouri & Buchanan, 2002).

The potential positive impact of a father’s healthy involvement with his children is indisputable. His involvement begins at the moment his child is conceived. When men are treated as less than equal partners in reproduction and childrearing, might they be less likely to behave like responsible men and more likely to evade responsibility for the lives they had a part in creating? Genuine equality, on the other hand, promotes respect and responsibility between men and women.

Cabrera, N. J., Shannon, J. D., & Tamis-LeMonda, C. (2007). Fathers’ influence on their children’s cognitive and emotional development: From toddlers to Pre-K. Applied Development Science, 11(4), 208-213.

Flouri, E. & Buchanan, A. (2002). Involved fathers key for children. Economic and Social Research Council.

Harper, C. C. & McLanahan, S. S. (2004). Father absences and youth incarceration. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14, 369-397.

Hoffmann, J. P. (2002). The community context of family structure and adolescent drug use. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 314-330. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Rosenberg, J. & Wilcox, W. Bradford (2006). The importance of fathers in the healthy development of children. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children’s Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/fatherhood/chaptertwo.cfm

Teachmann, J.D. (2004). The childhood living arrangements of children and the characteristics of their marriages. Journal of Family Issues, 25, 86-111.

U.S. Census Bureau (2011). Children’s living arrangements and characteristics, Table C8, Washington D.C.

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