Dirty tricks, no nicks and standards

Marina on an electoral roll and thinking back to those Playboy days

Dear Marina

If one more person calls me to report a pothole, pledge a donation or join something called “the revolution” I’m throwing my phone out the window.

I keep telling them I’ve never heard of you and to f**k off. It was my son who spotted the same name on some leaflet people keep shoving through my door. What’s going on?

Disengaged, East Saltdean, near Brighton

Thank you for getting in touch. Given the number of Focus leaflets delivered through your letter box, it does concern me you’ve never heard of Marina Pepper.

I am one of your local Liberal Democrat councillors standing for re-election on 3rd May for East Saltdean and Telscombe Ward. That’s where you live.

Regarding the phone problem, there are three possibilities. Either we have a simple crossed wire, clever seagulls or somebody enjoys a prank.

Allegations of tampering are currently under investigation so I’d best not elaborate. But suffice to say it has not been lost on my crew that your disarming phone manner will have played an interesting curve ball to the electorate this week.

All calls are now redirected to my mobile until further notice at no extra charge to the caller. And please, in the spirit of sisterhood, register to vote. I notice you are not on the electoral roll. You have until 5.00pm on Wednesday 18th April.

Dear Marina,

Anna Nicole Smith was 39 years old when she died. You are 39 now. Given you're her age and with first-hand experience being in Playboy I thought you might be able to answer a question that's been plaguing me: Who's her baby's daddy?
So far three men are up for the task (or the fortune) of parenting six-month Dannilynn: Howard K. Stern, owner of the sizzling business, Hot Smoochie Lips, Inc., Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, who is already married to Zsa Zsa Gabor, and her former Australian bodyguard, Alexander Denk.
So, please, draw your bunny ears and contemplate which man you are hoping will come out as the victor following DNA tests.

Love H from the US

Playboy Centrefolds don’t wear ears – that’s Playboy Bunnies. They are croupiers and waitresses. We are ….I don’t know what we are……fine specimens of womankind I assume. Anyway, we wear – well, not much at all really. Although I do now, since that is what is expected of proper upstanding members of the community. But not underwear. It’s too warm these days.

Now we’ve cleared that one up, to your question. Who’s the daddy? Who cares? If a bunch of girl men want to carry on like a harem of cash crazed Texan gold diggers in some twisted narrative Hollywood inversion of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, I’m not going to waste time worrying. I have a mountain of Focus leaflets to deliver and a Tory party machine to beat by 3rd May

I wonder if any of the men in question would like to make a donation. They can contact me by clicking here.

Dear Marina

You were recently reported to the Standards Board for England over allegations of your conduct following planning permission being granted for a waste incinerator in Newhaven. Apparently you said opponents to the scheme had “followed the due process and now is the time for direct action.” I understand the complainant interpreted this to mean “a call for civil unrest outside the law.”

What should we expect Councillor Pepper? Riots or a resignation?
RG, Sussex

As the Standards Board has ruled – and I agree – “direct action” can include a multitude of lawful activities. Such as home composting, shopping wisely, leaving excess packaging at supermarkets, re-using, recycling, even demonstrating outside parliament: if you fill out a form and don’t tread on the flowerbeds.

Having said that, a number of great people and movements in history have broken the law to ensure better laws. To name a few: the Suffragettes, Tom Paine, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Ghandi.

If the people of Newhaven and the surrounding area want to change government waste policies and feel their only option – now Ruth Kelly has refused to call in the incinerator planning decision – is to take to the streets and chain themselves to the swing bridge in the centre of town, I can neither condemn nor condone their behaviour. I will however fully understand their sense of frustration.

Gotta go. Did you know I’m standing for election on 3rd May in the ward of East Saltdean and Telscombe? It’s a two horse race between Liberal Democrats and the Incinerator-hugging Tories. If you want to send a donation contact

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.