Mixed metaphors in the AV race

Is AV a horse race or a football match? Or is it just whatever the plebs can understand?

What if a general election were a horse race? No, too complicated. Fences. Horses and jockeys. Difficult to understand. I'll try again. What if a general election were a 100-metre race? Mmm, no, too tricky. Scope for misunderstandings. Lanes cause problems. No, that won't do. That won't do at all. Starting pistols? Photo finishes? All far too hard to understand. Give me a minute.

OK, let's say a general election is just like a cricket match. And the ball is your vote, and the stumps are the winning margin, and you bowl your vote at the winning margin, and . . . no. No, no, no. This isn't helping at all.

I'll try again. Nice and simple. Because you're stupid. Because you're too thick to get the idea of voting, and you need it turned into something that you can understand, because you hate the idea of politics and everything that goes with it; and besides, you don't have the time to think about facts, or problems, or complexity, or nuance – you're just a tot in a crib, waiting for Daddy to tell you a story. You don't want anything other than a happy ending.

Let's face it, you're thick. You're dumb. You're barely more than a dribbling infant slamming its tiny hands into a bowl of goo because you like the way it splatters. That's the level we're trying to pitch this at. Because that's all you're capable of getting. Voting is something that you're afraid of because you're a dummy, and unless we talk to you about it bright colours AND CAPITAL LETTERS and smiley faces, you're not going to get your oh-so-pretty little heads around it, are you?

OK. So. Right. Imagine you're at a football match, right, and the team you wanted to win didn't win because someone else wanted the other team to win, even though they actually wanted your team to win. Yes . . .? No. No, we really aren't making any headway.

OK, let's see if we can try and nudge you in the right direction another way. What if someone you liked thought about voting in a particular way; what would you think then? Look, here's someone famous, them off from off of the television. What do you think now? They look pretty bright, don't they, and they got famous for writing, or being funny, or running around and jumping over hurdles, or whatever it is; and look, they think this way. Or, if that won't convince you, look at these bad people, people you don't like. They're bad people, and they think this way. Now what do you think?

Forget about all those thoughts about things being slightly more complicated than they might at first appear. Try to forget, if you can. It's a miracle you don't burn yourself on the toaster every morning, really, but there it is; you've made it through life this far without too many problems, and so you get given a vote, to do with as you wish. It's just that, well, you don't want to do all that boring stuff about democracy, and representation, or the comparable benefits of different voting systems, do you? You don't want to think about all that. You've got better things to do.

So let's just talk about things in a simplistic, infantile way that you can comprehend, even in your tiny squashy noggin, because you're frankly not bright enough to want to know about anything that's slightly more difficult to grasp than a slap in the face with a gardening glove. Just you leave it to us to tell you how to do it. And there you are! Democracy will be improved unimaginably, just by you putting your vote here. Or there. Wherever we've told you to put it. Because it's the right thing for YOU.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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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.