The seahorse is a fascinating creature. Aside from being evidence that whatever god of creation may have existed was on some truly excellent hallucinogens, seahorses –Hippocampus hippocampus – are a species where the male gets pregnant. Life would be a lot more interesting if human beings had to breed like seahorses. For a start, I highly suspect that the right to terminate a pregnancy would not be under violent attack across the western world.
This past week, an armed misogynist broke into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and killed three people after a stand-off with police. PP is the biggest organisation offering abortion, contraception and sexual health services in the US, and it has been under sustained attack from conservative activists and politicians who will not rest until abortion is illegal.
This week, a high court judge in Belfast ruled that abortion might just be permissible in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormality, which is a huge step forward, considering that women across Ireland are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term in all circumstances. Those who commit the grievous sin of having consensual sex, however, are still on their own, unless they have the funds to travel to England.
There is a pattern here. The concept of women having actual goddamned agency over their lives and bodies, the idea that we might get to decide when, whether and how to have children, is still a threat to the status quo. We grudgingly allow women to make decisions related to sex and reproduction as long as they feel an appropriate degree of guilt, and hoard that guilt away in private. Have an abortion? You’d better be sorry about it for the rest of your life. Get pregnant without a partner? Be prepared to spend 18 years explaining yourself. Leave paid work to have a child? You’re lazy, spoiled and frivolous. Carry on working after your kids are born? You’re cold, selfish. Get sterilised? You’re an unfeeling, unnatural monster. Whoever you are, if you have a uterus and dare to make a decision about what comes out of it, shame on you. Shame is the overarching theme here, shame and scorn for anyone with the temerity to behave as if their own humanity is important.
I am sick of explaining to misogynists that women are people whose choices and autonomy matter. Instead, let’s go back to considering the seahorse. Consider how different the world would be if the people with the capacity to bear children were the people society already considered fully human. Consider what would happen if men got pregnant.
If men got pregnant, abortion would be available free of charge and without restriction in every town and city on earth. No man would be expected to justify his decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. It would be enough for him to say, “I don’t want to have this baby.”
If men got pregnant, then pregnancy, labour and childcare would immediately be recognised as work and compensated as such. The entire economic basis of global capitalism would be upended overnight. After the ensuing bloodless revolution, the phrase “work-life balance” would disappear from the lexicon, along with the line, “I don’t do condoms, babe.”
If men got pregnant, “pro-life activists” would be called “forced-birth extremists”, and reviled as such by liberals, libertarians and every political movement with a claim on human freedom.
If men got pregnant, they would be considered not mere vessels for potential human life, but human beings whose agency ought to be inviolable. Men would not stand for having their basic rights to sexual freedom and personal autonomy confiscated, even if in some people’s opinion they might be committing murder. Men are often prepared to commit murder for reasons far less egregious than the occupation of their bodies by a foreign invader. There is a sizeable lobby in the United States right now that believes that people should have the right to slaughter anyone who breaks into their home, or looks the wrong way at a police officer, or does almost anything that might conceivably be considered suspicious while also being black.
If men got pregnant, they would never be told that if they did not want to conceive, they should not have sex. Major world religions would rush to reinterpret their scripture; any verses appearing to condemn abortion or contraception would be considered in the same light as those dooming wearers of mixed fabrics to fiery damnation eternal.
If men got pregnant, nobody would consider a man’s choice to have or not have children the defining feature of his adult life. There would be no shame in seeking sterilisation, just as there is no shame today for a man seeking a vasectomy. When a man made a decision about when and whether to have children, he would be able to count on having that decision respected, rather than being called selfish, lazy and slutty, or warned that he would “regret it some day”.
If men got pregnant, somebody would have already invented a breast pump that was fit for purpose.
If men got pregnant, they would not be forcibly penetrated with cameras and obliged to look at an ultrasound of the foetus before getting an abortion. Instead, sports channels and video games would be available in the procedure room, plus a free beer with every procedure.
If men got pregnant, pregnancy and childbirth would not be dismissed as “natural”, but treated as heroic acts of sacrifice. Forcing a man to go through either against his will would be considered the equivalent of the military draft and protested as such.
If men got pregnant, having a ‘baby belly’ would not be a source of shame. Men would show off their stretch marks and Caesarian scars like battle wounds.
If men got pregnant, pregnancy and childbirth would not be dismissed as ‘natural’, but treated as heroic acts of sacrifice. Forcing a man to go through either against his will would be considered the equivalent of military drafting and protested as such.
In point of fact, some men do get pregnant. Transsexual men have borne children, but their experience is not part of the popular understanding of reproductive rights – because people don’t get pregnant, women get pregnant, and when you get down to it, women aren’t really people. The structure of modern misogyny is still grounded on the fear that women might one day regain control of the means of reproduction and actually get to make their own decisions about the future of the human race- but you cannot force a person to give birth against their will and consider them fully human.
If men got pregnant, we would not be having this conversation. The fact that we still are shows how far we’ve got to go before equality becomes reality.
This article appears in the 02 Dec 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Syria and the impossible war