Women’s "natural right" to be society’s slave

Law professor Shari Motro proposes “Preglimony” — the codified responsibility of a male involved in the conception of a fetus to contribute financially to the mother’s well-being while she is pregnant.

The problem is that under current law, most states frame men’s pregnancy-related obligations as an element of child support or as part of a parentage order, which generally kicks in only after the birth of a child and is limited to medical expenses. Until and unless the pregnancy produces a child, any costs associated with it are regarded as the woman’s responsibility.


Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange, 1936

But we need more than to institute such societal expectation as a matter of law with regard to pregnancy. And we need to look much deeper than fiscal support when we consider the responsibilities of procreating men.

We need to rewrite the laws that stipulate that default custody of offspring born “out of wedlock” (isn’t wedlock such a strange word?!), goes to the woman. WHY? When a single mother is unable to care for her children with some level of stability they are taken from her; when she goes completely off the deep end and throws her baby in the dumpster, she is arrested. Does all this happen in one day? No, the problem perhaps started before the child was born, and the safety and well-being of the child is at risk prior to the day that he or she is abandoned or abused.

So where was the child’s father during this period of escalating disorder in the child’s life? Even if he pays his child support (which so many get away with not paying), why does the father have no custodial responsibility to help raise the child, to check in on the child, to offer the mother some relief in the duties of child-rearing, to intervene before tragedy happens? Why is the father not also arrested when a child is abused, after he completely ignored his child’s welfare during a developing situation?

The answer to “why” is codified in our laws. It is beyond reason that, for the simple fact of the absence of a marriage certificate, 100% of the responsibility for rearing a child lands on the female and 0% lands on the male apart from “child support” … unless he proactively seeks some level of custody. Unless he decides that he would like to share the responsibilities that go so much farther than economic burden, he is free to walk away.

A quick web search on “child custody laws unmarried” turns up a page on LegalMatch that summarizes the way our laws stick it to women with regard to the duties of child rearing, while disguising that solo burden as a “right” (emphasis added here):

The unmarried mother is presumed to have the primary or natural right to custody of children born when she is not married.  Therefore, she has the legal right to custody, care, and control over the child and her rights are superior to those of the father or any other person.

“Her rights are superior” my ass! Where is her right to take a break, to have the father rear the child so she can go to college or take a job on the other coast or just have a frickin’ week off? “Rights” are something we may or may not choose to exercise. Yes, in some cases, a child might be better off with limited or no contact with their father, and in such a case the mother ought by default to enjoy full control over the child’s welfare. But where does the law speak to an unmarried mother who perhaps is not interested in rearing the child, or simply needs the father to share in everything from taking time off from work when a child is sick or to taking kids to the dentist, to teaching the kid how to ride a bike, or running all the errands involved in ensuring a child is fed, clothed and equipped with necessities?

The next sentence on that page proves my point that the law looks at this question in a very strange way:

These rights can be defeated if it can be shown that the mother is unfit or has abandoned the child.

Okay, then, so we wait until the mother is acting “unfit” or has abandoned her child, before we contemplate looking at whether the father ought to be pitching in with some relief from the daily grind, for the children’s sake at least?

This perspective also shines a light on fathers’ rights. I personally have known men who wanted equal access to their own children, or full custody when they truly were the more “suitable” primary caretaker, yet had to do battle with judges and social workers while working at a handicap under law and social policy. The results of their fight to partner in, or take over, raising their children were mixed and any successes were very hard-won. My brand of feminism looks for equal rights for all. Including men.

Until we revamp laws that actually codify that a woman’s biology is her destiny, women will remain second-class citizens in this country, will continue to contribute billions of dollars’ worth of services to the GDP without any consideration or compensation, will continue to bear the stress of putting in exhaustingly long days, day after day, for decades, shouldering alone the work that by all reason ought to be shared by two people. And fathers who want to be equitably involved with raising their children – and also men who have gained custody and then need the same social support services (subsidized daycare, etc.) that a woman would need in the same situation – will continue to find themselves at a handicap in the courts and social services systems.

Awesome Woman: Suraya Pakzad

The AWESOME woman of the day is SURAYA PAKZAD (born ca. 1970), an Afghan woman deeply committed to women’s rights to education, safety, and opportunity. Pakzad founded the “Voice of women Organization” (VWO) NGO in 1998 and began to teach girls how to read in groups across Afghanistan. Since 2001, when Afghani women to some extent could operate to pursue their aspirations in a rigid society, VWO began to function openly. Her work to protect women and girls at risk as well as advocacy for women’s right puts her in constant danger in a traditional society in Afghanistan.

In 2009, when she was one  of the first four women to receive a “Power and Peace Award” (one of several high honors she has earned), the Washington Post explained the kind of violence Pakzad witnessed in her youth, that led her to follow her mission of working for women:

Suraya Pakzad was 12 when she saw a gunman kill the headmistress of her Afghan school because the woman taught girls and refused to wear a headscarf. A few weeks later, a rocket smashed into the school and killed a student sitting near her, another warning for girls not to learn.

In addition to her open efforts towards educating women and teaching them skills and trades (she is the only woman in Afghanistan who has ever trained other women to run a restaurant, for example), she also runs a system of secret shelters for child brides and other victims of Taliban-style abuse of women, providing housing and medical, legal and job-training services.

Pakzad was named in 2009 by Time magazine as one of the “Time 100” most influential people in the world. A mother of six children, she lives with unimaginable daily risk. She has been the victim of many death threats and conservative influences within the government have worked against her good efforts. Funding is also a constant challenge. 

The write-up of Pakzad in Time 100 noted:

It is difficult to name a more committed advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan…. Pakzad knows that any future success for Afghanistan depends greatly on the full, unimpeded participation of its women as contributing, productive members of society. In 1926, then Queen Soraya said famously, “Do not think, however, that our nation needs only men to serve it. Women should also take their part, as women did in the early years of Islam. The valuable services rendered by women are recounted throughout history. And from their examples, we learn that we must all contribute toward a development of our nation.” This is what Pakzad believes. This is what she fights for. And it is — and this, however unpleasant, must be said — what she may die for.

Awesome Woman: Faith Bandler

Today’s Awesome Woman is FAITH BANDLER, an Australian activist who has lived an iconoclastic life and has been a lifelong civil- and women’s-rights leader.

In a review of Marilyn Lake’s biography of Faith Bandler, Faith Bandler, Gentle Activist, Lyndall Ryan writes:

…the subject is full of contradictions. She is not Aboriginal, but as a woman of colour she has devoted most of her adult life to removing legal discrimination against Aboriginal people. She is not a white woman, but she has led a middle-class life as the wife of an engineer on Sydney’s North Shore. She is not a member of a political party but she has been a political activist for over fifty years. She is Australian born and bred, but has always felt an outsider in mainstream Australia. She is not a historian but she has published four books about her family’s origins and about the struggle to win a ‘Yes’ vote in 1967. 

Bandler was born on September 27, 1918 on a banana farm in New South Wales, to a father who had been “blackbirded” (kidnapped and forced into slave labor) in 1883 from his native island in what was known as the New Hebrides, and an Australian-born mother of Indian and Scottish descent. During the Depression she left high school and went to work as a milliner. But when World War II brought the opportunity for women to serve in the Women’s Land Army, she gained a consciousness of the inequities dealt to the Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal women who earned a fraction of what other women were paid.

Ryan continues to list Bandler’s very unusual (for a woman of color in Australia) relationships, travels and pursuits:

After the War, she lived a cosmopolitan life in Kings Cross, where she had a long affair with a Finnish sailor, took music lessons to improve her fine singing voice and learn the importance of a public presence on the stage, and studied at WEA classes to overcome her lack of education. Her political involvement with the Left enabled her to travel to Europe in 1951 to attend a major cultural youth festival. In this formative period of adulthood, she gained a very sophisticated understanding of herself sexually and politically. In 1952 she married Hans Bandler, a Jewish refugee engineer from Vienna. It proved an enduring partnership, based on shared political beliefs and a great love of classical music and gardening.

In 1956, when their daughter was two years old, Faith used her middle-class security to become a fulltime political activist, determined to eradicate discriminatory laws and practices against Aboriginal peoples.

 From 1956 to the early 1970s, Bandler was a major influence, spokesperson and figurehead in the fight to gain full citizenship rights for the Aboriginal people. As general secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders , Bandler led the campaign for a constitutional referendum to remove discriminatory provisions from the Constitution of Australia. In 1967, after the federal government had agreed to hold a referendum on the Aboriginal question, Bandler was appointed New South Wales campaign director, a position she fulfilled with energy, skill and enthusiasm. By the time the Referendum was won in May 1967, Faith Bandler had become a major public figure.

As the Black Power movement developed into the early 70s, being black but not Aboriginal was now a disadvantage, and Bandler “retired” from the Aboriginal struggle to begin researching, writing about and campaigning for the rights of South Sea Islander Australians. This was an even more challenging political feat, since she not only was fighting to overturn the false historians who claimed that “blackbirded” Islanders were in fact voluntary indentured servants, but she was also ostracized by the Aboriginal Rights community who had become influenced by a separatist Black Power ideology. Finally, in the year 2000, the Queensland government offered a measure of official recognition to the South Sea Islanders when it conducted a ‘recognition ceremony’ at Parliament House in Brisbane — largely due to Bandler’s research, writing and publicizing of the cause.

Bandler has also written and co-authored many books, including two histories of the 1967 referendum, an account of her brother’s life in New South Wales, and a novel about her father’s experience of blackbirding in Queensland.

In 1975, she traveled to Ambryn Island, the land of her father’s birth from which he had been kidnapped 92 years prior. In 2009, she was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia (a sort of Australian “knighthood”).

In interviews about her personal evolution as a political activist, Faith Bandler expresses a deep gratitude and strong consciousness of the influence of other women who served as her mentors and motivators.


National Museum of Australia http://www.indigenousrights.net.au/person.asp?pID=954

Australian Humanities Review (Lyndall Ryan’s review of Marilyn Lake’s book) http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-May-2003/ryan.html

Australian Biography (Australian government site) http://www.australianbiography.gov.au/subjects/bandler/

Further links available at:

[My Awesome Woman posts were first written for and published to a closed Facebook group, and are republished here.]

Awesome Women: Lisa Shannon and Fartun Abdisalaan

The Awesome Women of the Day are Lisa Shannon and Fartun Abdisalaan, who together are working to improve the lot of women in Mogadishu, Somalia, which was “recently named one of the five worst places to be female” and is a place where few on this earth would choose to visit, never mind work. They are being honored today for risking their lives and giving up Western comfort in order to advocate for the human rights, health, safety, opportunity, education, and well-being of women in one of the hardest hit places on the planet.

Lisa Shannon, center and in black, and Fartun Abdisalaan Adan, in blue directly behind her,
surrounded by participants in the new organization Sister Somalia,
which helps Somali victims of gender-based violence.

In an article penned by Shannon, “In Mogadishu: A Lifeline For Somali Rape Victims”
in The New York Times this week, she leads off:

“Why did you come here when no one else does?” The African Union communications director asked us over dinner at its compound in Mogadishu. Good question. We were warned against it, especially by war-zone regulars. It’s been called the most dangerous city—or place—on earth. In fact, we had to delay our trip for two weeks due to multiple suicide bombings and riots inside the area controlled by Mogadishu’s transitional government (TFG). So, why go? I gave the short answer, “We’re supporting a local social entrepreneur in launching a sexual violence hotline.”

But the real answer was more complicated. Somalia bothers me. The 1993 Black Hawk Down incident was tragic not only for the loss of United States servicemen, but because many experts credit this loss with a shift in American public sentiment and policy toward mass atrocity in Africa. In effect, we collectively flipped off our empathy switch, approaching African crises like Rwanda, Congo and Darfur as “Operation Not Worth It.” But no country has been more written off than Somalia. And in Somalia, no group has been more written off than women.

Abdisalaan’s husband, Elman, was a human rights worker who was murdered in 1996. After escaping to Canada to raise her children there, she returned to Mogadishu in 2007 to continue his work and is the founder of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center. Counseling and other services are provided to the survivors of gender violence, the nearly universal female genital mutilation practiced in Somalia, and all sorts of struggles the women endure due to the chaos and conflicts in their country.

And then there is Al-Shabab. The radical, militant Islamic group linked to Al-Qaeda rules 90% of central and south Somalia with utter impunity. Not only do they abduct and imprison through forced marriage, terrorize and gang rape. If women complain, they are often accused of adultery and speaking against the brotherhood, punishable by death. The execution methods of choice: Stoning or beheading.

Abdisalaan founded Sister Somalia, a program in collaboration with Shannons’ new organization, A Thousand Sisters, which offers the only sexual violence hotline in Mogadishu, provides counseling, business startup advice, and also works to move survivors and their children away from their attackers. “Each woman who walks through the door will also receive a letter from a ‘sister’ abroad,” writes Shannon. “We hope to raise $120,000 per year to make it happen. How is a broke activist like me planning to pull this off? Just like every stage of my journey with Congo, I don’t know exactly. But I’m betting we can find at least 1,000 Americans who would welcome the opportunity to show up for women in Somalia, through writing a letter or giving at least $10 per month.”

[My Awesome Woman posts were first written for and published to a closed Facebook group, and are republished here.]

Evil Trouser Wearing Women

BBC NEWS | Africa | Sudan women ‘lashed for trousers’ — and Obama didn’t even mention Sudan?

Is there nothing to be done about theocracies that brutalize their women? That is not a rhetorical question, I really wonder about the implications of doing nothing and also about the implications of interfering.

Still wondering whazzup that Prez O did not take one of the most cruel African regimes to task when he had the chance.

TY to Nick Kristoff for his FB post on this.