Where did the fathers go?

// 1 September 2013

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baby rattle colourful.jpg

In a recent article, Aeon Magazine tries to understand and explain why in 2013 there still is no such thing as a male contraceptive pill. Among the reasons, the author finds, is ‘the ethical problem of justifying potential side effects without any direct health benefits for men’. Pregnancy itself doesn’t carry any health risks for men – so why would they put up with the side effects of hormonal contraceptives to avoid it?

It is of course hilarious to think that the main reason people who have sex would want to prevent a pregnancy is that they aren’t up for the health risks associated with it. As if the fact that, you know, there might be a baby at the end of it, a real person who would need care and love 24/7 for about another 18 years or so, isn’t part of the equation.

Unless the baby, too, is seen as a woman’s issue, that is. Caring for it, raising it, loving it – these things won’t affect a man’s life much.

Put bluntly, it sounds absurd. Yet this is a widespread and perfectly accepted idea, as has become increasingly clear to me since becoming a mother. Parenting books will advise their readers to go easy on themselves, sleep when baby sleeps, accept that the house won’t be spotless for a while, and, when things get really bad, consider asking their partners for help.

The choice of word tells a tale: the domestic chores, the cooking, the minding of babies and raising of children – they’re all maternal responsibilities with which a woman can get some help from her partner, should she be lucky enough to have captured one of the good ones. Or, as you’ll hear if eavesdropping on a coffee-drinking bunch of NCT mothers, some partners are occasionally really good with helping out with the babysitting.

These are fathers we’re talking about. Fathers who are helping out by babysitting their own children.

Pick up any British newspaper and you’ll find countless examples to demonstrate my point. Mothers are failing their children, who then go out and commit crimes. Mothers are failing their children, who get sent off to school with sub-standard nutrient-lacking lunch boxes. Alternatively, mothers know best for their children.

Where did all the fathers go? Off to work, wearing suits, talking business, making money, drinking beer? Well, actually, no. The fathers, it seems, have disappeared. There are plenty of men in the papers, and men go to work, sure. But as far as media are concerned, men don’t do parenting. They don’t mind children, they don’t aspire to being good fathers, and they certainly don’t pop hormonal pills with side effects to stop women they’re sleeping with from getting up the duff.

‘Fatherhood is a feminist issue,’ gailem wrote for the F Word last month. I’m inclined to agree. Not least because most men I’ve met in real life are real people, too. Real people with, what’s it called, feelings.

Image, by Flikr user Ozh, shows a baby’s colourful toy rattle. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Comments From You

Rach // Posted 1 September 2013 at 9:19 pm

Apparently safety standards for the male pill are much higher than for female pills so getting one on the market would take much longer and be far more expensive, so companies aren’t up for it (especially with so little demand). Says a lot for the difference in estimation of the worth of women’s lives as opposed to men’s…

Isla Kennedy // Posted 2 September 2013 at 1:31 am

Good article and massively agree with you! I hate the adverts that say ‘approved by mums’ or ‘mums go to Iceland’, etc. As if fathers shouldn’t be caring about what their children eat, or doing the shopping or buying their kids schools uniforms, etc.

I have also written a student article before about how men are the way forward for feminism. No matter how many female CEOs we have or female builders and engineers, until men take up more of the traditionally female jobs and roles, including domestic chores and childcare, we will never be equal. And I hate that childcare is seen to be a female consideration. Childcare is a FAMILY issue not a WOMAN’S issue!

sohcahtoa // Posted 2 September 2013 at 9:36 am

In attempting to put the risks of developing a blood clot in context (not necessarily a bad thing in itself), the information leaflets that come with the pill point out that you’re more likely to get one while pregnant than when taking the pill. True, but if your sole reason for avoiding pregnancy is not getting a blood clot then you probably shouldn’t be using hormonal contraception!

It’s as if it can’t be admitted that preventing pregnancy might be a good thing in itself.

The Quick Throw In // Posted 2 September 2013 at 11:28 am


That sounds incredible – could you cite the source of this assertion ?

LauraB // Posted 2 September 2013 at 4:07 pm

@ The Quick Throw In


“The discontinuation of the WHO/CONRAD trial was a major setback in bringing male contraceptives to the market. It also raised difficult ethical questions about how to evaluate side effects in male contraceptive trials. Since all medications are bound to exhibit some side effects, what side effects should be sufficient to halt a trial? Female contraceptives have been associated with breakthrough bleeding, mood changes, increased risk of blood-clot formation, as well as other side effects. Why should we set a different bar for male contraceptives?

The twist here is that female contraceptives prevent unintended pregnancies in the person actually taking the contraceptive. Since a pregnancy can cause some women significant health problems, the risk of contraceptive side effects can be offset by the benefit of avoiding an unintended pregnancy. However, men do not directly experience any of the health risks of pregnancy — their female partners do. Thus it becomes more difficult, ethically, to justify the side effects of hormonal contraceptives in men.”

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