Thursday, March 27, 2014

What the Feminist Challenge to Coverture Means for the Modern Fathers' Rights Movement

Michael Higdon (Tennesse) has posted Marginalized Fathers and Demonized Mothers: A Feminist Look at the Reproductive Freedom of Unmarried Men, Alabama L. Rev. (forthcoming). Higdon explores

“Thwarted Fathers” and “Conscripted Fathers” — to reveal a serious problem that both share. Namely, the fathers in both categories have suffered a significant abridgment of their reproductive freedom, which the Supreme Court has identified as a fundamental right, either by having fatherhood forced upon them without consent or by having fatherhood withheld from them by deceit and subterfuge. In addition, what is particularly troubling about both classes of cases is that, in all of them, the person who was allowed to ultimately control the father’s reproductive freedom was the mother. After all, in both cases, it was decisions the mother unilaterally made that determined how much reproductive freedom the biological fathers would ultimately enjoy. 

Thinking of the problem in those terms, such laws start to bear some resemblance to common law coverture, whereby all the wife’s legal rights were placed in the hands of her husband, which he would then dole out to her if and when he saw fit. Feminists fought hard to end these legal disabilities and, in the process, revealed the harms that arise from one gender being given dominion over the legal rights of the other.

This argument, though, is based on the assumption that feminists fought coverture by demanding equal parenting rights.  Nineteenth-century feminists did challenge coverture and its restrictions on property and contract by demanding formal and substantive equality of rights.  But, for parenting rights, these feminists demanded gender-specific rights of sole female control. Challenging the prerogative of forced marital sex, the marital rape exception, involuntary motherhood, and parental custody and guardianship laws, feminists demanded unilateral, woman-only control.  Voluntary motherhood, the right to choose when to procreate, the unilateral right to refuse sex, and maternal custody presumptions were the solutions--all gender-specific, unilateral, female-only rights.  Why?  Because in parenting, the woman was the sole partner who had to bear the pregnancy and care for the child. 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2014/03/what-the-feminist-challenge-to-coverture-means-for-the-modern-fathers-rights-movement.html

Family, Legal History, Reproductive Rights | Permalink

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