Could a Real Man Handle the Pain of Childbirth?

Men are supposed to be stoic, to tough it out. Boys don’t cry and all that other nonsense. This may explain why men don’t seek medical advice as often as women, and why men receive less medical attention than women at accident scenes – women and children first after all. But women like to remind men that even if they could birth a baby physically, they probably wouldn’t be able to cope with the pain. This idea has made it into main stream culture, and women may be paying a price for this bit of dogma. Studies show that, controlling for level of pain reported, women are less likely to receive painkillers in emergency centres. This would make sense, after all, if women were so much better at handling pain.

So both men and women seem to want to own the position of being able to handle more pain, often apparently to their own detriment. So who is right? Research suggests a clear answer. When men and women have their hands subjected to intense heat or pressure, men can endure higher levels of both. What about putting hands in icy water? Once again, men seem to endure it better, indicating the onset of pain later, and waiting longer before removing their hands.

Men are also almost twice as likely to return to playing a sport after joint replacement surgery. Given that pain is the number one reason given for not returning to a sport after this kind of surgery, this result implies that men have a higher tolerance for this kind of pain as well. Women also report higher levels of pain experienced during a variety of illnesses, and for various forms of chronic pain. So, on balance men seem to endure pain better than women. Yet, the idea that women can endure more pain than men seems highly resistant to the accumulating evidence, with particular emphasis given to the experience of giving birth. Yes, we men have no doubt that it is painful. Yes, we understand that we can’t do it. But no, it does not logically follow that you women can endure more pain than us.

The Toilet Seat Problem – Solved!

I was driving the kids to school one morning, and stuck in the usual weekday morning traffic, when I noticed a billboard featuring a toilet. Yes, a toilet. The headline read "John, for God's sake, can you please learn to put the toilet seat down!" Indeed, the seat was up in the offending photo. Apparently, a woman felt so strongly about this issue that she purchased billboard space for one week to communicate her distress to her husband, who was presumably stuck in the same traffic jam as me.
The use of the word "learn" is telling here, implying an objectively correct answer that men are simply incapable of getting. We're obviously too stupid to realize that the seat belongs down. But in reality, of course, the toilet seat issue involves conflicting preferences rather than objective truths. There is no correct answer.
Now let's consider the underlying issue here. Women need the seat down, whether they are going number 1 or number 2. Men prefer to have the seat up for number 1, but down for number 2. Let's assume that the average person does four number 1s for every number 2. That means in a normal marriage, 60% of all toilet usage occasions involve having the seat down, hardly a basis for the 100% down policy so vehemently advocated by women everywhere.
I was reminded of this vehemence during a professional "retreat" where 7 male and 2 female colleagues shared a townhouse for the weekend. One of the women came down the stairs and angrily objected to the seat having been left up by the previous user. I innocently enquired as to why the seat should be left down given the ratio of men to women. Big mistake! She didn't speak to me for weeks.
But let's do the math. [7/9 people x "up" 80% of the time] = 62% "up" usage occasions. [2/9 people x "down" 100% of the time] + [7/9 people x "down" 20% of the time] = 38% "down" usage occasions. For that weekend, I was perfectly in my right to suggest that the "norm" for the townhouse should be "up" for that fateful weekend.
Having almost certainly stirred the ire of any female readers, let me now move toward reconciliation by noting one more rather unpleasant research finding. When you flush a toilet, tiny particles of faeces and droplets of urine fly everywhere. They are small, so we don't notice them, but they are, nevertheless, disgusting. Is there a way to prevent this unhygienic phenomenon you ask? Why yes there is! You can, get this, put both seats down before you flush.
This should be the norm for every household. And think of the other benefits. Do you really need to see what's inside a toilet bowl? Even a relatively clean one that has been flushed by the previous user isn't exactly pleasant to look at, which is why a thorough examination of the inside of a toilet bowl is such an effective technique for inducing vomiting when one has an upset stomach. Put both seats down! Problem solved. Let's move on.

Why Parenting Is Hard Work

Why do I have to juggle my responsibilities in the office and at home? Why do I experience this kind of conflict as a single parent, seemingly on a daily basis? Research suggests that single mothers are more likely to experience this kind of role conflict, but I suspect that it's really single parents that experience it, it's just that we single dads are a mere blip on the demographic radar screen. So being a single parent creates role conflict, and conflict is not good. Does this mean that single parents are less happy than other demographic categories? Well, yes, sort of. Studies show, for example, that parents are on average less happy, and more likely to experience depression, than non-parents.

But we really must question any notion that raising children is depressing. This simply flies in the face of evolution. I mean, what is the purpose of human existence, you know, the grand principle that seems to guide virtually all life on earth? I'd say it has something to do with reproduction, or more precisely, replicating our genetic material, and having babies is how we humans do it. How could fulfilling our grand purpose possibly be depressing? If anything, our genes would make it more psychologically painful not to reproduce, and there is evidence that women who do not have children are more depressed than women who do, holding many other happiness factors constant.

Dad shopping for daughter's undies is deemed a security risk

Men in general are assumed to be depraved until proven otherwise. When it comes to gender discrimination, nobody mentions the rather disconcerting stereotype that men are especially likely to be foul in some way or another, and being a good father, demonstrating the ability to love and nurture children, doesn't allow an escape from this sinister suspicion.

More generally there is the persistent notion that fathers have their place in this world – the office – but when it comes to matters of how their children will be raised, dads are not to intervene. They are incompetent parents at best and potentially dangerous at worst. Mums call the shots, and any deviation from these rules of engagement is punishable in a variety of ways, something I was confronted with one Monday afternoon.

I was shopping in a department store. Given the time and day of the week, the store was relatively lacking in shoppers, and almost all of the ones there, except me, were women. I hadn't really planned to shop. Indeed, single parents rarely have the luxury of planning anything. Rather, what happens is that some unexpected circumstance affords a sudden opportunity to go shopping. In this case it was the cancelation of a 1.30 meeting that gave me a 2 hour window after lunch.

The stage is set for a scene

Consider the following scenario.

Kim is a single parent of two, a 7-year old boy and a 3-year old girl, and also the director of marketing for a small to medium-sized electronics firm. Today, Kim is scheduled to present key results from the quarterly sales report to the Board of Trustees but arrives for the meeting 15 minutes late due to having to drop the older boy at school, and the younger girl at daycare. In addition to disheveled hair, there is a noticeable stain down the left side of Kim's suit, the result of the young girl vomiting at the end of her car trip after a hurried breakfast.

Why do you think Kim is late for this meeting? Is Kim a good parent? A good employee?

More importantly, which sex have you assumed Kim to be as you answer these questions? Did you think that Kim was a man or a woman? In research I conducted, I simply asked these initial questions to encourage people to reveal their assumptions about the sex of Kim.

Divvying up the despair of divorce

Whatever the inequities of marriage, divorce surely must be a great equalizer. After all, divorce affects both the man and the woman, right? There must be equity in that, right?  

I want to take a closer look at divorce and in particular, the losses encountered by divorcees. Sure, it's going to be a man-look. A man-look is the one where he fails to see the butter in front of his face when he scans the contents of the fridge. On the other hand, it is a man-look that allows him to find his way to a destination by glancing at a map. A man-look is a different view of the world. Not wrong, just different.

Marriage is entered through a flower-festooned bower and a shower of rose-petals. Blessings arrive in the form of children. Then in approximately half of these otherwise apparently happy unions, everything goes to hell. The symbols of hope accompanying marriage and child-birth disappear as divorce is adorned with doom : 'All hope abandon ye who enter here.'

Daddy deception – ‘Who’s your daddy?’

You're cuckoo if you think it is yours!
"It's a wise child that knows their own father."

Who's your daddy? Who knows? And you maybe cuckoo to think it's yours!

The potential for a man to conceive without his knowledge is so complete as to defy counting.

So what's the big deal? This has been going on for millennia. Some men even find the idea of being a father without responsibilities appealing.

It certainly must be admitted that 'sowing your oats' is a strategy that is only available to men.

Nature is like that sometimes. Just as Nature gives women an 'advantage' over men by dominating the in-utero and post-partum experience, nature gives men an advantage over women on minimizing the time and energy they have to put into the offspring.

However, not satisfied with allowing Nature to run without constraint, human culture has generally imposed a number of rules or guidelines or norms on how the two sexes play together in the reproduction game – and in particular, how child-care will be managed. In most human cultures, men are expected to be responsible for their offspring. And women can demand that be the case – sanctioned and reinforced by law in many countries.

Bring home the bacon you chauvinist pig

Here’s a riddle for you.  When is a sexist remark not sexist?  No, seriously.  Under what conditions can you make a sexist statement and be fairly sure that you will not be attacked by ‘political correctness’ police? 
Not sure?  Let me give you some clues.  Do you think the following quote is sexist? 
‘Women have narrow shoulders and broad hips. Women ought to stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon, keep house and bed and raise children.’

Mothers essential, fathers optional

Mother's Day is justifiably a big deal. My Mum is very important to me and very dear to me. Why does Father's Day seem so trivial by comparison?

Perhaps the mother's work is greater than the father's.  For a mother, having a child involves hard labour, a toil in which she gifts the three precious bodily fluids: blood, sweat and tears. A father for his part gives up a half a teaspoon of seminal fluid in a too-brief, but happy moment.

Given the effort required of a mother to birth and raise children, it is not surprising then that many religions and many cultures set aside a time to honour the mother. Mother's Day, or more generally the celebration of motherhood has a long history stretching back to Greek and Roman times at least. Mothering Sunday is recognised in many Christian religions on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

The Other Glass Ceiling becomes more visible

'The Other Glass Ceiling' is beginning to be recognised.  On the Tuesday before Father's Day 2010, Dads-on-the-Air interviewed me about the website.

To see the interesting lineup for the program that day (31 Aug 2010), go to  To hear the streamed version of the entire show containing the interview, go to the 'Listen Now' tab.

The Folly of Patriarchy

There is nothing that quite smacks of the power of patriarchy as patrilineal mapping. That is, giving children the surname of their father rather than their mother. What were our fore-fathers thinking? Hmmm…"for fathers." Perhaps that explains exactly what they were thinking. Men were looking after their own interests while matrilineal mapping would have been a much safer bet for knowing the lineage of a child.

The royal families are a varied lot, and I am willing to bet that there are a fair number of queens that gave birth to children whose sire was not the Sire.

I daresay that the emergence of DNA evidence in recent times will do much to undo any idealistic notion of patriarchal lineage. I imagine finding out that the patriarchal lines of monarchy are a lot patchier than history and the hegemony would have us believe.

Monty Python on gender inequality

JUDITH: I do feel, Reg, that any Anti-Imperialist group like ours must reflect such a divergence of interests within its power-base.

REG: Agreed. Francis?

FRANCIS: Yeah. I think Judith's point of view is very valid, Reg, provided the Movement never forgets that it is the inalienable right of every man--

STAN: Or woman.

Differing views of sex differences

For better or for worse, there are two sexes of humans.

That the sexes look different is plain to see. Even a five year old can confirm this and are generally keen to do this early. That males and females act and behave differently is self-evident also. Certainly the characteristic behaviors of the other sex make up much of the conversation of same-sex individuals in TV sitcoms and real-life.

The double-standard of equal rights

John Stuart Mill, a noted supporter of equal rights, was elected to Parliament in 1865. His early efforts to campaign for female suffrage were soundly defeated by an all-male, Conservative government. In 1879, Richard Pankhurst authored and launched the 'Women's disabilities removals bill' seeking the vote for women.

In this same year, Richard married Emmeline Pankhurst who became one of the most famous of the infamous suffragettes. While Richard Pankhurst died in 1898, Emmeline continued in the campaign – often militantly – for voting rights for women.

In 1914, she 'suspended' her fight for women's right to vote and turned her energetic attentions and those of other suffragettes to promoting conscription. In an effort to ensure the enlistment of all eligible men, Pankhurst and her supporters distributed white feathers, an unequivocal symbol of cowardice at the time, to men in civilian clothes. In the film 'The Four Feathers', Harry Faversham, played by Heath Ledger, receives feathers from three colleagues plus another from his fiancée for his apparent cowardice.

Yes, Emmeline fought hard for women's rights to be equal to those of men in voting. And then applied the same vigor to bullying and shaming men into going to war in the defense of she and her fair sisters. As Rudyard Kipling says in his poem, Tommy,

It's Tommy this and Tommy that
and chuck him out the brute
But its saviour of his country
when the guns begin to shoot
The war ended in 1918, and while many women wept for men not returning from the war, some women returned to their efforts for universal franchise. In 1918, headway was made in gaining some voting rights for women with property.

It was not until 2 July 1928 that women in the UK gained voting rights equal to men.

Emmeline Pankhurst missed the event having died just three weeks earlier.

The Grass is Always Greener

Given the inexorable female drive toward the top of the professional world (whether successful or not), it's curious that so many men do not see going to work as all that glamorous. For many, life in the public sphere means 8 hours a day in an office, plus the hours of commuting to and fro, for 50 weeks in a year, from age 20 to 60.

As one woman remarked to me, "that which is beyond the glass ceiling might not be worth having in many respects".

Exactly! What is so wonderful about going off to work? Power, influence, wealth, status? Well, yes, if you happen to be in the top echelons. Being a global leader may be an aspiration for many, but it is achieved by very few, men or women.

Even assuming that you make it to the top of the heap, is power and money the ultimate goal? Does the person with the most toys win?

It is said that no-one ever died wishing they had worked another day. So what is it that they did die wishing for? Mostly for time with friends, and above all, with family.

What some men (and others who engage fully in the public sphere) learn, mostly late, and some too late, is that the opportunity cost of engagement with the public sphere is their relationship with their own family, their parents, siblings, spouse, and above all, their children. In sum, it is more engagement with the private sphere – and specifically children – that is most precious to many.

Literary works over the last two centuries and popular songs over the last two decades are rife with the theme that women have a particularly tough time. In "Just a Girl" by the band No Doubt, the lead singer Gwen Stefani laments
"I'm just a girl, living in captivity
Your rule of thumb
Makes me worrisome
I'm just a girl, what's my destiny?
What I've succumbed to is making me numb
I'm just a girl, my apologies
What I've become is so burdensome"
Sounds grim Gwen.

Of course, men who have gone off to war only to have their limbs blown off, suffer unspeakable psychological trauma or simply not return might not agree that only women suffer.

The problem is that no single individual can compare what it's like to be a man with what it's like to be a woman. Males simply don't know what it's like to be females and vice versa. We can't switch back and forth between sexes.

Or can we?

The animal kingdom offers a glimpse of an answer. Several hermaphrodite species can reproduce as females or males, and at least some apparently "choose" to be females whenever possible.

Humans, of course, can't perform the old switcheroo when it comes to sex, but they can approximate changing sex in a number of ways. Reliable data on sex change operations (now known as "gender reassignment surgery") is only now becoming available and preliminary evidence suggests that men are 3 – 4 times more likely to change into women than vice versa.

When it comes to the ultimate decision as to whether the grass is greener on the other side of the gender fence, men opt for the switch far more often than women.

Admittedly, this is not a great measure of whether women have it easier than men. For one thing, the surgery to change a man into a woman is much easier than vice versa, so we would expect a result like this simply on the basis of the severity or invasiveness of the surgery itself.

While gender reassignment surgery is perhaps the ultimate step in switching genders, there are less severe measures. The incidence of male transsexuals is, once again, roughly 3 – 4 times that for female transsexuals. And what about gender switching among children in play acting games? Once again, available evidence suggests that boys are far more likely to play act female roles than vice versa.

Of course, the behavior of hermaphrodites, and statistics on gender reassignment surgery, transexualism, and gender identity disorder of childhood are hardly perfect indications of which gender has it better. In my own research, I have simply posed the question, "If you could be reincarnated and experience 10 lives after this one, how many times would you prefer to come back as a women and how many as a man?" Overwhelmingly, people choose to stick with their current gender.

The Phallacy of Fatherhood

Men are the powerful ones I often hear. We men are the ones that get all that we want. And that may be true in some domains, but not all.

Men do not get the right to be a parent without the consent of a woman. (The exception is via rape and this is rightly condemned.  However, note that in this case, conception depends on the vagaries of nature first, and then the woman's choice second.  In the modern, Western world, abortion is generally available on demand, especially if conception was via rape). 
Once a woman consents to conception, it is interesting that she gets all the congratulations. Everyone comes up and rubs her tummy, smiles and says well-done. No-one is rubbing his genitals and saying 'well done'!

In the first instance, men need a woman's consent to contribute to conception. They must then hope like hell that they were the only one invited to contribute. Apparently their hopes will be for nought in some minority of cases.

In the second instance, he needs her consent to be allowed access to the kids, and still hope like hell that he was the one that contributed at conception!

Adoption : what’s yours is mine

What if the child is born and the mother doesn't want the child? Where does the child go next?

It is not obvious – but it should be.

Perhaps we can hint at the obvious.

We do not make an unwilling mother raise a child. Equally, we do not make an unwilling father raise the child either.

That seems fair so far.

Well not quite. We are quite happy to make an unwilling father contribute financially to the child's upbringing as noted earlier.

The obvious bit that is missed is that while we generously allow unwilling parents off the hook of raising the child, her vote trumps his. Specifically, we do not even allow a willing father to raise the child. Why not?

The father is the other parent, the first one who should be considered if the mother decides to abandon the children to adoption. But it doesn't work like that.

In the rather frightening and media-worthy case of Baby Richard, the father knew that his estranged girlfriend was pregnant. When he contacted her after hearing that the baby was born, he was informed that the child had died in childbirth.

However, 57 days after the child had been born, he heard that the child was still alive – and had been given up for adoption by the mother.

He then proceeded to contest – through the legal system in the US – for the right to custody of the child. After four years, he won. But the media circus turned his win into a loss.

The return of the child to the father was a televised event. As can be well imagined, the young boy of four was in tears as he was torn from the only people that he had ever known as caregivers. The image and story was emotionally wrenching. And the father was clearly identified as the villain.

A father fighting for his own flesh and blood.

The media was doing its job and selling a newsworthy story. But in so doing, they overlooked the real crime. The real crime was that the father had to fight to win custody of his own child for so long when the mother did not want the child.

Due process takes its time, and it is undoubtedly difficult to allow a child to be removed from an adoptive family. But it is equally difficult to allow that father has to fight for four years for the right to raise his own son as in the case of Baby Richard.

In Connecticut, a child was given up by an 18 year old mother who six months changed her mind and wanted the baby back. She won her case within two more years even though she was living in a homeless shelter.

Baby Jessica was adopted out without her father's knowledge. The father initiated proceedings to block the adoption. After he repartnered with the birth mother, they won back their baby within two years.

Baby Emily's Dad however lost his case. He never succeeded in his desire to block the adoption. Perhaps appropriately because he had made some serious mistakes. He was a convicted rapist and had shown no interest in the child initially.

Nonetheless, this does much to undermine the UN Charter of the rights of the child : the right to know, and to be cared for by her parents. She can make mistakes in giving up a child, but a father cannot.

Undoubtedly the rights of the woman and the man can come into conflict as revealed in efforts for father's rights to be considered in Florida in the wake of the Baby Emily. But how do women's rights come to dominate father's rights?

Roe v Wade : either way, the man is up Shit Creek

Roe vs. Wade is a remarkable case as much for the lack of interest of Roe (real name Norma McCorvey) in the case itself. She was an unreliable witness first claiming her pregnancy was the result of rape, and later recanting the claim. By the time the case came to the Supreme Court, Norma McCorvey had already had the child. Nevertheless, she became a cause célèbre for the issue of abortion on demand.

It is even more remarkable although rarely acknowledged, that the power women won through this case was granted through those who are so often seen as limiting women's rights. This case and the judgment emerged through the male-dominated legal institution. The ruling opinion was delivered by a set of male judges.

Despite the judgment which gave women the right to abortion on demand, the issue is one that is debated on an ongoing basis, even among women. On one hand are those who defend the fetus' 'right-to-life' and on the other are those who defend the mother's 'right-to-choice.'

So, the battle lines are clearly drawn. Except that one stakeholder, the individual that is essential for this circumstance to arise is not even invited to the battle. Where is the father?

The rights of the father are simply non-existent. Even if he wants to defend the rights of the fetus over the mother as noted by a (male) Supreme Court justice:

"A father's interest in having a child – perhaps his only child – may be unmatched by any other interest in his life… It is truly surprising that… the State must assign a greater value to a mother's decision to cut off a potential human life by abortion than to a father's decision to let it mature into a live child."
The issue is particularly perplexing when it is realized that the woman decides whether or not to carry the fetus. The man who has no role in the decision can be required to pay for support of that child.

The pro-choice view is one that quite clearly provides considerable rights to women. To do otherwise, to force her to carry a child against her wishes, is viewed as subjecting the mother to 'involuntary servitude' or 'forced labor.' This is in violation of the thirteenth amendment.

However, the pro-choice view is limited to a choice by the mother. She can, if she chooses, decide to carry the child. And should she do so, she can claim child support from the alleged father of the child. And the courts will defend her in her right to do this.

It is intriguing then, that while even if he does not want the child, the father can be effectively set to 18 or so years of 'involuntary servitude' or 'forced labor.' As the fetus has no voice, the only one that really has the power to make that happen is the mother.

It is not my desire to argue that men or women get a rougher deal than the other in general. In this case however, it must be acknowledged that a woman's claims to having fewer rights are unreasonable. Nonetheless, she will have to physically carry the child for nine months.

Despite the uneven degree of involvement, her commitment and his involvement are mutually required. If she makes the decision to carry the child, this gives her the right to demand support from the man. So her decision has consequences on him – economic rather than physical, but consequences nonetheless.

Once the baby exits her body, modern technology allows for the involvement of the mother and the father to be virtually identical. However, the courts don't see it that way. The man can be asked to pay for the child, and the mother can choose to be an at-home mother. The women's rights continue, and she can require the unwitting father to shoulder his financial responsibility in raising a child even when she has deliberately deceived him. Yes, it has happened. And on at least one occasion, the man contested her right to do this. And he lost.

Matt Dubay is the man's name. Lauren Wells, his girlfriend told him that she was not able to have a child, and told him that in any case, she was taking contraceptives. After they separated, she informed him that she was pregnant. They reportedly discussed adoption. However, she chose not to follow this course of action and kept the baby at birth.

Despite Dubay's being deceived in the first instance, and unable to have his wishes met in the second instance, the judge ruled that he had to pay $475 a month and half of the child's health costs until the child reached maturity.

Look, abortion is undoubtedly a difficult issue. There are a number of lives involved. First and foremost, an unborn child who cannot speak for themselves.. And then there's the mother. There's no doubt that her wishes are vitally important.

However, there is also a father.

Oral Contraception : just say 'No'

A well-meaning mother to her daughter: "The best contraceptive is an oral contraceptive my dear. Just say 'No.'"
Perhaps one of the greatest contributions of the feminist era for many women was being given permission to just say 'No.' Germain Greer famously encouraged this in saying that "man regards her (woman) as a receptacle in which he has emptied his sperm, a kind of human spittoon, and turns from her in disgust"

Leaving aside Greer's accusation, it must be acknowledged that without a bit of splish and splosh, it's difficult to have a baby – if you want one.

By way of alternative, you can go to a hygienic supermarket where men 'spit' into a cup. Then a white-coated scientific type using a microscope can tease it, freeze it, and if it pleases the women, use a number of artificial approaches for getting one of his wrigglers to weasel into her egg. Certainly helpful if you can't conceive any other way. But to choose this route for convenience seems a little bizarre. I would opt for the charm of the organic, free-range option – but to each his own.

But what if you don't want a baby? The contraceptive options are much better than they were in the 60s – and especially the oral contraceptives. Contraception has clearly made significant advances in inhibiting fertilization. What is less obvious is that most of the major advances in contraception have delivered enormous benefit to woman who can now be in control of their bodies – and the consequences of sexual relations.

The rhythm method and condoms are imperfect forms of contraception – and ones where information exchange and fair-play are requisite. Using (or not using) either method without informing the other is not likely to be a secret that is easily kept for long.

However, the development of the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) through the late 1940s and 1950s clearly changed this.

The history of the development of the combined oral contraceptive is one that is populated by a good number of women. Edris Rice-Wray Carson was a particularly important contributor being involved in important early clinical work. Other women played critical roles encouraging, supporting and facilitating (including financially) the development of the pill: e.g., Margaret Sanger, Katharine McCormick.

However, while women were involved, most of the scientific development was undertaken mostly by men : Russell Marker, Gregory Pincus, Min Chueh Chang, John Rock, Carl Djerassi, Luis Miramontes, George Rosenkranz, Frank Colton, etc.

Despite female involvement, and despite the apparent power that the pill provided, some women were quite vocal in complaining after the combined oral contraceptive was released for public consumption in 1957 in the US. Barbara Seaman published a book called The Doctor's Case against The Pill in 1969. Senator Gaylord Nelson, a man, launched Senate hearings in 1970 to deal with the issue. Alice Wolfsen and other feminists became incensed at the hearings as it was only men that presented evidence to the hearings.

Despite these concerns, the pill continues to be widely distributed today. Like many medications, it has associated risks and benefits. However, it is difficult to imagine that women would permit the pill to be removed from sale in today's era.

The pill provides good contraception. More interestingly from my point of view, it gives control primarily to women. Whereas the rhythm method and condoms require more active participation from both parties, the pill requires no participation from the man. Indeed, the man need not even know that she is taking an oral contraceptive.

Oral contraception gives women a source of power by allowing them to be more sexually active without risking pregnancy and without his knowledge. This offers an interesting strategy to the woman. She can have sex with any number of men until she gets the one she want to father her child. Then she simply needs to continue to have sex with the father-to-be (and others if she wants) until she gets pregnant.

When she becomes pregnant, she can tell Mr. Right, that would be the guy with all the money - regardless of whether he's the father or not! Richie Rich is "presumed" to be the father in the court of law and ongoing childcare payments over the life of the child ensure that the child, and if she has chosen well, she will not need for much.

Not that any women would do this of course. But she can.

Meanwhile, for the man, the truth is difficult to ascertain. Rather dauntingly, if she is successful in conceiving while telling him she is taking a contraceptive, she controls whether he learns of his fatherhood status or not. His status as father is firmly within her control.
It is clearly the case that women control conception in a way that is beyond the comprehension of a man. It is more difficult for the man to deceive a woman and 'make' her fall pregnant.

I have heard of instances of men sabotaging their condoms to make a woman pregnant. Such a deceit is rightly viewed as ugly and disgusting. However, do we hold the same view of a woman who dupes a man?

There is of course, some talk about an oral contraceptive for men. I do not think that such a drug will be very successful. Woman may or may not be consciously aware of the power that they wield through the operation of 'the pill.' However, I suspect they will be very leery of allowing men that power over conception, even though it is the same power that women currently have over men.

A male contraceptive pill will of course allow men at least the power of veto. Like the old chestnut about a man who manages to wear a condom during sex without the woman realizing. After the act, she dreamily speculates, 'What would we call the child if one was to have been conceived.' 'David' he responds from the bathroom while disposing surreptitiously of the condom. Under his breath, 'We'd call him David Copperfield if he got out of that.'

If the male contraceptive pill works, then the man – without informing the woman – can ensure that she does not have a child with him as the father. It does not however give him the choice and the power to have her become a parent to a child without her knowledge.

And even if it did, biology would ensure it would still not be possible to be deceived about who is the mother.

Negotiating condom usage

In the 1980s, I was travelling around Australia conducting marketing research for Ansell. The research comprised of small discussion groups ('focus groups') and was addressing the topic of condom usage. The client was particularly interested in how heterosexual couples negotiated the use of condoms, and how the onset, timing and frequency of sex is negotiated in new and / or casual relationships.

To facilitate the discussion, we piled a vast array of different brands of condoms in the middle of the table at which participants were seated. As I travelled from focus group location to another, I lived in fear of my briefcase falling open or being inspected at an airport security check.

The groups were segregated because we reasoned that putting men and women together to discuss sex-related topics might be embarrassing or might lead some people to lie about their actual behaviour. It seemed reasonable accordingly, that the group's facilitator be the same sex as the group. I was therefore facilitating only groups of males.

However, I realized that there might be some value if some of the groups were facilitated by an other-sex facilitator. When I facilitated some of the women's groups, I learned some things that had not emerged in the men's groups.

From the men's groups, I learned that negotiating condom usage was very tricky. There are two major motivations for using condoms. One is for contraception, the other is for protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

However, this negotiation is tricky. Imagine the scenario…

"Umm, I think we should use a condom?" he says.
"Why? Do you have some disease?" her voice concerned.
"No, but…"
"Are you saying that you think I do" her voice rising distinctly.
"No, but…"
Then there is the obvious issue of the man presuming that he would have sex with the woman. If he suggests using a condom, and she doesn't have one, then why did he bring his own in the first place? This premise is the source of humor in recent English movie where she is willing, he pulls out a condom, and then she beats him for assuming she was a slut. How does a man win in the situation?

From the women's groups, I learned that women do not face the same scenario. A woman needs simply to tell the man that she's not on the pill. This is despite the fact that she may well be on the pill to prevent unwanted conceptions.

Therefore, the woman evokes the issue of contraception even though preventing the transmission of disease may be as much her concern as his.

This highlights the invisibility of oral contraceptives to the male partner. She can be taking the pill or not. She can say that she isn't or that she is. Man can only go by her word.

Conception : Mum’s the word

An Irish lass comes home fearful of something she must tell her father.
"Fother, t'ere's sometin' oi need to tell ya. Oi tink tat oi'm pregnant."
The daughter sighs in relief having made her admission. Her father smiles at her.
"Roight you are dortor of moine. But are ya shore dat it's yoars?"
Information is power it is said. Women hold particularly privileged information when it comes to conception.

Despite the modern use of the first-person plural by some couples to announce a pregnancy as in "We are pregnant", the fact is that she and she alone is pregnant.

To be sure, a man must have contributed. No human child can been born without a contribution of a man. Even if the man's contribution, a sperm cell, organic and natural, was snap-frozen at harvesting, defrosted, and subsequently hand-delivered to the awaiting egg cell.

It is the woman, fecund and fertilized who can be rightly called a mother. She carries the egg cell fertilized by a sperm cell – called a blastocyte initially, and later elevated to a zygote.

She can be sure that it is her egg. But the man that can be rightly called the father? Heaven alone knows.

Close behind heaven is the mother who, under natural insemination procedures, has the best chance of knowing who is the father. Not a perfect chance it must be said, but surely the best chance.

Contrast her knowledge of who vs when. When the mother comes to realize that she is pregnant can vary enormously. However, she is going to realize at some point if the pregnancy runs to term.

Some women claim to know or feel conception at the exact moment that the sperm fertilizes the egg. Even if that intuition fails her, there is the missed period to signal the beginning of a new life. And if that signal fails to offer sufficient notice, eventually her swelling belly will make apparent what is going on inside.

It is difficult for a woman to not realize that she is pregnant. At some point, the baby will be out of the amniotic bag.

There are some cases of women who have delivered babies without even realizing that they were pregnant. Albeit rare, it raises an interesting point. If the pregnancy can be invisible to the mother, then how much effort is needed to conceal it from others?

There was an era when 'ill-conceived' babies, that is, pregnancies in under-age and/or unmarried women were concealed from an entire community. So it is entirely conceivable (pun intended) that a woman could conceal her pregnancy from the father.

In contrast with women, men's knowledge about a conception is very limited. He may not even know that a woman is pregnant let alone what man impregnated her. His understanding is necessarily based on what the woman tells him combined with his skills in detecting signs and piecing together a story. It is rather ironic then that men are oft-times criticized for their poor performance at reading hints or clues.

The mother's parentage can never be doubted. A father's parentage can only rarely be described as certain. She is the gatekeeper being the only one with any real access to this fact. And this assumes she is both willing and able to say who is the father.

The knowledge and power afforded to mothers through this biological asymmetry of parental roles at conception is very apparent in the lyrics of the hit single from Heart, All I Want to Do (Is Make Love to You). A woman has a one-night stand with a stranger, and then leaves before he wakes. Later, she re-encounters the one-time lover by chance, and he meets the child born of their encounter. She begs off her behavior by explaining…

I'm in love with another man
And what he couldn't give me
was the one little thing that you can
She has the information, the control, the rights. It is she who makes the decisions that affect conception. The man, the father? His role is superfluous. The one-time lover is nothing more than a sperm-donor. He is only informed of his being a father by accident, and is not being invited to be involved.

While this is just a song, it highlights the disadvantages facing men relative to women in reproduction.

The flipside is a man who is made the father without having made any biological contribution to the child…

Two glass ceilings

The over-representation of men vs. women in the top echelons of the workplace was raised in the case of the first scenario featuring Kim. This over-representation is frequently advanced as evidence of unfair discrimination against women. It is mediated by a club of senior male executives that limit the opportunities made available to women. Women confront a 'glass ceiling', an invisible barrier that impedes their progress up the career ladder.
However, if over-representation proves unfair discrimination in this domain, then it is clearly reasonable to apply the same reasoning to another domain. Women are clearly over-represented relative to men in the domain of child-care – also mentioned in the case of the first scenario. Does this not prove then that women unfairly discriminate against men participating more fully in parenting?