Editor’s Note: Hugo Schwyzer’s piece “I May Have a Son, but I’ll Never Know for Sure,” a version of which was printed on Jezebel, and excerpted Hugo’s own blog, where he also answered some questions that were brought up: “Do I Have a 13-Year-Old Son?” The post touched off a firestorm of debate, with almost 500 people commenting as the discussion rolled out across the internet. The piece below first appeared on Hugo’s blog in response to some of those comments. We thought it worth reprinting Hugo’s reactions here.
If many of the comments around my 13-year-old son piece seem hostile, you should see the ones that were deleted in the moderation queue. The Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) have stirred themselves into quite the tizzy, with posts like this one representing some of the more moderate response.
Leaving aside the admittedly complex specifics of the Hugo/Jill/Ted/Alastair situation, what strikes me is the way in which so many of the MRAs have framed this as a cuckolding issue. The term “cuckold” is a very old term for a man who unknowingly raises another guy’s biological children, thanks to an unfaithful wife. (See the wiki.) It’s not an accurate term to use in my scenario, but the fact that this is such a profound fear for some men is worth exploring.
One classic theory of patriarchy assumes that men’s desire to control women is rooted in the fear of being cuckolded. A woman is never in doubt as to who the mother of her child is, but for reasons of basic physiology, men can never have that same reassurance. The need to control women’s sexuality (insisting on pre-marital virginity and post-marital fidelity; female genital mutilation; the insistence on modest dress) may well all be rooted in responses to this ancient, fundamental masculine anxiety. It’s a cruel calculus: the more I can control the women in my life (and the less sexual expression I permit them), the greater the likelihood that my offspring will in fact be “mine.”
I don’t think I’d realized how alive and well this fear is. See this comment from Amir, whose words I noted yesterday:
I have a beautiful son and if he was not mine my world would end. And
yes, I would no longer love him if he didn’t have my genes. My genes
Another MRA commenter at GMP compared cuckolding to rape, only worse. Daniel writes:
This is horrifying.
Cuckolding is the worst thing that can happen to a man. If my son would have the genes of another man my life would end. This is much worse than a rape and is accepted unpunished by the justice system. Rape can last for several minutes but this is years and years of deceit and lies. I despise all the men and women supporting/understanding this.
If you read through the lengthy and often vile comment sections at GMP and Jezebel (or at the “Voice for Men” site), you’ll see that Amir and Daniel are, alas, far from unusual in their insistence that love depends upon shared DNA.
As a father, I have nothing but contempt for any man whose love is contingent as Amir’s and Daniel’s so clearly is. If I were to find out that Heloise was not my biological daughter, I’d be stunned (and shocked at my wife’s deception.) It might change my relationship with Eira — but it sure as hell wouldn’t change my relationship with Heloise. Coming from an extended family where half-siblings and adoptees and step-children abound, I know how absurd it is to link devotion and biology. What makes Heloise “mine” has damn all to do with my DNA — and everything to do with the energy and devotion and commitment I have put into my relationship with her since she was in her mama’s womb.
There is nothing wrong with expecting a partner who has promised to be faithful to keep that promise. (A reminder, Ted and Jill were not in an exclusive relationship when she last slept with me.) It’s perfectly reasonable to be devastated by betrayal. But there’s a world of difference between the hurt of infidelity and the fear of being cuckolded. Eira made me a promise when we were married that she wouldn’t sleep with other men. If she broke that promise, it would alter my relationship with her significantly. But Heloise made no such representations. The circumstances of her conception (and the sperm used to conceive her) have nothing — nothing — to do with my devotion to this remarkable little girl, whose sweetness would be no less delightful if she didn’t have my DNA.
It’s telling that the atavistic fear of cuckolding still runs so strong in the men’s rights activists. And given that so many of them are associated with the “father’s rights” movement, it’s telling as well that their definition of “father” is so fragile, so contingent, so limited, and so utterly narcissistic.
Photo by fekaylius / Flickr