A misogynist’s dream

The Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones has come in for a hefty amount of criticism for her shocking revelation that in two different relationships she resorted to desperate measures to conceive, i.e. nipping to the bathroom immediately after proceedings, to retrieve the used condom and impregnate herself.

Whilst no-one should condone the deceit implicit in her actions, it seems hard-hearted not to have some sympathy with her predicament. Catholic teaching on sex is highly controversial and misunderstood, but what lies at the heart of it is that the covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man. “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love”. CC 1639

The sexual act is ordered towards procreation. Not every sexual act will result in procreation, but this is its primary purpose, ordained by God. To exclude fertility from the act of sexual intercourse is in effect to kick out God.

John Paul II observed that contraception not only violates the procreative aspect of sex, but also the unitive aspect. (Sex should be unitive and procreative, for bonding and for babies). Sex should be a giving of the whole self to the other, which includes fertility. Janet Smith compares it to someone asking their partner to have sex with them but to put a bag over their head during sex because their partner’s hair is causing them annoyance. “I love you, but I don’t want a very important part of you here, something which would naturally belong”. To contracept, is to withhold something back from your partner.

The tragicomic and rather pathetic image of Liz Smith surreptitiously attempting to impregnate herself using sperm from freshly used condom is a physical embodiment of the perils of attempting to separate sex from procreation. Not only do we see her trying to regain something that she believes is rightfully hers, a natural gift or product of sex as opposed to an organic payment for an M&S ready meal, but we can also see how condoms can also be used as a tool of misogyny and to oppress women. Liz Jones is far from the only woman I know who is desperate to conceive a child, but whose partner refuses to countenance the idea, in many cases because he believes that the couple already has a sufficient number of children.

There something inherently cruel and not to mention selfish and misogynistic about denying a woman her innate and instinctive desire for a child. It treats a biological and entirely natural urge as if it is something unpleasant and nasty, a whim that is not going to be indulged. Of course this goes both ways, there are scenarios whereby a woman takes the pill in secret or against her partner’s wishes, but in either case it highlights the selfishness inherent in the act of contraception. I don’t want to have a baby, I’m going to keep that part of me to myself. I read with mounting horror a series of tweets suggesting that she ought to be prosecuted for stealing his property. It served to highlight the dangers of thinking that contraception is a failsafe method and how we seem to have cast aside the natural consequence of sex, the thought that someone could get pregnant without another’s explicit consent – how very shocking! What was her “crime”? Being prepared to do almost anything to fulfil her dreams of becoming a mother? Or using the sperm of her partner without his consent? Catholics are used to oh-so-witty renditions of Every Sperm is Sacred, criminalising a woman for using semen without consent takes that sentiment to a whole new level. If sperm remains the property of a man’s body at all times, it raises troubling questions for women about pregnancy and abortion.

That was also another worrying aspect. That fathers who may be deceived in this way, ought not be obliged to take any sort of responsibility for his children. Why should a man have to pay for a child that he didn’t want to have, tweeted one Lib Dem in outrage. Because it’s called “taking responsibility”. Time was it was universally agreed that sex is likely to result in children. Contraception seems to have lulled society into a false sense of security and thus when a child is conceived without express consent, it is viewed as an outrage, a burden, one that ought not to exist.

Many women were outraged by Liz Jones’ deliberately provocative statements, in which she implied that all women were deceitful liars prepared to go any lengths to have a baby and that men had better beware. All childless women in their late 30s and early 40s are possessed with a fervour to conceive according to Jones. It was an exaggerated caricature, but according to the 2001 study quoted, a significant proportion of women (42%) stated that they would lie to get pregnant against their partner’s wishes.

Contraception has enabled society to dictate expectations and conventions of ideal family size to women. To have more than 2 children is seen as either terribly vulgar and a feature of the lower-classes or as an upper class badge of wealth. Children are apparently expensive, so to be able to have lots of them, one must either rely on state benefits or an extensive private income.

Though I share women’s exasperation at the sweeping generalisations contained within Liz Jones’ confession, the resulting outrage proved that she had touched a nerve. What saddened me was the misogyny on display by women who would otherwise be passionate advocates of a woman’s right to her own fertility. Presumably the acceptable course of action would have been for Liz to have left her husband and embarked upon a costly course of sperm donation which stood an equally slim chance of success and would by it’s very nature excluded an involved biological father. The woman wanted to have a baby with her partner. That seems wholly natural and understandable, I don’t see the need to berate her for that. Of course he should not have been deceived, but it seemed that he was equally unwilling to compromise and perhaps rather heartless and selfish, not prepared to make the sacrifice required for either his wife, supposedly the most important person in his life, nor indeed for the new little baby.

It was saddening to see her described as a “mad bitch” by those who would normally condemn misogyny. Previous columns in which she detailed her struggles with over-spending and eating disorders were dredged up without anyone drawing the obvious link between the overspending and childlessness.

If any other female columnist mentioned a previous history of a struggle with anorexia or even self harm, which was subsequently used against them to prove current fragile mental health there would be uproar. There is nothing mad about being overwhelmed by a biological urge. Many many women testify to a sense of urgency to conceive in their late 30s, they are responding to a biological and hormonal stimulus. Liz Jones was responding to her body’s calling. It happens. Women who are desperate to conceive go to desperate lengths.
Had her attempts not involved deceit then no doubt this longing for a baby would have been lauded as evidence of how deserving she was of a child.

Perhaps Liz thought that once she presented her husband with a fait accompli he would come around? A baby should never be proposed as a solution to a marriage in difficulty as the demands of a newborn can place considerable strain on a marriage, but a baby can also prove to be an adhesive in marriage and a cause of deeper bonding, shared joy and intimacy.

It takes a heart of stone not to be moved by one’s own newborn child and to leave a woman because she has become pregnant by deception, is an act of cowardice. To forgive and courageously give, to accept life as it is and to do the best by one’s child, whether conceived on purpose, by accident or even deception is the mark of a real man.

Ideally a child should be conceived with the consent of both parents, but the amount of hate to which Liz Jones has been subjected for attempting to conceive minus the consent of her partner is disproportionate and concerning. Contraception was supposed to free and empower women but the inevitable flip side is that condoms put men firmly back in the driving seat. In a situation like that of Liz Jones, a husband may legitimately deprive his wife the chance of a child and she is vilified and penalised for disobedience. If a woman wishes to contracept against the wishes of her husband that is perfectly acceptable due to bodily autonomy, but she is denied the opportunity to conceive without express male consent.

Some might argue that this is a good thing, the child must be put first and it is better for a child not to exist at all if it is not wanted by its father. If that isn’t misogyny, if that isn’t an example of selfish control of a woman’s fertility, then I don’t know what is.

Contraception and abortion are a libertine’s dream. By stripping the sex its procreative ability, he strips it of any long-term commitment and convinces himself that his desire not to have children exonerates him from any responsibility should one accidentally result without his express consent.

A woman’s sole right to choose and determine her fertility should logically encompass her right to determine when to have a baby. A woman is considered mentally competent to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy but a determination to create a baby at any odds is universally condemned by men and women alike as proof of mental illness and selfishness.

That a woman can be the target of so much vitriol for nothing more than wanting to have a baby with her husband is stunning in a so-called age of liberation. That many women have reacted quite so angrily and protested so vehemently that Liz Jones is not representative, is very telling. Methinks they do protest too much. Children are never far from the thoughts of most childless women in their late 30s and 40s. Most would not lie or deceive their partners, but the potential is there nonetheless. Perhaps Liz Jones betrayed the sisterhood by pointing this out?

All in all a very sorry tale and one that has me counting my blessings for an authentic marriage, one that accepts and works with the natural order.

8 thoughts on “A misogynist’s dream

  1. Two points. Firstly, the account of taking a sperm filled condom to get pregnant related to Liz’s sex partner, not her husband. A sex partner who was unwilling originally to have sex with her, from Liz’s account. A partner who moved in for convenience to work, from what she says. Someone who, it seems, was no kind of partner at all. Given the shallowness of this relationship, its extreme precariousness, this WAS effectively an attempt to get a sperm donation, without going to a sperm bank. To be honest my mind boggles that a woman would want to live with a man in this atmosphere.

    Secondly, Liz was also with-holding. She lied to both men. She mischaracterised her desires, her hopes. This is, ironically, as far removed from NFP as you can get. NFP has to be collaborative, has to involve trust. Liz by her own account was neither trusting nor trustworthy. Her actions were not those of one seeking an involved biological father.

    Finally, Liz explains why a woman would want a child: lack of career success and desire to tie someone to her for ever being too. No mention of having, nurturing, teaching, being with a child. Couple that with the “mumsy” comment in the name of feminism and it is hard to see that Liz likes OR respects children or mothers. The underlying tone is of child as commodity, as tool. It’s frankly chilling, and I am not surprised women, old, young, mothers, childless wish to distance themselves from it.

    1. I agree that Liz Jones’ actions were as far removed from the principles of mutual love, trust and respect that underpin NFP, as you can get.

      Clearly her relationship was far from ideal and you are correct a child is not a commodity or a right.

      It underlines the deeply problematic attitude that seeks to divorce sex from the act of procreation.

      In terms of her wishing to be irrevocably joined with someone, I understand that. It speaks volumes about how contraception has undermined the concept of commitment within marriage. There can be no greater sign of commitment and love than to want to create a new life with someone and a natural part of marriage.

      I agree her reasoning was deeply flawed, but there women who do share her mindset.

      Children should never be a commodity or right and neither should the issue of consent feature. Children are a natural good that flow from sex. Having sex should constitute implied consent to procreate.

      1. I’d quibble about contraception necessarily undermining commitment in marriage. Women have been abandoned or forced to place their babies in a foundling hospital in the past. Neither sex nor procreation is magic; what matters is the couple’s relationship towards each other.

        If Liz HAD had a baby with the unnamed man or her husband, would she still be seeing them regularly? Would they feel bitter towards her? Refuse to see their child? See the child but refuse to see her? The lives of many separated couples suggest having a child does not lead to a happy long-term connection.

      2. By sterilizing the act of intercourse, the woman is saying that she wants to make love, but will kill any sperm that come her way.The man is saying that he accepts everything about the woman except for fertility. He gives everything to her except his potential fatherhood. The language of sex should be that of complete self-donation, but that is impossible with contraception. Since the body reveals the person, a rejection of the body is a rejection of the spouse.

        Also, couples who reject contraception are less likely to see children as a burden. Because of their generosity of spirit, they tend to have larger families, and divorce rates are highest where children are fewest.

        An acceptance of the principles of NFP leads to happier and more committed marriages, for a variety of reasons.

      3. Can’t reply to your reply to me so replying here.

        I see what you are saying but feel that if someone has sex while denying the other’s sexuality, they need to seriously reflect on contraceptive failure rates.

        Anyhow my point wasn’t really about contraception, it was more this. Liz seems to think she is typical, an everywoman. Her point of view, her analysis of motives and actions of most late 30s and 40 year old women is the correct one. I don’t agree with her. I don’t think she’s a typical example. On that basis I don’t think we can draw any kind of general lesson from her piece. Liz is merely, and can only speak for, Liz.

  2. It has taken me some while to ‘get my head round’ the Catholic position on this but this quote, form Orthodox Theologian Alexander Schmemann helped (sorry for the length):
    “The natural dependence of man upon the world was intended to be transformed into communion with God in whom is all life. Man was to be the priest of a eucharist, offering the world to God and in thus offering he was to receive the gift of life. But in the fallen world man does not have the priestly power to do this. His dependence on the world has become a closed circuit and his love is is deviated from its true direction. He still loves, he is still hungry… But his love and his dependence refer only to the world itself. He does not know that breathing can be communion with God…He forgets that the world, its air or its food cannot by themselves bring life but only as they are received and accepted for God’s sake, in God and as bearers of the divine gift of life. When we see the world as an end in itself everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value because only in God is found the meaning of everything and the world is meaningful only when it is the sacrament of God’s presence.” (For the life of the World p17)
    In relation to marriage, we only discover its true meaning when we are caught up in the life of the Trinity, this circuit of life. Sex in this context teaches us that life comes out of the love of God and therefore has its proper meaning. Children learn that love gave them life and true life comes from discovering God’s love for them and the whole world. God’s love is creative.

  3. Really interesting piece. I can’t help but wonder – if people are so outraged at the thought of the man’s “right” to do what he wants with his sperm being trampled on, doesn’t it follow that they should be just as outraged that the same man doesn’t have any legal say when it comes to abortion and the “products of conception” (what Planned Parenthood employees are instructed to call embryos and fetuses) in which his sperm played a vital role?

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that they wouldn’t because giving men rights over babies in-utero would trample on women’s right to control their own fertility. This paradox simply highlights the fact that the “choice” we are supposed to enshrine and protect (if we care about women’s rights) is a woman’s right to choose NOT to have children by any means possible, rather than her right to choose to HAVE children (ironically, the very part of her that makes her a woman) by any means possible. I never condone abortion, but if people truly support “choice” and believe that right is entirely the woman’s, it should cut both ways.

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