Ask A Very Smart Brotha: Should Men Have Any Reproductive Rights?

pregnant-black-woman

***I originally answered this question in my weekly Madame Noire column yesterday, but I thought the topic was so interesting that I decided to expand on the answer and post it here.***

Hey Damon,

The other day my friends and I were watching this show about adoption and in this particular episode, this couple, who’ve been dating for a year, accidentally get pregnant. The woman, who already has a child, wants to keep the baby, but also understands that her boyfriend has said explicitly over and over again, even before she got pregnant, that he never wanted children. And would inevitably resent a child if he were to ever have one. The woman ended up giving the child up for adoption, reluctantly at first and then in the follow up, she’d made peace with her decision.

The whole thing was upsetting to watch because it was clear that the woman wanted to keep the baby but only if the man wanted to keep the child as well. But it also made me consider the lack of rights most men have when it comes to parenthood. Are there so many absentee fathers because men who never wanted to be fathers just couldn’t and still can’t see themselves being responsible and present for their children? Conventionally, we’re told if a woman gets pregnant that it’s completely her choice whether she decides to have the child or not. Ultimately it is but, as a man, what role or say do you think men should have in all of this?

—Forced Fatherhood

Dear Forced Fatherhood,

Damn. This wasn’t exactly a soup question. I’m going to answer this the best I can. But, before I begin, I will also say that there are people much smarter than me who study, read, and write about this particular issue much more often than I do, and after reading this, I’d research their thoughts and opinions about this as well.

Questions like this bring to light how culturally unbalanced our concept of child-rearing tends to be. While men are socially expected to be active and loving fathers, we’re also socialized to believe that a tiny bit of sperm is our only meaningful contribution to this entire process. Think about it: If men and women are supposed to join forces to raise children together, why are little girls the only ones “allowed” to play with baby dolls? Why aren’t teen boys encouraged to consider babysitting as a source of practical experience (and extra income) the same way teen girls are? Why don’t we throw baby showers for men?

I know these questions seem silly, but they only seem silly because we’ve been taught it’s a silly idea for little boys to play with dolls and have any type of experience handling and taking care of babies…which is a silly thing to be taught.

Anyway, the question of pregnancy rights is one where the right, socially accepted answer—that women have complete say over whether a child will or will not be born—has some inherent “wrongness” to it. As mentioned earlier, both men and women have to collaborate to create a baby. So, logically—even considering the fact that women have to carry—a man should have equal say on whether to keep it.

But, in this case, that particular wrong of a man not having any say is better than any alternative solution.

Yes it’s “unfair” that men don’t have any legal say on the decision to keep a baby, especially since he will be legally obligated to provide for that child for the next 18 years. But this “unfairness” is for the greater good.

If you allow men to have legal say over whether a woman can keep a baby, you’re restricting her legal right to have complete dominion over her body.

And, if you don’t hold men responsible for children they helped create—basically, if you allow men to legally opt out before the child is born—it would ultimately hurt the baby. Also, think of how messy this could be legally. What’s to stop a man who “agreed” to care and provide for the baby when it was conceived to say “Um, nevermind.” three months into term? And, what’s to stop him from changing his mind again once the baby is born?

Basically, the “wrongness” of men having no say in that process is less wrong than what would happen if men did.

Also, I wouldn’t blame the prevalence of absentee fathers on this issue. Yes, people — men and women — need to make smarter sexual choices. There is no such thing as an “accidental” pregnancy, especially when their are multiple effective means of birth control—including the pull out method. (Yes. The pull out method works. It only doesn’t work when you…don’t pull out.)

But while I’m willingly to concede that some men do get “trapped,” most who selfishly skirt their responsibilities do it because…they’re selfish and irresponsible. The pregnancy rights laws and some “lying-ass woman” didn’t jam them up. Their own penises did.

The best solution to all of this is to be in a committed relationship where both parties are on the same page about children, and both parties respect and consider each other’s opinions. Even then, the woman still has the final say. Yes, its unfair, but there’s a small device that goes a very long way to prevent that unfairness from ever happening:

Condoms.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

What Does “Responsibility” Mean To You?

Imagine that you have a female friend. For the sake of this hypothetical, lets say that this friend’s name is “Bihanna.” Bihanna’s been your homegirl since you were kids, and although she has a tendency to act out and show her ass in public, you know that deep down she’s a sweet girl with a big heart. Some time last year, Bihanna was beaten up pretty badly by her then boyfriend, “Piss Clown,” while they were on their way to Waffle House. Now, that they actually fought didn’t really surprise you. Both Bihanna and Piss Clown have volatile personalities, and mixing them together is like Black and bleach or bathtub water and live toasters. But, you were surprised by how thoroughly he kicked her ass, and the more details you learn about the story, the more you realize she could have very easily died that night.

Piss Clown was Bihanna’s first love, though, so although the obvious choice was to leave Piss Clown alone forever, Bihanna just couldn’t stay away from him.

As her friend, you can see how this relationship may likely end up, and you’re worried about her. But although you advise her to make better, wiser decisions—but only when she asks—it’s her life, and ultimately she’s going to do what she wants to do.

After several months of going back and forth, Bihanna finally gets back with Piss Clown. You know it’s an awful decision—a decision that turns your stomach when you even think about it—but, again, she’s her own woman, and aside from offering an opinion—an unsolicited opinion this time—there’s nothing you can do.

So, they get back together, and things seem to be going well. He’s turned over a new leaf, and she’s as happy as she’s ever been.

Then, a few weeks later, you get an early morning phone call. It’s Bihanna’s mom. She’s distraught, so distraught that you already know what she’s going to tell you before she even tells you.

Bihanna was killed the night before. Piss Clown killed her during an argument, before pulling the trigger on himself.

As her friend, you’re obviously going to experience a gamut of emotions—sadness, anger, despair, etc. But, one feeling will supersede them all. A feeling so intense that it might paralyze you today, and stay with you for the next few decades.

Guilt.

No, you didn’t kill your friend. And yes, you did warn her of what was likely to happen. But, you are going to feel responsible, like you could have and should have done more to prevent this. And, the guilt stays with you because you know it’s true. There are actually things you could have done, and you spend countless hours thinking about those things. Rewinding and replaying scenes in your head until you’ve exhausted every option and thought of every single way you could have saved your friend’s life.

Now, although this was (obviously) a hypothetical, I’m certain many of you reading this have had similar things happen to you—a situation or scenario where you assigned yourself a responsibility for an unfortunate action after the action occurred despite having nothing to do with the actual action.

I’ve done it before myself, and the same mental gymnastics occur each time:

1. See a person close to you doing something you know will end badly.
2. Give a half-assed effort to stop them because, ultimately, you can’t tell an adult what to do. You may care about them, but you’re not responsible for them.
3. Witness the thing ending badly.
4. Feel retroactively responsible for not preventing it.

What’s most fascinating about this way of thinking is how it exposes our schizophrenic relationship with the concept of responsibility. We know that we’re not supposed to be responsible for certain things while also possessing the knowledge that we’ll definitely experience some serious PTRD (Post-Traumatic Responsibility Disorder) if what we think will happen actually happens. Basically, we have separate logical, intellectual, and emotional definitions of responsibility, and they tend contradict each other.

This schizophrenia doesn’t just occur when dealing with situations dear to us, either. There are situations where we may be legally responsible for a person we justifiably feel no logical, intellectual, or emotional responsibility for—i.e.: a bartender in trouble for serving a patron who was already drunk—and other situations where we allow a politically influenced definition of responsibility to override what we intellectually know to be true. (This occurred in the comments here yesterday, as a couple people argued that a woman who chooses to sleep with—and have unprotected sex with—a man who already has 10, or 15, or 30 children isn’t just as responsible as he is for the mess he’s creating in the community.)

Maybe responsibility is just an elaborate Rorschach test where our arbitrary definitions of and feelings about it say more about us than anything else. But, while this may be true, it’s still not right, and—if she could—Bihanna might agree.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

A Response to An Open Letter To Yours Truly

A man. A plan. A canal. Panama.

One of the best parts about this whole blogging experience is the interactions it creates. You get to meet new people and exchange ideas with people you’ll likely never ever see in person. The hope is that you matter enough that when it’s all said and done people remember you, and the hope is that the memories aren’t negative.

Well, in similar fashion, one of my favorite parts of blogging is the feedback. And the criticism, and perhaps masochistically when people come at me sideways. I’m like a battle rapper in that regard. All beef is worthy of being taken on. So is all criticism if its sincere. And to be completely frank, all writers, artists, what have you need honest criticism and feedback in order to grow and mature as a craftsperson and as a human being. So when I received an email yesterday from Tina Watkins, letting me know that while she’s a longtime fan and reader of VSB, her readership has waned because most of our posts are ridiculous and that my post on the teacher breastfeeding in class and the comments that followed disturbed her. It was with that in mind that she felt compelled to pen “An Open Letter Encouraging Very Smart Brotha Writer Panama Jackson.”

Now, I’m not about to encourage everybody with a grievance to write open letters to VSB – heavens no – but if you do, and especially if you call me out specifically, know that I will respond. And I don’t mean that in an aggressive, antagonistic way, but in a “I respect you enough to hear you out and engage.”

So with that being said, Ms. Watkins brings up some interesting points and I’m going to discuss what I got out of her letter.

PS. Can we keep things civil around here today. I don’t want anybody reading her letter and disagreeing with any of it and taking aim at her. She’s a VSB contributor folks, let’s all play nice. It’s Friday.

Moving on.

What I got out of her letter was this: “with great power, comes great responsibility”. And when it comes to issues dealing with women, that taking some of the stances or presenting issues the “man” way that may or may not exhibit any real empathy or attempts to understand is not only counterproductive, but maybe even doing a disservice to the growth I purport to be seeking out. Oh, and I have a daughter now so I should think of how my daughter would be affected by the way I think, etc.

That’s what I took from her letter. And my guess is that’s something that’s been said to and about a vast number of people who venture here on the daily.

Quickly, much like I’m the kind of guy who always has nicknames, I must also be the kind of cat prone to receiving letters questioning if I was wasting my gifts. I can remember at least two other instances where I received either handwritten or typed letters indicating that the writer felt like I had all the fits in the world but were squandering them by not using them for greater change, etc. One even told me that I should be using my talents for God and and that I was using the vast talents I had for the devil’s work. That might have been the most backhanded compliment I ever received, by the way.

Moving on. I’ve always had a problem with the “with great power comes great responsibility” tagline when it comes to bloggers. Why? Glad you asked. See, while I understand it in theory, in practice it more or less implies that at some point, should you reach a point where you could be considered influential, you have to shift from what makes you happy to what does the most good. While that may sound selfish, the fact is, what usually brings people to you in the first place as a writer is your sincerity and honesty which is largely personal. And you’re ability to connect to people however it may be which is again, usually largely personal. Plus, we tend to pick and choose who we think should be responsible for social change. Diddy has way more influence than I’d ever have but there’s no movement to get him to change the world. And maybe that’s because he told people to vote. Me no know. Maybe it’s because nobody really respects his mind but his business acumen.

Me no know, but the point is if you gained power by being true to yourself, should you alter that version of yourself to hopefully “move” the most amount of people? I don’t know how I feel about that. Now that isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t grow. In fact, if you’re not growing in this business then you’re not only going to lose your fans but you definitely are wasting time. However, how that growth materializes is a very personal thing.

I wrote that post two weeks ago about losing my edge because that’s how I feel. It was honest. But it wasn’t to change anybody’s life. It was because that’s what I felt like writing. That’s how Champ and I have treated VSB. Sure there are times when you feel an obligation to speak on something happening in the social consciousness. That’s part of the gig. People want and need to talk about certain things so you do that. And hell, since we’re a people too we also feel that need. But I know that very little of my writing has an agenda. Hell, that’s probably part of the popularity, there isn’t one…though we’ve been accused of being Kanye d*ckriders on more than one occasion. But largely, I don’t have an opinion on anything until I realize I have one. Which is why me writing about women’s issues would be largely disingenuous.

For the most part, my observations about womanhood are reserved to the differences between the sexes. Of course, on occasion I’ll weigh in on a topic that either matters to me because its been introduced into my world via my child or something. And it’s not because I’m afraid of those issues, its just that I’m not a woman. I don’t even realize half of those issues are issues. Does that make me oblivious…perhaps. I will say that there are some realizations that I’ve made though as of late about being a woman that I intend to broach here. But I also won’t feel guilty if I don’t, nor will I feel like I’m doing myself or our audience a disservice.

Also, I’m not even sure how Wednesday’s post could be considered incendiary. Sure, I focused on the breastfeeding and that was likely only a secondary issue but let’s be real, that’s what the majority of the discussion centered around. I’m not sure if I’m trending towards the mean there or if the mean is just mindless men who don’t realize that boobs are for feeding. Point is, while it’s a shame that we live in an oversexualized, yet taboo-centric nation when it comes to the female form, the fact is we do live there and boobs are boobs. Sure women don’t see the big deal, but that doesn’t make them not a big deal. It’s a larger problem…agreed…but I’m not sure that I feel any obligation to attempt to undo that pathology. Maybe that’s a problem. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know.

Perhaps this is all a copout because I have never had any designs on being an influencer or somebody who would change the world. For the most part I feel like my obligation is to my family and to ensuring that I don’t bring shame to them. Everything else is fair play. I’ve shifted some of my thinking towards creating a legacy that my daughter can be proud of. At this point, between everything I’ve written, all the music I’ve created, and all of the videos floating of me out there, I can make sure that my daughter never has to wonder who her father was should something happen to me. That is honestly one thing that does motivate me. The ability to stay alive through my words for her. While she may not like everything that she reads, she won’t ever think of her father in a negative fashion, I hope. Or at least not permanently.

But does creating a forum with a large following make one a de facto leader? Eh, I’m not sure. A facilitator maybe. But leader? Now, in life, I’d probably be considered a leader but that’s because I can only follow for so long, plus, I’m arrogant enough to think that in most forums I’m as good if not better than everybody else at what we’re doing. Let’s be real, I blog at a place called Very Smart Brothas…arrogance came with the price of admission. However, I don’t know that I ever wanted to use this forum to “effect change” so much as provide a place to think out loud. However, should I ever decide to take on an issue or attempt to change perceptions and bridge any gaps, I’d definitely feel comfortable enough to do it, but it would also be because at that time, it’s just what I felt in my soul.

Which brings us full circle. I get where Ms. Watkins is coming from, assuming I’m interpreting her letter properly, and she’s fair to make that critique and offer her encouragement. It’s all in play and all in bounds. I’ll even take it under advisement. But I also don’t know that I truly feel compelled to become an “issue” blogger just because I have the platform to do so. But who knows, maybe I’ll feel that way at some point. Perhaps a particular issue will compel me to dive headfirst into something and attempt to save some souls or something. Maybe not. But I get my any means on whenever there’s a drought…get your umbrellas out because that’s when I brainstorm.

So I guess we’ll see.

“Now before I finish, let me just say
I did not come here to show out, did not come here to impress you
Because to tell you the truth when I leave here I’m GONE!
And I don’t care WHAT you think about me – but just remember,
when it hits the fan brother, whether it’s next year, ten years,
twenty years from now, you’ll never be able to say
that these brothers lied to you JACK!”

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka HE WHO IS LONG WINDED aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

 

Takeaways From Yesterday’s “Rape Responsibility” Discussion

1. I made the decision to write full-time a little over a year ago. While the transition hasn’t always been smooth, I maintain that it’s the best choice I ever made. The successes we’ve had at VSB collectively and I’ve had personally have been documented, and 2012 is shaping up to be even better.

I’m bringing this up because all of this success has undoubtedly made my already large head even bigger. I’ve become more secure in my voice and my ability to articulate, amuse, and entertain, but with that came an arrogance that leads to days like yesterday.

I think I can (and should be able to) tackle any topic, so when I was browsing through different websites Monday afternoon, looking for something to write for Tuesday, I came across Zerlina’s article about rape, read the comments, and naturally thought “I think I’ll offer a (slightly) dissenting viewpoint. I might upset a couple people, but it’ll be no big deal. They (our readership) know and love me already, so the people who do happen to get upset will forget all about it by 3pm Tuesday afternoon.”

I was wrong.

While I think this conversation needs to be had, I’m not well-versed enough with this topic to even take the chance to articulate the types of thoughts I did yesterday. And, even if I was a rape issues maven, this isn’t the type of topic that someone like me — a snarky, sarcastic, (somewhat) insensitive, and (too) pragmatic asshole — should attempt to tackle by myself.

Perhaps I may get there eventually, but I’m not there yet, and it took a day like yesterday to drive that point home.

Also, it was a poorly crafted post. The title was unnecessarily incendiary and sensationalistic, the premise was drawn from a flawed inference (more on that later), the examples I used to make my point were lazy, insulting, and (very) hurtful, the conclusion was completely tone deaf, and the post-post 11 am edit was an abject fail.

Plus, as Panama stated in a conversation we had yesterday, because of the nature of VSB — we occasionally get “serious,” but most of our topics are meant to be light-hearted and entertaining. also, we usually touch on one topic one day and keep it moving. — this isn’t really the place for the type of discussion this conversation warranted. Honestly, if yesterday’s post didn’t blow up the way it did, today’s topic would have either been a (super-late) NBA preview or something about first date etiquette.

For instance, a glance at the screen while writing this tells me it’s 2:54 pm. In three hours, I’m meeting a couple people to create another “Sh*t___Says” YouTube video. And, lets just say that people who plan to spend entire evenings filming videos titled “Shit Diva Dudes Say To Bougie Black Girls” probably shouldn’t post potentially explosive pieces about rape two days before this silly-ass video debuts.

As much as I spoke about common sense Tuesday, the decision to post a controversial opinion about women and rape didn’t exhibit very much of it.

I do not apologize for possessing the feeling I was attempting to convey. But, I do apologize for being too arrogant to realize how wrong it was for me to attempt to convey it here yesterday. It’s an issue too touchy, too sensitive, too nuanced, and too volatile for a person without a master understanding of the topic to address on a platform as big as VSB’s.

2. Judging from what Google Analytics currently says (it’s 3:08 pm now, btw), yesterday’s post will probably generate 10 to 12,000 unique visitors. A year ago, this would have been one of our highest traffic days ever. Today, it’s maybe the 6th or 7th highest day in the last two weeks.

Both Panama and I (and Liz for that matter) have had some difficulties dealing with this increase in readership and reach; some relatively easy to handle (increased server costs, needing to hire interns, etc), and some that’ll take a bit more brainpower to solve.

One of these “difficult” problems is the fact that increased readership means that there’s a greater chance that someone not at all familiar with you will find your link on Facebook or Twitter, and it’s been a struggle trying to straddle the line between “opinionated and editor-less blogger who can say whatever the hell he wants with no repercussions” and “person who may need to be more cognizant of his words because he’s not just speaking around friends anymore

With this growth comes an increase in responsibility, and I know I seriously let some people down yesterday. I can’t promise that it won’t happen again. You can’t be successful at this without taking some chances and (occasionally) upsetting people. But, going forward, I do promise to be more conscious of the effect my words can have on people.

With all that being said, although I was genuinely surprised with (and hurt by) the reaction in the comments (and on Twitter), I really don’t want anyone to think that today’s piece and yesterday’s mid-morning edit are me back-tracking or trying to elicit any sympathy. Yes, I feel bad that there are some people who’ve never heard of VSB before and are going to use yesterday as their first (and, likely, only) impression of us, but this is what I signed up for when we decided to build this blog, and if I accept the praise, I have to handle the criticism too. I said it, signed my (real) name to it, and whoever doesn’t like it has a right to call me on it.

3. After re-reading Zerlina’s post for the umpteenth time yesterday, I realized that I definitely reached for the inferences I made. Because I followed the discussion about it on Twitter before actually reading it, I read it with an agenda, looking for a few things that weren’t actually there. I know how shitty it feels to have people make conclusions about something you’ve written before actually reading it, and I apologize to Zerlina for doing that to her.

4. You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t actually said anything about yesterday’s content yet, and I don’t plan to. That ship has sailed. I will say though, that as hard as this may be to believe, I actually did appreciate yesterday’s discussion. Perhaps the best part of VSB is the Very Smart readers, followers, and fans we tend to have, and yesterday was one of those days where I could sit back, read, and learn from them.

Among these things I learned was that there is a major disconnect among some very smart people about issues such as consent and rape/crime prevention and the definitions and proper applications of terms like accountability and responsibility. I don’t know if anything was “solved” yesterday (or if they ever will be), but I don’t think I was the only one surprised by how far apart many of us are when these topics are brought up.

I’m sure yesterday cost us some fans and dissuaded people who would have been fans in the future. That’s unfortunate. For those who did come back today, thank you, and lets continue to entertain (and educate) each other. My eyes and ears feel a little more open today, and I hope yours do too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)