Does This Marginalize Men?
High-tech science, such as parthenogenesis, may be slow to reach the masses, but families created without dads are here now. As this book has discussed, the place of men is already being questioned by these women, and the best conclusion many can muster is that men are a luxury item. For children without dads, mothers supply men as mentors, friends, and kin. This involvement does not secure a place for men as dads in families. In fact, men are not needed in the family—even the act of sex and the job of financially supporting the family, both of which traditionally bound the man to the mother and child, no longer require men. The possibility of creating children without the act of sex detaches the genetic claim men make to children. This revolutionizes the meaning of men in families.
Consequently, men need to rethink their place in the family because it is no longer implicit. Without automatic membership, men must find a different basis for connection to families. This will mean that men will have to exert new energy to claim a place. If we strip away the assumption that men are entitled to a special place in the lives of children on the basis of gender, what will men have to offer? I suspect that in order to have men rethink their place in the family, they also need to rethink their place in the workplace. The workplace remains hostile to both men’s and women’s involvement in family. Perhaps this will be what finally reshapes the workplace significantly—men as well as women pushing the workplace
to accommodate the family. Under these conditions, men will reemerge as a different kind of player in the family (though clearly such a statement assumes that men want to be part of family life, and that is by no means necessarily true). Becoming more involved in the daily lives of children may make them more a parent and less an antiquated symbol. But what will win men a place in family, making them once again important to women and children, is the question. What men offer today is obsolete, and I am hopeful that they will revise their offerings. What will they bring, and will every family want it? Further, will they have to be a dad to offer it?
What Is Holding Women Back from Female-Centered Families?
While social parents have solidly established their places as primary in children’s lives, I am not ready to completely disregard the weight of genetics. It is difficult to separate the cultural lore surrounding genetics from its importance in identity formation; it is often overemphasized in a society that builds families around blood ties. Genetic ties have meaning beyond the nuclear family, extending intergenerationally, an accepted basis for who is in and who is out of the family. However, as the open adoption movement gains momentum and women reiterate frequently the special place of the donors in their child’s life, it is clear that while genetics may not make a parent, genetic parents offer children pieces of their identity.
New reproductive technologies have opened up the possibility for intentionally crafting genetic ties; however, the women sketched in this book shy away from playing with genetics in nontraditional ways. These women initially prefer to conceptualize the donor as theirs alone, even when faced with the number of children sired by their donor on the paper profile. Implicit in a decision to use an anonymous donor is the decision to forgo direct access to the donor. But he is not irrelevant. When questions of paternal identity are unanswered, women turn to a new search for other donor siblings as a stand-in for more information about the child’s paternal identity. Donor siblings are an extension of the anonymous donor, which is why women try to provide their children with them. The increase in donor sibling matches and the growing number of individuals registering on Web sites for that purpose indicate a new way in which kinship is born.1 Yet while women scour the country and the Internet in search of genetic siblings and half siblings of their children, they adamantly refuse to share the same donor with their friends.
While donor registries could provide one answer to the absence of paternal genetic identity, the use of reproductive technologies could provide another. Imagine if a group of women—say, a circle of friends from college—got together and decided to share the same anonymous donor. Each could order sperm using the same donor number without even having to leave her own home. These mothers would not be pledging to become co-mothers to each other’s children,