Study: Men’s Expressions of Reproductive Needs = ‘Reproductive Control’

There’s a new form of abuse according to this study and this article (The Daily Beast, 10/12/10).  But sadly, the new abuse stems from the same old concept that anything a man does to influence a woman’s behavior in any way regardless of how reasonable constitutes “control” and control, as we all know, is abuse.  Don’t believe me?  Check out virtually any website on domestic violence or abuse and you’ll see that the difference between violence and abuse is obscured, that any form of control constitutes abuse and that virtually any expression of desire for any sort of outcome by a man constitutes control.

Therefore, we have concepts like “economic abuse” and “relational abuse.”  Of course in certain situations, those can indeed be abusive.  Imagine a person who’s injured or impaired, can’t work and depends on his/her partner for support.  The partner could easily exercise a form of control over the finances that reasonable people might agree would constitute inappropriate behavior.  But it could also include the man’s attempting to get his wife to not buy an expensive car when he’d just been laid off work.

Or one partner might seriously try to limit the other person’s access to friends.  That would be inappropriate in many cases, but appropriate if the friends were heroin addicts.

And that’s the problem with those concepts of abuse; they call ‘abusive’ behavior that’s entirely appropriate and that loving, supportive partners engage in routinely.  It’s always been one of the goals of the domestic violence industry to define “violence” as broadly as possible.  That explains the common elision of the difference between “violence” and “abuse” and “control.”  It explains the classic example from years past in which a DV advocacy group was caught defining “violence” to include “failure to give compliments and gifts.”

That little embarrassment notwithstanding, there are at least two reasons that the DV industry touts ever-broader “definitions” of violence/abuse.  The most obvious is that the broader the definition, the greater the range of behaviors that qualify as abuse; and the more such behaviors, the greater the “crisis” that can be reported, studied and above all, funded.  The more “abuse,” the more governmental funding, and that, as they say, is the bottom line.

The other reason is psychological.  It’s a safe bet that anyone who sees “control” in the most common and routine of actions is likely to be a controlling type of person.  Everyone of course needs to feel a measure of control over their daily lives; there’s nothing unhealthy or even unusual about that.  But those who interpret normal everyday behavior as unacceptably infringing on their autonomy, predictably want to free themselves of that “control.”  They often try to accomplish that by restricting the behavior they deem to be controlling.  In other words, they are themselves controllers.

And so it is with the DV industry.  It surely escapes no one’s attention that the very websites that rail against the evils of “control” of one partner by another, implicitly or explicitly seek to restrict the free behavior of the other partner.  Again, those for whom “control” is the paramount issue, often turn out to be controllers themselves.

The new study, breathlessly reported on and misrepresented by The Daily Beast, is all about “reproductive control.”  What is reproductive control?  Well, it’s not easy to figure out, but if I’m right about what I’ve said so far, we can expect that the authors include as “reproductive control” both inappropriate and appropriate behavior.  And sure enough, that’s exactly what happens.

The study is a small one; just 71 women were interviewed.  And since they all have histories of DV, they are in no way representative of the population at large, and of course neither are their partners.

Essentially everything about the study is suspicious.  Apart from saying that 74% of the women interviewed had experienced   some form of reproductive control, there is no data, nothing is quanitified.  What is the definition of “reproductive control?”  Oddly enough, it’s hard to say.

We posit that it is ideal for women to have reproductive autonomy which we use to mean a woman”s ability to make independent decisions about her reproduction. We define interference with this autonomy reproductive control.

That’s the only actual definition of the term that’s offered and, as escapes no one, it’s astonishingly broad.  Given that breadth, the only thing that’s surprising about the study is that it didn’t find more “reproductive control.”  After all, the fact that they their cohort consisted soley of DV victims means they tapped into relationships with a fair amount of psychopathology.

And let’s be clear, some of what the interviewees describe is sick behavior.  (As is so often the case, with studies of this sort, no attempt was made to find out if what the women said was accurate.  That’s particularly important since much of what the authors find to be inappropriate consists of attributing motivations to their partners by the interviewees.)  So when a woman says that, when she was pregnant, her partner threatened to throw her down the stairs or punch her in the stomach to induce a miscarriage, no one would defend him or his behavior.  It’s plainly coercive.

But, as we’ve come to expect, the authors sweep defensible behaviors in with the indefensible and label all “control.”  Listen to this 28-year-old interviewee:

We are not ready for kids. You know I already had, at the time I had two children and I told him, like, “We are not ready for kids. Our relationship is not even stable enough.’ And he would be like, “That”s not true. It”s never the right time to have a kid. You just don”t want to be a part of me. You just don”t want me to be around forever.”

The authors call that reproductive control.  I call it an appropriate expression of the desire to have a child.  Read further and we learn that this man did indeed (according to the woman) engage in inappropriate behavior, but the behavior described above is also deemed controlling.

Predictably, any opposition by a man to a woman’s desire for an abortion is considered inappropriately controlling.

And I told him–right when I found out I was pregnant, I told him, “You know, I hate to say this, but I want to have an abortion.’ […] [He said], “No, you’re crazy.  How can you say that, [respondent]? You can”t just kill your child!’ And he was just making me feel so guilty until, finally, I was just, like, “Okay, then. I”ll keep the baby.”

Later we learn that expressions of desires on the part of the man can be deemed inappropriately controlling even when they agree with the woman’s own desires.  The man who threatened to throw the pregnant woman down the stairs can make no defense of that behavior, but he wanted her to abort the fetus and she wanted that too, apart from his desires.  And she did in fact terminate her pregnancy.  So, outrageous as his statement was, it’s his expression of any desire whatsoever with regard to his partner’s pregnancy of which the authors disapprove.

The study itself borders on the worthless.  As I said, it is almost entirely unquantified, so we have no way of knowing how frequently particular behaviors occurred.  The authors preselected pathological relationships and seem to want us to be surprised when they discover pathology.  They give only the slightest hint of what questions were asked and how (many seem to be leading) and the write-up provides only brief snippets of responses from perhaps eight women.  How were they chosen?  In short, the methodology seems designed to suggest much to the credulous but little-to-nothing to anyone else.

And speaking of the credulous, there’s the article on the study in The Daily Beast.  Basically, it swallows the study whole.  It betrays not the slightest skepticism and apparently hopes it’s readers won’t either.  It fails to let readers know even the basics about the study or its methodology preferring to “inform” people that “reproductive control is more common than you’d think.”  Never mind that the study says no such thing.  Even its authors don’t pretend that it means anything about the population at large or the incidence of “reproductive control.”

The study itself has little import even about its own very narrow cohort.  Its methodology is almost comically flawed and its write-up tells very little about either the study or the interviewees.  The Daily Beast piece is actually worse, asking no questions and fudging the facts.  But both the study and the article agree on one thing – any time a man’s needs differ from a woman’s, they’re inappropriate.  And my, doesn’t that say a lot about them!

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