a bird and a bottle

Tickin’ Like This (with thanks to Marisa Tomei)
February 27, 2007, 8:21 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, media, news, reproductive justice

After all these years of pressure on women to get pregnant — and now! — it seems that men too have a biological clock. The NY Times reports that as men get older, their risk of fathering children with abnormalities, including autism and schizophrenia, increases.

At long (long) last, perhaps, this news can take some of the heat and the pressure off of women. For too long, everything related to pregnancy has been on women’s heads. Any complication, any hiccup was thought to be related to the woman’s health and how she comported herself during pregnancy. Biologically, of course, that’s ridiculous.

“Until now, the dominant view has been, ‘Blame it on the mother,’ ” said Dr. Avi Reichenberg, the lead author of the study, published in September in The Archives of General Psychiatry. “But we found a dose-response relationship: the older the father, the higher the risk. We think there is a biological mechanism that is linked to aging fathers.”

This article is not the first time that the question of a man’s impact on reproductive outcomes has come up. Cynthia Daniels, a scholar at Rutgers, has written a whole book about it. While women around the country have been prosecuted because they were unable to kick drug addictions during pregnancy and social workers, prosecutors, and courts feared for the health of their fetuses (and wrongly assumed that a jail stay would protect fetal health), Daniels reports in Exposing Men: The Science and Politics of Male Reproduction that paternal alcoholism, cigarette smoking, and illicit drug use has been correlated with abnormal sperm, low birth weight, and birth defects, including spina bifida and anencephalus. Yet the press ignores the impact of men’s behavior on birth outcomes. Daniels reports:

From 1985 to 2000, the nine U.S. national daily newspapers published fewer than a dozen stories on associations between men’s drug use, alcohol use, or cigarette smoking and fetal health problem. By contrast, during the same period these papers ran 197 stories on pregnant women and cocaine addiction alone. (p.143)

So now that this issue has finally hit the pages of the paper of record, maybe we can start blaming women less and understanding reproductive biology better. Pamela Madsen, of the American Fertility Association, whom the Times article quotes, put it well:

“It takes two to make a baby,” she said, “and men who one day want to become fathers need to wake up, read what’s out there and take responsibility.

“I don’t see why everyone is so surprised,” Ms. Madsen added. “Everyone ages. Why would sperm cells be the only cells not to age as men get older?”


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

this is a great post. thanks. as you imply, men will be much slower to relinquish control of their own bodies than they have been to take control of women’s bodies.
please keep us posted as to developments of this story. it’ll be interesting to see if major health institutions start changing the rhetoric from being women-centered to being couple-centered.

Comment by professorplum

great post. thanks.
as you imply, men will be much slower to relinquish control of their bodies than they have been to take control of women’s bodies.
it’ll be interesting to see if the controlling rhetoric shifts from mother-centric to couple-centric.
please keep us posted!

[apologies if this post appears twice; internet trouble]

Comment by professorplum

The truth is, the science on the male biological clock is not new. There is plenty of it starting in 1955.


Comment by Leslie Feldman

hm, i didn’t know that. thanks for the link, Leslie. The thing is, the fact that a male biological clock is not new only heightens my point — what will it take for men to understand the cost to women of reproduction?

Comment by bean

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