Young unmarried fathers — victims and heirs of toxic masculinities

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There are far too many stories about the adversities young unmarried women and girls have to face. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya explores the difficulties these pregnancies pose, and the reality of the lack of accountability by many men.  

From the moment they learn of the conception, to giving birth, — if they go that far — young women and girls have to navigate all sorts of biological, economic, moral and sociological landmines. Some are worse and more destructive than others depending on the mother-to-be’s culture, class situation, economic support and religious background.

In many cultures, ancient and present, the shame of being an unmarried and teenage parent is disproportionately carried by a woman (or girl), but hardly anything is said of the man involved.

The “Quick-And-Easy” abortion industry and the global political debate over the right to terminate pregnancy has much to do with young women who find themselves in a situation where they must ponder whether their unborn child must live or die.

A World Health Organisation report of February 2018 revealed some shocking numbers on teen pregnancies in the developing world.

Some of the key findings are as follows:

  • Approximately 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 years and 2.5 million girls under the age of 16 years give birth each year in developing regions.
  • Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls globally.
  • Every year, some 3.9 million girls aged 15 to 19 years undergo unsafe abortions.
  • Adolescent mothers (ages 10 to 19 years) face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24 years.

This is why this weekend’s South Africa’s Youth Day commemoration, coinciding with Father’s Day, will be about teenage fathers. 

Just like in the Gospel of John where the community brings “the woman caught in the very act of adultery” to Jesus and seeks his opinion — actually approval more than his opinion — on their plans to stone her, nothing is said about the man involved.  

… the young man is seldom held accountable for his part in the unfolding narrative.

Even being caught “in the very act” as evidenced by the young woman being pregnant, the young man is seldom held accountable for his part in the unfolding narrative. The young man is often cast in a cameo role and the script is so undeveloped that the character may vanish from the story without anyone ever noticing or caring.

Young fathers of unplanned children cohabit a dual world where they are both beneficiaries and victims of toxic masculinities. They are beneficiaries because they always have the option of opting out of the lives of the mother and child by merely denying being the parent. If they do accept responsibility, the consequence is reduced to a financial transaction, a kind of tax they must grudgingly pay until the child comes of age or is self-supportive.

Young fathers of unplanned children cohabit a dual world where they are both beneficiaries and victims of toxic masculinities.

They are victims of toxic masculinities because the rite of passage to manhood often demands that a young man must part with his virginity as early as possible. Ready or not, a boy who wants social acceptance must have sex, or at least must claim that he has indulged in the act.

To achieve the social justice due to women, in general girls, it is an inescapable fact that we need to address those who cause and benefit from the injustice: men.

It is not enough to preach to women about contraception (natural or otherwise), chastity or even anti-abortion if nothing is said to the men who place women in situations in which they must consider these options.

Speaking during the Jesuit Institute South Africa Winter Living Theology 2019 series on ‘The spirituality and psychology of well-being’, presenter, Fr David Marcotte SJ, a clinical psychologist at New York’s Jesuit University, Fordham, summarised human needs to be the need for competence, autonomy and relatedness.

By this, Marcotte meant that human beings become the best versions of themselves when they are able to acquire and perfect a skill that enables them to live a productive life (competence). Autonomy is being able to make decisions that suit one’s own life and well-being without having to check whether such decisions suit others who have the wherewithal to visit consequences on the decision maker if they don’t like the decision. Relatedness is about feeling connected to loved ones and being part of a community.

Present-day types of masculinities are not only making many men a shadow of what they were created to be; many have become hurdles to women, especially young women,

Present-day types of masculinities are not only making many men a shadow of what they were created to be; many have become hurdles to women, especially young women, becoming what God created them to be. This illness of society is felt at home, in the workplace and in the streets.

As Marcotte showed during the three-day seminar at the Lumko Retreat centre in Benoni, humankind is not doomed to the helpless and unhappy lives we live. 

While trying to improve our situations, we could also help young men make better choices about the kind of fathers they could be, because a great deal of what is best for women rides on men taking responsibility for their actions and getting their heads and spirits right. 

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

 

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Young unmarried fathers — victims and heirs of toxic masculinities