It’s too bad that men can’t be like male seahorses, the only family in the animal kingdom that can naturally undergo male pregnancy. Of course, men can grow their own empathy belly or experience a labor simulation, but there is nothing quite like the real thing. It’s these attempts at bridging the physical aspect of pregnancy that forestall the equally important non-physical aspects of pregnancy. And men should enlighten themselves on these experiences before they question why women do or do not decide to have children.
Chrissy Teigen, American model and wife of singer John Legend, had an outpouring of social media attention in regard to starting a family earlier this year, according to Us Magazine. In an episode of “FABLife,” Teigen, at 29 years old, remarked that asking women about having children can be a sensitive topic as some women may have fertility issues. Undoubtedly, men can have similar issues, but social norms tend to place the public spotlight of having children on women. What Teigen did by bringing up fertility shows how age, gender and societal pressures can construct a mainstream narrative. A female with a male counterpart at the age of 29 is expected to have kids. It’s an easy narrative to follow and one that isn’t openly challenged.
There are career and economic factors in pregnancy as well. According to the Economist, a pregnant woman at work is typically seen as irrational and less motivated. After pregnancy, women usually get a “motherhood penalty,” where they’re perceived as less focused. On the contrary, a father gets a “fatherhood bonus” and is seen as more committed to his work due to being a father. These double standards go hand in hand with what the Harvard Business Review calls “asymmetries of male-female relationships,” which helps explain the 33 percent of “successful career women” (i.e. “business executives, doctors, lawyers, academics and the like”) and 42 percent of women in corporate America being childless in 2001. Although men — despite their age — who want children tend to have children, women face the opposite effects according to HBR’s study. As women age and climb the rankings in their career, they tend to be more discriminated against as potential mates.
USA Today reported on an overall trend of more men wanting marriage and children, while women simultaneously have shown greater interest in their careers and independence. As the perception of women in our society is changing, the perception of childbearing must also adapt. The idea that women should have kids because they can does not always mix well with career and personal aspirations of women. Men can say they want to be fathers, but that won’t give them nine months of constant physical change and, of course, the labor of birth itself. And disruption in work flow for a father is not comparable to a mother’s. Sure, asking a woman about having kids can seem like an innocuous question, but familiarize yourself with the socioeconomic and career impacts the question entails. After all, pregnancy is much more profound than a plus or minus sign.