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Michael Brendan Dougherty on Bastardy

Michael Brendan Dougherty: This Child’s View Of Single-Motherhood:

Writing checks, delivering take-out dinners, and trying to fit in 20 minutes of quality time with my empty-nester mom shook those fantasies out of me. We told ourselves all sorts of things while I was growing up, but my mother would have been happier, healthier, and more secure with a man to love, and with one who loved her. She would have had more of that if she had more children too.

So do I wish there were more social stigma, the “retrograde and ugly moral judgements” that surround decisions about sex and family? Absolutely. And yes, it would have cost her something if she indeed fell on the wrong side of those taboos. And it would cost me something to be a “bastard” if that word could still wound. People are nasty about social taboos, and I don’t sanction that. But my mother faced plenty of indignities without those moral judgements. If we got do overs, I’d be willing to risk it.

From my perspective the sexual revolution liberated men to abandon the mothers of their children, defining fatherhood down to an alimony payment and maybe state-defined visitation. Women like my mother were expected to raise families entirely on their own emotional and financial resources, however meager. The answers given to the problems that this social revolution caused tend to be curt and unhelpful: contracept better. Or as my mother was ominously told by some upon my conception, “Just take care of it.” Those seem like the “retrograde and ugly” moral sentiments to me.

Just because I turned out fine doesn’t mean that everything is fine.

The astonishing thing, for me, is that Michael doesn't see that the retrograde and ugly moral judgments condemn the mothers as sluts and the children as bastards--and largely leave the men close to scot-free.

It is not Mr. Wickham who faces the threat of lifetime ruin when he runs off with Lydia Bennet, is it?

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