It has been very interesting going through the process of a vasectomy. I was complimented by my counsellor and thanked profusely by my wife for doing it. People were sensitive to not inquire as to the reason I was not available once I had said I had day surgery. Closer friends who had already the procedure gave me a bit of mild mockery and a lot of supportive statements. Friends who have not had it were sympathetic. We didn’t tell our kids why I wasn’t moving very much and organised for them not to be here on the day.
The positive and honouring experience I have had has further emphasized to me the systemic inequalities that women suffer in our patriarchal society.
When my wife was going through her pregnancies, her body became public property. People would come up and touch her without really asking, people (particularly medical professionals) would make comment about how the birth would be for her and once the children were born people were comfortable inquiring about the process and the details she had gone through. I feel that society endorses our right to unveil her at our leisure. If we want to know something about her and her body in pregnancy and birth, it’s presumed we can just ask and we will receive. Indeed, my wife and other women go through a variety of public unveilings: cervical smears; breast cancer checks; menstruation. Women are public property in a patriarchal society.
As a man, my privacy has been paramount at this time. People don’t talk about vasectomy. I dictate the terms on which we talk about it, because society endorses my right to reveal me. Furthermore, the discomfort people are feeling derives from a perception that a vasectomy threatens the power inherent in the phallus. The phallus is the symbol of power in a patriarchy. It is integrated into our architecture, our media, our language, our families. Into everything. Our society communicates at all levels that the phallus is power. People sense that a vasectomy threatens that power. It is perceived to threaten my ability to control and dominate through reproduction and phallo-centric sexual prowess. Fertility is as one with virility in our patriarchal society. I am powerful because I have a phallus.
I know of two men who said to their partners they would never have a vasectomy because they may need to breed again if the relationship didn’t work out or if she died. They are not outliers. Nor are they known to be abusers (bar the psychological abuse of those very statements). They are, however, stating plainly that men’s power is rooted in their fertility, and that power will resist any threat. They are also restating the place of women in a patriarchal society; the virgin and whore. Women are to reproduce and to provide pleasure to men. The climax of intimacy in this framework is male orgasm. Read carefully magazines that talk about female orgasm in mainstream media and you will note that female orgasm is affirmed, encouraged but never central to the sexual act. Women are in servitude in a patriarchal society.
Our society is dysfunctional and dangerous for those of us who live in it, and those whom we encounter outside of it. So I reject it. My masculinity is not related to my fertility. I regard myself as being in the continual act of balancing my masculine and feminine. Richard Rohr talks about a man’s journey being from the shallow masculine, to the shallow feminine, to the deep masculine, ending in the deep feminine, if he is to be self-actualised. That is the journey I am committed to, and it constantly calls me beyond the shallow masculine worship of the phallus.
Germaine Greer says the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity. My wife and I live in a fraternal bond. It requires risk and conflict as well as love and pleasure. This small act of having a vasectomy is in itself irrelevant; but it has been a pause where I have been able to reflect on the truth that our relationship is part of affirming or rejecting the use of power in our patriarchal society.