Sweet Lord, there is no such thing as an “illegitimate child”

Even a cursory glance at the coverage of the Schwarzenegger cheating-and-paternity scandal shows that WAY too many people still believe in the whole idea of “legitimate children” and “illegitimate children.” It goes beyond mere word-choice. The “illegtimate child” has an aura of embarrassment attached, at best. Oops, your parents messed up, and produced you! If only your dad had kept it in his pants and/or wore a condom! Or else, the child is viewed as an oughtright inconvenience. Some people even think that laws should be rewritten, so that the little “bastards” in question should not threaten a “legitimate” family’s finances.

This gif sums up my feelings on the matter:

I think it's nice, no? And oddly subtle, for a gif of this nature.

I’m not one of those people who can honestly say that she loves her neighbour (especially not when he’s blasting really bad techno at 2 a.m.) or turns the other cheek. Like any person, I’d be pretty pissed off if my husband went off and had a kid with someone else, and I was in the dark about it. The reason why so much aggression and discomfort centers on the child has to do with the fact that the child serves as living, breathing “evidence” of a betrayal. People often project their own insecurities about their relationships onto children like that, without even knowing the child personally or consciously acknowledging what it is they’re doing. All of that is perfectly understandable.

None of it excuses the ridiculous label of “illegitimacy.”

11 thoughts on “Sweet Lord, there is no such thing as an “illegitimate child”

  1. You’d think words like that would have no place in the 21st century wouldn’t you?

    It reminds me of the time my friend was messing about in my wheelchair (with my encouragement!) and the caretaker at the college we attended at the time told him to get out and ‘stop mocking invalids’. To which I replied that I had given permission for him to be in my chair, and while we were on the subject I was a VERY VALID human being thank you very much!

    Even the Spanish word for a disabled person – ‘minusválido’- literally translates as ‘not valid’. People are still so careless with the words they use it makes me crazy.

  2. Natalia: You are a very smart woman, but you need to understand that you are under the spell of romanticism about love and marriage and so on.

    Marriage is nothing but a legal contract that entails certain commitments about money, property, inheritance and the responsibility to support spouse and children. A child outside of marriage is “illegitimate” in that said child in not entitled to inherit. On the other hand, a child born to a married woman is legally considered belonging to the husband and entitled to support even if the child is biologically fathered by another man.

    Marriage is not about love; it is about money and property. Life would be much simpler if we could stay clear about this.

    Also, many people believe in religions that have a kind of unspoken doctrine which says that children are god’s punishment for sex. God says that only way sex can be allowed is within the context of conceiving children to propagate the human race(otherwise it is just an occasion of selfish, self-indulgent sin), and our society says that the only way children have a place in society is within marriage. Therefore children born to people who are married are a “blessing” – or can be if they are lucky to be considered so. Children born to people who are not married are a punishment for a sinful act and a deterrent to further sin.*

    See? Its really easy to understand. You just have to look at it the right way.

    * I hope you understand that I am just explaining how this problem of “illegitimate” children who are brought up being told that they “ruined” their mother’s lives – as in a Victorian novel – came to be so. I don’t agree with it. Except that I am kind of bitter and cold about marriage.

  3. That BS came as a result of an edict handed down by Constantine in the 4th c, C.E. Before that time, polygamy was the accepted norm, as it increased the odds of producing a male heir. At that time, with the lack of medical technology being what it was, an infant mortality rate of about 50%, etc., etc., the nuclear family model reduced a man’s odds of producing a male heir down to just less than 40%. When a man died with no male heir, the church inherited his wealth, by law. So the whole legal inheritance apparatus was a scam from the get-go.

    (Pardon me for being a crappy academic–I’m paraphrasing a cultural anthro textbook edited by Haviland, 2001. I could dig it out of storage in the next few days and source my comment properly if you’d like.)

    That ‘legitimate’ or ‘illegitimate’ model has no place in a 21st c secular democracy. If a guy can’t be bothered to wear a condom, he should accept half the consequences of creating a life–under the best of circumstances. If there was force or dishonesty involved, he should be required to offer further compensation, to a point where he learns some empathy, responsibility and courtesy toward whomever or whatever his appetites might harm.

  4. I’s not an issue of romanticism for me (lol…) – because like I said in the OP, it’s more than an issue of word-choice. “Illegitimate” has its own linguistic roots, the way it’s *used today* that is highty problematic. The model itself does not fit most societies anymore.

  5. Xena,
    Hmm, that’s strange. From what I’ve learned about antiquity, the Romans (but I don’t know about people they conquered) were strongly believers in monogamy and did not practice polygamy, although I do remember something about the emperors being free to adopt whoever they wanted as an heir.

  6. @Xena & @Melinda

    Yeah, in terms of Roman law, the Romans were insistent on monogamy (bigamy was a crime). Not only emperors, but all Roman fathers who lacked male heirs routinely formally adopted a son. Xena’s reference to Constantine’s edict presumably refers to Romans who died without a will. The effect would have been to disinherit daughters. But any Roman who kept his will current could still bequeath his estate to his daughters. Roman law always respected written wills, Church or no Church.

    When Xena mentions polygamy, she might be referring to concubinage (not the same thing as formal marriage). How the sons of concubines inherited from an intestate (will-less) father, I don’t remember.

  7. Yep. It looks like I’ll have to dig out that textbook. I believe the historian I’m paraphrasing was referring to the marriage practices of early Xtians as polygamous. 1st through 3rd c Romans were still practising paganism. Their marriage customs didn’t factor in until Constantine adopted Xtianity and made it the official religion. And yes, the Romans were monogamous. At least they expected their women to be monogamous.

    It’ll be a few days before I can get to that textbook, so I’ll see if google turns up anything worth quoting.

  8. I guess I did not express myself very well because I was trying to show off my erudition in theology. What I should have said is that you only get this “legitimate” v “illegitimate” distinction because of marriage. And marriage was mostly about protection and support of the wife and child.

    In an age where the woman can make her own way and does not need this protection, why have marriage at all? Why not do away with it? It is not necessary and causes a lot of unnecessary complications, especially for children.

    All we really need is some kind of registry to keep track of the parentage of children so that their fathers and mothers can be held responsible for supporting them.

    It might be a more pleasant and civilized world, if in the words of that philosopher John Hartford, these things could be left gentle on our minds:

    And it’s knowing I’m not shackled
    by forgotten words and bonds
    and the ink stains that have dried if on some line,
    that keeps you in the backroads
    by the rivers of my mem’ry
    that keeps you ever gentle on my mind.


  9. Marriage is hopelessly outdated – but the systems that prop it up are still real. I got married for practical reasons, for example. I liked the symbolism of being “wedded” to someone, there were lots of really awesome moments, but I also refer to the event as “state-sanctioned frivoloty” for a reason. Because of how the government and the law operate, marriage is still this thing that you do because you’re looking out for yourselves (and, in our case, the future kid).

  10. I am glad that you are happy with your choices. I wish you all the best in your life and work. -<@

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