Best Of The Web
“For most of history, one essential, immutable difference between men and women was that men could hide the fact that they had created a child and women could not. Pregnancy and childbirth showed the world who the mother was; paternity could only be assumed. Years ago, I saw a female standup do a routine in which she swaggered across the stage like a dude, telling the audience, “Yeah, I don’t have any kids”—pause—“that I know of.” It still makes me laugh. New parents are often told how much their babies look like the father. The research on whether most do or do not is ambiguous, but the fancy persists, in part because, consciously or unconsciously, people think that emphasizing the resemblance will set a man’s mind at ease, thus fortifying the paternal bond. As Nara Milanich, a professor of history at Barnard College, writes in her solidly researched and enlightening new book, “Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father” (Harvard), a “common metaphor invoked by nineteenth-century jurists was that Nature had concealed fatherhood by an ‘impenetrable veil.’ ”
That veil was often a source of frustration, leading to domestic doubts and irresolvable courtroom conflicts. Literature gives us many a husband driven half mad by the suspicion that his child is not the fruit of his loins, as is King Leontes, in “The Winter’s Tale,” and women who deceive their husbands on this score, like the wife in Maupassant’s story “Useless Beauty,” who tells her husband that one of their seven children isn’t his, but won’t say which.
Paternal unknowability, however, was also enormously useful. Many legal traditions around the world, including the Anglo-American one, adhered to the marital presumption of legitimacy at least until the twentieth century: a child born to a married woman was considered to be the biological progeny of her husband. (A child born to an unmarried woman was, Milanich writes, “historically deemed a filius nullius, a child of nobody.”) Milanich tells the story of a man named Remo Cipolli, who, in 1945, sued his wife, Quinta Orsini, for adultery, and sought to deny paternity, after she gave birth to an infant who appeared to be black. Cipolli and his wife, who were both white Italians, lived in a small town near Pisa, where a number of African-American soldiers had been stationed at the end of the Second World War. The case became notorious—the baby was known as “the little Moor of Pisa.” In the end, although a civil court found Orsini guilty of adultery, it also concluded that her husband, Cipolli, was legally the baby’s father.”
JJ Editor's Picks
"Kurds have been staunch allies in America's struggle against ISIS. Without them, America would have paid a far steeper price in blood and treasure to defeat the brutal outfit. That's why President Trump's move to pull U.S. troops out of..."
"For the first time since President Richard Nixon refused to turn over the White House tapes, the United States is facing a genuine constitutional crisis. To be sure, Donald Trump had already created a crisis in the presidency by abusing the..."
"Every October for the past five years, Fat Bear Week has showcased some of the healthiest, hungriest, and chonkiest bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve, a four-million-acre expanse of wilderness in southern Alaska..."
"I sat on my childhood bed, surrounded by 52-year-old stuffed animals, with a smartphone lodged between my ear and shoulder. My father had died unexpectedly the day before, and I was jotting down notes as my rabbi back in Ohio described various..."
"In August, it was SoulCycle and Equinox. The month prior, Home Depot. Back in 2017, L.L.Bean. These are only a few of the companies to ignite the collective ire of progressive consumers over corporate ties to Trump. In the case of the boutique..."
"Movies like Gemini Man are usually ideal airplane viewing. Take a formulaic plot about spies and cloning, then add dialogue so predictable that getting interrupted by pilots’ announcements and turbulence and your seatmate’s need to get up and..."
"It’s still unclear whether Israel’s next election will be in four years or four months. But either way, if the center-right wants a better outcome, it needs to learn the lessons of September’s election. So here are two: First, while center-right..."
"Smart homes, bountiful oceans and casual sexism: the future as envisaged from 1967 ‘Yes, life will be richer, easier, healthier as space-age dreams come true.’ In 1967, the Ford Motor Company (then known as Philco-Ford) released the short film..."