Hilary Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney, Mitt’s wife, “has never worked a day in her life” has sparked quite a bit of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing, but sadly, no soul-searching. It’s mostly provided yet more fodder for the reiteration of pre-held views. Needless to say, in this election year, most of that has acquired a distinctly political odor. Democrats are reeling from the blowback that casts them as anti-mother, disrespectful of the important and necessary job that parents do. Add to that the fact that, while raising five children, Ann Romney battled both cancer and multiple sclerosis, and you have a Democratic administration that looks not only anti-mom but like a bully as well.
The Democratic attempt at a response has been less than convincing. The simple fact is that, although it’s long been one of the central tenets of feminism’s radical wing, the idea that prioritizing motherhood is, in some way, an illegitimate use of a woman’s time just doesn’t play in Peoria. Nor should it. So, if you’re a Democrat, it must be time to shift the focus of the debate or reframe the issue, as the lawyers say.
It’s in that category into which we can place this article by Barbara J. Risman (CNN, 4/20/12). According to her, U.S. society is full of contradictions about childrearing and work, it’s time we changed and the way to change is to make employers pay the freight. Well, who can argue that we contradict ourselves when it comes to parenting. We do it all the time and in a variety of ways, which raises the question of why Risman didn’t manage to find any of the real contradictions.
Actually, that’s an easy question to answer. She didn’t find the real contradictions because she’s not looking in the right places. Risman’s goal is to present women and mothers as victims of, well, the rest of us, so it’s no surprise that the “contradictions” she comes up with aren’t contradictions at all, just policies or practices she doesn’t agree with. For example, here’s “contradiction No. 4:”
Everyone seems to agree that when women married to men of means choose to be stay-at-home moms, they are doing so for the good of their children. But when poor women, without access to first-rate child care, choose to stay home with their babies, we tend to call them lazy welfare mothers. Our social policy of providing only very “temporary assistance to needy families” comes with the built-in insistence that they take personal responsibility for their children, meaning they should get themselves a low-wage job, often with no choice but to leave their children in less than optimal child care.No, actually it just means that, as a matter of policy, we refuse to pay indefinitely for poor mothers to stay home with their kids. You may disagree with that policy, and many do, but to say that we as a culture have many different values, some of which compete with each other, is not to say that we contradict ourselves. There is a certain mindset that believes that, if something is beneficial to a person or set of people, then all must pay for that benefit via governmental taxation and spending. That’s debatable at best. For example, women in this country have abortion rights, but public policy balks at paying for pregnancy terminations by poor women. Again, you may agree or disagree with the policy, but it is neither inconsistent, contradictory nor hypocritical.
But, speaking of contradictions, Risman contradicts herself, whether she realizes it or not. In one part of her article, she suggests that fathers might do more childcare than they currently do, that society might encourage dads to adopt childrearing as their “career.” Risman goes on to wonder why they don’t.
The answers are obvious. Dads don’t do more childcare, partly because they’re taught from birth in any number of ways, that they don’t want to, wouldn’t be good at it if they did want to and would be a danger to the kids anyway. They then learn later in life that, if they’ve overcome all those obstacles and become exemplary dads, the courts will still bend heaven and earth to take their kids from them in the event Mom so desires. Obvious as all that is to even the casual observer, Risman misses it.
She then goes on to plump for laws requiring U.S. employers to provide childcare for parents while they’re at work. She makes no mention of the high cost of doing so nor the competitive disadvantage at which it would place American business vis-a-vis their foreign competition. Neither does she seem aware that we’re in the throes of a recession that’s put millions out of work or that adding such a requirement on employers would seriously impede the weak, halting economic recovery that may or may not be under way.
Worse, she either doesn’t know or prefers not to mention the fact that exactly the childcare policy she promotes is designed to cut more and more fathers out of children’s lives. Put simply, Risman recommends replacing father care with employer-paid daycare. She may not realize it, but that’s how it would work out in practice. Under her plan, no longer would divorcing mothers who work for pay be faced with giving up even a smidgen of parenting time to Dad because their employers would be there to pick up the slack. Working mothers are working fathers’ best hope of equality in family court; that’s why Risman wants to put so much of the onus of childcare on employers.
So, although Risman may pretend to a concern for fathers’ parenting time, her preferred “solution” is to take parenting time away from dads and turn it over to daycare agencies. The conclusion that Risman is less than dad-positive is reinforced by her complete failure to call for anything that would help fathers in their quest to have more time with their kids. No exhortations to family courts or state legislatures to change laws or court practices; no prompts to Hollywood, Burbank or the rest of pop culture to take a less dismissive view of fathers. No, according to Risman, the answer to all our parenting woes lies not in parents, but in daycare.
Hmm. I wonder what Ann Romney would say about that. Funny, Risman didn’t ask her.