March 9, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Anne-Marie Slaughter is an intelligent, highly-educated woman. She’s a professor at Princeton University and has served as an advisor to President Obama. She’s one of the (apparently dwindling) number of feminists who don’t view men and women as enemies, but as partners. And yet, every time she speaks out on male-female relationships and their roles in society, I come away with the strong impression that she just doesn’t grasp several basic concepts germane to the issues she tries to tackle.
Here’s the latest (ABC Australia, 3/4/16).
The basis for everything Slaughter says is that men and women “need to” change sex roles. She doesn’t explain why we “need to” do that, preferring to accept it as a given.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the best-selling author and former White House advisor, says the gender revolution is stuck at a halfway point because society has not been willing to address the roles of men.
I can’t disagree. The frank and often very dishonest resistance to fathers receiving equal parenting time from family courts post-divorce is but one of many ways in which our society resists men expanding their roles. But there are countless others. The notion that men commit domestic violence but women don’t tends to keep women as caregivers of children and marginalizes men in that role. The fact that 97% of alimony orders have men paying women tends to keep men in the provider role and women in the caregiver/non-earner role. At this late date, many are horrified at the prospect that women might be legally required to register with the Selective Service System. Men in all parts of the English-speaking world report hesitation to become teachers or day care employees due to the threat of false charges of child abuse. Women report no such trepidations. Where are the women clamoring to do society’s most dangerous jobs – commercial fishing, logging, construction work, etc.? Those jobs pay more because they’re dangerous, but women, who earn on average less than men, aren’t pummelling any “glass ceilings” to start doing them.
So yes, “society has not been willing to address the roles of men.” And until it does, both women and men will tend to be stuck in their traditional roles, a concept Slaughter understands. Of course it’s not exactly a revelation. Former NOW president Karen DeCrow said the same almost four decades ago and lost the support of feminists everywhere for doing so. Countless others have said the same countless times.
But what Slaughter never asks is “Why?” Why has society been willing for women to step out of the nursery but not for men to put aside their role as provider? It’s not as if equal parenting organizations haven’t been agitating for those changes for years. And it’s not as if there’s not plenty of social science demonstrating children’s need for fathers and fathers’ abilities as caregivers. And yet the very idea of expanding the portfolios of men and fathers is routinely met by cries of horror from all sides, not least feminists for whom any expansion of men’s rights is assumed to be a misogynistic blow against women. (Slaughter at least is smarter than that.)
But while the prosperity of the post-World War II United States gave rise to “women’s liberation,” it did nothing of the kind for men. Indeed, it did the opposite as Father Knows Best gave way to “Fathers are Abusers” and single motherhood damaged the psyches and prospects of millions of boys. So why didn’t men’s roles change along with women’s, particularly since, as Slaughter says, the one complements the other?
We could almost conclude that men, women, policy-makers, political elites, etc. took a look at traditional sex roles and decided that one was, if not expendable, then certainly flexible, while the other had to be kept intact.
That would make sense in several ways. For one thing, with over seven billion people living on a planet whose resources are straining to meet their needs, it’s not as if we need more children. Fewer is more like it, so the role of nurturer of children is inevitably diminished from previous times. So why not encourage women to put it aside in favor of paid work?
Also, over time and particularly recently, the job of being a mother has become much easier and less time-consuming than it was for millennia. Time was when a woman might have 20 pregnancies in her lifetime, give birth 12 or 14 times and care for six or eight kids at once. Nowadays, women in the U.S. have two – three pregnancies and the same number of children, usually pretty close together. Today’s women therefore spend only a fraction of the time actively engaged in pregnancy, childbirth and childcare that their forebears did just 150 years ago.
And the task of caring for children, whether by men or women is far easier than it was for untold centuries. The gas or electric range, running water, clothes washers and dryers, better medical care, refrigeration, air conditioning and heating, indoor plumbing and many other innovations mean that the time and effort required to care for a child have dramatically decreased.
Likewise, men have always cared for children. Mavens of evolutionary psychology believe that, far, far back in hominid history, females began choosing as mates not only males who were good providers, but those who were good caregivers to children as well. Humans are one of only 5% - 10% of mammal species in which both sexes care for offspring, but human males’ paternal role goes back hundreds of thousands of years. Males, like females, produce the hormones that have been shown to produce parenting behaviour in all social mammals.
Plus, male care of children continued up until the Industrial Revolution when capital demanded a labor force concentrated at a single location. Then, for the first time in human history, men spent significant portions of every day away from hearth, home and kids. Of course previously, the main role of childcare had fallen to mothers, but men were present in their children’s lives and did much of the job of rearing their offspring.
Unsurprisingly, men’s body chemistry reflects their connection to their children and their abilities as caregivers. For example, this study demonstrates that men’s brains are elastic enough to take over primary childcare should the need arise (PNAS, 2014). So if Mom dies, becomes disabled, disavows the maternal role or simply goes off to work, Dad can and does step up.
So not only is the nurturing role of decreasing importance and difficulty, it’s no secret that it doesn’t take a woman to do it. No wonder that, when women agitated for a greater role in providing for themselves and their families, society in effect agreed.
That notion is only supported by the realization that expanding capitalist economies require expanding labor forces to meet the need for workers. And of course, a vast influx of new workers has the result of depressing labor costs, also of considerable interest to capital. So again, when feminists began to argue for greater rights in the workplace, male-dominated legislatures concluded that that was a pretty good idea. In 1950, 33% of U.S. women were in the labor force; today the number is 56%.
In short, the female role of caregiver to children was and is diminishing, but is the same true of the male role? It doesn’t look like it. For one thing, we live in a world in which science and technology play a greater and greater role in our lives. For the huge majority of human history, technology changed little. A glance at a village in, say, France in medieval times wouldn’t have surprised a time traveller from Julius Caesar’s time. But 500 years later, the France of today bears little resemblance to the France of those bygone days.
That very science, engineering and technology that make our world seem so vastly different from every other time in human history is overwhelmingly a product of male diligence, imagination and creativity. Whatever else may be true, the world as it is today increasingly reflects the male, not the female role, i.e. that of scientist, inventor, technician, engineer, etc.
So, in contrast to the traditional female role that’s descending in importance, the male role is growing even more vital to the health, strength and resilience of everyday society. No society that seriously wants to compete on the global stage can afford to fall behind for long in the science and technology fields that are still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Understandably then, we’re far less willing to let men abandon their traditional roles and far more willing to encourage women to take up traditionally men’s roles.
And again, in a capitalist economy, it makes little sense to bring women into the workplace while simultaneously letting men out. The economy needs more workers, not fewer, and the more there are available, the lower the cost per unit and the easier it is for U.S. capital to compete against the Chinese and European varieties.
In a nutshell, that’s my answer to the question Anne-Marie Slaughter should have asked, but didn’t.
I’ll have more to say about her interview tomorrow.
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