November 2, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
As I said in yesterday’s post, Anne-Marie Slaughter chose the issue of gender equality and male and female sex roles as her topic, but doesn’t know the basics about it(Time). Her statement that women’s bodies produce oxytocin when caring for children, but men’s don’t is just flat wrong. Her statement that only about 5% of mammal species are bi-parental is correct, but she failed to mention that humans are one of those 5%. And her claim that the biology of sex differences is “controversial” is just downright loony. No, biology isn’t controversial, it just is. The controversy stems, not from science, but from the claim that sex differences are strictly a matter of socialization. That’s never been true, despite claims to the contrary that have polluted public discourse since at least the 70s.
Still, that’s Slaughter’s basic assumption. From start to finish her thesis is that women are socialized to be mothers and to assume they know best about that parenting. So her message to mothers is that they should “let go” of that idea and let fathers be the fathers they naturally are. After all, if doing so is nothing but a process of realizing one’s social conditioning and consciously setting it aside, then why not?
That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, but unfortunately, that’s not very far. If she’d taken a few minutes to actually think about the biology of human parenting, not as something controversial because it contradicts what she prefers to think, but as a set of known facts to be dealt with sensibly, Slaughter might have come to better conclusions. The study of oxytocin’s influence on parental differences between fathers and mothers strongly suggests what countless people have long noticed – that men’s brains and the oxytocin receptors therein promote fathers’ role as secondary parent. He’s the one provided by evolution to step up if Mom can’t or won’t perform her primary role. In practice, that can mean anything from her death to her being tired at the end of a long day and handing little Andy or Jenny to Dad for an hour or so.
But whatever the case, the biology of the matter unsurprisingly finds expression in the behavior of mothers and fathers. Can mothers behave differently? They can, just as can fathers.
And that brings us to my complaint about Slaughter voiced yesterday – that “we need” to do so. That is, Slaughter is forever informing us that “we need” to behave differently than our respective biological makeups urge.
Why? According to Slaughter, “we need” to do so in order to establish equality between the sexes.
[I]f women let go and let the men in our lives be genuinely equal or primary caregivers, we may just find that all these stereotypes of male/female parenting differences are socialized as well…
If we can let go of the mountain of assumptions, biases, expectations, double standards, and doubts that so many of us carry around, then a new world of possibilities awaits. We may lose our status as superwomen, but we have everything to gain.
The main problem with that being that it mistakes equality for sameness. Face it, we don’t have to attempt the Herculean task of re-engineering men and women in order to have equality of the sexes. Essentially, that’s no more than a matter of legally and socially respecting our different choices. It is legitimate for either Mom or Dad to opt for an 80-hour-a-week career in corporate law. It is equally legitimate for either to be a stay-at-home parent, assuming the other parent agrees. It is legitimate to establish one parent as the primary one and the other the primary earner. It is legitimate for the two to share earning and childcare equally. The permutations are endless, but what’s necessary is that the law and society honor both while privileging neither. So just because Mom stays home with the kids, the law shouldn’t remove Dad from the kids’ lives when she decides to divorce him. Her decision to not earn and help support the family shouldn’t be financially rewarded by child support and alimony. Choices should be understood to have consequences.
By comparison to re-engineering the sexes, according social and legal equality to each should be easy.
That of course brings me to the most obvious thing Slaughter ignored, as she invariably does. I refer of course to the anti-dad discrimination in family courts. She wants mothers to “let go” of their cherished vision of themselves as the better parent in order for men to do the job more freely. Fine.
But as we know, men seldom take that bait. For example, parental leave tends to be ignored by fathers. That of course is in part because their evolved biology urges them to be the resource provider and only stand in as parent if Mom can’t or won’t care for the child. But it’s also because the legal system all but guarantees them that a father’s doing more of the childcare won’t get him custody from the family court, but will reduce his earnings with which to support himself while paying her child support and alimony.
Why would any man choose that path? Unsurprisingly, few do.
Not that Slaughter would notice. No, for her, a man’s life has no such obstacles. As she understands it, if women will just “let go,” men will joyfully step into parenting. It’s a convenient omission on her part. But of course, if she really believes that sex roles are simply constructed by society, she’d be stamping her feet and shouting at the top of her lungs for reform of family courts.
Of course, she never has.
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