This is a fine article (Wall Street Journal, 7/20/18). It’s not only good in its own right, but good in ways I suspect its author never imagined. The writer, Abigail Shrier is intent on calling out the #MeToo movement and, more generally, a type of gender feminism that seeks to infantilize women by absolving them of responsibility for their own behavior. Plus, she sticks up for masculinity.
About all that, Shrier does a pretty good job. She tells about her father and her upbringing with him and her mother and, in the process, says a lot about masculinity and how valuable it is to society. Good for her.
But, perhaps inadvertently, she does more. In the process of recalling her childhood with her dad, Shrier also reveals much about the ways fathers tend to parent, how they’re different from the way mothers tend to do that job and the importance of each to the children they raise and the adults those children eventually become.
Mothers’ tend to give unconditional love, the type that inculcates that all-important sense of self-esteem in children. If it works as intended, children emerge with a strong sense of their own worth that no amount of assault by a cold, uncaring world can dislodge.
By contrast, fathers, though fully loving their children, make demands that mothers often don’t. Here’s Shrier’s description of her dad.
My father never let me get away with self-pity. Never allowed me to win an argument with tears. He regarded unbridled emotion in place of reason as vaguely pathetic; if I had any chance of prevailing in a discussion, the first thing I needed to do was calm down.
And when young men didn’t like me or were poised to treat me badly, it was my father’s regard that I found myself consulting and relying upon. When a man tries to mistreat a woman—I’m not talking about violence, but the instinct to convey to her that she isn’t worth very much—he is unlikely to get very far with a woman whose father has made her feel that she’s worth a whole lot.
In short, he demanded a lot of his daughter. He knew that the world she would someday enter wouldn’t stop for her tears or her demands for special treatment. He knew that the best gift he could give her was the ability to be her own toughest critic, to expect more of herself than any teacher or employer. And guess what. It worked. And guess what else. Abigail Shrier is forever grateful to him for his parenting of her. She knows to a certainty that many right decisions she’s already made have been possible because of the standards he set for her.
Of course, since it’s not that sort of article, what Shrier doesn’t say is that every kid needs what her father gave to her. Mother’s love, however strong and unstinting it may be, isn’t all kids need. They need their fathers because dads and mothers parent differently and children need both kinds. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans have been a bi-parental species and our children can’t now begin going without one or the other.
And yet the gist of family court orders is that they must. Handing the kids to Mom wasn’t as important 60 years ago when there were comparatively few divorces, but now when almost one of two marriages ends that way, society depends to an astonishing degree on the good sense of family court judges. Sadly, that good sense is in painfully short supply. In the face of reams of data and simple common sense demonstrating that children need both parents, family courts still blithely kick dads to the curb.
A society in which over 41% of children are born to single mothers, almost half of all marriages end in divorce and non-marital relationships break down even more readily than marital ones desperately needs some way in which to ensure that kids don’t lose their relationships with their parents. To do otherwise risks children growing to adulthood with all the sense of entitlement engendered by mothers’ love but with none of the sense of responsibility that comes from fathers’.
And sure enough, that’s exactly the target at which Shrier aims.
There is something regrettable in the way our exclusive focus on boys and men lets young women off the hook. As if women bear no responsibility for their own behavior. As if they are too weak, too emotional, too foolish ever to take care of themselves.
And that is the greatest disappointment of the #MeToo movement, that it has so spectacularly refused to insist that a woman not allow any man to treat her badly. Failed to insist that young women have an individual responsibility to demand better. That they should all agree no job is worth more than their dignity.
That’s the description of a generation that’s been brought up without fathers – fathers who could have instilled in their sons and daughters what Shrier’s instilled in her - the certain knowledge that they and they alone bear responsibility for their own lives.