The Death of Feminism

Elizabeth Wurtzel, lawyer and author, wrote a column this past week for The Atlantic. The title of the piece is “1% of Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible: Being a mother isn’t a real job—and the men who run the world know it.”

Seeing how I just finished writing about the New York Times take on fatherhood, this article intrigued me as well, especially the title. The 1% in the title and the shades of Occupy it brings to mind along with the subtitle are certainly meant to get the reader to keep reading, which it did in my case. It would not be my usual read, but Wurtzel pulled me in. Any English composition teacher would be proud of her. The rest didn’t do much for me, however, certainly not endear me to the side of feminists, at least Wurtzel’s brand.

Wurtzel unloads in the first paragraph: she’s tired of the way feminism is perceived and communicated. Yet her example makes me wonder what company she keeps. Is she really that removed from reality? She says that she is going to “smack the next idiot” who tells her that raising her children full time is her feminist choice. But then she defines who these women are. They are not, in her mind full time mothers. She says what they mean by raising their kids is “going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments.” I had to look up Jivamukti classes. For those like me who don’t know: yoga. But my first question is why can’t a woman choose to take yoga and get pedicures? I would soon find out. But first, we must keep in mind that Wurtzel is talking about rich mothers, the 1%. But I can’t help but feel that if someone from the 99% were reading this, they would feel they were being talked down to as well.

She says that feminism can’t be taken seriously if it allows everything as long as it is a woman’s choice. I find that interesting. So what are the options? And who gets to decide what women can and can’t do. She ends the opening paragraph with this statement: “The whole point to begin with was that women were losing their minds pushing mops and strollers all day without a room or a salary of their own.” I thought the whole point was that women were “losing their minds…” and didn’t have a choice about it. So at the very beginning, Wurtzel has decided that at least she is the new male: the one who tells the women what they can and can’t do.

She does explain why women can’t claim motherhood as a job. “A job that anyone can have is not a job.” That is laughable, insulting, and betrays her complete lack of understanding of what mothers do. But the reward of motherhood is not a paycheck, and in Wurtzle’s mind, money is the only paycheck acceptable. Sad, really.

So what can women do according to Wurtzel? Work and make as much as men. And if not, they are harming feminism. Why? Well, it’s obvious to me from the article: the goal of feminism is for women to be just like men?

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So, What Is a Dad to Do?

The New York Times ran several articles last week in their “Room for Debate” series on fathers’ role in the conversation about parenting. Many of the contributors noted the negative stereotype of men as played out in the media. While we as men may not be able to change that stereotype in the short run, we do still have influence in our own small spheres. And it is up to us to use that influence in a positive way.

The greatest influence we have, of course, is with our own kids. That being said, our greatest responsibility is not to bemoan the culture, but to be good stewards of that responsibility. So I want to lay out three areas where dads need to be dads, where they need to take an active role in parenting.

The three habits or responsibilities come from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. In 2:9–12, Paul writes these words: “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (ESV)

The first issue has nothing to do with dads but with whether or not we can accurately use this passage which is not directly about dads as an example for dads. Paul is not a father, in the physical sense; he has no children. He is just simply making an analogy. He claims that his actions are father like. The reason we can apply these ideas to dads is because Paul assumes the Thessalonians would understand the analogy. If fathers didn’t behave this way, the Thessalonians could simply say, “Hey, Paul, you’re not acting like a dad to us. Dads don’t do those things.” For Paul’s argument to make sense, he needs to use actual responsibilities that dads participated in.

The second issue is motivation. We can often do the right things for the wrong reasons. The reason that we behave the way we should toward our kids is not for our benefit. It is not to relive our past. It is also not to make them successful, happy, rich, beautiful or well-adjusted. The reason we do what we do is so they will walk worthy of God. If that is not our sole reason, we are spinning our wheels.

So what are the three things that we need to be doing. We need to walk beside them, enter into their hurts, and speak the truth.

Paul uses three words: exhorted, encouraged, and charged. When translators are doing their work, they often want to translate word for word to avoid clutter. Each of those words captures a shade of meaning from the Greek words Paul used, but there are some nuances that are left out. It is those nuances I want to discuss.

The first word that Paul uses is the verb form of the word that John uses in his gospel for the Holy Spirit: paraclete. This term is often referred to as helper or comforter. It can take both of those shades of meaning. In general the Holy Spirit enters into the life (sometimes we use the phrase “comes along side”) of the believer and gives them what they need when they need it. He knows them intimately. He has a relationship with them, and because of that, he can provide encouragement when they need encouragement, and comfort when they need comfort and urging when they need urging.

Dads need to do the same thing. We need to know our children well enough to provide what they need when they need it. We need to have a PhD in our children, knowing their ins an outs, what makes them tick, what pushes their buttons, what makes them happy. And this is a never ending job description because, as you know, children are constantly changing. Even if I learned everything about my ten year old, she will be eleven next year, and her personality is still undergoing transformation.

The second word that Paul uses means to console, especially in the face of tragedy. It is to enter into someone’s hurt. What we need to keep in mind as dads is that this tragedy is from the child’s perspective, not ours. We may think something is no big deal. Well, it may be a big deal to our kid. Men, especially, have a I-can-fix-this attitude. We think we can explain why our kids shouldn’t cry over spilled milk or a broken toy or a disappointment at school. But if they are crying, that is not the time to try to fix it. It is the time to offer comfort, to enter into their hurts and console. There may be a time later when we talk about big deals versus small deals and the proper way to react, but in the moment that is not the time.

The third thing that Paul says that fathers do is tell the truth. This word means to testify or bear witness or to insist upon something as a matter of great importance. It is related to the word where we get our word martyr. A martyr is someone who holds to their convictions at great cost to themselves. And we as fathers need to make sure that we are telling our children the truth. Which means we need to live the truth. It is not only that we let them know right from wrong. We also need to make sure that we are modeling right from wrong. We cannot tell them one thing and do something else. That is not loving or helpful to our children.

Each of these three things is impossible to do on our own. We may come close at times, but we will fail to be consistent in them. That is where our relationship with God comes in. If we do not depend upon him, who loves our children more than we do, we will not be able to adequately fulfill our responsibilities as fathers. So our first priority is to develop a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To know him through his word, by spending time with him in prayer, and in fellowship with other believers who can offer encouragement and exhortation to us when things get difficult.

To Parent or Not to Parent? That is the Question.

I read another article about parenting recently as I was thinking about my own thoughts and what I would add to the NYT’s “Room for Debate” series. And since it is tangentially related, I wanted to deal with it first before continuing. The article again comes from the New York Times. It is from their “Opinionator” series. The particular article is by Christine Overall entitled “Think Before You Breed.” Mrs. Overall is a professor of philosophy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.

I have several problems with her article that I will try to outline below. The premise of her article is that people should carefully consider whether or not to procreate. On the surface,  that seems to make some sense. Some people, it would seem, are not in the right position in life to bring a child into the world. Poverty, health issues, environment, or season in life could all play a role in affecting the future child. The mere uncertainty requires the decision to be made with careful thought, Overall would claim.

The first point to consider is that this argument is something that in human history is only recently possible. The ability of humans to consistently control the consequences of sex is a recent phenomenon. Since Overall seems to have no problem with birth control or abortion, she assumes that these are legitimate means to control the natural consequences of sex.

She fails to see this historical point when she states, “The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification.” The reason it is not is that it is the natural, historical consequence of the marriage relationship. But we live in a culture where sex outside of marriage is normal, accepted, and encouraged. Therefore, the natural consequences of sex occur in situations that our culture deems inappropriate. Therefore, it is argued, we have a moral obligation to consider whether we should limit the consequences.

Unfortunately, the damage to the institution of marriage is so pervasive, that many, and I assume Overall would be included, can’t see that this is even worth dealing with. The answer then is to treat the symptoms, in the form of birth control and/or abortion, instead of seeking the cure. The terminal patient is made to be comfortable in his last days. I would argue that the patient—the sanctity of marriage—is not terminal, but that is a different post.

She continues: “The question whether to have children is of course prudential in part; it’s concerned about what is or is not in one’s own interests.” Actually, this is a rather post-modern way of thinking. The all-about-me syndrome has stuck its nasty head into way too many arguments, this one included. I’ll lay my cards on the table: selfishness will never bring satisfaction. Sacrifice for another with the right motives does.

We still may see some validity in her point, though and personally wrestle with the issue. Is it wrong to consider whether or not to bring another child into the world? Again, we have the technology these days to ask that question of ourselves. The problem comes when we begin asking that question for someone else. Who gets to decide the rules and situations that would lead to a “yes, you should” or “no, you shouldn’t”?

But here is where she seems to appear noble: “My aim, I hasten to add, is not to argue for policing people’s procreative motives.” But one paragraph later she adds, “The burden of proof — or at least the burden of justification — should therefore rest primarily on those who choose to have children, not on those who choose to be childless.” Those phrases “burden of proof” and “burden of justification” sure seem like policing of motives to me.

And don’t believe that she is not policing motives—whether she thinks the state should or not. She certainly polices motives with both Octomom and the Duggars. With Suleman, most people might agree with Overall that Suleman had no business using technology to try to get pregnant again, but this is a far different issue than just having lots of kids. An aside: is there any difference in using technology to get pregnant than using technology to keep from getting pregnant or ending a pregnancy? Maybe that too is a later post.

When it comes to the Duggars, she seems irked that they chose to have so many kids even though they “…don’t struggle to support their brood…” and “the kids seem relatively content.” Huh? So what’s the problem? She mentions that she is not sure what God thinks about it. No, she’s not, so again, what’s her point? Her point is that she doesn’t think someone should have 19 kids. What about twelve or ten or eight or three. She and her husband chose to stop at two. Why two?  I want to know if she would be perfectly fine with someone having 19 abortions in their life because they chose the “selfless” route of not having kids? She is certainly policing their motives.

Then, she again seeks to take the high road; though, the high road seems full of scorn: “We should not regret the existence of the children in these very public families, now that they are here. My point is just that their parents’ models of procreative decision making deserve skepticism. The parents appear to overlook what is ethically central: the possibility of forming a supportive, life-enhancing and close relationship with each of their offspring.”

Who would regret the existence of children? Why do the Duggars decisions deserve skepticism? On what basis? That Overall doesn’t think they can build relationships with their kids? Just because she can’t imagine doing so, does not mean others can’t, and with children spread out in ages so far, it’s not like the Duggars are dealing with the same issues 19-fold at once. She announces that her and her husband chose to have two and that they adore them. But couldn’t they have adored one better? Certainly with two, they had to split their time, didn’t they?

In placing procreation at the pinnacle of a person’s ethical debates—a conclusion that I find hard to fathom—she commits another flaw. She states, “In choosing to become a parent, one seeks to create a relationship, and, uniquely, one also seeks to create the person with whom one has the relationship.”

I would agree that we are responsible to create a relationship with our children. But once a child is born, our job is not to seek to “create the person.” Our job is to guide, direct, help, encourage, admonish, support, love, nurture, and protect, among others. Along the way, those things are part of the process of forming the child’s personality, but they are not the end all. I want to raise my children in such a way that they can make intelligent decisions in life about who they want to become, how they add to the beauty of this world, what role they will play in others’ lives for good. They will create their own person, not me.

Finally, I take issue with some of her language, both at the beginning and at the end. The title of her piece “Think Before You Breed” is insulting and betrays her real motives. What that communicates is that she views people who shouldn’t have kids as no different than animals. When used of human beings breed is a pejorative term. She starts off on the wrong foot and this attitude comes out again when discussing the Duggars children as a brood, another term that is used of the animal world.

She is wrong in her conclusions that “The individual who chooses childlessness takes the ethically less risky path.” Why? Failure to procreate and bring into the world a person who could add to the beauty and knowledge and good of our world is certainly risky. Is that the standard for decision making now: ethically less risky? Can we chart that? Get a spreadsheet going for all my decisions so that I never take a more risky path when a less risky path is available? The truth is that the person who chooses childlessness takes the safe path for themselves, not the ethically less risky one.

 

Father’s Day and the New York Times Parts VI and VII

The sixth and next to the last contributor in the New York Times “Room for Debate” series on fathers in the parenting conversation is Andy Gertsacov. He is a professional clown and co-founder of the Digital Family Summit. But he seriously identifies the problem and sees a solution; though, I am afraid it is wishful thinking.

He blames the problem of the stereotypical inept male on the culture of the past (where dads were less than they should be) and the media. Perceptions are hard to change, he says, and the media has not kept up with the times in their telling of any healthy dad stories.

The solution: “fiction” that tells the truth. I really like the way he puts this. For it is in fiction: stories through movies and TV that have perpetuated the stereotype in people’s minds. Why can’t we begin a media onslaught that portrays dads in a better light? And do so in a compelling, well-done way? The answer: those in control of media don’t want to.

The last contributor in the debate is Dave Taylor, the author of a blog called GoFatherhood.  On his blog, he discusses his essay and the topic that he was given, which surprisingly, the NYT didn’t post in those same words at the beginning, at least not that I saw. Someone correct me if I am wrong.

Dave begins by talking about how he (even as a single dad) is seen as “the less important parent.” He also bemoans the fact that this stereotype—and worse—is highly visible through TV. He then gives some stats that show that indeed from both men’s and women’s perspectives there is a problem in the way dads are viewed.

The solution: engagement. Dads need to be dads and need to engage the community to attain the rights to be dads. Second, society needs to honor the differences between moms and dads and stop comparing apples to oranges. His last line is painfully true: “Our children desperately need more fathers, and everything we bring to parenting.” I couldn’t agree more.

Father’s Day and the New York Times Part V

The fifth contributor to the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” series on fathers in the parenting conversation is Jed Rubenfeld: a law professor at Yale, an author, and the husband of Amy Chua, who authored Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. His is by far the shortest column.

I need for someone to tell me that this really is meant to be humorous. That was my first impression, but when I came to the end, I got the impression that he was serious. But surely I am misreading it. For if he is serious, he is not helpful and paints a picture for fathers which is harmful for both them and their children.

He begins by saying that dads should stop complaining about women doing most of the work because that is the “last best bastion of patriarchy that we have left.” That was where I was first sure this was a humor column.

Next he gives three simple steps for dads to follow, and when they accomplish these three, they can “hang up the spikes.” Each of these needs to be accomplished when the kids are young (I am assuming pre-school age and younger). 1) Be all powerful so your kids feel safe. 2) Be all good so they know right from wrong. 3) Give them a sense of the deep magic (are we in Narnia?) and joy of the world before they start learning.

That’s it. Feel better dads? I didn’t. Do I want my kids to feel safe and know right from wrong and have an awe and joy in life? Sure. Is this the way to go about it? Definitely not. And to top it all off, he says when your kids get older, they will see through this facade. But that’s ok, because the truth makes them stronger. Right, this has to be a humor column, doesn’t it?

He finishes by saying that “…if, to be a good father, you have to start as a god but end as a man, I’d still call that a bargain—the best I ever had.”

So what about when they’re seven or ten or sixteen? As long as I start well, does it not matter how I finish? And we wonder why some people don’t think men should be engaged in the parenting conversation. This from someone who admits that his wife does all the work.

Surely, surely, he intended this for humor. Maybe he should read some Dave Barry.

Father’s Day and the New York Times Part IV

Antonio Brown is a single father, film producer, and author, and he is the fourth contributor in the New York Times “Room for Debate” series on dads’ role in the conversation about parenting.

He begins the piece discussing the pull between boys being taught that  “men are historically hunter-gatherers,” and what feminist society expects of them: supporting “evolving definitions of womanhood.” What this paradox sometimes returns to Brown is a suspicious glare at the playground by those who assume he should be working.

He goes on to tell of being chided for attending his children’s events and even being offered out of town trips at work so that he doesn’t have to go. This is in addition to suspicious looks from moms in what is naturally their turf, despite the fact that he should be applauded for not being a stereotypical absent black father. I think I would be more offended than he appears to be, much to his credit.

What begins as a clearly articulated problem and several specific examples of the paradox he faces, ends with a rather clichéd remark about his own parenting, stating that “love is love” and despite the challenges, things will turn out ok.

Whenever I hear someone throwing around the word love these days, I really want them to define it, for it seems that we have lost a good, clear picture of what that is. Despite the fact that Brown is a single parent, I don’t think one can necessarily assume that sacrifice is part of the definition; though, it seems from the article that he understands that and practices that. It’s just that in life, we can no longer count on that. I would have loved for him to continue the confident writing of the first part of the article and give one more bold example of the sacrifice he makes to be an involved, caring dad. That would show us love, and go much further, I think, in the conversation.

Father’s Day and the New York Times Part III

The third contributor to the “Room for Debate” discussion at the New York Times over father’s role in the discussion of parenting is a woman, and she paints a positive picture of the role of fathers and of their increasingly active role in the parenting process and—most importantly—that this role is different than a mom’s role.

Andrea Doucet is a professor at Brock University in Canada, a researcher, and author. And she gives a summary of advances in men’s being a part of the discussion in parenting. From men’s roles in the Family Research Network Conference to on-line parents’ forums including more space for men to the formation of men’s parenting groups, Doucet offers a different take on the men-absent-from-discussion (or too inept to participate) mantra.

I am curious, though, about men’s reactions to different forms of media. She gives the example of the backlash against a Huggies ad that showed apparently some inattentive fathers. The outcry was strong enough for Huggies to pull the ad. Why is it then that sitcoms continue to get away with portraying men as inept or uncaring or foolish? Why do advertisers get a different standard than the shows they sponsor?

Doucet closes with the observation that “we need to stop looking at men through a maternal lens.” She says that men are not following in the steps of women and that this is a good thing. I would agree. She also says that men are being “active agents in creating their own fathering culture.” This, also, can be a good thing. But only if it is based on the truth of what a father should be instead of a reaction to something else.

Again, I will lay out my thoughts on this after looking at each of the seven contributors. I hope to get one more in today, and then we’ll see if we have any time tomorrow. It is, after all, father’s day!