Does Slaughter’s Call for Changing Men’s Role Disguise Another Agenda?

March 14, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Finally getting back to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s interview here (ABC Australia, 3/4/16).

When last we saw the august Ms. Slaughter, she was opining – rightly in my opinion – that society has embraced the expansion of women’s traditional role of caregiver to include much of men’s traditional role of protector and provider of resources. She went on to say, much as did then-president of NOW, Karen DeCrow almost 40 years ago, that until we liberate men from their traditional role, women can never be completely liberated from theirs. With that I have little disagreement.

But, in my last post on Slaughter, I marveled that she hadn’t addressed the question of why society still expects men, but not women, to continue with their age-old role of protector/provider. After all, any inquiry into that question reveals some important insights into current-day gender relations and how they’re reflected in law and public policy. As my previous post on Slaughter says, we’re not demanding the same type of changes to men’s roles as we do to women’s at least in part because, for many reasons, today’s society/economy necessarily values the male role over the female one. (Kindly note that I’m not saying we value men over women, but that we value the traditionally male role of providing over the traditionally female role of caregiving.)

If I’m right, that would explain the outrage with which many suggestions for changing men’s lot in life are met from all quarters. It would also explain why so many initiatives that are transparently beneficial to children, men, women, society generally and the public purse are so often dismissed out of hand. I refer of course to proposed legislation that would give children equal relationships with each parent post-divorce, reform of adoption laws, enactment of laws against paternity fraud, reform of child support and alimony laws and the like. Something must explain the thoughtless, knee-jerk reactions against those reasonable initiatives. I believe they’re strongly rooted in our desire to “keep men in their place,” i.e. the role of protector/provider.

On that note, I sent an email to Slaughter inquiring if, since she’s on record as desiring enhancement of men’s paternal role, she’d be willing to support shared parenting bills. No reply. Since I frequently correspond with academics, many of them for the first time, and almost invariably receive quite cordial and generous responses, Slaughter’s silence makes me suspicious of her claim to support men doing more childcare. That she’s not a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting only reinforces the notion. I hope I’m wrong.

Moreover, Slaughter focusses exclusively on childcare. Her brief is that, like DeCrow said so many years ago, until we free men from the workplace, we’ll never free women from the nursery. That’s fine as far as it goes, but unfortunately, that’s not very far. Yes, doing so would be a huge leap forward for everyone concerned, but our unwillingness to honor men as fathers is rooted, along with the many other problems besetting men and boys, in our overall expectations of them, i.e. their overall role that far exceeds Slaughter’s assumption that the issue begins and ends with childcare.

There have always been consequences to being a man that have been well understood since far, far back into pre-history. Fundamental to those is the fact that, as long as the survival of the species was at stake, men were the disposable sex. As Dr. Strangelove mentions in the Kubrick movie, a ratio of 10 women to every man is about optimal for expanding the human population. That of course is because a single man can impregnate many women, but women still tend to give birth to a single child who requires many years to reach sexual maturity and to begin providing resources for itself. So we’ve always accepted the necessity of sacrificing males for the protection of females.

But of course that’s no longer necessary. With well over 7 billion people on the planet, optimizing our ability to successfully reproduce is not exactly Job One for the human race. Indeed, the opposite is surely true. We’d be a lot better off with half the people we currently have, or fewer.

The role of the expendable male is therefore out of date. Plus, treating male and female lives as having different values is an affront to our basic notion of justice, fairness and equal treatment under law.

But that’s precisely what we do. The age-old tradition of placing greater value on female lives is reflected in our harsher treatment of males convicted of crime, our marginalization of fathers in the lives of their children, our willingness to ignore alarming rates of male suicide, the 3:1 ratio of men’s to women’s homelessness, men’s almost six-year shorter life expectancy, our refusal to require women to register with the Selective Service System or serve in combat roles during wartime, our refusal to address the widening education gap between males and females, and in many other ways.

So when Slaughter calls for a change in male roles, but confines herself to childcare, she’s not only ignoring a lot, she’s contradicting herself. If she truly wants a revolution in how we see and treat men, it must include most importantly that of the disposable male. A revolution in the male role would be a tsunami. Slaughter advocates a high tide.

I think I know why.

If we focus on care, what we’re saying is that the government has to provide an infrastructure of care, just like you’d provide bridges or ports or broadband. That allows all couples or all parents to have access to paid leave and a high quality childcare and increasingly, elder care.

Yes, and “focus on care” is exactly what Slaughter does. It’s a strategic move. If the only issue is freeing men and women from their traditional roles, then the solution offered by Slaughter is that old hobbyhorse of the Left, government-subsidized day care. But to provide the type of massive funding for day care envisioned by Slaughter and many others, without dealing with the many ways in which society, law and public policy keep men fixed in their traditional roles would make matters far worse, not better.

Why? Because, we now have parenting time laws that require judges to “pick a winner,” i.e. a custodial parent who will have the children usually between 75% and 84% of the time. That system chooses mothers as the custodial parent about 82% of the time and fathers somewhere in the single digits. Further, that same family law system routinely refuses to enforce the minimal visitation rights it grants dads.

All that means that day care can be and often is used as a substitute for fathers. If Mom wants to deny Dad his day with little Andy or Jenny, it’s off to day care. If a judge wants to reduce Dad’s time with his children, but Mom’s at work, day care is a handy crutch allowing the judge to rationalize his/her decision. More – and more available – day care would, without massive changes to the way we treat men and fathers become a Trojan horse for the greater marginalization of fathers. After all, isn’t that just another way we have of deeming men to be expendable?

Besides, it’s perfectly clear that day care is designed to help mothers step out of the maternal role but keep fathers in their role as provider. Day care allows parents to do paid work, not increase their time with their kids.

It’s beginning to look like Anne-Marie Slaughter isn’t serious about her claim that we need a revolution in men’s roles. By focussing on care, as she admits she does, she ignores not only the many ways in which society treats men as second-class citizens, but more importantly, ignores the origins of why it does. Having so narrowed the issue, her solution would allow us to do the opposite of what Slaughter claims to espouse – the expansion of the male role into greater care of children.

Does Slaughter understand what she’s doing or does she just naively believe that the only problem besetting men is that they’re too invested in breadwinning and not enough in child rearing. I can’t peer into Slaughter’s consciousness, but I do know that more day care without drastically altering laws on parenting time will do more harm than good.

Bright as she is, I’ve never been convinced Anne-Marie Slaughter has ever thought very deeply about her chosen topic. Her call for a re-evaluation of men’s roles is admirable. I’d be more impressed if she gave any indication that she knows what they are.


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