April 14th, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Every group has at least one thing in common with every other group. Whatever its organizing principle, every group has as its first and foremost goal its own self-perpetuation. So the ACLU organizes around the principle of constitutional rights and liberties, the NRA is about gun ownership rights, the Catholic Church is about Catholicism, etc. Every member agrees with those organizing principles to some degree or other.
No individual is necessary to any group. When it comes to the collective, every member is expendable. And when any member deviates too far from the presuppositions of the group, that person can be removed from the group. The church calls that excommunication, and every organization has its version of it.
The more stable and secure the group, the greater leeway individuals in it are afforded to deviate from the truths held by the group to be self-evident. Hewing to the core tenets of the group is necessary to the stability and cohesiveness of the group and, if a group is new or small or for any reason unsure of its future, enforcement of the group dogma will be more stringent than in larger, better-established groups.
So far I’ve been talking about organizations in which membership is voluntary. No one requires you to be a member of the NRA or the Catholic Church. If you’re a member, it’s because you believe, in at least a general way, what the organization believes. If you don’t, or if you cease to do so, you can either not join or drop out. Or you can be removed by the group.
Then there’s the family. For the most part, the family is not voluntary. Oh, people can drop out of their families and do every day. People can become estranged from their nearest and dearest, but however close or distant, your mother is your mother, your father is your father. Your brother or sister will always bear the same relationship to you as long as you both shall live. As the saying goes, “home is the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in.”
In ways I don’t begin to understand, the ties of blood are more important than all others. Not always of course; there are always exceptions to any rule of human behavior. But what social science has taught us over many decades is that the ties that bind biological parents to their biological children are stronger and more important to child welfare than anything else. No arrangement yet devised for raising children even comes close to providing as good outcomes for children as does the intact biological family.
And that of course is where Melissa Harris-Perry and Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.com go utterly off the rails in extolling the presumed virtues of abandoning the family for some other “community” arrangement they don’t even bother to describe. Here’s Williams’ article again (Salon.com, 4/10/13). And, as I said in my previous piece, it’s that very ignorance of well-known social science that allows Williams to entirely miss the lesson of Shulamith Firestone as described by Susan Faludi in The New Yorker. The former radical feminist tried to substitute her feminist “sisters” for her real ones. She tried to surround herself with a “family” not of blood but of choice. Unsurprisingly, when it came to providing the things families provide, the collective of voluntary members didn’t come close.
They tarred Firestone with the brush of political incorrectness and drummed her out of the corps. Her own family by contrast, whom Firestone herself did her best to abandon, was there to the last. They were the ones who tried to make contact with her in her mad isolation, and later eulogized her and laid her to rest. Her feminist “sisters” were nowhere to be seen.
Williams notices none of that. I don’t know if she actually read Faludi’s article on Firestone or not, but if she did, she managed to avoid one of its crystal clear messages.
But Williams’ article is nuttier than that. It doesn’t just ignore science, it doesn’t just miss the clear message on family versus the collective of Shulamith Firestone’s life. It finally devolves into a kind of random sniping at mostly imagined enemies, like a drunk with a pistol.
So Williams sets up straw men, aims, fires… and misses! That’s not easy to do, (the whole point of a straw man is that it’s an easy target) but Williams manages the feat.
You can image the right wing loving every word of [Firestone’s take on the family]. See? Only crazy fringe dwellers from the failed hippie past see childhood as something to be shared with the community.
Uh, no. Unless Williams has in mind someone who doesn’t think children should go to school, play with other kids, take part in youth soccer, Little League, ballet lessons, go to church and on and on ad infinitum, pretty much everyone understands that people outside the family have input into a child’s life and upbringing. Most of those people also understand that it’s good for kids to be exposed to those various non-familial inputs. Has anyone ever said that children should have nothing to do with their larger communities and rely solely on families for everything? Of course not. Williams, in the absence of any coherent argument for her position, just makes stuff up.
But though Faludi’s story makes clear how Firestone’s vision ultimately imploded, it also makes the very important case that involving a wider, richer community in the rearing of our children is indeed a deeply feminist issue.
Sorry MEW, wrong again. In fact, Faludi says not a word on that subject. Put simply, Faludi’s article has nothing whatever to do with the raising of children. It touches on that – and only in passing – merely because Firestone did. If anything, Faludi’s piece could accurately be described as a parable about the dangers of the feminist collective to feminists, and not just Firestone. Faludi’s article is first a biography of Firestone, second a history of early Second Wave feminism and third the story of how that movement devoured its own. Time and again feminist after feminist is forced out of the movement for a variety of petty grievances.
And what is this “wider, richer community” Williams imagines should raise our children in lieu of parents? Astonishingly, she never lets on, and who can guess? I can’t. Give us a hint, Mary Elizabeth. Are we talking foster care, adoption, state-funded child care, orphanages, work houses, salt mines, what? Williams has some vague notion that someone other than parents should be tasked with caring for children, but never sees the need to suggest who might do the job.
Then there’s the question of why we should do something so outlandish. Williams never tells us that either, but at least she gets close. Don’t be surprised when I tell you it’s all about women’s enslavement.
When we cling stubbornly to the party line that the family, and only the family, can be responsible for every aspect of a child’s life, what we’re really talking about here is laying all the obligation on mothers.
I hate to say it, but again the statement is completely wrong. For one thing, it traffics in the usual silly notion that when fathers work and earn, they aren’t caring for their kids. Somewhere we’ve bought the patently false claim that putting a roof over your child’s head, food on the table and clothes on their backs has nothing to do with child care or child well-being. Of course everyone knows it does, knows that children can’t live without what dads provide, but we (meaning most of the news media, family courts and family laws) prefer not to admit it.
For another, a casual glance at actual statistics shows fathers doing much more of the hands-on child care than ever before and almost as much as mothers. That’s as it should be since, on average, mothers are earning more than ever before. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has fathers doing about 43% and mothers 57% of the childcare done by parents. Dr. Edward Kruk cites data showing the ratio to be about 49%/51%. Neither is equal, but also neither is “laying all the obligation on mothers.” The claim is absurd, but we know Williams, and Williams doesn’t do statistics, particularly the kind that show her claims to be the rankest untruths.
Finally there’s the fact that, over many years and much trying, not a single statewide bill establishing a presumption of equal parenting has ever been enacted into law. Part of that is because feminist organizations, when they take a position on a bill at all, invariably oppose it. Invariably. Without exception. It’s happened in the U.S., Canada, England and Australia. Any law that seeks greater parenting time for fathers is met with anguished cries and sometimes outright opposition from feminist groups. And yet here we have Mary Elizabeth Williams weeping bitterly over the amount of child care done by mothers. Again, the hypocrisy boggles the mind.
And that would be true even if Williams didn’t end her piece by informing us “that we need to work together for the general good of all – including and most significantly for the benefit of our offspring,” but she does. Williams and her feminist sisters are all for working for the general good of all, particularly children, just as long as that doesn’t include keeping fathers in the lives of their children when Mom opts for divorce. For them, the welfare of children and fairness to fathers aren’t part of “the general good of all.”
But of course that’s what collectives are all about; they include the in-group and marginalize those outside. Few will be surprised that, when a feminist is writing, those who aren’t part of the collective turn out to be men, particularly fathers. Has it ever been any other way? But here’s a message for Williams and her ilk that Shulamith Firestone could deliver if she were alive and sane: the collective doesn’t care who you are. You can be on the warm, cozy inside one minute and out in the cold the next. You may think you’re the truest of true believers, the most faithful of the faithful. But friend, it isn’t up to you.
More importantly, the collective Williams imagines will never care for children with the type of passion and connectedness that parents do. That’s because it’s organized not around the blood tie of family but around an abstract greater public good. Maybe people should prefer the latter to the former, but they don’t. And most of us have had enough of feminists telling us what’s good for us. Even their own end up fleeing from them. And if they do, what about the rest of us?