Slate XX: Three Kids by Three Different Fathers – Just Another Lifestyle Choice

Robert FranklinJune 7, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

I haven’t done a good, juicy celebrity scandal piece in a while.  That’s probably because I view celebrity scandals as neither good nor juicy, just tawdry.  But in this case, we’re treated not only to the scandal itself (if that’s what it is), but to the crazy, self-absorbed and profoundly ignorant feminist response to it.  And that, I assure you, is worth writing about.

Sigh.  It seems that actress Kate Winslet is pregnant with her third child, each by a different father.  The news has gotten the type of reception you’d expect.  Most people don’t care, but those who think about it for a bit figure Winslet’s doing her children no favors by trading in their daddies on a new one every few years.  And of course they’re right.

I’ll take as given that Winslett does her best to be a good, loving mother, and I have no information that her children are suffering. Doubtless they’ll all grow up to be concert pianists and Nobel laureates, the road will rise up to meet them and they’ll never have an unhappy moment in their lives.  But of course neither I, nor for that matter Winslet can know just what their life courses will entail.  Most parents understand that and try to make decisions that optimize their kids’ chances of having good lives. 

And that of course is the point critics of Winslet’s reproduction choices are making.  A constantly revolving door of male figures is not calculated to bring a sense of well-being to a child.  Studies on out-of-wedlock parenting have shown this for many decades now.  The simple fact is that each father may be attached to his child, but not to the others.  As long as he and Winslet live together, he’s likely to be more focused on his own flesh and blood than he is on the other children, with the result being that the others feel marginalized in the family.  Before he arrived, the kids had Mom to themselves; now they have to share her with a man they don’t know very well and aren’t related to.  And who, in any event, will be gone soon enough.

The men feel the same way.  When one dad gets replaced by another, of necessity, his time with his own child is diminished, unless of course he gets primary custody, but we know the chances of that occurring.  So each successive father gets marginalized in the life of his own child.  Harvard researcher Kathryn Edin calls this “parenting as a package deal.”  Mother and child are the package, with dads coming and going at her behest.  Every time a new man arrives on the scene, previous fathers become more remote from their own children.

So, in the scenario played out by Winslet, children slowly lose contact with their father and fathers slowly lose contact with their children.  Not many people find that an advisable way to raise kids, as this Telegraph article makes clear (Telegraph, 6/6/13).

Falling in love and marrying and having a baby and breaking up and then doing it again (and possibly again?) stretches credulity, undermines your credibility, and the fallout for the little human beings you’ve brought into the world is too awful to contemplate.

Ask anyone whose parent is a serial divorcee whether they understood their mother’s (or father’s) ceaseless quest for their One True Love and you’ll be met with language saltier than a pickling barrel.

That’s all perfectly sensible and perfectly supported by social science that demonstrates the psychological and emotional damage to children of the type of behavior Winslet’s engaging in.  So, given that it’s so sensible and science-based, that must mean extremist feminists are having none of it and sure enough they’re not.

Slate’s XX blog here features Katie Roiphe’s desperate attempt to do the sow’s ear/silk purse thing (Slate, 6/6/13).  She doesn’t get close.  As seems to invariably be the case, the feminist defense of bad maternal behavior is that (a) the issue is all about her (the mother) and has little or nothing to do with anyone else, (b) any criticism of the mother is just sexist and (c) the critics are just trying to keep Mom barefoot and chained to the stove.  The fact is, if these people had even a tidbit of self-respect, we’d never see another one of their articles.  They’d be where they ought to be – hiding themselves in shame.

Consider (a) above.  Roiphe’s defense of Winslet’s terrible choices barely manages to notice the kids at all.  No, for Roiphe, it’s all about Winslet’s freedom to make choices – apparently any choices she wants – and anyone who says “boo” about them is in some way out of line.

[H]ow can anyone know that Winslet has made “disastrous choices”?  As Cristina Nehring points out in her brilliant book, The Vindication of Love, just because a relationship plays itself out and does not last forever does not mean it is a “failure.” Some of the great or passionate experiences of life are ephemeral, and our obsession with marriages that last 50 years, whether or not they are happy, as the only form of romantic “success” is perverse.

Why, one might ask, does anyone care how other people’s households are structured?

Well, Ms. Roiphe, we care about family structure because children do better in some than in others.  And the one (can it be called a “structure?”) that Winslet has chosen has been proven to be one of the worst.  That’s why.  No question about it, if the only people involved were Kate Winslet and her boyfriend du jour, her choices should be her own and I will neither care about nor criticize them.  But there are children involved and, tellingly, in Roiphe’s narrative, they take a backseat to every other consideration.

What about (b)?  Roiphe is indignant (has she ever been any other way?)

[W]hen male celebrities like Rod Stewart have many children with many different mothers they are affectionately regarded as sexually powerful, but when women do the same thing they are viciously attacked as sluts or irresponsible.

Straw man anyone?  Let’s see.  First, I don’t recall anyone’s ever having held up Rod Stewart as a paragon of parental virtue, and that’s precisely the point that’s being made about Winslet.  She’s made bad choices about her children and they’re likely to suffer for it.  That Rod Stewart or anyone else may have made choices equally bad scarcely lets Winslet off the hook.  I know nothing about Stewart’s paternal behavior, but my guess is it’s not good.  Exactly how do you go about being present to many different children, none of whom lives with you?  You don’t, even if you’re a superstar rock-n-roller.  Who cares if he’s “sexually powerful?”  Who cares if Winslet is?  That’s not the point.  The point is the kids and both have done theirs a disservice.

Then there’s that aged and sere chestnut of feminism that Roiphe drags out from decades past – (c).

The vehemence of the attacks against Winslet, Jonsson, and other less prominent single mothers with children from different fathers, in the course of their daily lives, raises the question of why a woman living outside of conventional family structures is so threatening. Why do we take it so personally if a woman’s sexual adventures are not confined to a single marriage, if a mother has a complicated or messy romantic life? It seems to me that these unconventional mothers are taken as an attack, as representing some dangerous form of sexual anarchy, as Daniel Bergner calls it in his recent story about the female libido, that should be contained, condemned, and, well, tarred and feathered. These pundits and commenters and Twitter harridans are pretending to be worried about the children, but I think in this instance, the old feminist professors were right. They are worried about women whose sexuality defies or challenges the usual structures.

I get it.  The people criticizing Winslet for her behavior towards her kids don’t really mean what they say.  No indeed; that’s just cover for their fiendish ulterior motive which only a privileged few (like Roiphe and Bergner) have been vouchsafed the wisdom to explain to us mortals.  Here’s a hint for Roiphe, et al.  If Kate Winslet had sex with hundreds of different men, there might be a little prurient interest on behalf of the Daily Mail and TMZ, but hey, sex always sells.  There’d be none of the condemnation of the type that appeared in the Telegraph and elsewhere.

That’s because truly, few really care what people – women or men – do with their private lives.  But they do care when children are involved.  When adults treat children as infinitely adjustable to their parents’ passing fancies, it causes concern – legitimate concern, and it should.  Children get hurt by parental behavior like Winslet’s and neither she nor anyone else is above the criticism for it.

Of course there’d be less concern if our society didn’t seem hell-bent on destroying itself from the inside, i.e. by destroying family relations that exist primarily for the raising of healthy, happy kids.  Radical feminism of course has played a huge role in that process and continues to do so.  By convincing some women that behavior like Winslet’s is “just another lifestyle choice,” one free of any consideration save that of the mother’s autonomous functioning, feminism has done long-term and possibly irreparable harm to this society.

That people like Roiphe keep singing the same sad, destructive song is bad enough.  That they truly don’t care about the suffering of children is a disgrace.  Again, the slightest sense of dignity would quiet these people for all time.

Thanks to Glenn for the heads-up.

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