The Wall Street Journal Discovers ‘the Politicization of Motherhood’ 50 Years Late

November 3, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Hard on the heels of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s not-up-to-snuff article in Time on which I posted the last two days, comes this piece by James Taranto that, in its own way, is every bit as bad (Wall Street Journal, 10/27/17). To be fair though, I suppose I have to grit my teeth and admit that he and his main source, psychoanalyst Erica Komisar do get a few things right.

The main point of the article is that mothers should spend the first three years of a child’s life with the child full-time. That is, they should prioritize child-rearing over paid employment. I agree that children should spend as much time with one or both parents as possible for as long as possible, but particularly in the first years of life. Needless to say, Taranto’s claim that children spending that time with Dad isn’t as good as with Mom, isn’t supported by science and some science contradicts it.

And Taranto and Komisar are correct that daycare isn’t a sufficient alternative to parental care. There’s some good science indicating that the increased levels of cortisol in children in daycare aren’t beneficial either then or later in life.

Now, Komisar has written a book in which she espouses her idea that mothers should devote the first three years of a child’s life to their care. Komisar’s a liberal and perhaps the most interesting thing about Taranto’s article about her is the response she received on her theme from liberals.

[S]he tells me she has become “a bit of a pariah” on the left because of the book she published this year, “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters.” …

“I couldn’t get on NPR,” and “I was rejected wholesale—particularly in New York—by the liberal press.” She did appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” but seconds before the camera went live, she says, the interviewer told her: “I don’t believe in the premise of your book at all. I don’t like your book.” …

Ms. Komisar tells of hosting a charity gathering for millennials at her apartment. One young woman “asked me what my book was about. I told her, and she got so angry. She almost had fire coming out of her eyes, she was so angry at my message. She said, ‘You are going to set women back 50 years.’

That of course gave rise to the title of Taranto’s piece, “The Politicization of Motherhood.” It’s an absurd title, of course. The idea that the politicization of motherhood is, in some way, a recent phenomenon is simple nonsense. Feminists have been attacking motherhood for 50 years or more. They’ve done so with the claim that motherhood ties women to families that are in turn the seat of male oppression of women. They’ve done so by incessantly badgering women to go to work and earn like men, the better to be financially free of them.

Whatever one may think of those messages (the former is rebutted by reams of data showing married women to be far safer and happier than their unmarried counterparts), motherhood has been the subject of political discourse and skirmishing for a long time now. You’d think Taranto would have noticed. After all, where does he think the young woman with fire darting from her eyes got her ideas about motherhood?

On the political front, Komisar seems little better informed, but still willing to set up the same straw men as did the fire-glaring millennial woman at the party.

“We don’t want the ’50s to come back,” she tells me. “Women had children who didn’t want to have children. Women didn’t have other choices than having children, and women were ostracized if they didn’t have children. 

So, has anyone – Komisar or anyone else – suggested “going back to the 50s” and denying safe, effective and inexpensive contraception? Where’d she get that idea? I suppose Komisar is just trying to anticipate the possible arguments of leftists against her pro-mother thesis. But is someone seriously going to raise the claim that, by arguing for mothers to stay home with their kids, Komisar is, in some way, simultaneously saying we should outlaw contraception? I suppose one never knows.

And no, even in the 50s, women weren’t ostracized because they didn’t have kids. I was around there and remember my parents’ friends, my relatives, my teachers, etc. Some of them didn’t have children, and no one complained. Some assumed there was some medical impediment to having children, but the issue was never raised and the women certainly weren’t ostracized. That’s just one of those happy urban myths with which we comfort ourselves for our own often poor decisions and policies.

Here’s another.

And women were ostracized if they went out into the world and worked.

Again, that’s just patently untrue, and again, I was there and remember. I was in the seventh grade before I had a male teacher, and even then he was the only male among five females. The fact is that working women were everywhere, as data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics make clear. By 1960, almost 40% of women and girls 16 years of age and older were in the workforce. Today, 57 years later, the number is 56%. Now 16 percentage points is a significant difference, but my point should be clear: the idea that women who worked for pay were “ostracized” is bunk. They weren’t.

But Taranto’s and Komisar’s thesis fails on more accounts than I’ve had space to explain, so I’ll do more next time.




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