Monday, June 28, 2004

Every once in a while, an article will begin with a premise so silly and fundamentally flawed that I am left speechless. The latest version of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "woman to woman" is one such piece of work. (Reg. required. Sorry.)

This week, the question was "How has the women's movement hurt men?" Not "Has the women's movement hurt men?" not "What has the effect of the women's movement been on men?" Nope, the AJC screwed up the column from the outset. The question was "debated" by two women from either side of the ideological spectrum. I put "debated" in quotes because, really, once you load the question, what's left to debate?

The "left-leaning" columnist basically laments that men have been hurt because, although lip service has been paid to equality, men are still kept out of a key role in the family by society. At least, I think that's what she's saying. The entire argument is based on the (flawed) idea that " ... we don't see a trend in men who are opting for homemaker." That is, of course, untrue on its face. Men are doing more of the childrearing than ever before. There are more at-home dads than ever before. And household labor is split more evenly than ever before. Why? Because, in some small ways, the fruits of the women's movement have, in fact, opened that door. Now you can certainly discuss whether getting men taking on new family roles should have been a more important goal of the women's movement, but don't imply that fatherhood today is as it was 20 or 30 years ago. It's not (and we can thank the women's movement for a big part of that).

The "right-leaning" columnist (Shaunti Feldhahn, who seems to have gained her measure of fame from writing a book about "A Balanced Christian Approach" to Y2K) gets right to the old-school stereotypes about men: "They need to provide. It is at the core of most men's identity in a way that it simply isn't for most women." To back that up, she lets loose with results from a survey she commissioned: 78 percent of men want to be providers even in the absence of financial need.

This, of course, bucks a good deal of other research and left me wondering about the study. I mean, I want to provide for my family, too, but my desire to raise the kids is stronger. Am I a part of that 78 percent? I know I'm part of the 40 percent of fathers who would stay home if they could afford to.

But the offensive element of her argument, to my ears, is that her traditionalism is disguised as biology, the idea that men are the hunters and women are the caregivers. Period. End of story. This, of course, contrasts with family life as it exists today in the U.S., where we've show that men are perfectly good at raising children (and women are perfectly suited for bringing home the bacon). More women, perhaps, feel the tug to stay home, but raising children isn't -- and shouldn't -- be institutionalized (again) as women's work. And that's just what Feldhahn does.


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