Fox-Genovese: Women & Entitlements

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

As we consider the 2012 election results and the large percentage of single women – as well as the significant share of married women – who favored the current administration’s approach to women’s issues, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese offers much food for thought. 


New Feminists, like Fox-Genovese, like me, start with this premise:  women raising children cannot humanely and justly be expected to provide 100% of the resources for the care of the family. 

For all of human history, men were expected to provide most of the financial resources for the care and upbringing of children they fathered, at least within wedlock, and their failure to do so warranted social, religious and legal action. The economic burden of raising children has shifted radically toward women, perhaps as an unintended consequence, as women embrace and exploit educational and economic opportunities opened to their participation only within the last 50 years through the often grueling work of feminists.  Simultaneously over the last two decades, the social and cultural expectations which defined and bounded family constitution and responsibility throughout Western history have undergone dramatic reconfiguration.  Perhaps, again, as an an unintended consequence, this reconfiguration has fueled and accelerated the transfer of responsibility and cost of children to the women who conceive, bear and keep them.  It is hardly surprising in this new reality that “progressive” feminists insist that the only legitimate pregnancies are pregnancies planned and intended by the woman.  If women are going to get assistance within this new paradigm, even for intended, planned child-raising, it must come from the government – the authority which once served as a safety net secondarily to its role of enforcing shirked obligations against men, but which, increasingly, substitutes entitlement care in their stead. 

Consider this excerpt from Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s “Feminism Is Not The Story of My Life” which I’ve entitled Women and Government (italics added).

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Throughout most of our history, it was possible to assume that women and children would be privately cared for by the men under whose guardianship they fell.   Frequently men failed in their duty, but the public services that developed to compensate for those private failures treated the women and children they served as exceptional.  Today, when men in record numbers leave women and children to their own resources, women and children who require public support are no longer exceptional.  Some conservatives may want to turn the clock back, but the growing numbers of women and children without adequate private resources testify that the clock cannot be turned back.  

So is the solution to abandon the children?  Our sterile and deadlocked discussions of abortion suggest the possibility.  Certainly, the feminists’ reluctance to regard abortion as a story about children and reverence for life points in that direction.  But then, so does the conservatives’ reluctance to regard abortion as a story about women who do not have the resources to support the children they bear and cannot readily assume that others will step in to care for or adopt the children.  Willy-nilly, these two positions have combined to free us from our obligations to women and children

It is as if we were, however unintentionally, treating the children as extensions of women’s sexual freedom rather than as the future of our society

And because society has been so reluctant to meet its responsibilities to children, it has sent a message that for women to prosper they must be freed from children as well.  Feminism has seized upon this message, arguing that to hold women responsible for children is to punish them by restricting their freedom and independence.  Conservatives, who normally express concern for the sanctity of life and the needs of children, want poor women not to have them unless, of course they are married.  In contrast, feminists, who normally want women to be able to lead independent lives like men, defend poor women’s right to become single mothers. 

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In 1990, single mothers headed one quarter of all households in the United States, and, for black Americans, the figure rose to more than one half.  No moral pronouncements about the superiority of the private care for children can withstand these figures without risking public exposure as punitive, indifferent, contemptuous, or hypocritical.  Conservatives who continue to preach the moral superiority of the world of the Donna Reed Show are not talking about the world we live in. 

And if you do not talk about a world people recognize, they may be expected to ignore you.  A just and humane society must embrace standards that the majority of its people can, if with effort, meet, or it must support its people so that they can meet those standards. 

Without one or the other, people may well decide, as many seem to be deciding, that moral standards are beside the point.  If conservatives wish to encourage private virtue and responsibility, they need to provide social conditions that permit people to act virtuously and responsibly. 

The feminist preference for extensive public day care has an inexorable logic.  Feminists assume that mothers, whether married or single, prefer to work and need day care to do so.  They have a vested interest in the idea that children will do as well or better without their mothers as with them.  They also have an interest in the expansion of public programs, which provide women with jobs – jobs with benefits.  In 1980, women already held 70 percent of the social service jobs in the government sector.  And although the jobs do not pay as well as many in the private sector, they are considerably more secure.  In this respect, the welfare state is becoming a women’s preserve. 

Jobs and salaries play an important, if largely hidden, role in these debates.  We are accustomed to dividing federal expenditures according to the program on which they are spent:  so much for the military, so much for fighting crime, so much for social services, and so forth.  We are even conscious of the tendency of the federal agencies to allow their suppliers to jack up the cost of goods.  But we are rarely reminded of how large a share of public expenditure goes into nonmilitary salaries and benefits for the more than 2.8 million nonmilitary federal and 17 million state and local employees.  As best, we know that programs are difficult to cut, in part because the cutting of programs inevitably entails the cutting of jobs.  Since the beginning of the republic, patronage and spoils have loomed large in political struggles, and now more so than ever.  Even when administrations change, social service jobs remain difficult to cut, and today a large share of those jobs continues to go to women.  The protection of public employment, however important to individuals and their families, should not dictate our public policies.  After all, when President Clinton downsized the military, to the applause of feminists and the Left, he cut many thousands of jobs.

If we start with the needs of children, the failure of the private sector may well justify the existence, or even expansion, of publicly funded social service programs.  But it is one thing to turn to the federal government to see people through a crisis, as we done during the Great Depression, and another to regard dependence upon federally funded social service programs as a positive good.  Many personally admirable and socially responsible left-wing feminists forcefully insist that the failures of federal supports for women and children may be attributed to the demeaning conditions imposed upon those who use them.   Feminists like Valerie Polakow argue that the United States should long since have followed the lead of European welfare states in making support for women and children universal like Social Security, rather dependent upon the indignity of proving need.  The United States remains one of the few industrialized countries not to provide universal child allowances.  Western European countries also provide statutory housing allowances, health care benefits, maternity benefits, and subsidized child care as a matter of course.  Consequently, the benefits are seen as a “right” or entitlement rather than a stigmatized form of public assistance.  Thus welfare, with aura of dependence and deviation, plays a much smaller role than in the United States.  Unfortunately, those social entitlements are placing increasing burdens on the national budgets and, as already happened in the United Kingdom, even the generous policies in France and Sweden are in danger of being cut back.

Women’s Reality

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

When Mitt Romney nominated Paul Ryan as his VP running mate, I posted my disappointment at Facebook.  “I can’t relate to this ticket,” I said to myself.  If I – an Independent female – could not relate to the ticket, I suspected lots of other women would struggle as well.  I wasn’t mad.  I knew both men had worthy conservative credentials.  And while I tend toward conservative, I remain convinced that Republicans don’t understand women’s reality and what women need to return their lives to some semblance of sanity. Democrats don’t either.  On this subject, I can piss off blue and red in equal measure. 

Fairly, my FB friends wondered why I was agitated.  Both Romney and Ryan have educated wives who are full-time mothers and whose life choices have not been entirely unlike some of mine.  Both candidates and their wives and children live traditional lifestyles based on Judeo-Christian values I hold dear, committed to a financial conservatism that most people should follow.  So what was my problem?

My similarity to these families, these white male candidates and their wives who are so much like me, occurred, well, after my marriage.  Before my marriage, I was a working professional and single mother.  Grateful as I am for where I am, I can’t forget, will never forget, what it was like to be a woman alone, with a child and a job that both demanded 125% of me.  My daily life was a juggling act with more balls in the air than I could count, much less manage.  Even after I married, there was a constant, steady demand on my time and a gnawing sense that I just could not keep up with anything.  I did everything, but nothing well.  I escaped the frustration only when I quit litigating.  I quit the day one of the white male partners with a stay-at-home wife and a looming deadline he had failed to manage, tried to shame me into working the weekend, “I need you here.  It just seems like you are not committed to this job anymore.”

 “That’s right, Michael,” I snapped at him.  “I am part-time.  I have been part-time for several months trying to get some time with my baby, my toddler and my husband.  I am done with your thoughtlessness and demands … and I quit.” 

As happy as I am where I am, I know that I got lucky.  I had the option of staying home and shedding the stress jerks, unrealistic expectations and limited options impose on the lives of working women everywhere.  Most women, don’t.

The reality is that I am in the minority.   As much as I love my life, my reality is not the reality of most women.  The “war on women” rhetoric during the election was, in my opinion, outrageous.  There is no war on women – but there is a struggle, a deep divide that blinds us – all of us – to women’s reality.  The war, if you will, is between competing narratives about women’s lives.  Neither party  has it right and both parties are delusional.

I’m not a statistician – but I can follow the data (even if I can’t see the obvious) to recognize that married stay-at-home mothers – like me – do not portray women’s reality today – and most certainly do not portray the reality into which are daughters are being raised.  A few statistics are worthy of review. 

“Never married” does not mean “not mothers.”  It didn’t for me.  I gave up on a traditional family structure and went my own way.  I was not the only professional woman in 1989 having a child as a single mother – a trend which continues to grow.

Even though I am not a statistician, I think this means that “single parent family” is code for “women raising a child alone.”  

Unmarried women raising children alone is no longer an exception.  It’s the reality nearly 50% of women live day to day.  Whether they are raising kids alone because they never married, got divorced or abandoned, the new reality is that nearly half of the women in the United States have primary responsibility for raising their children. 

I am not going to review statistics on how much financial contribution these women are getting from men who call themselves fathers.  In my case, I had my daughter “without benefit” of father and that decision, many women have made and are making.  That reality exists for many women who cannot find, much less extract money from, the man who fathered their child.  But even if women receive some amount of support from fathers, it is not ever enough for the single mother to be a fulltime mother, like Ann Romney or like me, now.

Which is not to say, that women juggling work and children wouldn’t love to be stay-at-home moms, or, at least, have more at-home time than at-work time to spend with their children.  The 2009 Pew Report “The Harried Life of the Working Mother” gave loads of notice to Dems and Reps alike that the lives of women were running off the rail.  “A strong majority of all working mothers (62%) say they would prefer to work part time.”  This year, the media waves exploded over Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” explaining why she – for one – had decided to leave her job, get out of the workplace and into her home with her kids – where she wanted to be.  Whether by survey or anecdote, no matter how you cut it, women are drowning in responsibility, yelling for help and begging for more family-friendly options in their lives.

Is anyone listening to the voices of women?

In this world of impossible female responsibilities and expectations, abortion and contraception are not moral issues to most women.  They are issues of survival.  No matter how much a woman wishes that a man in her life would make an unexpected pregnancy into an “unplanned joy,”  many women no longer incur such pregnancies with a known and legitimate father on the hook emotionally and financially, much less interested in becoming a partner in parenting.  If women are to be the ones to raise children, if they are to foot the bill and carry the full load of responsibility, then contraception and abortion to women become more functions of financial planning and survival than the fate of their souls.  The conservative option – that all single women live celibate lives until somehow becoming one of the increasingly rare women to find a man who wants to get married and start having kids, if the woman is still fertile – seems delusional. 

On the other hand, the progressive feminist and liberal tendency to applaud, praise and push this inequitable burden of expectation and load of often heart-breaking choices upon women as necessary to achieve “equality” to men is also mind-numbing.  Women are unhappy, often miserable, bearing this load.  That the sexual patterns of promiscuous men and the measures of success of the capitalist male do not promote the well-being of most women seems oddly irrelevant in the progressive agenda being peddled to women.  In this way, the progressives, too, are fueled by ideal delusion.

Amidst this messy morass of stubborn narratives, the 2012 Presidential elections returned the following numbers which would surprise only a cocky student who felt no need to attend class – like a Dem or Rep who has been willfully ignoring the reality of women’s lives.    

  • According to national exit polls, the president won the women vote by ten percentage points, 55 percent to Romney’s 44 percent. Obama, however, lost married women by 7 percentage points, 46 percent to Romney’s 53 percent.”

No surprise.   The progressive liberal narrative offers more support and benefits to women trying to negotiate the maze of career, relationships and child-bearing alone., for example, considered re-electing President Obama “critical” and reminded its constituency that “single moms raise great presidents–Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama!”  The conservative insistence that it’s all about “getting married, gals” appeals to a majority of women who, in fact, have a golden ring.  But even married women, often working and bearing the load for children, medical decisions and home care, are losing conviction that the traditional formula for a happy life delivers. 

So … we are back to the basic question …. just what DO women want?  And, just as important, will either party listen?  More on that soon – but feel free to email, leave comments etc. on what you think!