Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It Takes a Family to Raise a Village

This week's newsletter is an excerpt from the lecture I gave last week at the University of California, Los Angeles. What I have provided for you here is the section of my talk titled, "Alternatives to the Marxist- inspired vision of the family." Enjoy!If you aren't receiving my free newsletter, you can sign up here.

I am not opposed to feminism, whatever that is. I am opposed to Marxism. The Marxist categories of class struggle and oppression did not work well in the market. They work even less well in the bedroom.

I think women are hungry for a new way of understanding these great demographic changes and their own role in society. So let me take a stab at it.

I believe income equality between men and women should not be the ultimate goal for personal and public policy. Equal incomes require identical behavior. But men and women behave significantly differently in the labor force, at home and over the course of their lives. The attempt to create income equality has led to massive amounts of government regulation and litigation in the labor market. At the personal level, women have forced their work lives into the mold created for male career paths. Traditional male career trajectories demand the most intense investment early in life, which happens to be the time that women's bodies are most suited for pregnancy.

By now, the participation of women in the market at every time in their adult lives has become entrenched in society. Our higher education system, our labor market, even our housing markets, are built around the premise that high-achieving, highly-educated workers will postpone marriage and child-bearing. But by the time women have accomplished enough in their careers to feel financially prepared for motherhood, their peak fertility is behind them.

For many women in the first generation of high powered careers, fertility difficulties came as a rude awakening. Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett conducted a survey of high-achieving women, hoping to assess the factors responsible for their success. She noticed that none of these women had children. And she discovered that none of them had chosen to be childless. These women are extremely disappointed.

Women's fertility is impaired with age, in that women are less likely to conceive a child. Men's fertility may be compromised with age as well. There is now suggestive new evidence that a child's probability of genetic defects increases with the father's age. The theory is that the DNA replicates less precisely as men age. This produces minor genetic defects that are not fatal to the infant. But these non-fatal defects are implicated in disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and cancer. Men 40 and older are nearly six times more likely to have offspring with autism than men under age 30.

I propose that we embrace our fertility. Women would be better off if we accepted the reality that our fertility peaks during our twenties. Go to college for a liberal, but not necessarily a vocational, education. Get married. Have kids. Let our husbands support us. Maybe go back to school for an advanced degree. Go to work. Help support the kids' college. And, since women live longer than men, we could be working longer and let our husbands relax a bit.

The vision of women moving in and out of the workplace also involves an alternative vision of marriage and family. Marriage is a life-long institution for mutual cooperation and support, rather than the unenforceable non-contract it has become. I need not say that cooperation between spouses would be far better for children. Nor need I say that this is the exact opposite of the Marxist vision, which replaced marital stability with employment stability.

Gender differences are not necessarily sources of conflict, but rather opportunities for cooperation and complementarity. Our dignity as women does not depend on women being identical with men. Nor does our dignity depend upon our being completely independent of men. Women and men can view one another as collaborators, rather than as competitors. We women can place our education and our talent at the service of our families and the community, rather than at the service of employers and our egos. Rather than squeezing our child-bearing around the periphery of our careers, we can integrate the natural cycles of our bodies into the core of our lives.

This is the bargain women have made, under the influence of Marxism. Up until now, we have defined our goal as being equal participants in a labor market designed for people who don't give birth. Rather than change the labor market to accommodate the woman's body, we have insisted that women change their fertility in order to accommodate the labor market. I say we should take women's fertility as given and change the labor market to accommodate our bodies. We have defined our personal goal as being completely financially independent of men. I say we should find ways to strengthen our collaboration with our husbands.

I claim the right to participate in the labor market as women, not as men in skirts. I claim the right to get married and stay married, not the right to raise our children alone, and to spend larger and larger portions of our lives alone.

The family is essential to a free society. And women are essential to the family. The last generation of Marxist-inspired ideas about women and family have made family life unnecessarily difficult. It is time for a new approach. It is time to let the natural, organic family blossom.


Marty said...

Good luck with that. As long as the driving force behind feminism appears to be marxist-lesbians with no use for men in general (or husbands in particular), it doesn't seem likely.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking that the other crucial issue in all of this – independent of Marxism and feminism – is the fact that the middle and lower classes have seen their real incomes shrink since the early 1970s. A lot of the pressure on women to work is not about getting ahead career-wise, but about keeping up the standard of living of their parents. My immigrant grandfather, an upholsterer, did not go beyond junior high but never had a mortgage and lent money to his kids so they didn’t have to have mortgages. His wife, my grandmother, raised the kids and never worked a day in her life outside the home except for some volunteer work. I have a Ph.D. and my wife a Master’s and we have a monstrous 30-year mortgage to have basically the same kind of house my parents bought in the sixties. Granted, many people are into pure consumerism and therefore want to work more to support such a lifestyle. But the underlying problem is the value of the wage, in my opinion. Regardless, part of the discussion needs to include the question of consumerist values and how they motivate women to enter the job market. This is especially poignant, I think, for families that earn, say, under $50,000 per year. This is where capitalism, as much as I admire it, has exacerbated the weakening of the family. Capitalism needs consumers to keep buying new kinds of products (big-screen TVs, etc.). That’s why I think we have to have a nationally determined consensus on the family that overrides the economic imperatives.

The other thought that has occurred to me is that so many highly advantaged and/or highly educated people are extremely individualistic and simply not interested in marrying or having children. “White America” is not reproducing itself, except for the Mormons, and the genes of highly intelligent and successful people are not being passed on. Again, in my opinion, capitalism in the U.S. took people to individualistic extremes. It’s the “Your way, right away, at Burger King today” generation. I would completely agree that a lot of this impulse comes from the sixties revolution. But I think capitalism per se also generates it. The Republicans always talked about family values but never critiqued the fact that capitalism’s innovative fury helped to undermine the family.

Marty said...

Anonymous@1:56, you are getting very close:

There are many intelligent people who would argue that the reason that real wages have declined for both men and women (hence the need for both husband and wife to work to support the same lifestyle their parents had under a single income) is due to the influx of women into the labor pool.

It is a self-perpetuating cycle: with more women available to do a job for less than a man, wages for men go down accordingly. As more and more women compete against men for the same jobs, wages go down further, leading still more women who might otherwise stay home to raise their children to enter the workforce instead.

Others have explained this idea better than I have, perhaps they will chime in.

Perhaps capitalism/consumerism is only half the problem -- perhaps men would earn nearly twice as much as they do now if their wives quit their jobs... and just imagine what we've save as a society in social services and law enforcement!