Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mothers Alone

is the title Policy Review gives to Amy Wax's outstanding review of two rather bad books: Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade, and
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women are Choosing Parenthood without Marriage and Creating the New American Family.

In Ann Fessler’s book, women born at mid-century reminisce about becoming pregnant out of wedlock and relinquishing their children for adoption in the decades before the sexual revolution and the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. In Rosanna Hertz’s, the daughters of that generation recount their experiences as women who have decided to become mothers outside of marriage. Fessler’s stories tell of coming of age amidst the seismic shift in sexual mores that yielded the world as we know it. Hertz provides a window into the lives some women live in that world.

The two books in question can't get past their post-modern and feminist categories of thought to observe the data right in front of their noses. The birth mothers who placed their children for adoption do not really see abortion, that is, their child's non-existence, as the solution. The children of the single mothers by choice are "staunchly unreconstructed," in that they want to know their fathers.
The larger problem, which neither author takes seriously, is the question of how to manage sexuality and child-bearing in a world without marriage. Here is Amy Wax.
Implicit (and sometimes explicit) in their complaints is the expectation — indeed the demand — that they should have been “helped” to keep their babies. This book’s central flaw, its core evasion, is its failure to come to grips with that expectation. All eyes are averted from its true implications. How can the demand for “help” mean anything other than its being incumbent on others — family, friends, society, the government — to provide these girls with the funds needed to raise a child alone, without marriage, men or fathers. These women’s complaints lead inexorably to an entitlement depressingly familiar in its contours and consequences: a welfare state in which the public pledges unconditional financial support for mothers barely out of girlhood. It leads, in short, to the wholesale bankrolling of children having children. The sins of this path require no rehearsal. Suffice it to say that we have been there and done that. We know where it leads: men without roots, domestic chaos, deprived children, social pathology — and wholesale political rebellion against the unseemly spectacle of welfare as we know it.

Like Hertz and her single-mothers, Fessler and her birth mothers simply fail to confront their own wishes writ large. The broader question of how to run the railroad does not trouble them. They are not concerned with the norms we all should live by. Rather, to borrow Michael Oakeshott’s phrase, these women are taken up with their own “felt needs.” Every hurt (self-inflicted or not) must be addressed and every hardship (defensible or not) assuaged. In this calculus, the dislocations of individual lives are all that matter. Hertz’s and Fessler’s moms are here to tell their stories, not devise wise rules for social life. The conundrums of social policy get pushed off into the background in favor of an endless recital of grievances against the order. Cut loose from a coherent moral framework, they give little thought to the world their desires would entail.

While this review is harsh toward the Life-style Left, Wax ends with an implied critique of the Right, which is not providing realistic answers. Read it all.

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