Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Contraception and NFP

Here's an email I received that I felt blog-worthy. Check it out and post your comments.

There has been a lively discussion on contraception and NFP in
response to a Rosemary Reuther piece in (where else?) the
New York Times.

I felt that I had to write something because, when I first read the
article, not one person had commented at all. By the time I
scrambled something together and posted it, there were over
a dozen comments (almost all better than mine) -- and they
keep streaming in.

Now I think everyone should read the article and, especially,
the comments which a friend (and convert) described as
"surprising and wonderful".

Take a look -- and spread the word.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Harvey Mansfield on the Hook-up Culture

Harvey Mansfield is the Harvard professor of government who organized the feminism conference I attended earlier this month. He has a book review about Sex and the Soul by Donna Frietas, on the campus hook-up culture in today's Wall Street Journal. The book in question surveys the hook-up culture at relgious colleges. Here is Mansfield's excellent bottom line.
Ms. Freitas is not afraid to use a word like "soul" because her method is qualitative, a welcome contrast to quantitative social science, with its neutral questions, narrow statistics and ignorance of philosophy. Ms. Freitas gets students to talk, listens to them and asks for their reasons for believing as they do. She passes along some interesting student phrases, too: "the walk of shame" (back to your dorm the morning after), "frugaling" (pairing off short of dating) and "yes girls" (no explanation needed).

Colleges find it risky, Ms. Freitas notes, to oppose the hook-up culture. They do not boast of it when parents visit, but they are happy to look the other way throughout the year. Their main concern is to be sure that they cannot be accused of treating men and women differently, and they do not care, or do not see, that the result of sexual liberation is a culture that does harm to the young people caught within it. "Sex and the Soul" doesn't offer an easy way out, because there isn't one. But it makes us eager for something better than the goings-on at colleges today
Readers of my book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World, know that I have a section called, "the walk of shame" in my chapter called, Why Recreational Sex is no Fun.
I would quibble with one thing in Mansfield's commentary: the colleges do not look the other way. Many, many colleges actively aid and abet the hook-up culture. That fact is worthy of a book on its own.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Student Reactions to My Alternative Feminism Talk

Students who have heard me speak on Humane Alternatives to Feminism, or It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, may have heard me use this line:
I claim the right to participate in the labor market as women, not as men in skirts. Up until now, 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. 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.

I have had women students applaud at that line. But the audience at Harvard was rather subdued, in comparison with my normal student reactions.
However, I discovered that part of the reason Harvey Mansfield invited me for this particular panel was that his assistant had seen my review of Hirshman's book on the Weekly Standard. Unbeknownst to me, this particular assistant has a doctorate, but is raising two children, and so is working part-time for Mansfield. Also unknown to me, she had invited a bunch of her friends in similar situations. After my talk, and at the dinner later, several different women came up to me and told me how much they appreciated my message and my support for their decision to stay home with kids. These women had doctorates, MA's or were ABD (All But Dissertation) in a variety of disciplines.
I don't think they realized how numerous they actually were. If they had known how many other women were in the audience, maybe I would have gotten some applause! :-)

Giving Credit to Linda Hirshman

I will give Linda Hirshman credit for the fact that we had a very civil and useful debate. Our encounter was useful, in that it clarified our respective positions. She thinks well-educated women who stay home to raise their children are wasting their time and talent. I think such women are doing a valuable public service. She seems to view the work/family decision as an all or nothing proposition. I view women's life-choices as on-going, works-in-progress. Each woman can cycle in and out of the labor market, as her family's needs and her desires dictate. I pointed out that 1960's style feminism was based on Marxism, and that I consider this legacy to be unnecessary baggage. She never denied her Marxist roots.
I will give her credit for one other thing: she believes in Truth and Goodness. She said as much to me at the end of our panel. "With you, I can have a discussion about what constitutes the Good Life. We disagree about what constitutes the Good Life. But at least we can talk about it. A lot of people are unwilling to acknowledge that some ways of life are objectively better than others." (I'm paraphrasing here. I think I have the gist of it.) I asked her if that criticism came mostly from the Left. She said it was all from the Left.
I welcome the opportunity to continue the conversation with her about what constitutes the Good Life, and what public policies should do to support it.

Reactions to The Legacy of Feminism Conference

I've been meaning to write about the Legacy and Future of Feminism conference held at Harvard on April 11, but life intervened. (See previous post.) I want to tell my readers what I saw and heard. In this post, I will report on how people reacted to my message.
My principle opponent was Linda Hirschman, author of a book charmingly entitled, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, (which I reviewed here.) She said she read my book, Love and Economics, on the plane. She noticed that I thought properly brought up children were necessary for a free society. But her spin on the that was that I thought women should stay home with their chidlren, so we could have a capitalist society. I don't think she quite grasped the significance of infant/mother attachment for the development of the child and for the long run good of the whole social order. That was of course, the whole point of Love and Economics. She made the predictable comments that fathers should be involved with their children, which of course, I never deny. In fact, I have a whole section in Chapter 6 called The Irreplacable Contribution of Fathers.
Luckily, I had prepared my opening statement in advance: I was concerned that I might be diverted into responding to her, and not make the points I really wanted to make. Readers of this blog know what that opening statement said. I had made up my mind that I would begin and end my opening presentation with stories, but I would decide exactly which story to use once I heard what she had to say. Given what she said, I decided to tell the part of my story about adopting a child who proved to be very needy. He didn't need High-Quality-Low-Cost-Daycare. He had enough institutional care. He needed a mommy. (People who have heard my talks, or listened to my CD's, have heard this story.) I ended with this story about Jonathan Hughes.
In 1991, I was a tenured professor of economics at George Mason University. I received a phone call from a dear friend of mine, Jonathan R.T. Hughes, who was one of the Great Men of Economic History. He had received our adoption announcement for the arrival of our two and a half year old son from Romania. He had also heard through the grapevine that I was pregnant. And, as I knew, Jonathan Hughes had terminal cancer.
So he called me up to congratulate me on our new arrival and to coo over the photo I had sent him. Then he said, “when you get to be my age, you realize that being a parent was the one thing in life that was really worth doing.” Mind you, Jon had a distinguished teaching and publishing career. But that was how he saw his own life from his death bed. He went on, “Enjoy your kids while they are young. The university will still be there after they have grown up.”
I wanted to take his advice, but I was afraid to quit my job. I’ll never get another tenured position, I told myself. Yet the tug, the pull of the children was unmistakable. And our son had genuine needs. He’d had plenty of institutional care in his orphanage in Romania. He needed a Mommy. That would be me.
My husband had moved to the DC area for the sake of my teaching job at Mason. He is a nuts and bolts engineer. There was nothing really for him in DC. He had worked with the same contracting firm for ten years. By 1996, he deeply wanted to move to California to join a laser company and get in on the high tech boom. I was finally ready to let go.
I took a leap of faith and went with my husband. When we left the DC area, I did not have another job lined up. I made a decision that the family would be my first priority, and I would fit my work in around the edges of my full-time job. As it happened, part time research and writing positions fell into my lap. I had all the work I wanted.
During those years, our family had any number of problems to deal with. Death and dying, mental illness and physical illness, all came into our immediate world. The fact that I had made myself available to my children meant that we had some “slack” in our family system to deal with these problems as they arose. As a bonus, I got the opportunity to do many other wonderful things I didn’t have time for when I was working full-time. I could actually plan vacations and outings for our family. I could help at the kids’ schools, and bring casseroles to sick friends. I got to have friends, dear women friends, really for the first time since high school. We were foster parents for three years, to a total of eight children.
And you know what? Jonathan Hughes was right: the university is still here. Here I am. University life hasn’t changed all that much. It is almost as if I never left.

A time of grace

My newsletter subscribers know that my mother, Ruth Roback, died last Saturday. Many of my subscribers sent me kind notes, assuring me of their prayers. I want all of you to know that your prayers mean a great deal to me. I also want you to know that my mother's funeral proved to be a time of grace for my family, as the time of death so often can be.
All my surviving brothers and sisters came home to Ohio for the funeral. My brother Jerry came in from Tacoma; my sister Joan came in from Denver. And I of course, came in from San Diego with my husband and two children. My brother John and sister Judy both live in the Columbus area. Because I am the only practicing Catholic of my generation, I had the privelege of making the arrangements for the viewing and the funeral Mass. I had some trepidation about it: fear that the priest might say something stupid that would offend the family and drive people even farther away from the Church than they already are.
In the event, I had nothing to worry about. The parish priest at our home parish, St. Michael's, was very kind, but he had come to the parish long after most of my family had gone. My parents had been founding members of St. Michael's, but my mom had been a lapsed Catholic for many years, and had been in a nursing home for the last few years. I requested that Msgr. John Cody come to St. Michael's for the funeral. Msgr. Cody went to grade school at St. Mikes, and high school, with my two older brothers. Fr. Cody had come into my mind a few years ago, when he showed up at the funeral for my oldest brother.
Msgr. Cody gave the homily at my mom's funeral. It was a wonderful tribute, not only to my mother, but also to my dad, who died in 1993. All of my siblings were very touched by his memories of our parents, and his obvious affection for them. We all agreed that it was beautiful to hear him refer to "Jim and Ruth," as we have not heard them spoken of together in a long while. And besides, Jim and Ruth are now reunited.
I thank all of you for your prayers. I imagine they had something to do with all this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bringing Home and Frying up the Bacon: Home v. Work

My opening statement at The Legacy and Future of Feminism Conference at Harvard University on April 11th is up on my website. Here's a taste:

The subject of this panel is “Bringing Home and Frying up the Bacon: Home versus Work.” I am here to say that women have been poorly served by the way work and home balance has been framed. The trend of increasing educational attainment and labor force participation of married women began at the turn of the twentieth century, well before the modern feminist movement. The 1960-style feminism assigned a particular meaning to these trends and drove them into a very specific channel. In my view, this direction has been almost entirely destructive.

Find the rest here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Conference Radcliffe Wouldn't Host

As faithful readers know, I attended a conference at Harvard University last week on The Legacy and Future of Feminism. Here is the tongue-in-cheek poster used to advertise the event. Here is an early blog post on the event. I will be blogging on it myself later today.

Beauty and the Pope

Pope Benedict's homily in St. Patrick's cathedral followed the time-honored and venerable Catholic custom of using art as a catechetical tool. He first noted the historical significance of St. Patrick's: "Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as "a house of prayer for all peoples" (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). Each day thousands of men, women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls. ... Archbishop Hughes (who built St. Pat's) wanted this cathedral to remind the young Church in America of the great spiritual tradition to which it was heir, and to inspire it to bring the best of that heritage to the building up of Christ’s body in this land."
He invited the congregation to look around the cathedral.
I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers -- here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne -- have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit.

This grand tradition of the arts as teaching tools fell into disrepute during the Reformation, and took another, almost fatal blow after Vatican II. But the human need for beauty can not be suppressed or diverted. Benedict is showing us the way forward by focusing on the timeless realities of the human experience and the deepest needs of the human soul.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Benedict XVI on the social dimension of the sexual abuse scandals

I'm proud of Pope Benedict. He has forthrightly talked about the sexual abuse scandals, saying that he is deeply ashamed. In his address to the US Bishops, he urges them to continue to do all they can to protect children. However, he goes on to stress the social context in which these abuses took place:
Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person. This brings us back to our consideration of the centrality of the family and the need to promote the Gospel of life. What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?

Putting the child at the center, and asking what is owed to the child, gives us an expanded sense of responsibility to the young. I've often thought it was a little tacky for the sex-saturated media to pile on the Catholic Church for harboring pedophiles, while the media pumps sexually explicit messages into the culture for the consumption of ever younger and more vulnerable persons. Here is Benedict:
We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike. All have a part to play in this task - not only parents, religious leaders, teachers and catechists, but the media and entertainment industries as well. Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it. Truly caring about young people and the future of our civilization means recognizing our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish. It falls to you, as pastors modelled upon Christ, the Good Shepherd, to proclaim this message loud and clear, and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores. Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined, collective response.

Benedict XVI on Marriage

When Benedict spoke to the US Bishops, he stressed the importance of marriage.
To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person. Hence we have an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent. In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.

This is the beauty of Catholic teaching. People often believe Catholic teaching is nothing but a set of prohibitions. But, here, Benedict stresses what the Church is positively in favor of: Marriage is more than a civil union, more than a contract. Marriage is the lifelong commitment of mutual self-giving. You can't have that in cohabitation or in a union that is understood to be temporary.

The divorce Generation Grows Up

A Newsweek reporter gathered stories from his high school friends about their experience of their parents' divorces. His own experience sounds pretty traumatic. His father was an aspiring actor, but,
Dad found acting to be a cruel mistress: he wound up spending more time tending bar than in front of the cameras. It was no way to support his wife and two kids, and his marriage was a shambles. So he found another mistress: my mom.
He was angling for a divorce. And those weren't easy to get in 1960, even in Hollywood. To begin with, his wife didn't want to give him one, and even if she had she would have needed to prove "fault"—adultery, abandonment, neglect, commission of a felony. So my dad and mom moved to Las Vegas for a few months, where they lived in an apartment house populated by card sharks and showgirls while awaiting the end of dad's marriage under Nevada's lax divorce laws. On Sept. 5, 1960, they drove to a small town in the middle of the Nevada desert called Tonopah and got married by the justice of the peace.

After moving back to Los Angeles, my actor parents set off on their new life together as if nothing had ever happened. But, of course, it had. At age 4 I discovered I wasn't an only child when my dad's kids, who'd been living in Florida, came to stay with us for a year. My mom says I refused to hug her the entire time—but I remember sobbing just the same when they left. My sister and brother had it worse: they grew up without a father, and never got to develop much of a relationship with him.

These vignettes put a human face on much of the statistical social science research. For instance, Research shows that children in stepfamilies have a unique set of emotional problems. Overall, their emotional health is more like the children of unmarried mothers than the children of married couples.

Laurie Gelardi's folks split when she was 3, and within a few years they'd married other people. From the outset, her relationship with her father's new wife was fraught. The way she saw it, her stepmother "didn't really care for him having a child from a previous marriage," says Laurie, who spent summers with them in San Francisco, where her dad was a Teamster. The rift worsened after her father and stepmother had a child, and Laurie felt she could never get any alone-time with him. "When I was about 13, I had a pretty big conflict with his wife one day when he was at work," she says. "I basically told him, 'I don't want to be with her, I don't come here to see her, and I don't want to come here anymore if you're going to make me stay with her while you're working.' And he said 'Fine.' That was probably the one and only time we had a serious conversation about the situation." Things weren't much better with Laurie's stepfather (it was her mom's third husband; her second had died when Laurie was 5).

Another for instance: research shows that children of divorce are more likely to have early sexual activity and substance abuse. Specifically, daughters in father-absent homes are more likely to have early sex and have multiple partners. Here is the human face of that finding:
Like so many kids of divorce, Elyse dealt with the instability at home by acting out. At the age of 9, she was smoking. At 13, she was having sex. "My boyfriend at the time went up to my mom and said, 'Hey, we want to have sex, can you put her on the pill?' " Her mother agreed. At least Elyse was getting birth control: a good friend at the time, another child of divorce, had a baby at 15 and gave it up for adoption. The sexual revolution was in full swing in 1977, but Elyse believes her behavior had more to do with her parents' divorce and her father's death when she was 11. "I think I had a problem because I didn't have my dad around. So I was looking for love that wasn't there," Elyse says. She settled for whatever love she could get, putting up with her boyfriend's cheating for five years, then moving from one relationship to the next. "The same night I broke up with my first boyfriend, I met my next. I was never alone; I mean, there's something wrong with that."

Children of divorce get lower grades, are more likely to drop out of high school, less likely to complete college:
"I was dealing with some emotional fallout from the divorce without really realizing it, and I acted out in some ways. My grades took a big dive. Fortunately, I was able to ride on test scores and things like that to get myself into college, so I didn't completely sabotage my future."

And the author confirms what I have observed in talking to many young people: they are determined to avoid divorce for themselves and their own children:

"My life since my parents' divorce has been shaped to a tremendous degree by the goal of avoiding divorce as an adult at all costs," says Chris, whose parents both died of cancer within months of one another in 2001.

In many ways, the urge to stay married is stronger in my classmates' generation than the urge to get divorced was in my parents'.

He also confirms what I have observed: these children of divorce are very forgiving of their parents, in spite of all they have suffered.
Despite the complications and the collateral damage, my friends from Grant class of '82 seem to agree that the divorces in their lives—both their parents' and their own—were probably for the best. Most don't think ill of their folks for having split up. "As a child I felt like I was a victim of my circumstances, a victim of the divorce," says Deborah Cronin. "But as an adult I learned that my parents were just two people who met each other, fell in love, had children, and it didn't work out. They were 18 and 19 years old when they met. They were young kids having kids." It seems that along with the crow's feet and expanding waistlines of middle age, my classmates and I have acquired an acceptance of our parents and their life choices. Some of us have even found healing. "My parents were good people," Tonju Francois told me the other day. "And good people get divorced, too." If I've learned anything from my walk down memory lane, it's that Divorce Generation has grown up.

I disagree with only one thing here: I disagree with the fatalism implied in the idea that "the divorces were probably for the best." We don't really know that. We have choices about how to deal with the inevitable difficulties and incompatibilities and disappointments of life. Not all those divorces were inevitable.
thank you David Jefferson, for a beautiful and moving article.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Is same sex adoption about kids or about adults?

Biological parents, married to each other, are best for children: better than divorced parents, step parents, cohabiting biological parents, or single parents. We have no right to assume that children will do just fine with same sex couples. Giving preference to married couples as adoptive parents is completely rational.

Read my article on this subject on my website or at

Monday, April 14, 2008

My grandfather's Catholic Son

My Grandfather’s Son, the autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, will be a classic American memoir. It is a rare combination of timeless saga and period piece. Thomas’s autobiography is the archetypal American rags to riches story that is so much a part of our national character.

Read my book review here.

Adult Stem Cells and Arthritis

Researchers have discovered that stem cells within a person's own body have the potential to offer relief from arthritis:
Scientists at Cardiff University have successfully identified stem cells within articular cartilage of adults, which although it cannot become any cell in the body like full stem cells, has the ability to derive into chondrocytes - the cells that make up the body's cartilage -- in high enough numbers to make treatment a realistic possibility. The team have even been able to identify the cells in people over 75 years of age.

No babies were killed in the creation of this cartilage.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Go Jayhawks!

Congratulations to the University of Kansas Jayhawks, Winner of the 2008 NCAA basketball championship!

I visited the University of Kansas last fall, and the students gave me this T-shirt. Naturally, I have been enjoying wearing it, throughout Kansas' great football season, and even greater basketball season! I love the pugnacious but pleasant little Jayhawk! And, I love following a winning team.

Could Dr J's support have been the Kansas Secret Weapon that brought their first championship in decades? Why take a chance! Invite Dr J to your school.

So, students, make plans now to invite Dr J to your college next fall. Federalist Society chapters, student pro-life clubs, chastity clubs, College Republicans, Newman Centers, get a jump on your speaker schedule for the next academic year. E-mail Dr J at:

I visited UCLA last year too. But they didn't give me a T- shirt. Cause and Effect? Or mere coincidence? We report. You decide.