It was great to see an all-female panel (except of course for Tony Jones) on Q and A on Monday night. (1st September).
Unfortunately we know that not all women are feminists or are willing to promote women’s issues.
The research that Kay Hymowitz was propagandizing sounded very familiar.
Her research posits that the family unit is suffering
– that single motherhood is causing high levels of poverty and inequality
– that the destruction of the nuclear family unit is toxic to boys’ well-being.
She links single motherhood to high rates of delinquency and criminal activity in boys.
And of course we have heard this all before. Fathers’ rights groups have been pushing this line of the crisis of manhood and the destruction of the nuclear family.
It fits in very well with right wing ideology:
“children’s interests are met best in a heterosexual, two parent family, where the mother says at home to raise her children” Cohen and Katzenstein
And of course they blame feminism.
Kay Hymowitz reflects common views held by right and neo conservatives.
For example, it is claimed:
“the feminist movement…has caused certain changes in the family which further the dissolution of society. He suggests that the family and the independence of women cannot exist together.” Lasch (1977)
It was ironic and interesting that later in the discussion on Q and A, Jane Caro linked prostitution with marriage. This has created quite a commotion in the mainstream media.
Michelle Smith from The Conversation provided us with a more realistic exploration of the issue.
“In 1790, the English writer Mary Wollstonecraft argued that for women to “marry for a support” was “legal prostitution”. Other British feminists made connections between the male dominance inherent in both institutions, as well as the ways in which both could “enslave” women’s bodies.”
Marriage in the not far past did involve economic exchange of women’s bodies. Women depended on men in order to survive economically.
Male heirs inherited property, women were expected to marry.
At the beginning of last century, the legal status of married women in Australia reflected English common law.
Women were unable to vote or hold public office. Married women did not have legal guardianship of their children and a wife could not hold property. Divorce was rare. Husbands had complete legal powers over their children and extensive powers over their wives.
“Marriage, for many women, was a necessity to ensure that they would be housed and fed into old age.” Michelle Smith
Radical feminists have argued convincingly how the nuclear family is oppressive for women.
“It may be expressed through its physical manifestation in assault, its economic manifestation in male control of resources and decision-making, its ideological control through the socialisation of women and children, and/or its control of women’s energy in emotional and physical servicing of women and children.” Robyn Rowland and Renate Klein
It also is a site of socialisation where children learn the gender rules. Where boys learn that to be boys they need to be aggressive, whereas girls learn that being feminine is being passive.
“The pressure on women to undertake the mothering role is intense, yet it is only admirable when the mother is attached to a legal father.”Stacey (1993)
As marriage has become less obligatory, particularly for women, we have seen an increase in the rhetoric about the destruction of the nuclear family and negative critiques of single mothers.
Ellen Friedrichs cites research which shows that negative views about single motherhood tend to stem from a conviction that there is something inherently wrong or damaged about a single mother as a person.
As I have written in my previous post: HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY – WELL MAYBE NOT.
“If you are a single mother you are likely to face discrimination and condemnation – and lesbian mothers even more so.
Government policies push single mothers into poverty.”
Research which promotes the view that the two-parent patriarchal heterosexual family is the only way to raise our children is ultimately damaging for both women and children.
We must continue to resist this right wing conservative ideology that seek to lock women into traditional patriarchal nuclear family relationships.
Michelle Smith sums it up:
“Ultimately, Caro’s comparison has a real historical basis. The facts of traditional marriage should not be forgotten as we continue to address the vestiges of sexism in a culture that was once grounded in the economic exchange of women.”
Lasch, C (1977) Haven in a Heartless World, Basis Books New York
Stacey, J. (1993) Good Riddance to “the Family”: A Response to David Popenoe Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55 pp 545-547
Robyn Rowland and Renate Klein in Radically Speaking. Feminism Reclaimed eds Diane Bell and Renate Klein (1996) Spinifex Press
Cohen and Katzenstein (1988) The War over the Family is not Over the Family In Dornbusch, S.M. & Strober, M.H. (eds) Feminism, Children and New Families. Guilford Press New York