The New York Times
April 9, 2009
Iowa’s Family Values
By STEVEN W. THRASHER
IF it weren’t for Iowa, my family may never have existed, and this gay, biracial New
Yorker might never have been born.
In 1958, when my mother, who was white, and father, who was black, wanted to get
married in Nebraska, it was illegal for them to wed. So they decided to go next door to
Iowa, a state that was progressive enough to allow interracial marriage. My mom’s
brother tried to have the Nebraska state police bar her from leaving the state so she
couldn’t marry my dad, which was only the latest legal indignity she had endured. She
had been arrested on my parents’ first date, accused of prostitution. (The conventional
thought of the time being: Why else would a white woman be seen with a black man?)
On their wedding day, somehow, my parents made it out of Nebraska without getting
arrested again, and were wed in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on March 1, 1958. This was five
years before Nebraska would strike down its laws against interracial marriage, and almost
a decade before the Supreme Court would outlaw miscegenation laws throughout the
country in Loving v. Virginia.
When the good state of Iowa conferred the dignity of civic recognition on my parents’
relationship — a relationship some members of their own families thought was deviant
and immoral, that the civil authorities of Nebraska had tried to destroy, and that even
some of my mom’s college-educated friends believed would produce children striped like
zebras — our family began. And by the time my father died, their interracial marriage
was seen just as a marriage, and an admirable 45-year one at that.
That I almost cried last week upon reading that the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the
state law banning same-sex marriage will therefore come as no surprise. I’m still struck
by one thought: over the years, I’ve met so many gay émigrés who felt it was unsafe to be
gay in so-called flyover country and fled for the East and West coasts. But as a gay man,
I can’t marry in ―liberal‖ New York, where I’m a resident, or in ―liberal‖ California,
where I was born, and very soon I will have that right in ―conservative‖ Iowa.
Of course, the desire to define relational rights and responsibilities with a partner, to have
access to the protection that this kind of commitment affords, is rather conservative. But
it’s a conservative dream that should be offered to all Americans. Though it takes great
courage for gays to marry in a handful of states now, one hopes that someday, throughout
the nation, gay marriages, like my parents’ union, will just be seen as marriages.
It’s safe to say that neither the dramas of our family, nor its triumphs, could have been
possible without the simultaneously radical and conservative occasion of my parents’
civil marriage in Iowa. And so when the time comes, I hope to be married at the City Hall
in Council Bluffs, in the state that not only supports my civil rights now, but which
supported my parents’ so many years ago.
Steven W. Thrasher is a writer and media producer.
Can the Traditional Family Survive Feminism?
by Carolyn Graglia
It is a great pleasure to address you young conservatives of Texas. Being young is
wonderful, but to be conservative can be difficult. In the present culture, you are
often outsiders, distrusted, even shunned by the politically correct mainstream. I
admire you and thank you for your willingness to defend conservative principles.
My topic is the question, "Can the Traditional Family Survive Feminism?" My
answer is, "Perhaps, but with great difficulty." In the movie Saving Private Ryan,
there is a very moving scene in which the dying leader of a group of men that had
rescued Private Ryan from behind enemy lines tells the grateful private to "earn it."
Many died in World War II so that we could live in a better world. I doubt that we
have earned it. The immediate post-war period did witness our mid-century's golden
age of the family, with high marriage and birth rates, low illegitimacy, divorce, and
crime rates, and the growth of a broad and stable middle class. But then our
marriage and birth rates plummeted, while the rates of crime, unmarried
cohabitation, divorce, illegitimacy, and abortion skyrocketed. We now have the
highest divorce and abortion rates in the western world, and one out of three
children born today in this country is illegitimate.
How did such a massive change in social values occur in just two decades? No
foreign enemy, no force of nature, no economic catastrophe caused our social and
moral decline. We did this to ourselves. We trashed our own society. The force that
I indict as critically, but of course not solely, responsible for our plight is the
contemporary feminist movement which was revived in the 1960s. As my book,
Domestic Tranquility, documents, the homemaker and her family were the primary
target of a vicious and successful war waged by this movement. Proof of that
success is all around us. Two years ago, the front page of The New York Times
quoted then President Clinton's statement praising the efforts to put welfare mothers
into the work force and their children into day care. He said: "Work is more than
just a weekly paycheck"; "It is, at heart, our way of life. Work lends purpose and
dignity to our lives." In the 1950s, a president would have been far more likely to
say that the home and the family and the rearing of children--not market work--was,
at heart, our way of life, and that no other way of life could have a higher purpose
and a greater dignity than rearing one's own children at home. Who dares make
such a statement today? The latest New York Times Style Manual tells the writer
not to use the term "housewife" and to resist using the term "homemaker" because it
is "belittling." As one psychotherapist has noted, although "1950s' culture accorded
its full-time mothers unconditional positive regard," today's "stay-at-home mothers I
know dread the question 'And what do you do?'"
In 1998, Time magazine had a cover story asking "Is Feminism Dead?" and voicing
regret that perhaps it was. Noting that only 28 percent of women said that feminism
is relevant to them, Time deplored the fact that Ally McBeal was the most popular
female character on television. Ally was an unmarried lawyer with an excellent job
in a law firm, leading the life of a young sexual revolutionary. Living precisely as
feminists encouraged women to live, she was doing exactly what her society had
socialized her to do. However she identified herself, Ally, like many women today,
played the role feminism scripted for her.
To the annoyance of Time and feminists, Ally was discontented with her unmarried
state and was more concerned with her "mangled love life" than her career.
Surprise! Although Ally was smart enough to graduate from law school, she had
apparently not yet been able to discern the connection between her pursuit of casual
sex and her unmarried state. As Robert Wright bluntly puts it in his book The Moral
Animal, "if it is harder to drag men to the altar today than it used to be, one reason
is that they don't have to stop there on the way to the bedroom."
Far from dead, feminist ideology is now incorporated within the fabric of our
society. The crucial question today is whether real manliness is dead. For if
feminism's domination of our culture is ever to be significantly weakened,
manliness must be resurrected. If it is not, women have little choice but to live by
the feminist script. Men should understand that this script is extremely demanding
of a woman and can leave very little of her left over for her husband or their
children. But is it fair to wish feminism dead? Doesn't feminism only want women
to lead whatever life they choose? Feminists claim that they simply want women to
have the opportunity to fulfill their potential without having the barriers of society
strung so tightly around their goals that women have little chance of success. These
goals, feminists will say, can include being a homemaker--solely that. But feminists
speak with a forked tongue, for the actions of their movement belie their words.
Within the memory of no one living today have the barriers of society been strung
so tightly that women could not pursue careers if they chose to. From the time in
middle school when I decided to become a lawyer (that was in 1941) until I left my
law firm to raise a family, I encountered no barriers, but only support and
encouragement. Living on the edge of poverty in the working class with my
divorced mother, I could not have succeeded otherwise.
When I entered college in 1947, I knew that women were in all the professions. The
doctor who performed my pre-college physical was a woman. Women, in fact, were
in the first medical class at Johns Hopkins University in 1890. They now are the
majority of entering students at the most prestigious medical schools. My mother's
divorce lawyer in 1936 was a woman and a mother. And the president of the bank
where I opened my first account in 1942 was a woman and a mother, Mary G.
Roebling, who said American women have "almost unbelievable economic power"
but "do not use the influence [it] gives them." Women's failure to pursue
opportunities in the workplace has always been much more of a choice than
feminists admit. The most significant barrier to a woman's market success is her
own unwillingness to constrict her maternal, marital, and domestic roles.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman--the feminist whose writings were the foundation for the
work of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan--wrote in 1898 that the
mistreatment of professional women "is largely past." "The gates are nearly all
open," said Gilman, and the "main struggle now is with the distorted nature of the
creature herself." Remember that she said this in 1898! Contemporary feminism is
grounded on Gilman's belief that a distorted nature characterizes those women who
prefer homemaking and child-rearing to marching through those open gates into the
It was this struggle to convince the homemaking creature like me of her distorted
nature that Betty Friedan took up in 1963 in The Feminine Mystique. Friedan
berated women with the fact that "despite the opportunities open to all women
now," even the most able "showed no signs of wanting to be anything more than . . .
housewives and mothers." Echoing Gilman, she complained that so few women
were pursuing careers even though all professions are open to women, since the
"removal of all the legal, political, economic, and educational barriers." Remember
that Friedan said this in 1963 before the concept of affirmative action was
Far from claiming that discrimination kept women from the workplace, Friedan
blamed the housewife's belief that "she is indispensable and that no one else can
take over her job." She was right; that is precisely how many of us did feel. Friedan
sought, therefore, to destroy the housewife's confidence that she was engaged in an
important activity for which she was uniquely qualified. Feminism's effort to re-
educate housewives as to their distorted nature and degraded status pitted the most
educated, sophisticated, wealthy, aggressive, and masculine portion of the female
population against women who generally possessed less education, wealth, and
worldly experience, who were more likely to be docile than aggressive, feminine
Thus began the contemporary feminist movement. Its founding principle was that
the traditional male role as a producer in the workplace is superior to the female
domestic role. Feminists urged women to abandon homemaking and child-rearing
as inferior activities and to enter the workplace so that women would become
independent from men and gain equal political and economic power with them. In
the words of economist Jennifer Roback Morse, a feminist who had second
thoughts, the movement chose "'Having it All' as our slogan and equality of income
as our goal," and so she says, "we embraced a shallow materialism and a mindless
egalitarianism." Morse wisely asks: "When we harden our hearts to place a six week
old baby into the care of strangers, who will moderate us?" The feminist
egalitarianism that Morse speaks of is, it should be clear, only vis-à-vis men, not
vis-à-vis other women. The movement has largely been concerned with professional
women, and it is the most elitist of ideologies. Feminists denounce the
worthlessness of homemaking and of child-rearing, yet the movement's goals
require the existence of a servant class, a lower-class infrastructure of other women
who will perform those domestic and child-rearing activities which feminists scorn.
In pursuit of their goal to drive all women into the work force, feminists waged war
on what had been the two underpinnings of our civil society, the traditional family
with a breadwinner husband and homemaker wife and traditional sexual morality.
The tangle of pathology that so many of our families have become is proof of this
war's success. One of feminism's primary tools in their war was promotion of the
sexual revolution. Because feminists correctly perceived that a woman's child-
rearing role is the greatest impediment to her career success, they encouraged
women to postpone, or even forgo, marriage and, if they did bear children, to leave
the bulk of child-rearing to paid employees. In sum, women were told to abandon
what had been, for many, the very successful "matrimonial strategy," which was to
marry young, bear three or four children, and work outside the home only until a
child was born and, perhaps, return to work once the children were grown.
The sexual revolution undermined the matrimonial strategy by encouraging women
to engage in promiscuous sex on the same terms as men. As Richard Posner
correctly notes in his book Sex and Reason, the "freer women are sexually, the less
interest men have in marriage." Since their own interest in marriage was minimal or
non-existent, feminist sexual revolutionaries urged women to abandon the ideals of
premarital virginity and marital fidelity as vestiges of discredited Victorian
morality. Premarital sex, they said, should be seen as a morally indifferent and
harmless source of pleasure.
How harmless this source of pleasure was is indicated by the fact that the United
States now has the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases and of abortion in
the Western World. 24 million Americans, for example, are infected with the
Human Papilloma Virus, an incurable sexually transmitted disease linked to over 90
percent of all invasive cervical cancers, which are the number two cause of women's
cancer deaths. Sexually transmitted diseases cause twenty percent of our cases of
infertility--an increasing and heartbreaking problem in our society that is now so
familiar to those who know women in their late 30s and early 40s desperately trying
to conceive. But this was inconsequential to the women who spearheaded the
feminist movement, only one of whom married and bore children and all of whom
rejected child-rearing as inconsistent with career achievement.
Thus, in 1965, feminist Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine,
applauded the single sexual revolutionary because, unlike the housewife, she was
"not a parasite, a dependent, a scrounger, a sponger, or a bum." In 1993, her
revolutionary ardor still afire, Brown advised women to look at their friends'
husbands as potential lovers; she never felt guilt, Brown said, about the wives who
can't keep their husbands at home. Nothing better illustrates how feminists molded
our society than a comparison of Cosmopolitan under Brown's editorship with the
women's magazines of my youth, which affirmed the homemaker's worth and the
societal importance of traditional virtues.
Our no-fault divorce regime that enables men to abandon and impoverish families
was crucial to the feminist goal. By subverting housewives' social and economic
security, no-fault enforces feminism's diktat that women must abandon
homemaking for market production. Betty Friedan explained that feminist divorce
policy purposely deprived women of alimony to force them into the workplace. No-
fault tells mothers it is unsafe to devote oneself to raising children, warning them
"that instead of expecting to be supported, a woman is now expected to become
No-fault's declaration of war against homemakers had exactly the result feminists
sought: to make women distrust their husbands and fear leaving the work force;
many women say they work only for divorce insurance. All fifty states have no-
fault divorce; only Louisiana, Arizona, and Oklahoma have now slightly modified
it. I have testified before two committees of the Texas legislature in favor of bills
reforming no-fault. Both times, the only opponents of the bills were feminist
Professor Herma Hill Kay of the University of California Law School at Berkeley,
who was one of the proponents of the ground-breaking California no-fault divorce
law, warns that reforming no-fault in order to protect women who have already
chosen traditional roles will only "encourage future women to continue to select
traditional roles." Kay concedes that "many couples still choose to follow the
traditional allocation of family functions by sex," thus creating a family in which
the wife and children depend on the husband "for support." But, says Kay, women
must learn that "their unique role in reproduction ends with childbirth" and that
"like men," they should "lead productive, independent lives outside the family." In
order to teach this lesson to women, Kay argues, society must "withdraw existing
legal supports" for traditional marriage, a goal, she says, that no-fault divorce laws
Anyone who wonders why our society so readily embraced divorce laws that are
patently hostile to the traditional family should know that the woman expressing
these views does not simply belong to a fringe group of so-called radical feminists,
but is a leading policymaker in our society. Not only was Kay Dean and professor at
Berkeley, but she was a member of the California Governor’s Commission on the
Family, A Co-Investigator on the California Divorce Law Research Project, and the
Co-Reporter of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, which means that she
drafted the model divorce law that the prestigious American Law Institute
recommends for adoption throughout the United States. The barbarians are not at
the gates; they help run our society.
Thus, at the urging of feminists, we have made marriages unilaterally revocable at
will, thereby rejecting traditional marriage and discrediting it as a woman's career.
And this is why feminists speak with a forked tongue when saying that a woman's
goals "can include being a homemaker--solely that." If marriage cannot be a
woman's career--and no-fault divorce tells her it cannot--homemaking cannot be a
woman's goal, and child-rearing by surrogates must be her children's destiny. It is
because feminists do in fact reject homemaking as a legitimate goal that they never
treat women's underrepresentation in workplaces as legitimate. Rather, they see it as
something to be deplored and corrected on the theory that if they were not
discriminated against, women would be represented equally with men at all levels
within every workplace. The assumption underlying all affirmative action for
women is that no woman willingly chooses the domestic role.
Another weapon against housewives was to marginalize them by degrading their
role. Child care, in the words of one feminist, is "boring, tedious, and lonely," and
being financially dependent on a husband is "irksome and humiliating." Friedan's
Feminine Mystique described the housewife as a "parasite" who lives without using
adult capabilities or intelligence and lacks a real function. "Parasite" became the
feminist word of choice to describe the housewife. In her famous essay setting forth
feminist goals, Gloria Steinem, the media darling, called homemakers "parasites,"
"inferiors" and "dependent creatures who are still children."
Decrying the lives of housewives as a "waste of a human self," Friedan likened
them to people "with portions of their brain shot away and schizophrenics."
Housewives are "less than fully human," she wrote, for they "have never known a
commitment to an idea," "risked an exploration of the unknown," or "attempted . . .
creativity." For me, those euphoric years when I conceived, bore, and raised my
children provided far greater opportunities to explore the unknown and exercise
creativity than did my years in the workplace writing legal briefs.
A survey of women who have left the workplace to raise their children at home
shows the success of feminism's effort to degrade the housewife. The most
frequently mentioned disadvantage of not being in the work force was not the loss
of income but the lack of respect from society. Women at home complain that the
message they are bombarded with from the media, from friends, and most hurtful of
all, from family members--even their own husbands--is one of reproach because
they are wasting their education.
Commenting on my book, a friend who is a law professor, and much younger than
I, said that she and many of the women in her generation who gave up child-rearing
for careers were sold a defective bill of goods by feminists. Many of her women
friends who are lawyers, she writes, are "simply miserable in the practice of law and
in the 'escape' jobs on the periphery." "We all engage in deception," she says, and
"that deception is the modern Big Lie that women find fulfillment in their careers,"
but "we have allowed the media to so flavor our goals and views that we continue
down a path we despise."
My message is that the domestic life is not a sacrificial life and that one's education
is never wasted--you can use it every day. My education enabled me to be a better
mother, a more interesting wife, and to create a many-faceted life out of my
domestic role. My education showed me how to find the greatest delight in the
simplest activities of daily life. These are rewards that can make an education
worthwhile. A paycheck is not the only source of value.
It should be clear that the feminist movement could have been orchestrated by
Playboy magazine: readily available sex for men without marriage; readily available
abortion to eliminate inconvenient children; and devaluation of maternal
commitment to child-rearing so that mothers would always work and never become
dependent upon their husbands. Did this movement really advance the position of
women in our society when it supported no-fault divorce, the sexual revolution, and
the glamorizing of careers at the expense of motherhood, leaving behind broken
families, mothers who are devalued and abandoned, and young women who become
the trophies--of either the bimbo or brainy variety--that advertise men's success?
Many men have enjoyed the fact of women's increased sexual availability, they
have sloughed off old wives and acquired young "trophies" under the sanction of
no-fault divorce, they have encouraged abortions--thus avoiding responsibility for
children they have bred--and they will willingly see women sent into combat to face
the inevitable rape, injury, and death. In the eyes of such men, women are not
uniquely precious individuals but only easily disposable sex objects. Contemporary
feminism taught that lesson to men.
A sea change has occurred in men who only several decades ago took pride in their
ability to provide for wife and children. With scarcely a whimper, many men
accepted the feminization of our society and capitulated to feminist demands that
impaired men's own earning abilities. Then, they too encouraged their wives to
leave children hostage to the vagaries of surrogate care and pursue the economic
opportunities, which would spare husbands from assuming the role of breadwinner.
Feminism will not die and the traditional family will remain in peril until we derail
the feminist engine of reform by killing the sexual revolution, by replacing no-fault
divorce laws with laws that protect homemakers and families, by ending
preferential treatment of women in education and workplace, and by reforming all
laws that discriminate against one-income families through requiring them to
subsidize child care for two-income families. All government initiatives designed to
help families with children must be directed to all families--not just to families that
use child care--for example, by increasing the federal income tax dependent
exemption and providing larger child credits.
But these things will not happen until a change occurs in those men who have
rejected the value of a woman's traditional role and of a man's contributions that
make this role viable. Without those contributions, what do men think will define
their manhood? If women's traditional role is expendable, then, as increases in the
number of well-educated, never-married mothers indicate, so also are men
expendable for all purposes other than sperm donor. When men who no longer
value the traditional role of either sex abandon women to fend for themselves in the
workplace, they teach women to cease valuing men. The result is a society
increasingly like Sweden's, which has the lowest marriage rate and one of the
highest illegitimacy rates and employment rates of working-age women in the
Not all women seek the passive, feminized male of feminist ideology. Some of us
consider child-rearing the most rewarding activity of our lives, and we are happy to
be dependent on a husband who enables us to stay home and enjoy all the delights
of a domestic life. We seek a man who believes that there are real differences
between men and women. We seek a man who does not expect his wife to be a
clone of himself. We seek a man who does not think that the best he can do for a
woman is to guarantee her unlimited access to abortion, to assure her the right to
fight and die in combat, and to create for her a society that expects its children to be
raised by someone other than their mother. When a critical mass of the kind of man
we seek appears, feminism will begin to die, and the traditional family will cease to
be in peril.
Carolyn Graglia is the author of Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism.
All in the Family?
By Stanley Aronowitz
This article appeared in the May 24, 2004 edition of The Nation.
May 6, 2004
Despite decades of battering by divorce and the proliferation of single-parent households,
the family remains a source of inexhaustible fascination. The topic is of obsessive, often
prurient interest, permeating every genre of popular culture, from the endless stream of
sitcoms featuring a mildly troubled or outright dysfunctional household, to pop
psychology and crime journalism plumbing the depths of the family romance to account
for murder and mayhem (not to mention the guilty pleasure many of us have taken in
following the differential fortunes of Jimmy and Billy Carter and Bill and Roger Clinton;
the tragic but fascinating Kennedy family history; and, of course, the rise of George W.
Bush--the least likely to succeed of Barbara and George Senior's kids--who overcame
mediocre school grades, multiple business failures, alcoholism, verbal incoherence and
popular electoral defeat to become President of the United States). We've gotten used to
blaming parents for the waywardness of their children, when we don't blame the children
themselves. In these stories the family is the place-keeper for society because it is the
institution that remains closest to us.
Now comes Dalton Conley's effort to explain why siblings often end up on opposite sides
of the class divide despite being raised in the same family. The Pecking Order is a fun
read with a serious intent--both a study of the family and a symptom of our fascination
with it. Conley, a New York University sociologist in his 30s, satisfies our thirst for
knowing the private lives of the rich and famous while also shedding light on the family
lives of anonymous Americans. Perhaps more to the point, his book feeds our need for
reassurance by reciting the familiar narrative of social mobility in America: In nearly all
of Conley's anecdotes, some unlikely sibling defies the social determinism of birth. Thus
Bill Clinton's rise to fame and power is an inadvertent re-enactment of that paradigmatic
American success story, Abe Lincoln's mythic overcoming of seemingly insuperable
odds. Bill's early life was marked by an absent biological father and a "bitterly jealous"
stepfather who was abusive to his mother. How did Bill escape the murky fortunes of his
brother, Roger, who seemed to succumb to the effects of their shared grim home life?
Conley suggests that given the family's severely restricted resources it was a zero-sum
game; Bill's gain was Roger's loss.
The majority of Conley's examples, however, are drawn from the lives of ordinary
Americans, and he relates their stories with a novelist's flair. (To his credit, he relegated
the inevitable essay on method to a lengthy appendix, thus preserving the book's narrative
flow.) In these accounts he seeks to challenge the two most popular explanations for
success: "It's all in the genes," and the equally determinist attribution of failure to social
conditions, particularly social class. Inequality, Conley argues, cuts broadly across the
class and occupational structure and begins at home; the way parents relate to their
children greatly influences their chance of achieving success and social prestige outside
the home. According to Conley, families set up a "pecking order" in which parents often
lavish attention on one child while ignoring or giving short shrift to the others. Although
he does not ignore the role the larger social structure plays in holding many kids back
both from academic achievement and from social mobility, Conley places most of his
emphasis on such factors as birth order--whether the older sibling has a chance to
experience her or his early years as an only child, thus receiving, for a time, all of the
parents' attention; whether the middle child gets neglected; or whether the youngest are
born far enough down the line so that their siblings have left the house and they are the
beneficiaries of an unusual outpouring of parental love and support.
Blended families: A recipe for academic
April 23, 2008 | 2:00 pm
Hey, kids: Hate your half- or stepsibling? Sure
you do. Well, here's something to like: You can now blame them for your lousy grades
and trouble at school.
A Florida State University researcher has found that teenagers living with half- or
stepsiblings have worse grades and more academic behavior problems than those living
with full siblings. Such a home life is apparently harder for boys than for girls. Their
GPAs are a quarter of a letter grade lower than their counterparts living with full siblings.
But both boys and girls in blended families have more difficulty paying attention,
finishing their homework and getting along well with teachers and students.
It's a complex issue, of course, with multiple factors affecting the behavior of all involved
- stress, conflict, ambiguous family roles, competition for parental attention, etc. And get
this: The school-performance situation doesn't generally improve over time.
But on the bright side, help is out there. Check out the the National Stepfamily Resource
Center, the Stepfamily Network, some very practical advice at Step Family Tips ... and
last (and definitely least), the lyrics to "The Brady Bunch," which the Florida State
University news release describes as somewhat unrealistic. Perhaps not. But take hope
and inspiration where you can get it, I say.
- Tami Dennis
Single Mothers and the Baby Boom
By Cathy Young
May 26, 2009
IN THE past 10 years, with my biological clock winding down and no husband in sight, I
have been asked quite a few times if I had considered having a child on my own. What
used to be scandalous is now practically a conventional life choice.
This is borne out by a new report released recently by the National Center for Health
Statistics. Nearly 40 percent of all babies born in the United States in 2007, up from 34
percent in 2002 and 18 percent in 1980, were born to unmarried women. While unwed
childbearing is much more common in black and Hispanic communities, the trend cuts
across racial lines; moreover, it is driven primarily by women in their 20s and 30s, not
teens. Should we treat single motherhood as "the new normal" or as a problem that needs
to be addressed? And what about the fathers?
For some, the growth of single-mother families is a sign of female empowerment. If
children without fathers fare worse than children in two-parent families, say defenders of
single mothers, the answer is better pay for women and better social programs. Yet even
in Sweden with its generous welfare state, a major 2003 study found that children raised
in single-parent homes were at significantly higher risk for addictions and serious
In discussions of single motherhood, men tend to be the missing piece. The fathers are
often presumed to be feckless, self-centered rogue males. The reality is not that simple.
About 40 percent of out-of-wedlock births are to cohabiting couples -- though this
statistic is not completely reassuring, since such couples break up at about twice the rate
of spouses. Many other unwed fathers offer both financial and hands-on assistance.
While there are men who cut and run, there are also mothers who choose to go solo,
sometimes forgoing child support so that the father would not seek parental rights -- or
forgoing a father by using a sperm bank. And in this area, our cultural biases tend to
favor women. In the 1994 film "Angie," the spunky working-class heroine who refuses to
marry the devoted father of her unborn child because he's too dull and limited for her is
clearly admired; it's hard to imagine such an attitude toward a man who did the same.
What Angie's decision will mean for the bond between father and child is left unexplored.
Even if most mothers had adequate support from family and community, single
motherhood would still leave a large percentage of men virtually disconnected from
family life and the next generation. And, for all the talk of female autonomy, this is
startlingly at odds with the goal of feminism, which sought equality for women and men
in both public and private life.
Today, we have two contradictory trends. Millions of fathers are involved in hands-on
child care to an unprecedented degree; millions of children have little or no contact with
their fathers. Ironically, the mother-child family unit takes us back to a very pre-feminist
idea: family and child-rearing as a feminine sphere. (For both biological and cultural
reasons, men are far less likely to parent on their own.) Male alienation is another likely
The causes of the rise in unwed childbearing are as complex as the phenomenon itself.
The economic and social pressures that used to propel people into marriage no longer
exist; even Bristol Palin, the daughter of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, a conservative
Christian, can opt out of marrying her baby's father without opprobrium. Expectations of
love and emotional satisfaction in marriage are much higher than they once were. Gender
roles are in flux. In today's economy, working-class women often have better job
opportunities than men, yet men's marital desirability is still linked to the traditional
notion of the "good provider."
Judging personal choices is tricky; while I strongly believe in the importance of fathers, I
cannot be sure what choice I would have made if children were a higher priority for me.
Certainly, many single parents do a wonderful job of raising their children and many
married couples do not. But in general, the two-parent family does work best for children,
women, and men, and marriage seems the best way to ensure it. No one wants to go back
to the day when unwed mothers and their children were outcasts. But restoring a cultural
commitment to married parenting is a goal that should unite sensible conservatives, sane
fathers' rights advocates, and reasonable feminists.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.
America is facing unprecedented attacks on the institutions of marriage and family.
Children in the U.S. are now three times as likely to grow up in a single-parent household
as they were in 1960, and over 12 million children now live with a never-married parent.
In addition, over half of marriages result in divorce – 60 percent of which involve
children. If you also consider the prospect of same-sex ―marriage‖ and same-sex
adoption, it is not long before you realize just how bad things have gotten. Certainly these
institutions are worth promoting, the question is whether the government should be
involved, and if so, what it can do.
The Bush Administration confirmed its commitment to protecting the institution of
marriage with an initiative that pledges $1.5 billion to help develop and sustain healthy
marriages. Included in this initiative is a push to modify the Personal Responsibility and
Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which in 1996 replaced the
welfare program with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a program of
block grants. The Bush Administration’s plan for reauthorization of the act includes
committing up to $300 million per year to encourage states ―to increase their efforts to
promote child well-being and healthy marriages.‖
Marriage promotion initiatives have drawn criticism from both the left and right. Some
conservative critics believe that the government should not be involved in marriage
which is a personal, private matter. Liberals feel efforts to strengthen marriage divert
attention and dollars away from the real issues – poverty, education, unwanted
American Values understands that the best way to combat the dramatic changes to the
family that have occurred over the past few decades is to nurture and strengthen it. As
Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Wade Horn has stated: ―If you feel
marriage is a social good – good for kids, good for parents, good for society – why
shouldn’t government promote it? Why should government be neutral?‖
Some of the programs and policies American Values endorses are:
Removing economic disincentives to marry or remain married in our tax code,
especially for low-income families receiving public assistance.
Reforming so-called no-fault divorce laws wherein anybody can end a marriage
simply by leaving. Changes are especially necessary when children are involved.
Public advertising campaigns that promote the value of marriage and the skills
necessary to increase marital stability and health.
Funding for schools, churches, and other community organizations to educate
people on the value of marriage, relationship skills, budgeting, parental skills
programs, conflict management and counseling, marriage mentoring, etc.
Some argue that giving money to healthy marriage initiatives is like robbing Peter to pay
Paul because it takes funding away from effective anti-poverty programs. But that is like
saying funding for the National Endowment for the Arts takes away from funding for
AIDS research. The US government already spends billions of dollars annually to address
poverty directly. Funding for the promotion of healthy marriages is an innovative public
policy response that will get to the source of many of society’s ills
Op/Ed: Infertility Technology Run Amok: Women Not Meant to
Carry 'Litters' of Children
Scott B. Rae, PhD
The recent delivery of octuplets at Kaiser Bellflower Hospital outside Los Angeles was
marked by many as a celebration and a miracle, demonstrating the wonders of medical
technology. I would suggest that it is neither cause for celebration nor a miracle. Rather
it is an example of an irresponsible use of reproductive technology.
Initially we were told that no one knew what, if any infertility technology was used to
facilitate these births. But there are only two ways a woman becomes pregnant with
octuplets—the chance of this happening naturally is infinitesimally small. In this case,
the woman in question had embryos left over from previous IVF cycles and had all of her
remaining embryos implanted at once—a highly irresponsible way of proceeding. In
general, in vitro fertilization (IVF), if done properly, is highly unlikely to produce eight
pregnancies since virtually all infertility clinics adhere to guidelines limiting the number
of embryos implanted through IVF to three or less.
Major multiple pregnancies like this one almost always result today from the use of
hyper-ovarian stimulation, similar to the procedure for harvesting multiple eggs for use in
GIFT or IVF procedures, in conjunction with normal sex or insemination with donor or
husband’s sperm. This is the little known fact about intra-uterine insemination today.
When you do the math in this procedure, the woman is releasing multiple eggs, normally
anywhere from 5-15 eggs, combined with 1-2 million sperm, and the possibility for major
multiples is a clear risk. Women sometimes opt for this method instead of IVF because it
costs much less. Of course, infertility clinics always present the woman with the option
of selective termination of some of the pregnancies. But many women, including the
mother of the octuplets, are unwilling to do that because they, correctly, in my view, see
this as abortion and have understandable moral qualms about such a procedure, especially
since they have gone to such lengths to create life.
The use of hyper ovarian stimulation with insemination leaves the woman and the
physician without the ability to control how many pregnancies result from the procedure.
This puts the woman at risk for something that she was not designed for—carrying
“litters” of children. One Arizona woman gave birth to six children almost a year ago
and nearly died of heart failure in the procedure, illustrating these risks to the woman.
Furthermore, it puts the babies at risk for something they were not designed for—being
born seriously prematurely, here about 10 weeks too early. As a result, the children will
likely face a lifetime of health challenges with exorbitant costs accompanying them. The
costs of the delivery alone were substantial, since the delivery involved, according to one
report, 46 different physicians and hospital staff. Amazingly, as of today, all eight of the
babies were breathing on their own and appeared to be doing well. But they are a long
way from being out of the woods, medically speaking. Though I support many
technological options to alleviate infertility, the one used in the creation of the Bellflower
octuplets puts both the women and the babies at risk for something they were not