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Women as means to an end

By skepticlawyer

A few days ago, Don Arthur drew my attention to the latest ‘rebuild the busted GOP from the Ground Up’ tome, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam‘s Grand New Party: How Republicans can Win the Working Class and Save The American Dream. I spent today treating Blackwell’s as a library and read about half of it (you’ll be pleased to note that I did, in expiation of my sins, spend a considerable sum on other books). This book is immensely irritating. I was going to write a review, but can’t in good faith do so since I’ve only read half the sucker. I can, however, quote someone else’s review – one with which I substantially agree. Libertarian feminist Kerry Howley nails why I found the half I read so irritating:

I don’t think I am overstating the R&R position when I say that my friends would like to return us to a more traditional and less pluralistic concept of family life. Through social and tax policy, they would privilege heterosexual two-parent families, fund marriage promotion programs, encourage the stigmatization of single parenthood, subsidize motherhood among married women, increase taxes on the childless, and so on. In short, they would structure incentives to encourage women to use their bodies in the one way most appealing to social conservatives.

This position is not wholly without statistical motivation. Children do better on average, along a variety of dimensions and across all income groups, when raised by both of their biological parents. Poor children are more likely to be born out of wedlock, and those that are born to married parents are more likely to see their parents divorce later. But as women have spent some time trying to establish, they are in fact distinct from children. The class of women is also conceptually distinct from the class of mothers; while most, but not all, women will become mothers within their lifetimes, the years spent actively caring for small children will comprise only a small percentage of her total lifespan. Even if it were possible to improve the lives of children by enforcing reactionary gender norms, it would be wrong.

Memo to conservative social engineers: using free citizens as a means to achieve your preferred ends is immoral. No ifs or buts about it. It was immoral when ‘progressives’ did it in pursuance of their grand vision of the common good and group rights. It’s just as immoral when you do it in the name of helping teh kiddies.

Read the whole thing

13 Comments

  1. conrad
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Why not go the full hog like Singapore, and pay graduates to have more children too (with a free brown uniform for each child)?

  2. pete m
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    “working families” is spreading!

  3. Posted July 22, 2008 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    they would privilege heterosexual two-parent families, fund marriage promotion programs, encourage the stigmatization of single parenthood, subsidize motherhood among married women, increase taxes on the childless, and so on. In short, they would structure incentives to encourage women to use their bodies in the one way most appealing to social conservatives.

    Sounds like the Howard govt.

    The days of the compulsory white picket fence, meat n three veg blah blah are gone guys. Get over it.

  4. Posted July 22, 2008 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Ruddles is into it, too – although no Australian politician goes this far; he’d be electoral chopped liver if he did.

  5. Posted July 22, 2008 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Kevvie’s one of those areas where Graeme’s right. He is a Stepford Husband. He’s almost as irritating as Beazley was.

    Speaking of Graeme he’s busy busting kilt-wearing Scotsmen in the nose in the hope that one of ‘em is me. :)

    Good luck. I haven’t worn a kilt since I was a lad.

  6. John Greenfield
    Posted July 23, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    they would privilege heterosexual two-parent families

    Whenever I see “privilege” used as a verb in the context of a Culture War argument I reach for my revolver.

    It’s up there with “the Other”, “problematic,” “objectification,” and “male gaze”.

  7. John Greenfield
    Posted July 23, 2008 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Oh and let’s get a few rounds ready for “transgress” and “subvert”.

  8. Posted July 23, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    She’s using it in its economic context, where it does indeed have practical policy implications. Not everything is reducible to meaningless culture wars psychobabble.

  9. Jules
    Posted July 23, 2008 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Need to hear some thoughts on a couple of questions. Is Economic Coercion illegal in Australia? In the situation where a corporation is almost holding a private citizen to blackmail.

  10. Posted July 23, 2008 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    It depends on context. There’s such a thing as ‘misuse of market power’ under the Trade Practices Act, while ‘duress’ and ‘undue influence’ have long been a part of the law of contract (common law). I can’t say much more than that without sliding into the provision of legal advice, which both LE and I swore we wouldn’t do when we started this blog.

  11. TerjeP
    Posted July 24, 2008 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Isn’t coerced child support about “using” men (predominantely) to give kids a better outcome? Isn’t compulsory education about forcing parents to do stuff that gives kids a better outcome? Isn’t child care benefits and family tax benefits about using taxpayers to give kids a better outcome?

    I have not read the book but there seems to be a long tradition of using adults for the sake of the kiddies. Women (ie lots of them but not all) seem to like it when the state forces other people to contribute to the well being of their kids or even kids in general. They seem to make substantially more noise when it is suggested that the state should force them to contribute more themselves to the well being of their own kids.

    If you have kids I do think that there is an argument pertaining to duty. Whether the state is required to enforce that duty is another matter. It is one of the few areas where I think positive rights (ie for the child) have some currency. I still tilt towards liberty, however kids are not adults.

    Just sayin.

    p.s. Looking after young kids full time is somewhat akin to living in a combat zone. Even if your kids are the beautiful well mannered creative type (ie not the ones that super nanny visits). If you don’t like kids my advice is that you shouldn’t have kids.

  12. John Greenfield
    Posted July 24, 2008 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    SL

    In this case, economics IS culture. Her argument is pure Culture War. I don’t have any gripe with that, it is just the language that grates like nails down a chalkboard – “privileging,” “social conservatives,” “reactionary gender norms”.

  13. John Hasenkam
    Posted July 26, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t coerced child support about “using” men (predominantely) to give kids a better outcome?

    Under the Stage 2 scheme is was all about saving the govt money. The non-custodial parent was often left with a pitiful small amount to live on. That’s why the govt moved to joint custody, which helps solve the finance issue but is probably hell on many kids – can you imagine constantly changing homes?

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