Thursday, November 15, 2007

A woman's place

-- by Dave

A lot of times I regret leaving Idaho. Sometimes I don't.

Like when I read this Idaho Statesman piece about a bunch of legislators who are trying to bring back the good ole days when a woman's place was in the home, led by a fellow named Steven Thayn:
Thayn said more two-parent homes and fewer working mothers could be both a social and economic boon. The Emmett Republican sees the breakdown of the traditional family structure as the root of societal ills such as drug abuse, crime and domestic violence.

That's why, as chairman of the Idaho House of Representatives' Family Task Force, he and others are considering controversial solutions such as repealing no-fault divorce laws and finding ways to encourage mothers to stay home with their children.

"In one of the articles I read, quite a large percentage of mothers really do want to spend more time at home, and if that's the case, what can we do to help them?" Thayn said.

Now, in the Idaho I grew up in, this was the common-sense response to this sort of thing:
One such working mother, Mandy Hagler, drops her 5-year-old daughter, Riley, at school every morning before running to an internship or to a class at Boise State University. On weekends, she works in retail to pay for her education and to support her daughter.

Hagler, 26, spoke at a task force meeting in Boise, but doesn't think the task force listened. She thinks Thayn and others on the task force, trying to define what a family should look like, are pegging families like hers as part of the problem.

"I don't see the government's place in defining what the ideal family is," she said.

As the story goes on to explain, Hagler was expressing the deep libertarian streak that runs through Idaho's history and heritage and common sensibility. As one local prof puts it, "We have this libertarian strain in this state that government should stay out of personal business," he said. "Well, family's about as personal as it gets."

Of course, it goes almost without saying that these paleoconservative attitudes about "family" also reflect a distinctly male insecurity about working women and changing social conditions. It's not surprising that it's mostly men talking about making these changes (which are detailed in a sidebar on the Statesman piece, and really are worth reading on their own).

But as always with these things, there's even a bigger agenda afoot here, to wit, the War on Divorce:
Thayn believes that reducing divorces could save the state $200 million because the crime rate would drop if divorces dropped. He thinks making it more difficult to get divorced would help families avoid what he sees as the pitfalls of non-traditional families.

The task force endorsed a proposal to end no-fault divorce, which allows a couple to divorce without proof of fault.

"Divorce is just terrible," Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, said. "It's one of Satan's best tools to kill America."

You know, I just hate it when these guys make satire obsolete.

In any event, there are still even a few sensible Republicans left in Idaho who, fortunately, are keeping these loons at bay:
Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, a proponent of early childhood education and stronger day-care regulations, has been at odds with Thayn. Schroeder said stronger day-care regulations, including mandatory background checks for providers, are about keeping children safe from pedophiles and that research shows early childhood education helps children.

"Basically, we have in my opinion, and I stress in my opinion, a group of people who are living in the past," he said.

"Basically, they are people who think women ought to stay home and take care of the kids."

Thayn does not shy from this view, calling pre-kindergarten education a "free babysitting service" and suggesting that early childhood education, day-care and Head Start may hurt families by keeping mothers away from home.

"It seems to be (proponents of such programs) just assume that mothers have to work, and they're not really asking the question, ‘What can we do to help them stay home?' " he said.

I wonder if it ever crosses Thayn's mind that, hey, maybe it could be dads who stay at home and raise the kids.

In my all-too-brief half-decade as a stay-at-home dad, it was one of my more troubling observations that a lot of the undercurrent among at least some of the mothers of resentment, and a general view of childrearing as drudgery, was actually a product of prevailing social attitudes like Thayn's: that it's naturally the woman's responsibility in a family to be the chief child-care provider and overseer -- that this expectation has a dehumanizing and devaluing effect on what it is they do. Certainly it seemed to me to rob some of them of the joy of parenthood.

It seemed to me that if more men were doing the babysitting, there'd be a lot more appreciation for how hard it is, and also for how rewarding and great it can be -- and most of all, for how really important it is. I think men, women and children alike would all benefit, not just from the attitudinal shift but from the positive familial results.

Perhaps more to the point, it's not merely the attitude that women are expected to fulfill this task, it's this notion that only the "traditional" dual-heterosexual family, is capable of providing children a healthy and stable home environment. There are a lot of people for whom that model just isn't valid, but who are fully and provably capable of doing the job too.

The problem is, they start out with two strikes against them -- as do women in general -- because of the prevalence of attitudes like Steven Thayn's.

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