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Your Smug Fecundity

Mollie Hemingway notices that the media really can’t stand fertility. Well, some people’s fertility. Excerpt:

Last week Deadspin ran six sentences and a picture under the headline “Philip Rivers Is An Intense Weirdo.” The final two sentences about the San Diego Charger quarterback were blunt:

And he’s also about to have his seventh kid. There are going to be eight people with Rivers DNA running around this world.

Ah yes. How “intensely weird” it is for an NFL player to be having his seventh kid. Except that it isn’t weird at all for an NFL player to have his seventh kid. It’s only weird for an NFL player to have seven kids with his one wife.

Take former Charger and current New York Jet Antonio Cromartie. He’s fathered at least 12 children with eight different women. In fact, when the Jets picked the cornerback up from the Chargers, they provided him with a $500,000 advance so he could make outstanding child support payments. (You can watch him struggle to name some of his children here.)

Or what about Travis Henry, a former running back who last played for the Denver Broncos? He’s fathered at least eleven children to ten different women. But yes. Philip Rivers is the weirdo.

I don’t watch pro football. I don’t know Philip Rivers from Phil Ramone. But I read this and thought, “He must be some kind of Christian.”  Ten seconds of Googling shows that yes, Rivers and his wife are faithful Catholics.  Worse, from a MSM point of view, Rivers endorsed Rick Santorum for president. History’s worst monster, this athlete!

So, why is it that the disordered fertility of black pro football players is fine by the media, but let a married Catholic man father a large family, and he’s a big weirdo? I mean, we all know the answer, but still, the question is worth thinking about because it reveals that the media don’t really care about making lots of babies, even if you make them outside of marriage, as long as you are not making babies within the framework of traditional family and religious fidelity. I’m sure Rivers’s race has something to do with it too.

This is not, by the way, what Hemingway’s piece is about. It’s about how much our culture is coming to hate fertility. Excerpt:

The media remind us regularly that the most important cultural value relative to family life is what’s euphemistically called “choice.” The choice of whether to have kids or not is held so sacrosanct that our laws permit the decision to be made many months after a new human life begins. Some even advocate extending the choice to a period of time after birth. So why the weird reaction to people receiving children as a blessing instead of fighting them tooth and nail with hormones, chemicals, surgery andscissors? Do we need some remedial courses in how babies are made? It’s entirely natural, of course, for babies to be conceived when men and women have sex. Treating the entirely expected procreation of children as something to be avoided at all costs — and an unspeakable atrocity if one has, say, three children already — would be weird even if our culture weren’t obsessed with sex at all times, in all places, in every context, at every moment.

It’s schizophrenic. The moral panic of white elites when confronted by fertile white religious people — Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Orthodox Jews — is bizarre. But the kind of cultural liberals who get all wound up against fertility when it applies to white people like themselves don’t dare say a thing to African-American people. I remember once about 12 years ago, pushing a stroller down Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, past a card table set up by a crazy old white lady who was an animal rights activists. She screamed, “Breeder! You’re killing the animals!” at every mom or couple who walked by pushing a stroller. Every white couple. I saw a young black woman coming along pushing her baby in a stroller, and I was hoping and praying that nut would get in her face about her baby, because the black woman would have slapped the pee-yoddy out of the old bag. And I would have cheered for her, too.

But the old woman didn’t say a peep. She knew. The whole fertility thing, in the sense that Hemingway writes about, is entirely about status competition among bourgeois professional class whites. Philip Rivers unnerves them because his very existence challenges them in ways they hate to consider. Antonio Cromartie, Travis Henry — they either don’t notice men (and women) like them, or like the crazy Brooklyn Heights woman, they train themselves not to see them, or to keep their mouths shut.

UPDATE: Mark Oppenheimer is a coastal liberal and the happy father of four children. Good for him! Excerpt from his piece about the joy of four:

 I hear that Italians and Spanish and Germans and Japanese are all having 1.2 children or something like that. They are becoming countries of old people. If you don’t think that’s sad, you’re some sort of zealot. What kind, I am not yet sure. I’ll let you know when I meet you.

UPDATE.2: Got a really nice letter from a reader who says he loves my stuff, but … not this post. Excerpt:

That said, your post about Phil Rivers’ “fertility” — as juxtaposed with Antonio Cromartie’s — is, well, weird. Here are just a few examples of media attention to Cromartie’s ridiculous irresponsibility:

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/years-epic-irresponsibility-antonio-cromartie-figures-life-level-041622621.html

http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/new-york-jets-antonio-cromartie-wife-expecting-twins-total-of-12-kids-8-different-women-041712

http://nypost.com/2012/04/15/its-1st-and-10-children-for-jets-cromartie/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDpWzK9c25c

In fact, Deadspin — the outfit that published the piece on Rivers — has written just a TON on the topic: http://deadspin.com/tag/antonio-cromartie

So you can’t really say that his behavior is “fine by the media.” I know you don’t watch football, and that the initial error was another writer’s, but just try googling his name — “antonio cromartie kids” is the top suggestion!

I actually agree, very much, with Hemingway’s point that Christian fertility — because of the sexual ethic it points to — is much feared and reviled by the media. (But only insofar as the media is one member of the body that is the world, whose hatred Christ warned of all those years ago — and should therefore be old news for us, no?)

What I guess puzzles me is what race has to do with any of it. Even Hemingway (who, again, was just dead wrong about the Cromartie thing) didn’t take it quite there. I only flag this because it’s instances like these that less charitable folks sometimes cherry-pick and use to label you negatively (let’s use your recent combox spat with Win Bassett as an example).

There’s more than enough to be said about the hypersensitivity of the current moment, and I’m glad you always speak your mind. But this guy, who’d like other folks like me (I’m black) to hear the wonderful things you’ve often got to say, wishes you’d swing at pitches like this a little less often.

I appreciate this letter very much, and stand corrected. I’m not a regular reader of sports media, so I didn’t realize what a big deal Cromartie’s behavior was. And to be perfectly clear, I brought race into it not to criticize minorities, but to talk about how a certain class of white person rides herd on other white people, holding them to standards that they do not hold people of other races to. Like I said, so much conversation about diversity in our culture is really about status competition among whites. This is not the fault of minorities. I saw a lot of this in newsrooms in my newspaper career, so I am hypersensitive to it, and at risk of reading it into media situations (as this story is) where it may not exist. Like I said, I appreciate this reader’s correction, especially the generous spirit in which it was issued.

UPDATE.3: Wait a minute — it just occurred to me that some of you think I’m bashing black people in this post. Umm, no; I’m bashing (some) white people for their double standards on fecundity. And I’m bashing white Brooklyn Heights people for accepting this insane abuse from a white woman standing on the street screaming at them and their babies. They ought to have slapped her for saying those horrible things. My guess was that the working-class black woman pushing her stroller up the street wouldn’t have accepted that kind of vicious disrespect — not because, as some of you seem to think, blacks are inherently violent, but because no person with a sense of honor would just walk on by and accept being demeaned in that capacity, if they could effectively protest it. You forget that I come from a shame/honor culture. A woman restraining herself in the face of another woman’s hysterical abuse is not necessarily something to be proud of, at least not in my culture. Of course, a man laying a finger on the screaming harridan would have brought shame on himself for having done so.

I’m not saying it’s Christian or anything. I’m saying it’s what I wanted to see happen.

UPDATE.4: This from an NYU student is illuminating:

I’m writing in response to your recent post about fertility in the media. Your comments making fertility about class and culture aren’t entirely off the mark, but I was disappointed that you made this about “status competition among bourgeois professional class whites.” For one thing, you imply “white elites” don’t shame people of color for having lots of children — but they do all the time! (See also the “welfare queen” stereotype.) But more importantly, I think you’ve missed the mark on what roles race and class play in the politics of fertility. It’s not about white liberals being scared of offending black women (although that might be part of it), it’s the fact that fertility and religiosity aren’t monolithic among each of the cultures you’re describing.

Recently in my journalism 101 we finished reading Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, which hits at exactly this tension. LeBlanc is a white liberal reporter who moved in with a minority family in the South Bronx for ten years, resulting in this book. Most of the women she writes about have four or five children over the course of the book, and entire chapters are dedicated to the medical and financial struggles associated with that motherhood. The book’s a must-read for insight into the culture of urban poverty, but the chapters that discuss the main subject Coco’s decisions regarding parenting are invaluable in this particular conversation. Coco has many children for a lot of reasons — first, simply because she wants to and loves her kids; secondly, because having kids with her man increases her credibility and importance in his eyes, as well as her claim on his love and his resources (not so different from ages past in all social strata); and thirdly, because she does not have access to birth control or sex education.

But there is plenty of criticism of Coco. It doesn’t come from white liberals, like LeBlanc, because they don’t have to deal with the struggles she does and don’t feel it’s their place. And they’re damn right. The criticism comes instead from Coco’s man Cesar, as well as her sisters and neighbors, who ask how she’s going to afford all those kids — especially her youngest daughter, whose medical troubles bring nothing but debt and anxiety to the family — while her man is in jail and welfare only goes so far. She makes do, and she never regrets having any of her kids. Her decisions don’t exist in a religious vacuum; the family is implied to be Catholic, but the book unfortunately doesn’t explore that. Her “smug fecundity” is criticized plenty, it just doesn’t come from the same people who criticize Philip Rivers’ family.

I suppose my point is that criticism of fertility isn’t exclusive to any social group, it is just informed by different factors. Making this an explicit cultural-class struggle is inappropriate because it doesn’t imagine these different families’ situations complexly enough, and it certainly doesn’t lend any agency to the women of color or poor women whose children’s value is not based at all on their “choice” either. And of course, this discussion ignores the fact that families who embrace fertility for religious reasons aren’t always white.

For what it’s worth, Random Family is an excellent read even if you aren’t convinced by this particular facet of the book. LeBlanc’s exploration of what it’s like for women to come of age in one of the nation’s most poor and troubled neighborhoods is an important read not just for journalism students who want to know how to write that sort of thing, it’s important for anyone who intends to make policy for — or more importantly preach the Gospel to! — those who don’t share the privileges above the poverty line.

I appreciate this response. In my experience, I have heard the “welfare queen” insult many times, but never from a white liberal, always from white conservatives. I don’t believe there is necessarily anything wrong with criticizing people who choose to have more children than they can support without government assistance. My concern in this whole post was people — and in my experience, they’re almost always white, and liberal — who criticize people from solid two-parent families who can afford to have big families. I’ve known more than a few families like this, and they all have to put up with random rude comments from people who are offended by their large families. When my wife was 24 years old, she was pregnant with our first, and we lived in Manhattan. She got scowls all the time from white women. A white woman walked up to her in Bloomingdales, looked down at her belly, and spat, “Babies having babies!” and stalked off. Without fail, the *only* people who would offer their seats to her in the subway were black men. I think there’s a lot to be critical of in the way poor black women tend to have more babies than they can afford, but I much prefer to openness to life of black American culture to the bizarre stinginess so many materially successful whites have toward people of their own class and culture who wish to have more than two or three kids. — RD]

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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