The decline of the male economy — and of fatherhood — arises less from the empowerment of women than from the government’s usurpation of the family.
By Stephen Baskerville
In “The End of Men,” the cover story of the July/August Atlantic, Hanna Rosin describes “how women are taking control of everything.” Suggesting that “the economics of the new era are better suited to women,” Rosin believes the fair sex are winning the struggle for the survival of the fittest. In what is apparently cause for celebration, she writes, “three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men” in the ongoing Great Recession. “The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance.” She contends that the economic crisis “merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years.”
The Atlantic used the same issue to ask, “Are Fathers Necessary?” Pamela Paul cites a widely publicized study purporting to prove that fathers are harmful in rearing children and that lesbians do it better. The study is politics camouflaged as social science—its authors acknowledge that the parenting virtues they extol are defined “in part in the service of an egalitarian ideology.” Their message echoes Rosin’s: within the home, as in the national economy, men are unreliable at best and pathological at worst. The Atlantic assures us that the decline of men is the product of impersonal forces against which we are powerless to respond, even if we wished to—which apparently we do not.
Rosin, whose essay is #1 on the magazine’s “Biggest Ideas of the Year” list, certainly identifies an important trend. But the phenomenon she describes is the result not of inexorable social forces but of conscious political decisions. The end of men is the consequence of the most profound trend in public life today: the sexualization of politics and the politicization of sex.
The emergence of sexual politics has elicited strikingly little critical treatment. Yet it represents the most radical change in the nature of government in modern times. The economic effects are only symptoms. More far-reaching are the vast shifts in political power at every level. Feminist ideology pervades every item on the public agenda: not just “women’s issues” like abortion but everything from gun control (think of the “Million Mom March”) and DWI laws (Mother Against Drunk Driving) to foreign policy (Code Pink). “Women have the most to gain and the most to lose in the climate crisis,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed during the Copenhagen conference. “The impacts are not gender-neutral… . Women feel the consequences first.” Not an issue in public life has not been “gendered.”
The transformation of society wrought by sexual politics is most readily apparent where Rosin begins her article: with what she calls the “matriarchy” of the inner cities. Government policies produced this matriarchy: the men who are “increasingly absent from the home,” as Rosin writes, have been removed by welfare agencies and courts. The women are “making all the decisions” in inner-city households because the men have been forced out and government has usurped the role of father and husband, providing protection and income directly to the women and children. This produces in urban America not a “working class,” as Rosin terms it, but a class of government dependents whose living arrangements have been engineered by state officials.
As single motherhood spreads from the lower to the middle classes—among whom it is growing fastest—so does Rosin’s matriarchy. In the suburbs as in the cities, it is promoted by government machinery originally justified as helping the poor: child-care services, care for the elderly, public education, and publicly controlled healthcare.
Rosin insightfully observes that “the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.” This is an economic bubble about which G.K. Chesterton long ago warned. “The whole really rests on a plutocratic illusion of an infinite supply of servants,” he wrote, “Ultimately, we are arguing that a woman should not be a mother to her own baby, but a nursemaid to somebody else’s baby. But it will not work, even on paper. We cannot all live by taking in each other’s washing, especially in the form of pinafores.”
Like the recently burst bubbles in banking and housing, this one is a creation of state regulation. It reveals the trajectory of the new sexual politics: not toward eliminating gender roles—which the welfare state has not done and can never do—but toward politicizing and bureaucratizing feminine ones.
While elite feminists did assume previously male occupations, many more women have entered the workforce in professionalized versions of traditional homemaker roles. This has transformed childrearing and other domestic tasks from private family matters into public, communal, and taxable activities, necessarily expanding the size and power of the state and leading to the creation of vast bureaucracies to oversee public education and social services.
These are precisely the professions now being expanded by the Obama administration’s massive stimulus expenditures. The effect is to amplify the intrusion of the state into the home—indeed, the displacement of the home by the state. For as feminists point out, the feminine functions were traditionally private. Professionalizing feminine roles has therefore meant institutionalizing in government bureaucracies responsibilities that were once characteristic of private life. The politicization of children and the usurpation of parental rights under the guise of child protection are the clearest manifestations of this.
Fathers have been marginalized, and their lives are ever more directly administered by the state. They are not simply “absent,” as Rosin writes—they are increasingly likely to be under the control of the judicial and penal systems. Rosin’s article provides a telling example of a particularly state-feminist form of punishment now meted out to men: therapy.
None of the 30 or so men sitting in a classroom at a downtown Kansas City school have come for voluntary adult enrichment. Having failed to pay their child support, they were given the choice by a judge to go to jail or attend a weekly class on fathering…. This week’s lesson…involve[d] writing a letter to a hypothetical estranged 14-year-old daughter named Crystal, whose father left her…
What is clear from Rosin’s account is that the therapy, like the penal system, has been designed less to punish the alleged crime than to psychologically recondition men. The class leader
grew up watching Bill Cosby living behind his metaphorical “white picket fence.” “Well, that check bounced a long time ago,” he says. … He continues, reading from a worksheet. What are the four kinds of paternal authority? Moral, emotional, social, and physical. “But you ain’t none of those in that house. All you are is a paycheck, and now you ain’t even that. And if you try to exercise your authority, she’ll call 911. … You’re supposed to be the authority, and she says, ‘Get out of the house, bitch.’ She’s calling you ‘bitch’!” … “What is our role? Everyone’s telling us we’re supposed to be the head of a nuclear family, so you feel like you got robbed.” … He writes on the board: $85,000. “This is her salary.” Then: $12,000. “This is your salary. … Who’s the man now?” A murmur rises. “That’s right. She’s the man.”
This is not law enforcement. It is government indoctrination.
Rosin neglects to mention that none of the men in Kansas City has been convicted of any crime. They have not run afoul of police, prosecutors, and juries through the normal criminal-justice process. Instead, they are subject to welfare officials who exercise quasi-police and quasi-prosecutorial powers. They are brought—in what is sometimes described as an “expedited judicial process”—before a judge (or a black-robed lawyer known as a “judge-surrogate”) who may spend a few seconds glancing at some documents before entering orders to evict them from their homes, separate them from their children, confiscate their earnings, and sentence them to re-education or incarceration, all without the benefit of due process.
Attorney Jed Abraham calls this system of bureaucratic adjudication “Orwellian”: “To [enforce] child support, the government commands … a veritable gulag,” he writes in From Courtship to Courtroom. Bryce Christensen of Southern Utah University agrees: “The advocates of ever-more-aggressive measures for collecting child support … have moved us a dangerous step closer to a police state.”
Preventing crime and aggression is evidently not what state-feminist ideology is all about: at its heart is economic redistribution and political power. Near the end of her article Rosin notes, quite approvingly, that “violence committed by middle-aged women [has] skyrocketed.” This is taken as a sign that “the more women dominate, the more they behave, fittingly, like the dominant sex.” Rosin references an ultraviolent Lady Gaga video that “rewrites Thelma and Louise as a story not about elusive female empowerment but about sheer, ruthless power. … She and her girlfriend kill a bad boyfriend and random others in a homicidal spree and then escape in their yellow pickup truck, Gaga bragging, ‘We did it, Honey B.’”
Rosin and her allies are more subtle—and most importantly, they have coercive state power at their disposal—but the bragging sounds remarkably similar.
Stephen Baskerville is associate professor of government at Patrick Henry College and author of Taken into Custody: The War Against Fatherhood, Marriage, and the Family.
If you enjoyed this article, support us by making a tax-deductible donation to The American Conservative.