I’ve joked in the past that it can be impossible to tell the difference between Traditional Conservatives and Feminists, but a Slate DoubleX article on women deliberately choosing single motherhood quoted by Steve Sailer and Vox Day has me rethinking this.
Theoretical Opposites: Feminsts vs Family Values Conservatives
In theory when it comes to issues of the family and traditional morality we have two polar opposite groups. On the one side we have feminists who see traditional marriage as a relic of the past and a constraint on women. On the other side we have the family values group which longs to return to the traditional family model at the expense of feminist goals/gains. This is the theory, in practice the two groups are surprisingly similar in their response to our current explosion in out of wedlock births (chart source):
Both feminists and family values conservatives tend to see the explosion in out of wedlock births as a problem, and both are certain that women are being forced to choose broken homes over marriage because men aren’t worth marrying. To both, the women of our modern feminist era are desperate to commit for life and honor traditional marriage vows, if only there were men fit to marry. The feminists at Slate’s DoubleX lay it on thick when describing Lily, a pregnant woman uninterested in marrying or even remaining with the father (Carl) of her soon to be born child (emphasis mine):
When Lily looks around at the available men, they don’t offer what she is looking for. Lily, just like better-off men and women, believes that marriage means an unqualified commitment to the other spouse. When you marry someone, you support him in hard times. You stick with him when he disappoints you. You visit him if he ends up in jail. And you encourage him to become an important part of your children’s lives. It’s just that Lily doesn’t believe that Carl is worth that commitment. Nor does she believe that she will meet someone who will meet her standards anytime soon, and the statistics back her up.
This is of course pure (and laughable) conjecture on the part of the authors, as Lily has done nothing to even remotely suggest she believes in the commitment of traditional marriage. Why do they assume that a woman who is deliberately having a child out of wedlock has a higher level of commitment to marriage than women who manage to avoid giving birth out of wedlock? If Lily is the face of women who believe in traditional marriage, what would a woman who rejected marriage look like?
However, as I noted the basic assumption about the explosion in unwed mothers in the DoubleX article is shared by the leading members of the family values movement. Focus on the Family is the leading organization in the United States representing the family values point of view, and their Director for Family Formation Studies has come to the same conclusion. According to Director Stanton, unwed mothers haven’t rejected the constraints of marriage, they are responding to a sudden and mysterious deficit in men. Stanton makes this case in his book Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity:
If women can’t find good men to marry, they will instead compromise themselves by merely living with a make-do man or getting babies from him without marriage. Unfortunately, this describes exactly the new shape of family growth in Western nations by exploding margins…
Women want to marry and have daddies for their babies. But if they can’t find good men to commit themselves to, well… Our most pressing social problem today is a man deficit.
Pastor Mark Driscoll makes the same case (emphasis mine):
…if you’re a single gal hoping to get married someday. You’re like: “Seriously, that’s the candidate pool? You’ve got to be kidding me.” That’s why 41 percent of births right now are to unmarried women. A lot of women have decided: “I’m never going to find a guy who is actually dependable and responsible to have a life with. So I’ll just get a career and have a baby and just intentionally be a single mother because there are no guys worth spending life with.”
As similar as the two sides are in assuring us that the horde of mothers who reject marriage aren’t really rejecting marriage, there are subtle differences in their arguments. Not surprisingly, the feminists at Slate celebrate the changes feminism has put in place to create a world where Lily sees unwed motherhood as a viable option:
…socioeconomic, cultural, and economic changes have brought white working-class women like Lily to the point where going it alone can be the wiser choice. And the final irony: The same changes that have made marriages more equitable and successful among elite couples have made it less likely that marriage will look attractive to Lily.
Later in the article they reiterate that as feminists they would oppose any marriage related policies which would restrict Lily’s independence:
Does society have an interest in helping couples like Lily and Carl stay together? Probably, but not in the way many policymakers have proposed. Those who would promote marriage seek to do so largely by taking away Lily’s independence.
This is where the distinction between feminists and the family values leaders can be spotted. While feminists celebrate the radical way we have reordered marriage and our society to make the explosion in unwed motherhood happen, family values leaders simply deny such a change occurred in the first place. Because of this, the feminists are far less contemptuous of men than the family values crowd. Feminists like the ones at DoubleX see the explosion in out of wedlock births and want to petition for some fine tuning to social policy, especially with regard to economic opportunity for young men. In contrast, the family values group lays the blame for the feminist destruction of the family squarely on men, arguing (implicitly) that feminism would work if it weren’t for weak men screwing everything up.
The elephant in the middle of the room.
What neither the feminists nor the family values proponents are willing to address is that the decision to move from a marriage based family structure was made in the US several decades ago. Prior to the 1960s unwed mothers could not count on child support or welfare. Most states had a patchwork of bastardy laws in place, but even here the laws varied and there was a clear stigma on illegitimacy. Prior to the 1960s, a woman like Lily couldn’t count on the state funding her irresponsible decision to skip marriage, nor could she count on cultural leaders, including the most ostensibly “conservative” ones, publicly stating that her decision to skip marriage on her path to motherhood was not only understandable but wise.
Carl isn’t available to give his own side of the story, but at best he chose to knock up an irresponsible woman. But while Carl is responsible for his own bad choices and the harm this will do to his child, he isn’t the reason we are watching the continued destruction of marriage. The truth is that neither feminists nor family values conservatives can stomach the limitations on Lily’s independence which a return to a marriage based system would impose. The only difference is that feminists admit this outright, while conservatives manage this through denial and redoubling their efforts to make men find a way to make feminism work.