Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Biology rules?

Yvonne Roberts, in a recent defence of feminism, tells us that,

In a society truly moving towards the demolition of stereotypes ... fathers would be just as likely as mothers to spend a baby's first year at home ... As it is, today's dominant narrative is ... that women ... allegedly much prefer home and hearth and hubby at work. Biology rules, OK - a view that is daft not least because it excludes men from engaged fatherhood.

There's an important question to ask here. Why would Yvonne Roberts so object to the idea that women are more biologically predisposed to look after babies? What is it in her belief system which makes such an idea objectionable?

The answer, I believe, has to do with the basic principles of liberalism. Liberals believe that to be fully human we have to be self-created by our own reason and will. This means, though, that we are not supposed to be influenced in an important way by the fact of being born male or female, as this would make biology rule, rather than will and reason.

Therefore, Yvonne Roberts doesn't want to believe that women are more naturally inclined than men to look after babies. She won't accept this, because to someone who thinks within a liberal framework, it seems too much like a biological destiny.

What happens though if we don't start out from liberal first principles? Then we are free to accept that there are in fact natural differences between men and women (something which science has proven beyond a doubt anyway). There would no longer be an ideological obstacle to women acting to fulfil their feminine nature, nor men their masculine nature.

One last point. Note how Yvonne Roberts so entirely rejects the traditional male role in the family, that she entirely excludes it from "engaged fatherhood". According to her, men can either remain unengaged within the family, or else take over the motherhood role from their wives.

This grossly underestimates what men have traditionally contributed to their families, whether by working to provide for their families, or by providing emotional and physical security, or by socialising their children.

It also makes men dispensable within the family. If men are only useful if they agree to take over the female role, then why couldn't you just have families with female adults?

It's important to contest this trend which says that men are only engaged as fathers when they stay at home to look after babies. It's a view which is ideologically inspired and which undermines any necessary role for men within the family.

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