Thursday, February 10, 2005

Making mothers of both sexes

The Melbourne Age newspaper is on the warpath. It is a war against traditional, masculine fatherhood.

In the past four days The Age has run three major articles calling for men to lay down their briefcases so that they might change more nappies.

Why this special plea to men to do less paid work? As I outlined in some detail in my article on The Old Father, liberals don't like the idea of traditional gender roles. Such roles are inherited, rather than being chosen by our own will and reason, and are therefore thought of by liberals as being an impediment to individual freedom.

So liberals think it's important that we throw off traditional fatherhood and motherhood roles. Instead there is to be one gender-neutral "parent" role, based on hands-on motherhood tasks.

That's why Sushi Das, in her Age article, asserts that,

In time, employers and governments will have to stop basing their decisions on the backward-looking model of man-as-breadwinner and woman-as-child-rearer, and move towards a new model where men and women are seen as workers and parents.

See - we are no longer to be fathers and mothers, but simply "parents" and "workers". Our sex has been cut out of the picture. It is no longer meant to matter. Which is why it's ironic that Sushi Das, in an attempt at emotional persuasion, appeals to Australian men's sense of manhood to make the change. She ends with a special plea to men: "Now is the time for courage ... It's time to be a man."

This is a fantastically ludicrous argument. We are being told that we can show our manhood by abolishing a most important facet of it, namely a distinctively masculine fatherhood.

In the second Age article, Natasha Campo argues, in orthodox liberal fashion, that we will be liberated by the abolition of traditional sex roles. She defends the feminists of the 1970s as follows,

Women's liberationists such as Anne Curthoys argued that women's liberation had to be synonymous with the liberation of mankind generally because role division according to sex harmed both sexes by locking men into the workplace and women into the home.

The third article describes the views of Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward. She so much wants to achieve an androgynous model of parenting that she thinks the Government should consider running special "relationship programs" to achieve it.

Like Sushi Das, she also pulls out some emotional "persuaders" to bolster her case, including the claim that women work in total two hours a day longer than men, and that this is causing high divorce rates and low fertility rates.

Her claim about longer female working hours should be received with some scepticism. I've seen quite a few survey results on this issue and they all showed that men and women worked very similar hours when paid and unpaid work was combined.

Quite a few surveys actually show men working slightly longer hours than women. For instance, in 1993 an Australian Bureau of Statistics study found that among employed people with children women spent on average 40% of the day on paid and unpaid work compared to 42% for men.

Perhaps this explains why most women are reasonably content with the division of household labour. For instance, in 1996 a researcher from the Australian National University, Dr Janeen Baxter, found that only 3.8% of women who did more housework than their husbands considered themselves "not at all satisfied" with the situation.

Pru Goward seems to recognise this resistance of women to the idea of unisex roles within the home. She insists in her Age article that "Women also needed to change their belief that they were better at housework and childrearing than their partners".

Yet if women are stubbornly traditional, just like men, it seems unlikely that the male commitment to breadwinning is a major factor behind divorce and fertility problems.

Ultimately, the call from the political class for motherhood and fatherhood to be abolished is an ideological one. It is an attempt to radically remake us so that we fit in better with an abstract concept of individual freedom.

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