I wish such conservatives would take a look at Europe. Paid maternity schemes have operated for many years in Europe. We therefore know both the philosophy behind these schemes, and what they are leading toward.
What is happening in Europe is not an extension of choice for women to look after their children, but the imposition by the state of a single new model of family life, one which is openly anti-maternal and which seeks to create a genderless model of parenthood.
Why change the family?
There is a logic to the European innovations. The Europeans, like the West in general, follow a liberal orthodoxy. The starting point for this liberalism is the idea that our status as humans is contingent: that we only become fully human when we are self-determining (when we are self-created by our own will and reason).
This means that the more independent and autonomous we are, the more fully human we become. However, it appears that some people are more independent and autonomous than others. Therefore, there is a human inequality which must strike liberals as an unbearable injustice, as it seems to exclude some people from being treated as fully human.
Liberals have decided that women are an oppressed group lacking in such a status, as their role as mothers is biologically determined, rather than a uniquely chosen path, and as they are financially dependent on a husband. Therefore, gender equality requires that women be liberated from the maternal role so that they are free to pursue a professional career to the same extent as men.
To achieve this aim, liberals have to argue that the traditional maternal role of women isn't natural, but is an oppressive construct, one which is "discriminatory", "sexist" and a product of mere "prejudice".
Liberals also need to find a new way to raise children. Part of the European solution is to massively fund childcare centres. However, to care for babies up to a year old, women are provided with paid maternity leave, so that the cost of women staying at home is "socialised" and connected to their professional life. Women are no longer to be provided for privately by a husband within a family.
The second stage
But this is not the end point. If women are taking even twelve months off work, it means that they are not, in terms of liberal assumptions, equal as humans to men. It is still their careers, not men's, which are being interrupted by "sexist" assumptions that it is women who should mother babies.
So the Europeans have now advanced to a second stage in which there are attempts by governments to persuade (or coerce) men to take an increasing part of the maternity leave. It is hoped that men will eventually take half, so that there is no distinction between the parental role of men and women.
Which brings me to exhibit A. In February 2007 the EU brought out a paper titled "Bringing Men to Equality and Worklife Balance". It includes a "Decalogue for men" with the following preface:
Men, it's up to you: equality starts at home! The traditional division of gender roles is no longer relevant in a modern society looking for more equality and justice.
Note that there is no promotion of choice here. The traditional option is being firmly discarded on the basis of liberal ideas about equality and justice. The idea of distinct gender roles is considered immoral.
Men are encouraged in the decalogue to take up paternal leave because:
More freedom and autonomy lead to a better mutual understanding ... Your independence should not only be economic and professional but also domestic ... Do you believe in freedom and justice? Put these values into practice at home ... Become a role model for your children. Help release the next generation from old-fashioned stereotypes. You will set the basis to create responsible citizenship from your example.
Here we have the usual liberal concerns with autonomy and independence. Note too the implication that those of us following a more traditional pattern of family life are not good role models and are irresponsible citizens.
Later (p.17) traditional gender roles are associated with violence:
The eradication of gender-based violence will foster a good working environment and allow people to work as a team. If an organisation does not respect the autonomy of its staff or does not show public support for such autonomy, its silence may lead to suspicions of its collusion.
There is another section of the paper titled "How to boost cultural change". It states:
Most women ... in European society today ... work outside the home ... This deep change has been accompanied by public policies and appears as a response to women's wish to be financially independent. It is a great advance.
Nevertheless ... men have not taken up their share of responsibility in family life ... If the prejudice remains that women are still responsible for most of the domestic and family tasks, how could they possibly devote themselves to their careers as much as men do?
Achieving equality between men and women ... poses a great challenge to traditional gender notions held by men and women and questions individual behaviours as well as culture.
The paper goes on to list various European media campaigns designed to challenge masculine behaviour. For instance, in France a new men's magazine was launched: "Robin - the magazine of the sensitive male". In Latvia a daily newspaper organised a discussion under the title "Men are not crying".
Next, in the section of the paper titled "Paternity Leave," we are told:
Childbirth is a human fact that particularly affects working mothers, as they are the ones who usually interrupt their careers to take care of the new born. But this is not a role they have to undertake, as fathers are perfectly able to do it as well.
The arrival of a child is recast here as an "interruption" to a woman's life, which she might like to avoid, particularly as there is no special motherly bond to her baby, with dad being a perfectly adequate substitute.
Companies across Europe are beginning to implement such ideas about genderless parenting. Microsoft in Norway has a "Daddy package" in which women are encouraged to take shorter leave, whereas men are "requested" to take six months. Executives are expected to be "role models" in following the package.
Further suggestions made in the paper to achieve the EU's aims include tax reductions and priority in public contracts for organisations which comply with the EU model.
What, though, if liberals are wrong in all this? What if our status as humans is not contingent but is invested in us, as the sum total of all that we are, including our distinct identities as men and women?
In this case, there would be no inequality and no injustice in men pursuing a masculine role within the family and women a feminine role. Instead, such roles would be thought of positively as a means to self-fulfilment for men and women.
Do Australian women consider traditional roles to be unequal or unjust? According to a recent Australian Institute of Family Studies survey the answer is generally no. The survey found that "Australian parents seem comfortable in traditional gender roles" and that:
A focus on breadwinning rather than childrearing by fathers was not seen by mothers as a lack of participation in fatherhood, but reflected their role as a good father.
In the eyes of mothers who strongly believed that small children needed their mothers to be at home with them all of the time, a partner who 'worked hard' and was a 'good provider' enabled them to stay home and fulfill this crucial mothering role - and in their eyes fulfill a crucial aspect of fatherhood.
It seems reasonable to conclude from this that governments ought to be aiming to make it possible to support a family from a single wage. This requires not only the achievement of certain wage rates, but also an effort to restrict the costs of housing, education and taxation and to provide extra assistance for families through tax breaks or special payments.
This, at least, ought to be conservative policy. Those who remain wedded to liberal autonomy theory will probably continue to think it moral to support paid maternity leave, but conservatives ought to know and reject the radical consequences of such a measure.