You bloody traitor, Kathleen Parker. You weak-willed, belly-showing traitor.
What would make a young socialist feminist so mad? How could Kathleen Parker so enrage her?
Penny Red is upset that Kathleen Parker wrote a column in defence of men and fatherhood. Parker's column is worth reading in its entirety, but it ends on this note:
As long as men feel marginalised by the women whose favours and approval they seek; as long as they are alienated from their children and treated as criminals by family courts; as long as they are disrespected by a culture that no longer values masculinity tied to honour; and as long as boys are bereft of strong fathers and our young men and women wage sexual war, then we risk cultural suicide.
In the coming years we will need men who are not confused about their responsibilities. We need boys who have acquired the virtues of honour, courage, valour and loyalty. We need women willing to let men be men – and boys be boys. And we need young men and women who will commit and marry and raise children in stable homes.
I think this is exceptionally well put. Penny Red, though, intensely dislikes the quote because she thinks it is right that men are marginalised, that culture disrespects and dishonours masculinity, and that men and women engage in a sex war.
Here is how Penny Red responds to Kathleen Parker:
Women have been raising children alone for centuries untold, and, since feminist liberation, we have been enabled to provide for ourselves and our children on a more basic level. If that alienates men from their traditional roles of breadwinner and head of the table then too bad. I was raised by a single mother who was also a part-time lawyer; it did me no harm whatsoever, and I fully intend to be one myself one day.
... So, precisely in what way do children ‘need’ fathers - or is it, in fact, fathers who need children? ... The plain fact is that now that women are allowed to financially provide for themselves, we no longer need husbands to raise children effectively, if, indeed, we ever did. What women could do with, fundamentally, are wives –other people, male or female, to share the load of domestic work and money-earning in a spirit of genuine support and partnership. When more men can stomach seeing themselves in the role of 'wife and father', then we’ll have a basis for negotiation.
This is bad enough, but it gets worse. Penny Red goes on to state that a child is only the mother's - that the father has no rights at all when it comes to a child. She is willing to balance this view by stating that the father is therefore under no obligations, financial or otherwise, to the child:
Why is it unarguable that a man should support his offspring? With state help, most women are perfectly capable of doing so on their own ...
... Before they are their own, my kids will be just that - mine - and my money will pay for the nappies and school shoes.
So sorry about your balls, guys, but before they are their own these babies are ours, and they will remain ours whilst they are born from our bodies. We would be only too delighted for you to help us – genuinely help us – with the work of raising the next generation, but fatherhood is a privilege, not a right. If you’re truly man enough to be a wife and father, bring that to the table and we'll talk.
How should men respond to this? There are a couple of ways I think are unhelpful. The first is to get angry and resentful toward women in general. Not all women are Penny Reds. In my own neighbourhood of Melbourne there are many genuinely lovely young women who still represent a more traditional womanhood. The best comeback to the Penny Reds is to find such a woman and live happily with her.
However, it's not helpful either to entirely ignore women like Penny Red. She represents a trend within modernism which has real influence within our culture. If we take the attitude that it's most masculine just to shrug off women like Penny Red, we allow the situation to get worse. A real advantage we have as men is the ability to apply ourselves in a concentrated way to a problem in order to solve it. We shouldn't leave it to sympathetic women like Kathleen Parker to take on the problem of feminism. It should be our aim to work patiently and perseveringly to entirely rid our culture of the negative influence of feminism.
How do we do this? There are at least four ways to argue persuasively against Penny Red's politics.
The first is simply to point out the factual errors. On average, children raised by single women don't do as well as those raised in more traditional families. Nor do most single mothers manage to do well financially on their own. The provider and protector roles of men are not yet redundant, in spite of the role of the state in supporting single motherhood.
The second approach is to point out just how unliveable Penny Red's politics are. Feminism has reached the point at which feminists themselves are rarely able to follow their own principles in practice. For instance, Penny Red declared early in her post that she intended to become a single mother. However, later we learn that she has left herself considerable wriggle room:
I love my partner deeply and would be thrilled to bear a child who carried half of his genetic material. If we are still together at the time my child is born I will be only too happy for him to help me raise it, for him to share legal guardianship and for my child to call him ‘dad’. And this is not because it’s his moral or genetic right, but because I’m lucky enough to have met an emotionally and domestically literate man who I think would make a wonderful parent. But I want him around because he's a fantastic person, not because my kids need a male parent. And if he doesn't want to be involved, I'll manage.
So she does have a male partner and she would be "thrilled" to bear his child and she thinks he would make a "wonderful" parent and she would like her child to call him "dad". But the fact of his being male is just ... well, fortuitous. What seems clear is that Penny Red does want to live with the father of her child, in spite of all her arguments that men are superfluous.
Which leads on to the third problem with her politics. Penny Red, despite wanting to live with the father of her child, has undercut her own position in such a relationship. If men and women were really to believe the arguments that she makes, then how could a woman keep a man in a long-term relationship? If a man no longer believes his role as a father is a necessary one, and if he believes that he has no obligations to a child which, after all, is his wife's and not really his, then a woman is going to have to work overtime to keep him around. She is going to have to really exert herself to keep him happy.
To put it another way, when a man believes that his children are his own in a significant way, and that their welfare depends on his masculine role within the family, then he is much less likely to leave in a crisis. A woman in such a relationship can relax a bit, knowing that her husband has reasons to stay.
The final approach is the most important. What Penny Red has done is to apply, in a radical way, liberal autonomy theory to the lives of women. If the key aim in life is to be autonomous, then why wouldn't a woman assert that her child is her own and not someone else's? Why wouldn't she want to negotiate a role for the father on her own terms? Why wouldn't she claim that fathers are unnecessary and that she as a woman can manage on her own?
So if we really want to undermine feminism in Western culture we have to attack at the root of the problem - by decisively rejecting liberal autonomy theory. This means rejecting the idea that individual autonomy is the overriding, organising principle in society. We need to confidently assert other goods as well, including (as Kathleen Parker does) what is good for the survival of our own tradition.