In the traditional family our sex does matter: there are distinct and complementary roles for men and women as husbands and wives and fathers and mothers.
It is a form of family life that liberals cannot easily tolerate. Liberals think of individual self-determination as the highest good, but our sex is not something we can choose for ourselves. This leads to the idea that our sex should be made not to matter in family life.
Liberal societies therefore have shifted toward an ideal of a single, unisex parental role, based on the traditional motherhood role.
This is one of the ways that liberalism is anti-paternal. The convergence into a single, unisex role is done at the expense of fatherhood.
Sara Ruddick expressed this idea clearly in her book Rethinking the family. She declared that she looked forward,
to the day when men are willing and able to share equally and actively in transformed maternal practices ... On that day there will be no more 'fathers,' no more people of either sex who have power over their children's lives and moral authority in their children's world ... There will [instead] be mothers of both sexes.
Note that Sara Ruddick not only wants there to be “mothers of both sexes” rather than fathers and mothers, but that she associates fatherhood negatively with “moral authority”. That is because paternal authority is unchosen and therefore violates the liberal ideal of autonomy - a second way in which liberalism is anti-paternal.
She’s not alone in pushing men to adopt a more maternal parenting style. James Garbarino, the president of an institute for the study of child development, has expressed the view that,
To develop a new kind of father, we must encourage a new kind of man...we need to ask, "Why can't a man be more like a woman?"
Similarly, Diane Ehrensaft in Parenting Together has endorsed the idea of men and women "mothering" their children together and Andrew M. Greeley would like society to administer a "dose of androgyny" to men and "insist that men become more like women".
I’m reminded too of the Nescafe advert which ran on Australian TV and which included in its jingle the lyrics:
You can be mother when you are a man ...
Open your mind you know that you can.
What is the logical consequence of believing that there is only one unisex parental role based on motherhood tasks?
It means that the male role within a family becomes less necessary. If men have a distinct role as fathers, i.e. if they contribute something different to their wives, then they aren’t easily displaced.
But if the male role is no different to the female one, then their role might be helpful but it isn’t necessary. This is a third way in which liberalism is anti-paternal.
Englishwoman Laurie Penny has seized upon the decline of a distinct male provider role to inform men of exactly this point:
...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...
So, precisely in what way do children ‘need’ fathers?...The plain fact is that now that women are allowed to financially provide for themselves, we no longer need husbands to raise children...
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...If you’re truly man enough to be a wife and father, bring that to the table and we'll talk.
She is saying that children no longer need fathers – and if liberalism is correct about a unisex role then she is right. If men and women are no different, and have no different role to play, then why logically would children need a father in the house?
Penny Laurie is telling men that as their role as a father is no longer necessary they should aim to be one of the wives of either sex in the home. In doing so she is being consistent in applying liberal ideas about unisex parenting.
Another liberal who is radically consistent in applying the theory is Professor P.Z. Myers. He very much supports the idea that the male and female role within the family should be a unisex, interchangeable one.
He was therefore critical of Archbishop Nienstedt who asked,
What will happen to children growing up in a world where the law teaches them that moms and dads are interchangeable and therefore unnecessary?
The archbishop is making the same point that I made previously, that if the role of fathers is interchangeable with that of mothers then it becomes unnecessary and so the presence of fathers is thought to matter less in the family.
Professor Myers’ ominous reply was this:
I think a world where moms and dads are interchangeable in their roles and responsibilities in child-raising would be a fine place to live. Aside from nursing (and again, biologists will fix that someday, too)...
He so much wants parenting roles to be interchangeable that he hopes that men can be genetically re-engineered to be able to breastfeed children.
That is the logical extreme to which a visionary scientist like Professor Myers is willing to take the idea of a unisex parental role.
One critic of the liberal view of the family is the American writer David Blankenhorn. In his book Fatherless America he argues that men should not abandon a distinctly paternal role.
How does Blankenhorn explain the push toward a new fatherless family?
He explains it, as I do, in terms of autonomy. He believes that there are people who see socially defined roles, such as those of father and mother, as restrictive. These people believe that they are freeing individuals by replacing such socially defined roles with self-determined ones.
Blankenhorn quotes as an example of this the views of the very liberal Mark Gerzon. Gerzon celebrates the new family on the grounds that:
Couples may write their own scripts, construct their own plots, with unprecedented freedom...a man and a woman are free to find the fullest range of possibilities. Neither needs to act in certain ways because of preordained cross-sexual codes of conduct.
“Writing your own script” is liberal-speak for rejecting what is predetermined (or, as Gerzon puts it, “preordained”) in favour of what can be self-determined. Gerzon considers this to be an “unprecedented freedom”.
Blankenhorn recognises that this vision of freedom is part of a reigning orthodoxy:
In many ways, it is a bracing, exhilarating vision, bravely contemptuous of boundaries and inherited limitations, distinctly American in its radical insistence on self-created identity...It is the reigning ethos of much of contemporary American culture.
But it is not a vision that Blankenhorn can accept:
I dispute it because it denies the necessity, and even repudiates the existence, of fathers' work: irreplaceable work in behalf of family that is essentially and primarily the work of fathers.
I dispute it because it tells an untrue story of what a good marriage is. In addition, I dispute it because it rests upon a narcissistic and ultimately self-defeating conception of male happiness and human completion.
...androgyny and gender role convergence reflect the ultimate triumph of radical individualism...it is the belief, quite simply, that human completion is a solo act. It is the insistence that the pathway to human happiness lies in transcending the old polarities of sexual embodiment in order for each individual man and woman to embrace and express all of human potentiality within his or her self...Now each man, within the cell of himself, can be complete...
This idea, so deeply a part of our culture, is fool's gold. It is a denial of sexual complementarity and ultimately a denial of generativity...Especially for men, this particular promise of happiness is a cruel hoax. Like all forms of narcissism, its final product is not fulfilment but emptiness.