Thursday, September 21, 2006

Feminist Family Values

It is nothing short of despicable to hide bigotry behind the fig leaf of the language of morality. "Feminism is destroying the family." "We oppose gay adoption because we care about children." The worst part of it is that the stance has been universally picked up by the media. To stand up for the rights of people and demand equal treatment has somehow become characterized as standing against morality.

But then there's the real world...

Researchers Dana Shawn Matta and Karman Knudson-Martin have a study out in the journal Family Process entitled "Father Responsivity: Couple Processes and the Coconstruction of Fatherhood" in which they look at fathers' responsiveness to their children, how much of an active part of their lives they are, how seriously they take their parenting role. What they find is either fascinating or banal based upon whether or not you actually live in the reality-based community. It turns out that across the board, regardless of socio-economic, racial, or geographic factors, there was a correlation in their sample between how connected a man is with his children and his views on gender roles.

Those husbands who were the most responsive to their children also were the ones who believed most strongly in gender equity in terms of division of household labor, who most valued the work of their wives, who were the most attuned to their own emotions and those of their wife and kids, and who were the most likely to make choices about work that privileged their family.

On the other hand, those who displayed low degrees of responsivity to their children were those who saw themselves as the head of the household and decision-maker because of their role as the primary breadwinner, who often displayed anger and aggression, and who thought their wives had it easy because all they had to do was to stay home with the children. These folks frequently cited inflexibility of work schedule as reasons to be removed from the family and that a man ought to expect this as part of being a man. Yup, it turns out that those who talk loudest about "family values" tend to actually value time with their family a whole lot less.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Progressive attitudes tend to make men better dads. The feminist revolution was GOOD for kids. Imagine that. Who would have thought such a thing?

I have always been particularly annoyed by the "a child must have a male role model and a female role model" line that comes from this mistaken view. Good parenting is consistent parenting. If mommy and daddy -- or mommy and mommy or daddy and daddy -- aren't on the same page and sending competing messages, this ambiguity is bad for kids. The idea that as the father, I am supposed to be parenting in a masculine fashion unlike the namby-pamby, touchy-feely care they receive from their mother has never made sense to me. Both parents need to model, teach, and enforce good character, empathy, love, and care. Traditional gender roles do not dictate good parenting, it is an impediment to it.

So feminists, put aside the mommy wars for a moment and mark the victory in the daddy war.