Ecclesiastes managed to get himself a whole book in the Bible. At the top of the hit list of his most enduring prophesies was “There is nothing new under the sun.” As clever as these words once sounded, all they boil down to nowadays is that Ecclesiastes was a man with a man’s conceits – who lived a long time ago in an epoch with rudimentary patent laws. By the twentieth century his signature ancient verity got eclipsed. The sun peeped out and saw new things.
For the purposes of this chapter Ecclesiastes will be treated as a man who wrote a book which was honored as one of the most important books in human history. Until recent events. When popular attitudes nullified it. The Jewish Publication Society’s Masoretic translation of the book called ‘Ecclesiastes’ begins: “The words of Koheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Known to many – doubtless including his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 1 1:3) – as King Solomon. His mother-in-law problems were lost to written history.
In bygone times men were men and woman were women. Men toiled in the fields trying to grow stuff. Women stayed home and got pregnant. That arrangement applied to everyone. OK not everyone. But no one came up with a more popular arrangement. So the sun rose and set in the same way for what seemed like forever.
Until mischievous thumbs unbalanced the scales. Many minds found ways for men to stretch their labors to produce more stuff per unit of work time – think the Industrial Revolution and Adam Smith. Families migrated from farms into cities – where the men got jobs in factories. Men were able to provide regular meals, garb and hovels for their families regardless of good or bad growing seasons.
Women caught on to the changes. Young unmarried populations of girls found jobs in factories too. But those job stints hit a wall. After their hormones kicked in the young women reverted to being stay-at-home serial mommies – the same fate as their foremothers.
Some Western women excused themselves from history’s time honored life plan. Very few at first. Measurable percentages by the beginning of the twentieth century. Specialized occupations that required training and credentials attracted more and more trail blazers of Pocahontas’ gender. Many times at the cost of traditional family formation – which by degrees seemed less attractive [double entendre intended]..
Ecclesiastes was swept out of the top influencers lists by the latter third of the twentieth century. It was not enough that women enrollees were in the majority in some university departments. Powerful voices – sometimes emanating from the throats of women university presidents – demanded special privileges to compensate for history’s past confinement of women. That was new. Shovels of dirt were thrown on Ecclesiastes’ grave to make sure his once-famous prophesy stayed out of circulation.
Feminist tides break in waves. The late 1960s-early 1970s turbulence was confident enough of its influence on history to prescribe a ‘new normal’ for women. Staying at home to take care of the kids was so last millennium. Getting a job – or better yet a career – was the new paradigm.
I had many roles that scaled from trivial to sizable in initiating newness during those years.
Mayor John Lindsey of New York appointed Thomas Hoving as Parks Commissioner in 1965. The Commish was quite adept at getting people in droves back into NY parks. In 1967 his successor August Hecksher II grabbed public attention by announcing that his agency would sponsor a mass wedding for a hundred couples in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Controversy ensued. Some people confused the city’s mass wedding with similar wholesale weddings conducted by a muscle-bound religious group. The New York Times editorialized. They were pro Hecksher.
My on-and-off-for-five-years college sweetheart and I were fixing to take the Big Plunge about this time. The opportunity to be in the middle of a raging public controversy was reminiscent of our over-the-top college proclivities. We also couldn’t ignore the freebies – free traditional white wedding gown to keep, free tux rental, free super-strength-paper maid of honor dress, free honeymoon trip and more. We applied. Not a lot of other couples did. When the auspicious day arrived only nine pairs survived the winnow.
The ceremony was the human interest story of the day. It was broadcast live on a network of news radio stations. And otherwise covered by media wall to wall around the world.
The pioneer alternate news weekly Village Voice sent a reporter. During a station break a few moments after the judge pronounced us, the Voice reporter sidled over to my new bride and asked “What’s it like being Mrs. [my birth family name]?” “That’s her over there” pointing at my mother. She announced to the world that marriage wouldn’t rip her away from her maiden name – something which was exceedingly rare in those days. I was cool with that.
That taking-your-husband’s-name-defying trick would barely be a low calorie appetizer for Ecclesiastes. We soon turned up the heat to a higher temperature.
In the late 1960s many New York women with leftist family pedigrees bonded. I remember taking a phone call from Gloria Steinem inviting my wife to an organizing meeting of the National Organization of Women – NOW. We were first name with all the New York-based feminist leaders of that generation. I do mean all. They usually were in our 24 foot long living room twice a year for our sangria parties. That was the same room in which
1) my first wife conducted the consciousness raising sessions which were the core of her book Woman’s Fate;
2) we hosted Susan Brownmiller at our parties – and to many cozy game sessions with her then-beau Kevin (dredging up the right name is a real test of my memory);
3) we interviewed Kate Millet and Germaine Greer days before their respective influential books Sexual Politics and The Female Eunuch hit the bookstores;
4) we hosted Bernadette Devlin on her first night in New York. She fled Northern Ireland with only one set of clothes. Despite their size difference, Bernadette borrowed and wore three of my first wife’s dresses for the rest of her US tour;
5) we held Marxist study group meetings which included two of the top aides of Congresswoman Bella Abzug. Certified red diaper babies. One of whom warned me never to work for a Progressive;
6) Off topic: We hosted a fund raiser for candidate Charles Rangel – who won – then went on to be re-elected as a Congressman from 1971 to 2017. And a fund raiser for a Haitian political group – which introduced me to my new favorite, Babancourt rum.
There was one man’s name on New York feminist organizations’ mastheads. Warren Farrell got a chuckle when his wife Ursi stayed home as he absented himself to go to women’s lib gatherings. I was acknowledged in his book The Liberated Man: Freeing men and their relationships with woman – Berkeley 1993 [originally 1974] in the same sentence in which he acknowledged Toni Morrison.
In the late 1960s early 1970s my string of university-based research and teaching jobs paid our nut. My first wife endured her union organizing job for about a year – toward the end of which we witnessed Martin Luther King Jr address the membership. Add his sidekick Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick to the list of luminaries who had a cup of tea in our living room.
Then the writing bug bit my then-wife hard. Free lance writing for the East Village Other and other others was not the turnpike to riches. She kept her eye on The New York Times though – the biggest journalism ambition in town. She wet her toes with a couple of book review assignments. To her everlasting chagrin she discovered a career-limiting handicap – she couldn’t master essay-type long form articles.
We hung out at the Lion’s Head pub – where my first wife’s godmother Jean Seidel and her husband Leon were part owners. In its day this was the favorite tippling dive of the ink-stained class – including just about all the big name newspaper and magazine columnists in New York. It was the real headquarters of the Norman Mailer-Jimmy Breslin mayoral campaign. Breslin deputized me with a breadstick to try to wean Bernadette Devlin away from her far left socialist scoliosis. Mission not accomplished. I chased her around New England and Belfast. But never spoke alone with her.
My first wife got a full-time job editing a union newspaper. It was a challenge to conjure up interesting captions for the grip and grin photos depicting union officials shaking mitts with politicians.
Her big break was landing an assignment from the New York Times Sunday Magazine to explain the rumbling rebirth of women’s lib. Media was still calling them ‘bra burners.’
Her case of essay-writing phobia became an acute condition. Fear of the blank page conquered her after a few months. She gave up. This would have been a perfect writer-topic match. Alas.
She shared a literary agent with another newbie with writing pretensions. Me. I was in the earliest stages of putting together a psychotherapy practice – so whatever writing ambitions I nursed were otherwise subordinated. But then the magazine’s royalty would have represented almost a fifth of my income that year. So what the hell. If Warren Farrell could do it so could I.
My rough draft started by tossing the bra burner myth into the sand bucket. I ventured into trying to sell a new set of social arrangements. Wives with at least one foot in the working world would be more stimulating mates than their older sister dedicated diaper changers. And wife’s income couldn’t hurt, I reasoned. A well-rounded contributor to the family would be every working man’s dream. Yadda yadda yadda. The article’s plot, such as it was, was designed to appeal to men – the rock in the path of change which in the early 1970s hadn’t yet been moved.
I started writing about how women occupying places in the job market would eventually be an issue for men. In my mind there was a limited pie of well-paying jobs. If women took more that their theoretical fair share of these positions it might hurt some men.
NO NO NO insisted my wife. Women want what they want, and if men’s egos get bruised, to hell with them. I was engaging in old think. She could barely see me in the rear view mirror as she whizzed down the new think highway. I wanted to be rid of some blemishes of history’s past. She wanted a future which my imagination hadn’t yet embraced.
A ditty from my childhood:
The centipede was happy quite
Until a toad in fun one day asked
Pray, which leg goes after which?
Which worked his mind to such a pitch
He lay distracted in a ditch
Considering how to run.
[variation on poem by Katherine Craster (1841–1874) in Pinafore Poems, 1871]
I lay distracted at my desk. I thought I got it. But didn’t. To my optician I was nearsighted. To my wife I was short-sighted. My mind wasn’t sufficiently tuned into the pitch I set out to broadcast.
I retired young as a pinch hit writer. Here I was using my typewriter to write about my life – times a few million in the future. At considerable peril to my neck. But my first wife’s correction punched a hole into my high flying Hindenburg. O the humiliation!
The better part of my discretion told me to keep my incomplete thoughts to myself.
Add an unspoken personal-is-political note: wives eclipsing their husbands’ incomes was a nifty dream. Maybe some wives of other men could pull off that trick. At my wife’s pace – despite my fervent support – I might totter into my grave before the big bucks ka-ching happened for me.
When I entered the-late-1960s-early-1970s wave of feminism its focus was on two issues: the exploitation of women within marriage. And righting the economic balance of power between women and men – which mostly translated into getting women into jobs away from the crib.
Society had to face a heap of attitude problems hindering working women. Initial effort was directed at re-shaping the employment battlefield – to make it more welcoming. Squeeze out unctuous terms of endearment like “honey” “babe” “dear” “sweetie.” Adopt “Ms.” No more “Mrs.” – implying subordination in marriage to “Mr.” Create clean white blouse employment – which might incidentally push some men down the ladder. Message to husbands: stop opposing abortion – and do the dishes.
The ideal for newly-liberated women was to ‘have it all‘ – described as an attainable vibrant balance between work and family.
Family includes the kids. What are parents to do about their offspring? Hmmm. The message got problematic.
Think about the eternal Nature-Nurture debate. Work is assumed to be in men’s Nature. The rule “By the sweat of thy brow…” is so old that it’s almost impossible to imagine what things were like before the Book of Genesis was codified. Training for work – like apprenticeships and schools – is practically the very definition of Nurture. Ergo: working men had Nature and Nurture in their blood. Women and taking care of the kids had historically been the no-think one two Nature-Nurture punch. Along marched mid-twentieth century feminism. It’s high-minded task was to claim that with the right Nurture women can and will eventually tap their otherwise recessive employment-eagerness gene. Nature just needs to be sculpted with the right modern hand.
OK. If feminism is about equality – and just about everything women and men do can be equalized with the right Nurture regardless of Nature – who does the diaper changing and midnight feeding? Can men have it all too?
Feminist literature was always very strong on women and outside-the-home paid labor. By the end of the 1970s feminism revised itself. Whatever was defined yesterday can be redefined today.
Paid out-of-the-home work for women started as a friendly suggestion. A decade later feminists didn’t just point to the front door. They feverishly stigmatized stay-at-home moms. They glorified women as economic units in the workplace. A World War II propaganda poster displaying a woman in machinist’s clothes flexing a bicep became a popular centerfold.
Some men heard the clarion call of feminism and deliberately set out to be stay-at-home househusbands. But there were no news magazine covers to honor these gender pioneers. They were more likely to be seen and treated as losers. The 1983 movie Mr. Mom got that drift. Dad – played by Michael Keaton – couldn’t get anything right in a ha ha ha way that some people consider comical. A movie titled Mrs. Dad would have been a bigger smash hit.
The US Census Bureau kept track of these inflections. Counted all together there never were that many stay at home Dads. Somewhere between two and three percent of households with married fathers. Not a trend that attracted hungry advertisers. Nor caused any grandmas to fear they’ll never see the grandkids again.
Opposition arose well before this trend climbed to the height of three percent of marriages with children. Some people didn’t think it was right that Daddy wanted to play Mommy. Organized political forces did their best to keep Daddy-at-home percentages in the subbasement. What this meant was that while some women’s groups advocated for change in the way family members function, other groups were saying No Way. No one preserved a scorecard of which groups won which innings over the course of the game. I am unaware of any time any organized pro-work-outside-the-home feminist groups exerted significant public effort to try to rein in any anti-stay-at-home-fathers faction. That’s called “trying to have it both ways.”
Higher education changed profoundly as the latest wave of feminism washed in. By the 1980s women enrolled in higher education institutions in truly massive percentages. By the early twenty-first century women were in the majority in many enrollment figures. In quite a few fields of study women’s numbers were dominant – and pulling away. Which meant that many women were on the inside track to get prestigious positions – and earn the big bucks. More money than many unenlightened men would earn for sure.
One sub-category of the book and magazine industry kept returning to the mantra that “women can have it all.” The official answer was always Of Course. The answer that rarely got published was Are You Kidding Me?
Decades of exposure to all levels of compensated labor proved beyond a shadow of doubt that women can compete with – and sometimes surpass – men. That part of the “all” – as in have it all – issue answered itself nicely. There is another part. Human beings share a task with other living creatures: preserving their species over time. Also known as having and nurturing babies. Oops. That issue hasn’t worked out so simply for women / mothers.
Kids have the capacity to yank unwilling parents home. Even great career success doesn’t exempt parents from bumping into brick walls. Take your pick of reasons:
>> sometimes earlier, sometimes in adolescence the kids put up a fuss, get rebellious, abuse substances, fail school, smartphone themselves to oblivion – or just plain get lost in life;
>> gnawing parental guilt for being more available for work than for the kids clogs some minds;
>> work might be under control. Yet it leaves a hollow feeling. In the end selling more collar buttons doesn’t satisfy the need to make life meaningful;
To cure the nasty bumps on heads after colliding with brick walls a common folk remedy emerged. Moms ditched their careers to stay home with the progeny.
Having it all wasn’t working out as the ‘experts’ promised. There wasn’t supposed to be any crying in women’s liberation. What went wrong?
“Marrying up” wasn’t new even in Ecclesiastes’ day. One of the benefits of being a wealthy – or even just a passably well-off – man was the possibility of chasing and catching a less well-off woman. Or maybe it’s the other way around. One of the benefits of being an attractive woman – attractive in any of many dimensions – is the possibility of catching a wealthy or better-off man.
Fathers smartly learned to mouth all the right words. A mere decade or two of inculcation trained fathers to claim their places as part of the solution. But very few Dads saddled up their [pick your color] horses to ride to the rescue of their damsels in distress. As working mothers rose higher and higher in the career ranks the percentage of working fathers who transitioned back to the home to take care of their kids – happy or troubled – never budged much. Ninety-six or -seven percent of the time it was mothers – not fathers – who spent the overwhelming majority of face time with the – happy or troubled – young ones.
Maybe the glaring statistic that career mothers – not career fathers – were pulled back to the home to try to deal with family problems is testimony to modern-day marrying up. Numbers said that even after a decade of beating the women’s liberation drum Dad’s income was enough to sustain everyone. Mom’s income – nice but meh.
Or maybe Hubris molested Nature and Nurture. Maybe with the right coaxing mothers could be equal to fathers as economic machines. But maybe – even with all the wholehearted coaxing of the recent wave of feminism – fathers cannot be equal to mothers as Mothers. People can put the words “mother” “father” and “equal” in the same sentence. But behind the equalitarian speaker’s back everyone is snickering.
Gender equality goes beyond making parents equal at the kitchen table. It also means equality on the job. Even after about five decades of the latest wave of women’s liberation – at the time of this writing – there are occupations where gender distributions are unashamedly skewed – including occupations where strength and safety are not issues. If I sat on a committee evaluating future employees who happen to have children I would consider it vital to know the gender distribution of the prospects’ domestic help. How many male nannies did they employ? Maybe asking this unadorned question would run into legal / confidentiality issues. Then ask employment agencies their gender distribution history filling domestic / child care / nanny jobs. How far have we come?
For a few years I frittered away time on social media commenting on gender equality tweets. When a sob sister complained about how women tended to be on the losing end of gender employment decisions I would ask about the writer’s sympathy for unemployed male nannys. Not many tissues were dampened.
I engaged in a long conversation with a mother who claimed to be offended by my suggestion of full employment for male nannys. She said my idea was dangerous. How could a potential employer know in advance which male nanny prospects were safe and which were camouflaged pedophiles? I knew from my therapy practice that not all workers in the child care field are paragons of virtue. In the conversation with this doubter I didn’t try to argue statistics – eg how many male nannys would be dangerous vs how many female nannys are dangerous. My response was to observe that her position meant she didn’t believe women and men are fundamentally equal. If so, where and how does she draw the line? What does her definition do to the contemporary call for gender employment equality?
A few days after losing a decision about a procedural issue in NY Supreme Court I was sitting on the bench at my club facing the men’s shower stalls. No shower curtains. A friend told me the offending Supreme Court judge was standing in the altogether before us. The club gave free memberships to some politicians and judges – including a former mayor – to play the influence and prestige game versus competing clubs. The friend nudged me to give the wet judge a piece of my mind. Nah, his decision was minor and not a big enough deal to me. Let it ride.
Upstairs at the bar I discussed the judge with one of my love interests. Her attention wandered away from my plight when the fully dressed, dapper judge appeared. She took an instant fancy. Her newly aroused interest suggested a brush with the law. Both a public and a private brush. In all our days and nights after this shower-day schmooze she never in any way revealed any news about any ‘trial’ with His Honor. I deduce from her silence that she didn’t reach her intended climax with him.
The post 1960s wave of feminism flew under the stirring banner of gender liberation. Events have taught this author that the most recent crusade hasn’t spread liberation’s benefits evenly. At least one gender has suffered an almost complete reversal of liberation.
Societies are wondrous things. They have many venerable ways to dole out rewards and punishments, guilt and shame, favor and opprobrium. And just when you think a given society has reached a workable plateau BOOM they flip the page on everyone.
There once was a time when parents were encouraged to bond with their children. It was fine to be a father back then. As long as they “did their duty” fathers didn’t get bothered. But in the 1960s-1970s that whole shared social construct dissolved like sugar in simmering water.
What did courts do in these days when a child rebelled and didn’t visit father? This Family Court judge engaged in magical thinking.
On November 3 1994 the lawyers discussed getting a therapist to facilitate visitation restoration. The Family Court judge riffed “I think that’s the best way to approach it…. Maybe [our son] can have a session or two before the next adjourn date, he might be willing to see his father without making it a terribly wrenching event. I just don’t want to make the oppositional behavior even worse is my primary concern.” As if a freshly-hired therapist can in one or two 50-minute hours turn the “oppositional behavior” of the previous two and a half years into a bowl of ice cream.
Later when a NY Supreme Court judge heard our case he asked what I wanted the court to do about our son’s skipped visitations. As described above, I recognized I had little leverage over an alienated high school kid who hadn’t spoken to me for more than two years. So I had no answer. Other judges in other parent-child cases take on the same “what am I gonna do?” pose as our Supreme Court judge. Making it seem as if the question of how a court can restore some semblance of a child-father bond is unsolvable in the real world.
That’s because asking a father what to do about a rebellious / non-visiting child is a rope-a-dope question. The proper answer when a court asks a father what to do when his child refuses to visit him is to say “That’s not my problem. That’s your problem. Your job as a court is to enforce both sides of the aftermath of court-issued divorces. If a father skips out on paying child support the court doesn’t ask the mother what to do. The court has all kinds of money extraction contrivances ready to rumble. If a mother doesn’t cooperate with the father to insure her part of the deal – like produce the child at agreed-upon visitation times – the court should have equivalent enforcement mechanisms in favor of the noncustodial parents – er, fathers. Should have….
Enforce visitation? Some post-divorce transgressions are penalized, while other lapses are not. Money can be counted all sorts of ways. Fathers – mostly – make child support money payments.
If someone with a sharp pencil wants to count money due and paid there’s a reasonable chance the job can be done. If someone wants to count successful visitations – and sequelae – they’d soon want to throw up their hands and go back to a much easier job – counting the number of fairies dancing on the head of a pin. Good parenting isn’t a measurable and countable mass. Did Junior skip out of his scheduled visitation weekend because of Junior, mother, father, a germ, bad transportation, misunderstanding, who knows what?
Chapter 2: What could society do? reviewed changes in the fiscal history of families in the US. Until the 1970s collecting child support from post-divorce / post breakup noncustodial parents was relatively lax – for reasons that made sense at the time. Then Aid to Families with Dependent Children – AFDC – came bubbling out of the social science lab. States started doling out money to single mother ‘families.’ In return for these ‘entitlements’ mothers had to swear off contact with the fathers of their little ones – and coincidentally any other members of their stingy gender. This was a new low point in the history of fatherhood.
Very soon after AFDC shouldered its way into the public’s attention – see my Letter to the Editors of the New York Times reproduced in Chapter 2: What could society do? – another issue shouted “me too.” Agitation started around the backlog of late or unpaid post-divorce child support payments. In the space of a few years NY State instituted a vast array of controls on the financial lives of so-called obligors – fathers oh 98% of the time – who were obligated to pay child support. Bank accounts, passports, drivers licenses, stuff like that were threatened. Being “married” to the state which sent regular checks every month sure beat being married to a living, breathing father whose paycheck might be irregular. Fatherhood was at its lowest low in history.
The old laws of parenthood didn’t stand the test of time. Morality / goodness / nature were wiped off the board. There was too much blame in that game. Marriage to the state was the new key. The world was too tempting for mothers – especially without any stigma for breaking the old rules. The ideal was that children should no longer be financially handicapped in life because of lapses of their parents’ scruples.
Parenthood has turned into a zero-sum game. Fathers should be satisfied they are allowed in the same room as their children. Fathers shouldn’t put the courts in the awkward position of telling them their children are more important than they are.
With fathers out of the picture, children no longer needed to subordinate their “rights” to the “rights” of the hands that fed them. Welcome to the new “family.”
Fathers should stop trying to beat their wives in courts. Courts treat fathers as bothersome – probably ill-intentioned – intruders in their children’s lives.
Some saps – like yours truly in his callow midlife – actually believed that the proper place to bring disputes within their state-licensed marriages was the courts of the State. Gimme a break – I now realize! Nothing could be further from the truth. From Chapter 1: Putting my self aside to Chapter 6: Who is in contempt? lays a trail of court-created tears.
Going to a Divorce Court may be unavoidable if money is an issue for one or both financially well endowed parent. Going to court is expensive. Justice doesn’t fall like a gentle dew both upon the poor and the rich. Lawyers don’t fall like a gentle dew anywhere.
In the judge’s “Decision” she wrote that she encouraged me to use a lawyer. Minimally using a lawyer was one of the smartest things I ever did.
The bigger picture for financially-not-well-endowed parents is that their children will not appreciate their college savings funds – or first house down payment funds – being transferred into the lawyers’ children’s college savings accounts. Going to court to settle post-divorce disputes might include expenses for the original trial, followed by the appeal of the mistakes of the original trial, followed by the corrective trial. And, who knows, maybe an appeal of the corrective trial. How many fathers can afford that?
This author has concluded that where the fates of their children are concerned, fathers should stop trying to beat their former wives in court. The standard of goodness applied by courts since the discovery of marriage-to-the-state has only one dimension: mother good / father bad. Above the entrances to all modern Family Courtrooms should be signs declaring “Abandon goodness all ye who enter here.” The innocent words “Be good” are a joke. Forget all those sincere pleas in the modern era for gender equality. Unless mother waltzes into the courtroom brandishing a bloody knife with her kids’ Type O dripping off the blade, she has no worries. Indeed Family Courts should immediately be renamed ‘Single Mothers Enforcement Bureaus.’
The rest of society – especially the workplace – has been revolutionized since the 1980s. Nevertheless twenty-first century courts obstinately remain shackled to an otherwise antiquated Western World family ideal: Mom gets the kids and their home / Dad pays. Even in postmodern times US Census data confirms there’s no likelihood courts will order fathers to stay home with the kids while sending mothers out to earn enough to pay everyone’s expenses.
I had the bad luck to draw a Family Court judge on a mission. She seemed to want to make me a bad example for the history books. Find support for that speculation in the previous chapter – Chapter 6: Who is in contempt. That judge’s behavior / misbehavior added a deep draft of poison to my cup. A string of similar Family Court, Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cult members on the same mission topped off my chalice. All these misdeeds lead to my suggestion to other fathers: Stop fantasizing that courts will help them beat their wives.
Take ‘experts.’ A defining characteristic of ‘experts’ on family / social matters from the waning decades of the twentieth century – at least to the day of this writing – is that they have advanced university training. Most university professors and instructors are thoroughly imbued with the governing critical lens of the era – feminism. The result is that ‘experts’ don’t make any observation about the family / society which casts shade on women – the gender which by university faculty acclaim has been oppressed by another gender for thousands of years. The number of universities and other degree granting mills whose faculties – whose publications and research products – add bricks to the mansion of feminism requires higher math to count. Contrariwise the number of institutions whose faculty members – whose work products – openly question or disagree with feminism – don’t require more than the fingers of one hand to count. If that many. The surest way for a budding academic scholar to commit career suicide is to try to stand athwart the gales of the prevailing feminist winds.
The staff at the university-degree-qualified social service agency in our case waited almost four years before they bothered to contact me for the very first time to hear my side of our son’s visitation abandonment story. In the meanwhile they roared ahead under the glow of their good intentions to conduct a course of therapy – to destroy our son’s faith in his father. When the agency’s therapists finally spoke with me they opened half an ear for a single hour – which they found in their own self-serving way to wax over.
Every single “fact” alleged in the JBFCS – Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services – reports was a fiction – which could have been corrected by easily available proof. On some paper unseen by the JBFCS is the statement: “The natural right of visitation jointly enjoyed by the noncustodial parent and the child is more precious than any property right” (Resnick v Zoldan, 246, 247 [2d Dept 1987]. Courtrooms – not therapy offices – are supposed to be the place where facts are determined. Both parents are supposed to have equal footing – including equal facetime with therapists – before therapy starts. My clock started four years late.
In the modern era everyone’s supposed to be sensitive to everyone else’s “rights.” Do children have “rights” to disagree with their parents? Surely. At the moment in history when this disagreement between our son and I happened, “children’s rights” advocates were only just warming up on the sidelines and were not yet called into the game. When there is child-father disagreement how did contemporaneous standards say the game was supposed to be played?
NY law acknowledged that parent and children – and other parent – can and do disagree on occasion. Maybe hourly. Who’s keeping time? But the courts are not the place to dump most of these disputes. The courts are not superparents (Lifson v Lifson NYLJ May 1 1996). They don’t want their calendars clogged with cases about anything and everything.
The US Supreme Court warned in Reno v Flores (507 US 292 – 1993) that in order for the court to invade into the parent-child relationship “harm” first needs to be established. Failing to lay the proper groundwork for intervention is considered a constitutional violation. New York precedent is specific. “[T]he sweeping denial of the right of the father to visit or see the child is a drastic decision that should be based upon substantial evidence” (Herb v Herb, 8 AD2d 419, 422 [4th Dept 1959]). This language is intended to convey to lower courts and practitioners [emphasis added] that visitation will be denied only upon a demonstration—that visitation would be harmful to the child—that proceeds by means of sworn testimony or documentary evidence.”
The Family Court’s “Decision” reported I “prolonged and exacerbated” a disagreement by saying ‘no’ to our son. Our son wanted something. One time. I disagreed. The court didn’t use its usual methods to find facts. So it didn’t get the facts right. Whatever. They just assumed our son was damaged because his father didn’t bend to him. One time.
The Family Court judge’s mission to make a historic bad example of me should have ended the moment any new judge reviewed our case. Didn’t happen. Two subsequent judges and a unanimous rinky-dink panel of five Appeals Court judges splashed the hasty Family Court’s words “prolonged and exacerbated” prominently in their publications – without making any independent inquiries into any aspect of the alleged event. Instead of reviewing the Family Court’s hasty words they simply faxed them back – and called it a day.
It’s only a matter of time before a case is brought before a NY Family Court involving a father who denied his child’s requests for something – anything – two times. Thanks to the eight judges of the apocalypse, legal precedent has now been established in New York to terminate visitation between child and father after one disagreement. Woe betide a future father for disagreeing with his child two times. He might lose a lot more than visitation.
It is unclear if the same set of punitive measures have ever been or will ever be applied to mothers who disagree with their children (… as if that ever happened!). In that unlikely event [sic] courts in New York now have legal precedent to replace the original parents and place the child with compliant foster parents – if both father and mother “prolong and exacerbate” disagreements by denying two of their child’s preferences.
What the “Decision” did not report is that the dispute at age 12 was a prelude to our son’s complete break from his father. He didn’t just disagree about visiting his out-of-town family – as the Family Court alleged. He ceased having anything more to do with his father beyond wailing NO NO NO on cue.
Fathers now are unnecessary in families.
There is an ancient French song that translates in English into “The pleasure of love lasts but a moment. Regrets of love last a whole life long.” Your grandparents probably thought this was a song about the travails of women in love. How anachronistic that interpretation is! Nowadays the song describes the role of fathers in families. Becoming a father might last but a loving moment. Society’s compassion / lack of compassion for fathers could lead to regrets for the rest of father’s life.
Follow the dots. In 1993 JBFCS conducted therapy on our son unashamedly based on the fake report of his mother that there was domestic violence. JBFCS never did any independent verification and never contacted father about its nefarious doings. The Family Court judge saw the report of this misfocused therapy. She used the report as an excuse to terminate parent-child visitation – and to keep the justification for this termination out of father’s eyes.
Three years later JBFCS had a second bite of the apple. It produced a second report full of more fake “facts.” Unlike its first report – in which father had no role beyond being an offstage pincushion – for its encore report JBFCS interviewed father for a single hour. When father showed up at JBFCS’s office with an armful of papers for a promised second hour he was turned away. The report writer had reached her own conclusions already and didn’t feel the least need to absorb more facts. She instead resorted to wild psychodiagnosis. She opined that father’s appearance for the second hour was a demonstration of father’s obsessive need to control. Four and a half years without child-parent visitation and father is diagnosed as an obsessive monster for wanting to be interviewed for a promised second hour. Fathers and facts are unnecessary in Family Court.
Joining the chorus with the Family Court judge and the misfiring family welfare agency were two more judges and an Appeals Court panel. The fake issue of domestic violence appeared in the JBFCS reports but never appeared in the Family Court judge’s “Decision.” So it wasn’t used as an excuse at this later level. All these additional judges got to see is the Family Court judge’s representation / misrepresentation that father disagreed in a single instance with his child. That was enough! They all concurred that one disagreement between father and child is sufficient excuse to terminate parent-child visitation. Who needs fathers but for a moment of pleasure anyway?
Here’s what the court teaches fathers in the present era: divorced noncustodial fathers should never say ‘no’ to their child(ren). Ditto to former wives. Courts have zero tolerance for fathers who say ‘no.’ Those fine words about the constitutionality of child-noncustodial parent visitation are amazingly easy for courts and ‘expert’ agencies to ignore.
Eric Hoffer, author of the famous book The True Believer, wrote in his less famous book The Temper of Our Time, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”
The child is father to the father
The Family Court’s “Decision” reported in detail the exclusive conversation our son had in the judge’s chambers. In it was specified a lifetime of fault finding father allegedly pummeled our son with. When this creation was first reported in Chapter 6: Who is in contempt? it was characterized as an overdramatized example of ‘When did you stop brow-beating your child?’ The judge never entertained any doubts. She never asked our son “Did I get this right? Your father started finding fault with your school grades even before you stepped into any school? How did father react when you complained? The first time? The second time? What kind of different things did your mother do – over the many years you said this persisted – to try to cool your father down?”
Sticking these unvetted in camera inventions in our case’s “Decision” is only the beginning of the damage. If this kind of character assassination is left to stand as a usual part of court procedure fathers will be robbed of their personalities and uniqueness. Any kind of issue about which father and child disagree – about anything, trivial or important, proven or unproven – becomes subject to litigation.
Being a father no longer depends just on that famous moment of pleasure. Courts now can subject the guy to a humiliating short-arm personality test. A child’s unrestricted right to disagree renders her / his judgment at least equal to or – in the hands of hot shot lawyers – superior to that of father. Making the child father to the father, not just father to the man – as William Wordsworth and the Beach Boys told the world each in their own way.
Rather than show himself as he is, father of the future would be wise to take the safest course. Hunker down and make himself unassailable in courts in their future. Forget the traditional fatherly role of coaching his child to carry on family / tribal / gender lore. Children will no longer need to adjust themselves to their birth father’s unique circumstances. Passing things down from father to child is a parlous relic of the past.
Formalized “children’s rights” were not a factor in my case. In 1989 the United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF – passed a diktat called the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This birthday cake of good intentions exhibited all the fallacies of modern top-down governance by ‘experts.’ Its lofty words tell the world the approved way to raise their children – as if no one ever had a clue before – and as if anyone who disagrees is wrong wrong wrong.
Right near the top of the Convention – paragraph 3, actually – are the stirring words “All adults should do what is best for children.” These words could be a disaster for anyone but their authors. Since the dawn of time people have been confused about whether life itself is “good” or “bad” – for themselves – let alone for their children. If life is “good” – as it no doubt is for the kind of gentry class chuckleheads who frolic about jetting from capital to capital to author masterpieces like UNICEF Conventions – doing what is “best” for children depends primarily on opening one’s bank account. For the overwhelming majority of the rest of the human species since the Garden of Eden life has been, is and will be “bad.” Getting enough food, clothing and shelter have been eternal struggles. Governments / nobility / clergy in most of the world at most times in history were prone to take their portions of everyone’s production first – before the crumbs fell between the cracks onto the outstretched palms of the un-favored. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) were extremely influential philosophers for reminding their readers that life can be a bitch.
If a parent believes life was, is and will be “bad” then she or he will waste no time or effort deluding their children that life is, was or will be “good.” Such a parent will read UNICEF’s noble words – “adults should do what is best for children” – and instinctively know that “what is best” is to accustom their children to life’s disappointments and privations. Most of the world’s most influential religions – Western and Eastern – teach that life’s desires are illusions – and the most enlightened thing a human can do is to renounce life’s material traps.
“Children’s Rights” can be a disaster for fathers. Virtuous lobbies of UNICEF-like ‘experts’ – with ‘pure hearts’ and nothing but the ‘best interests’ of children in their agendas – threaten to use the court system to impose obligations on parents. The parents’ own dreams, philosophies and resources are trivial diversions. “Children’s rights” are another devious way virtue seekers – our betters, let’s face it – hope to take fatherhood out of the control of fathers. William Butler Yeats wrote: “The best lack all conviction, While the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
If father stumbles into court despite these warnings, here’s some advice: the moment a court orders ‘expert’ reports, father should withdraw and stop trying to beat his wife in the courtroom.
What body of knowledge teaches a person dubbed an ‘expert’ in court the ‘right’ way to raise children?
The first answer most people would have to this question would probably be ‘post graduate school curriculum.’ The more degrees the better. A professor is best.
As someone who has been a professor in both undergrad and grad developmental psychology courses and a published author in the field, I have bad news for that popular answer. The best answer is that nobody knows the best way to raise children. And it’s the height of presumption for hired contract workers / ‘experts’ who see family members for a few hours at most to tell parents they know the answer better than the parents do.
“I used to have three theories on how to raise children. Now I have three children and no theories.” John Wilmot (1647-1680)
‘Experts’ change pronouncements for different people at different times – sometimes subtly, sometimes radically. One of my best lectures when I taught child psych diagrammed changes in the twentieth century federal government agencies’ publications on breast feeding. In some decades nursing was practiced by one economic stratum while others practiced bottle feeding. Then they did a dos-si-dos – the economic strata switched practices. The agencies joined the dance – sometimes discouraging breast feeding, sometimes encouraging it. Regardless. Your government dollars at work mostly extolled whatever the contemporaneous middle class was doing and discouraged what lower economic classes were doing.
Same goes for the practice of ‘insleeping’ – infants sleeping in parents’ beds. In my grad school days it was considered a horror. Until it became popular – which was a decade or so before it became an ideal. Actually when most of the world was poor it was probably the only thing possible. Then middle class and bourgeois values took their turn – when insleeping was discouraged – think Queen Victoria. The display of most kinds of moral experimentation was taboo. Early twentieth century American parents did what nineteenth century parents did. Until the need to rebel became a fashion in the 1960s. A few decades later most Victorian restraints on pleasure were blithely erased. Is insleeping better than cribs a wall away? Babies cry at night either way.
When American soldiers returned home after World War II they quickly made up for lost time by having lots of babies – dubbed the ‘baby boom’ – the kids were called ‘Boomers.’ One of the most popular bodies of academic research of that era was by Dr Arnold Gesell of Yale University. After extensive observation he mapped out his famous Gesell Development Scales. The average child developed along a bell curve of paths. But his calibration studies avoided claims of finality. The numbers were not meant to prescribe “the best.” As thorough as his psychological research was when he did it there’s no guarantee that things hold up the same at any other historic time or place. Shh, here’s a secret: Every generation – in cultures where tradition does not equal obligation – tries to do things differently from their parents.
The next popular child rearing guru was Dr Benjamin Spock. He was well known for advocating individualism in child rearing – something quite anathema to those who stress timed schedules of development or specific practices. There’s no way of reading Spock’s very popular books to instill a sense of certainty. Except he was certain everyone is different.
In the 1970s Ben Spock and his second wife Mary Morgan became outspoken political activists. He often came to New York City for meetings and demonstrations. I was active in many of the same groups. His Wikipedia entry claims “For most of his life, Spock wore Brooks Brothers suits …” Fake news. My first wife and I once accompanied him to a tailor on Elizabeth Street in Chinatown. He told us he had been buying suits at their shop since his days at Columbia med school many subway stops uptown. I don’t recall meeting Mary Morgan. We both served on the Board of the center-left political group Americans for Democratic Action – in different decades. I was a Campus ADA representative in my college days – when I was on the senior group’s Board alongside John K Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. In those very early days of their buddy / student John F Kennedy’s Vietnam war I had more urgent things to say about the military draft than they did.
In my 1973 interview in Redbook magazine Jean Piaget shared a soapbox with Dr Benjamin Spock: “The only advice I can give, and I give it reluctantly, is to urge parents to respect the individuality of each child. That means respecting their child’s emotional and intellectual capacities as well as his moral autonomy.”
The Redbook editors asked me to intrude lightly into Piaget’s personal life. “Professor Piaget,’ I asked,’ do you consider yourself a successful parent? He smiled. ‘Yes, because of my wife. She is a good mother!”
The ‘experts’ in court in my case were undisciplined examples of abuse of their status.
In our early divorce history I was asked by a Supreme Court judge to be evaluated by a psychiatrist. My divorce lawyer – whose judgment was usually very good – advised against cooperating. We never discussed his reasoning. In retrospect I guess his experience taught him that court appointed mental health experts used methods that fall outside the verifiable. Claims made in the notarized moving and answering papers of either party in a divorce trial must be supported by provable evidence – under the guns of the opposition lawyers. Mental health experts usually follow suppositions based on debatable methods based on assumptions. In other words you can never tell what you’ll get. And no one can prove it.
Against my lawyer’s advice I exposed myself to the psychiatrist. Ultimately his report did me no harm. Indeed he gave me a clean bill of health. Plus some wonderful ammunition about my former wife – which I never had the opportunity to use afterwards in any court. Nevertheless he abused his “expert’ status.
As noted in Chapter 4: No Exit this psychiatrist didn’t use psychiatric tools and methods to reach his conclusions. He seemed to want to prune away our notarized court documents to save the judge the tedious job of reading them. Whatever. We negotiated the end of that chapter of our unpleasantness and had our psychiatrist-free results endorsed by a different judge of the NY Supreme Court.
Later I initiated the Supreme Court application that evolved into our Family Court tribulation. My papers laid out what I thought was a winning set of facts. The judge agreed. But lost his bearings a few months later when my former wife asked for a second chance. In retrospect I can see that the Supreme Court judge made an incorrect decision. He washed his hands of us and sent us to Family Court. But Family Court lacked jurisdiction over our kind of case. I hired a different law firm soon after. Did they catch the Supreme Court’s error? No. In the couple of months before I bid the new firm adieu their silence facilitated a Family Court process that lead deeper and deeper into legal purgatory.
Bedevilment by ‘experts’ whipped into a more disturbing dimension. During a hearing on May 17 1994 the Family Court judge hand-wrote an Order referring our son to the JBFCS for evaluation and to conduct supervised visits. The word the judge used was “re-referred.” Three years earlier mother had – without telling father or being instructed by any court – enrolled our son into a therapy at JBFCS. Despite her history of formally abandoning all her allegations of wife beating, she insisted to the JBFCS that our son was suffering from aftereffects of this disavowed domestic violence – which he never witnessed – and knew of only because mother drilled it into him. JBFCS was so sure mother told the truth they didn’t bother to consult father or any other available resource. They produced a report – which the judge read and obviously believed and did her best to keep away from my eyes – which lead the judge to assign me to non-parent status. Every other human being in the world – regardless of preferred pronouns – had more access to our son than I. At a much lower cost to them.
The judge added the words “where appropriate” to the suggestion of supervised visitation. What makes visitation ‘appropriate’? Plenty of federal and state laws and case precedents say visitation is always appropriate. The State of New York goes to great lengths to ensure visitation of the children of prisoners – including mass murderers – with their mothers or fathers far off in upstate prisons. There’s even a New York case of a father who tried to kill his baby’s mother. Nevertheless courts ordered father-child visitation. Exceptions to this visitation golden rule will be allowed only after a full-fledged trial where all sides have their say (Herb v Herb, 8 AD2d 419, 422 [4th Dept 1959]). Obviously the JBFCS ‘experts’ didn’t read that memo. And didn’t suffer the most fleeting qualms for their lack of knowledge of the standards under which they were supposed to operate.
The criterion JBFCS used to evade their duty to supervise visitation was simple. Our son said he didn’t wanna see me. He had been singing the same tune from age 12 to age 14 at that point. What ‘expertise’ did the JBFCS ‘experts’ use to try to chip away at our son’s resistance? In the five weeks between the date the Family Court judge handwrote the “Order” and the JBFCS’s written response it documented nothing but our son’s vocal NOs. If there were tricks – er, professional techniques – family and children’s welfare agencies used to put even the slightest dent in a child’s obstinacy, this agency didn’t wanna know.
To double back to the beginning of this discussion of the fallibility of ‘experts’ in Family Courts: the methods of all the ‘experts’ in this case had flaws. Take one: historic context.
In Chapter 1: Putting my self aside I referred to a couple of friends who entered into a group marriage – the two of them ‘married’ a second married couple – bless ’em. We who came of age in the 1960s were sure we invented all imaginable human-to-human sexual / coupling permutations.
When that marriage stopped being viable my friend’s wife initiated a very angry divorce lawsuit. Husband hired me as an ‘expert.’ In those 1960s days the idea of leaving a child in daycare outside the home was quite novel. It wasn’t done. Yet. People of means sent their Biffys and Tippys to boarding schools far from home to fortify their chances of being accepted at Ivy League colleges. I was hired to try to convince their judge that daycare during normal school hours wouldn’t cause their progeny to grow a second head.
It took about ten more years before day-long daycare became the new standard. It fit right in with the call by the awakening feminist movement for mothers to go to daytime outside-the-home work. Not much published academic research had yet been done to support the new regime. Academic research was neither needed – nor wanted. Ideological necessity preceded scholarship.
This same friend had a second home on Long Island near New York City. He threw a Thanksgiving party which stuffed a hungry cohort including either Richard Cloward or Frances Piven and me – my recall is not total. But I’m sure the party wasn’t paid for with food stamps.
I hired an ‘expert’ who let slip in Family Court that he sympathized with fates of fathers. Not only did the judge from the bench challenge just about every word he said. Her ‘Decision’ plainly stated that anyone with his preferences had no place in her courtroom.
Before one of the JBFCS representatives testified she was sworn in as an ‘expert.’ Asking about her personal life would have been a no-no. So I was denied a chance to test this quote from Robert Stacy McCain: [https://quotefancy.com/robert-stacy-mccain-quotes] “One of the easiest things in the world to do is to tell other people how to raise their children. This is especially easy if you have no children of your own.”
The root cause: Feminism
Ecclesiastes suffered a permanent eclipse. His message got shaded. The sun defied his rules as it oversaw fundamental changes in American society.
Many of the most profound changes in the flow of American society – and subsequently other major societies – during the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century can unambiguously be attributed to Feminism. ‘Family’ is said by most heavy thinkers – other than Plato – to be one of the building blocks of society. No modern dictionary would dare to define ‘family’ unless its chosen words were aligned with the latest local version of ‘Feminism.’
After a couple of Boomer decades post World War II – during which Mom stayed at home to take care of the kids while Dad commuted to work – a lot of people discovered holes in their lives. In Western philosophy – at least since Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) – it has been assumed that human societies evolve in the direction of greater freedom for greater numbers of their members. With the encouragement of thinkers like yours truly, many Moms followed the shooting star which promised them freedom / fulfillment by getting jobs and careers outside the home. After a few years in this new orbit the ancient notions of marriage and family saw drastic revolution / correction / deterioration.
Getting populations to markedly change their ways of doing things is not easy. Dry logical explanations have limited appeal. Playing on wounded pride can be much more effective. Feminism’s most powerful selling point in the recent era was telling the world that women were oppressed – were cheated out of their freedom. By men in general and their man on the other side of the bed in particular. Since the dawn of time. Well before Ecclesiastes. As George Orwell put it in 1984 “Whoever controls the past controls the future.” Telling women the structure of society was fashioned by men – the very men who victimized women as they pushed them around – was hot copy – that motivated.
There are several YouTube videos made around 1971 of the author Norman Mailer debating young spokeswomen of the evolving feminist persuasion. As a prominent male public intellectual he took on the role of doubter. He declared that these young ladies were leading a joyless totalitarian political movement that had a smattering of good – but a lot of no good. Another prominent gendered male whose 1971 YouTube videos had much to say about Feminism was Hugh Hefner, the editor of Playboy magazine. His opinion was nuanced, shall we say. He obviously was a fervent advocate for the liberation of women in coital matters. But he was not so keen that differences between the genders can be advocated / legislated out of existence. Vive la difference, as it were.
Sexual equality – or, more correctly, gender equality – was all the rage. Including equality of who’s on top in bed – a la the newly glorified cowgirl position.
There were a few unswept corners. I once asked an unmarried name-brand feminist how she would react if her prospective husband said “I want to stay home and take care of the kids while we all live on your paycheck.” I specified that the question was not about the unplanned – say illness or accidents. My question was about the terms and conditions of a prospective marriage right from the moment the guy got down on one knee. I’m still waiting for her answer.
Perhaps the failure of my interlocutor to have a ready response to my question was a reflection of the life circumstances of feminist theory writers. Almost every published mid-twentieth century feminist theorist – other than Betty Friedan – was single and childless (hat tip to Robert Stacy McCain).
At the time of my divorce from my first wife I fell in line with the prevailing depiction of women as the financially weaker party in marriage. I reflexively assumed compensating for her earning handicap was routine in every divorce pact – all the more so since our divorce was one of the rare ones initiated by a husband. Not only did I kick my accumulated savings over to her. I sweetened the deal with monthly alimony – to a feminist who refused to have children. It took just a short while before I bought out of the onerous alimony clause. Then quite a while more before the folly of the standard historical misreading of the economy within families ceased bewitching me.
The roles of wives and husbands within marriages have been shaped by the necessities of survival. When food was hunted and gathered there was a scintilla of a chance that family roles could be interchangeable. Maybe Mom could pick up a spear to hunt deer while Dad stayed in the yurt and rocked the cradle. Maybe.
Then history invented agriculture. Staying on one plot of land to reap planted crops. Building permanent homes. Predictable neighbors – to towns – to villages – to cities. Trading for things you need which you didn’t grow / make yourself. Money / currency.
Mothers – like fathers – can hunt with spears and arrows for small and medium sized game. Full time agriculture is another story. It separated the girls from the boys. Plowing all day, moving rocks and tree stumps, splitting logs, gathering all the crops before the rain messes them up. These things go easier when the person doing the labor is endowed with a larger supply of muscle mass.
Division of agricultural labor was by mothers’ and fathers’ mutual consent. There was no scientific / rationalistic experimentation. No one compared the output of Society A – where mothers plowed the fields and fathers watched the kids – vs Society B – where fathers plowed the fields and mothers fixed the meals. History doesn’t record any wars in which mothers revolted in order to arrogate to themselves the muscle-bound jobs while forcing fathers to stay home to change diapers. Even before the founding of the first university both mothers and fathers figured out that eating regularly and keeping warm and dry is more likely to happen if she specializes in jobs within the four walls, while he goes out and does the rest.
This order of things was self evident – until modern feminism woke up and invented the trope that men forced women to stay away from skilled money-making work. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries every news outlet trumpeted how a given woman was finally the first to get a certain job or appointment – say US Supreme Court Justice. The not so subtle implication was that it was the husbands who stopped their wives from climbing the occupational ladder until our liberated progressive era.
Until two or three centuries ago doing the essential minimum tasks necessary for sheer survival left mothers and fathers with few choices.
In the Western world most men were as good as slaves – who frequently were dragged to war to defend their country’s form of slavery against another country’s form of slavery. During the time of the American Civil War Dostoyevsky expressed astonishment that the United States would go to war to free the fifteen percent of its population who were slaves – while until he wrote those words his native Russia did absolutely nothing to free the eighty percent of its population who were slaves.
Let alone similar percentages as Russia in most Asian countries.
The English-language nursery rhyme Bah Bah Black Sheep catches one of the causes of the abject level of poverty for the common family in England three and more centuries ago. The master and the dame got two thirds of the wool or other things grown or hunted or gathered or picked off the land – which of course was their Holy hereditary right. Mothers were capable of being shepherds. But they probably tossed up that chance – to allow fathers to take the older kids out into the fields to teach them the tricks of the trade. The better to appreciate their left-over sloppy thirds.
Then some disrupters found ways to break the paucity mold. Small allotments – then larger bundles – of wealth dribbled beyond the grasp of the the masters and dames. Grabbing a share of society’s newly-created wealth meant more choices for more people. It took a couple of centuries after the dawn of the Industrial Revolution for average mothers and fathers to learn how to keep for themselves – not for their masters and dames – some of the excess wealth their labor created.
Women can be Supreme Court Justices and CEOs and university presidents because the world is no longer on the edge of starvation.
There once were pretty rigidly enforced rules about what women and men respectively can and can’t do. Appendix 2: David Hume and chastity explains the rationale. The bottom line was that the industrial machine might fail its mission unless it replenished its numbers in healthy doses. Mothers at home were needed to propagate human kind. Fathers toiling at mills worked harder when they knew the children they fed were of their own seed. Unmarried women on the loose exercising the full might of their sexual lures might upend other people’s family balances. So the women’s auxiliary found ways to keep their scheming swag sisters in line.
In plainer English: Most societies around the world – and the religions that glued them together – advocated – and enforced – gender roles. Women filled the role of stay-at-home mother dependent on father’s income. With equal vigor societies and religions enforced on fathers the role of family wealth providers – even when father was away out to sea or at war. There are few recorded examples anywhere in the world as recently as the nineteenth century of women being – or even trying to be – the main family wealth providers. Women stepping out of this gender-approved line definitely didn’t win the early Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
>>> Consider this a footnote: Except among observant Ashkenazic Jews. In many cases wives worked or conducted businesses to sustain the family. Husbands studied Torah – they didn’t stay home to raise the kids. It was a matter of family honor / pride to have a Torah scholar in their midst. <<<
Of course fathers were not always in the house. He may have taken that famous shuffle off this mortal coil. In which case mothers and their children usually succumbed to dire fates. By common consent there were few moral ways mothers as widows could earn real money.
The latest wave of feminists would have you believe men created family role norms oppressive of mothers. Au contraire. All major factions of society got to vote with their feet – and all of those who left traces to the present day sought fulfillment in life by following the different-jobs-for-different-genders rules. By the nineteenth century there were a few women here and there who broke new trails – for example a couple who used the first name ‘George’ to write for francs / pounds / dollars. Reaction to these ladies poured in immediately. Women – sometimes organized groups which a few sentences ago were called ‘women’s auxiliary’ – cracked down hard on these oddball-esses – for setting bad examples for the sisters.
A handful of men earned enough to raise their families into that new invention: the ‘middle class.’ Nevertheless the overwhelming majority of fathers were no better than slaves. Work for almost all workers appealed to nothing more profound than the need to survive until the next wage packet. And it employed few brain cells. Indeed then as now – centuries later – many workers are of the firm persuasion that thinking and working are mutually exclusive activities.
The nineteenth century saw some national economies prosper. Large scale starvation was no longer a few months away – mostly. So it didn’t break any parts of the gender machine when some of the gender work rules were stretched – even some rules that once were thought of as sacrosanct.
The financial consequences of separation from their children would have been unthinkable to mothers in any previous era. Fathers brought home the goods. By – oh – the middle of the nineteenth century free women – that is, women not bound by slavery – were regularly experiencing the putative joys of work outside the home / in assembly lines / in factories. The material rewards were noticeable. Other rewards not so much. It would be fair to observe that more women worked to live than lived to work.
The next century saw women take big strides uncovering themselves as equals to men. She can vote for that! The workplace – which was by now firmly outside the home for most women – needed reimagining. Writing the new dictionary fell to the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Becoming the recognized head of a functioning household – a ‘good family man’ – had always been the ultimate goal of men’s work and sexuality – at a price in curtailed freedom most married men were willing to pay. Late twentieth century feminism set out to lift the burden of being the economic fulcrum of the family from the shoulders of fathers. Modern feminism came along and put its unique spin on family roles. Their new history books would have readers believe that from the dawn of human history men have been beasts to their women – who had no choice but to submit.
How malleable humans can be is a pivotal question. Feminism – sometimes stridently so – assured everyone that women can change from captive stay-at-home drudges to enthusiastic full-time job-site workers in about a single generation – especially since they were determined to distance themselves from their reputation as everlasting victims.
But what about the plasticity of fathers? Gender equity is supposed to be the point of it all. If mothers are proudly liberated to perform the traditional roles of fathers, does that mean fathers are proudly liberated to perform the traditional roles of mothers? How many generations will it take before mothers – and courts – feel comfortable leaving the children full time in the care of their stay-at-home fathers?
As my case brilliantly illustrates, it doesn’t appear that the first couple of decades of the twenty-first century world are ready yet for fathers to be anything but wallets. My academic credentials qualify me to be an ‘expert’ on child rearing in any court in the land – for anyone else’s kids. But seven judges said not for my own.
Sometimes social revolutions unfold in nonlinear ways. The late twentieth century gender role revolution wasn’t nearly as bloody as the eighteenth century French anti-royalist revolution. But it did have its kinks. Liberated women set out to establish themselves as equals to men as paycheck earners. Along the way men – like me – were unceremoniously swept aside. Women ran the table. At the end of the century they walked off the podium as proud possessors of both men’s and women’s traditional family roles.
Motherliness and fatherliness can be viewed as qualities possessed by individuals – or as collective characteristics. Concentrate on a specific parental couple and ask whether either or both of them exhibit a list of presumed qualities of good parents. That’s the individualist approach. Collectivism saves the bother of making such fine judgments. It boils the issue down to treating all fathers alike and treating all mothers alike – thank you very much – end of scrutiny.
Collectivism seems to have taken over the family space. During its late twentieth-century-early-twenty-first-century short march – feminism seems to have attracted the parts of the State that glory in collectivism. The overarching message: mothers are not only better mothers than are fathers. They are also well on their way to becoming better earners than fathers.
Collectivist forces in the US have been dismantling African-American family structure since the end of World War II. Their greatest ‘success’ was separating children from their fathers – and convincing single mothers that being married to the State was more desirable than being married to a sweaty man. Now the powers-that-be are fixing to mop up every other family configuration in the country into their awesome scheme. To repeat the boldface headline from a dozen pages ago: Fathers now are unnecessary in families. The judges in my case were splendid archetypes of this new iron rule.
Those mothers who prefer not to be bothered with their children’s fathers might be inclined to declare this development a victory. They should be careful what they wish for. Some paradoxes hide in the details.
Collectivism has little tolerance for exceptions. “Individualism is the snake in every socialist paradise” wrote Will and Ariel Durant. All mothers were put in the same ‘special class’ because of their supposed common history of being discriminated against. Consequences ensued. Single mother heads of households needed to feed more mouths. So they needed to go out of the home to produce the income fathers used to produce.
Most working mothers have little choice but to turn their kids over to public schools. Where they will be taught curricula approved by school administrators – many times in exclusive closed-door meetings. Topics like how second graders can choose gender expression. After being vaccinated. Wearing masks. Watching Zoom. Mothers who refuse to see the error of their individualist ways will be re-educated. Or otherwise sternly dealt with. Probably as domestic terrorists. Headline from 2022: “National School Boards Association Demanded Biden Use Military Force to Deal With Parents.” https://bonginoreport.com may 23 2022
King Solomon’s most lucrative income-producing gig was marrying daughters of neighboring royal families. For that privilege the parents of each of his thousand wives added some gold coins to his pischke [ = collection box ]. Drip drip drip. Pretty soon we’re talking about real money! Bible-savvy accountants said he was the richest man ever in human history.
Maybe one of the wives – his first, the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh – married down. But of the rest, none were likely to have descended in pecuniary status.
Odds are that most married couples with children will stay intact and never consult Google Maps to find the location of their neighborhood Divorce Court. That doesn’t mean they will be immune from revolutionary changes in marriage. There were no words in Ecclesiastes’ vocabulary for mothers as the family’s chief breadwinner.
There is a saying among stock market investors: “The trend is your friend.” Meaning that allowing your stock market chips to ride along with prevailing market tides – rising, flat or falling – makes eminently good sense – and leads to fuller nights of sleep. Fathers need to imitate their Wall Street brethren. The price of being the wrong century’s father can be much worse that mere squandered money.
Future family gender justice will require many attitude and behavior changes. Chapter 6: Who is in contempt? brings up my collaboration with my first wife on her book Woman’s Fate – highlighting women’s consciousness raising. Women in the late-1960-early-1970s discussed how society – genus American species New York – artificially constrained them into roles not suited to their talents or their desires. And hinted at the next steps society can take to encourage women to function to their greater satisfaction.
Judging by events in the years since publication, the message of that book was like a well guided target-seeking missile. Treating women the way they were treated in a decade prior – or in any previous historical period – became unthinkable. A great number of women still stayed at home to raise their children while their husbands went off to earn the family essentials. But not with the same mindset as previous mothers. The idea that additional modes of living life were available to mothers made all the difference.
Many men once thought the proper way to run a family was to have a fat finger in just about all family decisions. Because – after all – they brought home the big bucks. That winning combination eventually lost its cache. It wasn’t necessarily a matter of mothers matching fathers dollar for dollar. Mothers’ consciousness raising was burrowing away at assumptions that under-girded family traditions for a few centuries – no, make that a few millennia. If the rules of traditional family life artificially constrained mothers into roles not suited to their talents or their desires, what were the new rules doing to fathers?
During my childhood my parents dutifully did what good middle class parents were expected to do. Six days a week my father woke at six AM and was gone at his job as a corporate kitchen chef until six PM – at least. On Sundays he was in the garage workshop building necessities for the house. He branched out later in life into Sunday party catering – often Polish weddings. He tried to incorporate his sons into his homework assignments. With limited success. But I enjoyed my small part of his catering business. To this day I still make a mean deviled egg.
My mother stretched the dollars Dad brought home. We had few luxuries – but never wanted for the basics. She once showed me a 1940s black and white school composition notebook in which they recorded a serious disagreement over a couple of pennies difference between income and outgo. Mother never seriously sought a job for herself. That just wasn’t done in those days. It would have hurt Dad’s pride and / or reputation. I don’t recall that any of the wives of any of my parents’ social colleagues ever held any jobs while they were married. The phrase “Ladies who lunch” summarized the aspiration of mothers of grown children of the middle class: their most serious retirement aspiration was to get together at lunch with their peers for jolly games of canasta or mahjong.
I once sent home a copy of the Square Journal – the college newspaper of the Washington Square campus of NYU. The main headline in big font quoted me denouncing the US government’s plan to turn over to AT&T a satellite project called Telsat. Instead of praise for my political astuteness, my father whupped me upside the head and warned that I was ruining my chances to ever be hired by any important company.
Two summers later I was hired by AT&T to work at Bell Laboratories – in its last glory years at Murray Hill NJ. My supervisor Max Mathews was amused by my father’s fears. He showed no hesitation writing to my draft board asking for a II-S exemption from the Vietnam War draft – telling them I was working on a secret government project.
1) Father being the head of the family is not fun and games. It’s a never-ending vexation. Charles Talleyrand observed “A married man with a family will do anything for money.”
2) And even if he exceeds requirements father still has to live in fear of The Man – because it has been ingrained in him that The Man always has it in for him.
At the beginning of this Chapter there is a snippet about a 1967 Village Voice interview which memorialized my first wife’s and my intention to escape from some customary marital obligations. She retained her pre-marriage last name after our marriage. We found other customary marital obligations from which to escape – more stories in other places. Eventually our biological clocks pealed baby time. I pleaded YES. She insisted NO. Our road forked forever. Rebels don’t always march arm in arm. And rebellion doesn’t always follow a plan.
Because we never became parents we never got to flex our inventiveness rebalancing parental obligations. While we were together I was the archetypical married man. I dedicated myself to ferreting out ways we could afford to live in the style to which we would like to become accustomed. She worked fitfully, and promised to do her share of ferreting some day over yonder. I despaired we would ever arrive at over yonder.
We mostly lost touch with each other after our split – except for lawyers working out legal kinks. Being the author of lefty political articles – her preferred identity – put her on an irregular diet. Eventually she discovered a thoroughly unexpected truffle garden. In her school days she had been a dramatically indifferent STEM student. Which gave her a unique – make that ironic – vantage point. A couple of times a month – for the next twenty or so years – she authored a question-and-answer interview column in the Science section of the New York Times.
Her future didn’t include new discoveries in balancing parental obligations. She never became a mother. In a by-lined article published later in life she claimed her writing and teaching career was a more suitable model for feminists than was motherhood.
Until the end of the twentieth century one of the marriage traps most men fell into was assuming they would have to be the family bank. Until then, advanced career education was overwhelmingly a male prerogative. Women jumped with both feet into advanced career training around the 1970s. But it didn’t put the slightest dent into the popular social construct that mothers know best how to take care of the kids. It may have been advertised as ‘gender equality.’ But it didn’t mean equality ‘equality.’
Karl Marx (1818-1883) was one of the lesser-known socialist revolutionaries of the nineteenth century. He got better press in the twentieth century. Socialists thought the Industrial Revolution went wrong because it took the work products of the factory workers – the proletariat – and put the profits into the pockets of the owners of the factories – the bourgeoisie and the favored rich. Marx encouraged the proletariat to correct this power error by organizing themselves into clearly labeled parties to wrest control of the means of production.
On the way to this goal, revolutionaries recognized a competition for loyalty: the family versus the revolution. The more loyalty one had to one’s family the less loyalty was left over to devote to the revolutionary party. Marx was not alive to witness the Russian Revolution. One of the first changes brought about by the victorious Soviets resolved this tug-of-war. All parents were kicked out of their family cubicles. Both mothers and fathers were sent to work. The next generations learned that one doesn’t get advantages – like better living quarters or advanced education – by turning to Dad and Mom. Marching to the tune of the much more powerful party or state made family fealty passe.
Sound familiar? Loyalty to – and power of – fathers and families without exception have been on the losing end of revolutions since the eighteenth century. That string stays unbroken in the twenty-first century.
Check your gender revolution scorecard. The events related in this book don’t include the issue of gender identity – a popular political cause that reached full flame in the early twenty-first century – well after our last court date. Not that it would have changed much.
The gender identity stream may be fluid. But it doesn’t propose to leave fathers with their heads above water. Fathers who take their cues from millennia of Western History have a strong bias against offspring who stray dangerously away from the usual channels. Twenty-first century post-modernism glories in the willful abandonment of past precedents. Which makes fathers wrong for thinking their financial contribution to their children’s survival ratifies any of their ideas. Leave the kids alone! Don’t be a sore loser!
The luxuriant proliferation of genders asking to be recognized creates a need for referees and official answers. Who’s to say that there are only 72 genders this year – as opposed to next year, when a couple dozen more variants clamber for recognition? To put official stamps of approval on the answers expect the job of appointing – and paying for – panels of referees and ‘experts’ to be borne by duly-elected legislative bodies. Only silly neanderthals expect mere fathers to have answers to these scientific issues. How objective can a father be?
The concrete is not yet dry on the social construction of parental roles. While yesterday’s paving is being razed – society is re-laying a new highway. Centuries of keeping fathers in jobs and mothers at home don’t have to be the final destination of human evolution.
According to Karl Marx, ideas are influenced by the material conditions of the times in which they were born. As material conditions change, the ideas of marriage and species procreation evolve.
A list of material conditions: Late twentieth century women initiated the overwhelming majority of divorce applications. They saw significant removal of fathers from homes to facilitate state-encouraged single-mother ‘families.’ Taking potshots at men became a recurrent motif – for example, some claimed the threat of rape is the real motor that makes heterosexual sex work. Fathers’ freedom was restricted by measures designed to enhance the collection of child support. As my case amply illustrates, courts and associated institutions – whole-hardheartedly including academia – have abandoned fathers – and other male-identified men. The early twenty-first century saw mothers’ incomes start to exceed fathers’ incomes – encouraging cheers / hopes from some vocal quarters that mothers can do it all.
Not only are old-fashioned ‘family men’ not desirable anymore. Such men are targeted for a place on endangered species lists. Following quaint customs of bygone millennia is no longer the smart lifestyle.
The stage is set for men to stop beating their wives – now that it has become the deliberate, well advertised social policy for income potential to be wrested from fathers.
Ours is not to reason why
Ours is but to pay child support and die
[Apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson 1809-1892]
>>> The poem on which the two-line lament above is based extolled the nobility and virtue of sending vast numbers of the sons of mothers to their deaths in hopeless battle. Warfare has its own gender unequal calculus – which doesn’t change no matter which chandeliers the rulers who declared the war swung from. But I digress. Save that world of grievances for a bigger book. <<<
You may try to be a nice guy who means no harm – indeed who means to do the right thing. But you’re guilty guilty guilty nevertheless. So don’t try to cover yourself over with an innocent grimace.
You have been beating your wife by keeping her locked at home where she is deprived of challenging adult stimuli. You have been beating your wife by depriving her of opportunities to earn more money. You have been beating your wife by thinking fathers know anything – let alone best – about raising children. You have been beating your wife by trying to teach your children things that your wife doesn’t approve of. You have been beating your wife by trying to teach your children things the very same children don’t approve of – which of course mother doesn’t try to do (wink wink).
Twenty-first century women interpreted ‘liberation’ to mean giving birth to their own fathers. The defining contribution of the new woman to the family was measured in dollars. The ideal to which women were encouraged to aspire was being economic units who outperformed the fathers – who they were now free to dismiss.
Consciousness Raising Too
Consciousness raising was a groundbreaking tool among feminists in the 1970s and 1980s. Men were usually late to that party. Conditions changed in the intervening decades. Time has come for men – especially fathers – to have their consciousness raised to match what has become of feminist consciousnesses.
In its original manifestation there were two main consciousness raise-able issues: improving the economics of women; and preparing the battlefield of money-making for awakened women by, for example, eradicating demeaning labels like “honey” “sweetie” “babe” and “girl.”
Men’s consciousness need work on certain key issues:
>>> Five thousand years of guilt.
>>> What’s a man to do?
>>> Can marriage survive?
Men were not yet signed onto the Women’s Liberation program in 1971 when I started writing the since-abandoned Sunday Times Magazine article on the subject. I thought it best to focus on the average male reader’s ambivalence about what this new political development would mean for them. I tried to say that having another income in the family and a new set of relatable topics to talk about over the dinner table would be groovy. When my militantly feminist then-wife upbraided me for focusing on what liberation would do for men – as opposed to her preference of focusing on the new horizons for women – my sense of mission deflated.
By the end of the 1970s a plurality of men switched from their original aura of skepticism about women’s lib to their new vocal support for the liberation cause. My guess is that the former state of resistance had imploded in the face of repetitive claims that human history was a five thousand year tale of men taking advantage of women. It must have seemed the only decent thing for men to do was eradicate any trace of the exploitative old ways. And join the parade.
Except the five thousand years of men ‘taking advantage’ of women were also five thousand years of women taking advantage of men. Survival of individuals and the species were the name of the game no matter whose calendar.
Advantage? Hundreds of millions of men were disposed of in wars – while common convention in the most populous societies throughout history forbade women from taking up arms. Until the twentieth century men were ordered by their rulers to march in formations while being shot at and mowed down by the tens of thousands by their rulers’ enemies. The twentieth century multiplied death tolls of men to the millions in single military battles.
Men were much more likely than women to be mutilated or killed pursuing dangerous occupations. Until about the nineteenth century, men’s superior body strength was crucial for good farming – the world’s Number One occupation. Back in the day no one – not even the fanciful writers of classical founding myths on which societies based their worship – entertained the notion that a man’s place was in the nursery. Sure, some women chose to expose themselves or were involuntarily exposed to death and danger. Nowhere in the history of art – even going back to cave paintings – is there a depiction of a lone female warrior fighting off a dragon to rescue a weeping male in distress.
Many women were attracted to the idea of liberation because they thought the paid work they chose would be emotionally fulfilling – on their own terms, as much as possible. For fathers, work and emotional fulfillment are only a youthful passing phase. Nietzsche suggested that “a philosopher dies when his first child is born.” A man may have been attracted to the idea of becoming a philosopher / artist / explorer / ne’er do well. But the moment his first child was born the terms of engagement changed. The time for his head in the clouds was over. He knew he’d better redirect himself to earning enough for every single members of his family to thrive. Fathers abandoned emotional fulfillment from work to avoid real guilt.
Of course there were some men who treated women badly – or worse. But as long as at least one person of one gender needed at least one person of a different gender to make their modest contribution to the survival of the species, people tried to more or less get along. A never-married Beethoven wrote a hopelessly romantic symphony about how all men will become brothers. Far more music was written about how a single man wanted to devote himself to a single woman to become a harmonious duo in the eternity of love.
What’s a man to do?
Talk about what men used to do: “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22)
In very old Common Law history children were ‘covered’ by their fathers – meaning fathers not only fed, clothed and sheltered the little ones, but also educated them in the ways of the world – such as church-going, work and – as far as feasible – reading and writing. Mothers came with the package, but with more circumscribed roles.
The Industrial Revolution sucked fathers out of their homes – causing some important family functions to metamorphose. Until they too took jobs in the satanic mills, mothers took on more day-to-day family decision making.
Very late in the twentieth century the income potentials of mothers and fathers began a counter clockwise rotation – at least among white-skinned toilers. This material change was large enough to suggest alterations in parental roles. Suggest – but not mandate. Eventually mothers too worked outside the home. Nevertheless they maintained their grip on their children’s loyalty. Mothers roles expanded. Fathers might spend more hours in their castles. But it was assumed they’d voluntarily step away from the throne the instant they found new jobs that paid. Fathers roles contracted.
Some people are so invested in the SWAG – Scientific Wild-Assed Guess – that fathers have taken advantage of mothers for vast swaths of history that revenge is their devouring motivation. This appears to be New York State’s lesson to me. The Single Mother Military-Industrial Complex has also outgunned an uncounted number of other fathers.
At the beginning of the latest wave of feminism the most effective organizing tool was consciousness raising. Bad things weren’t happening just to individuals within the confines of their own private thoughts and emotions. They were also happening to all women as a class. Or so it was woven. The zeitgeist’s prevailing answer was to point their collective fingers at men as authors of their downfalls. The common consensus was that women no longer wanted to be taken advantage of.
Certainly history has had no shortage of men who behaved badly to women. All the same, societies aren’t built on one-legged stools. There are many many other sources of unhappiness in life beyond the grasp of men’s hands. Women may not have gotten all they wanted from their lives. Who did? Dissatisfaction with their lots in life isn’t exclusive to the gender that makes the greatest clamor.
Launching a wave of men’s consciousness raising needs no stimulus more powerful than a desire by men to no longer be taken advantage of. It doesn’t really matter if Eve tempted Adam. Or Adam tempted Eve. Judges in New York State are picked in general elections – in which men and women vote. My all-male panel of Appeals Court judges dispatched my case in their rabid anti-father manner because voters have for decades been on an exclusive regimen of the only drink in town: feminist Kool-aid ™. That’s not a well-rounded diet. Voters who elect similarly-inclined judges and public officials have to be made aware that twentieth-and-early-twenty-first-century feminism has reached its peak. It has been promoted to its highest level of incompetence. We are now ready for the next consciousness liberation revolution. One that disfavors no gender.
Generating a family’s income will certainly never return to those bygone days when it was father’s exclusive franchise. Set aside the questions: What is a family? and Will guaranteed incomes liberate both women and men from the need to work? Working to create essential family incomes has become almost as standard for women as it has always been for men – with a few exceptions here and there. But that doesn’t mean the sunshine brings even-handed cheer wherever it radiates.
Dogs hear whistles the human ears can’t detect. Apparently the call of the marketplace sounds different to different genders. The whistles of grime and danger don’t register equally in women’s and men’s ears. Childbirth, nursing and a few other women-dominated pursuits have measurable degrees of risk. Yet the first few decades of women’s lib have increased the numbers of women in white blouse jobs while keeping men lonely in the ranks of the most perilous occupations – like front-line military, hazardous equipment operators, dicey construction trades like roofer and blaster. Men have gallantly spared women from the grime of municipal and industrial sanitation jobs.
Lysistrata was an ancient Greek suggestion that holding out certain essential services may produce desired strategic results. If the distribution of job holders in all of the vast array of occupations is supposed to be close to equal, men have to brush off their copies of that venerable Greek play. Men have to exercise their right of refusal until women occupy an equal share of all the less desirable / less prestigious / more dangerous jobs.
Men’s consciousness raising will likely begin by dredging up to full awareness the unfairness of life. Level one of the pain of life is due to life itself – which doesn’t play by human’s rules. Other unfairnesses are due to the way human’s mutual creations – societies – organize themselves. Level two is to deal with how societies have allowed women to exploit men. And the neat trick of appealing to men’s pride – by calling it ‘chivalrous’ for men to deny being exploited.
Discomfort generates a search for cures. Women’s consciousness raising led to decades of blaming men for life’s discomforts. Societies adopted raw versions of these ‘cures’ – complete with their own brand of unfairness. Fathers were reduced to being wallets with only a marginally recognized right to be in their children’s lives.
One of the proudest achievements of late-twentieth-century-early-twenty-first-century feminism is the robust proliferation of employment opportunities for women. This idea was sold as a victory for women emerging from their husbands’ repression. That fake explanation ignores all the forces in societies prior to the late twentieth century that discouraged women from paid employment – most assuredly including other women who didn’t think it was right and proper to mix women and men together in the workplace – away from the watchful eyes of wives.
Whatever. Now even a blind crow can see women in all kinds of employment. With or without men – with or without wives. Top women’s job preferences are: clean white blouse paper shuffling, or blue blouse keyboard tapping, or nursing, or teaching. Some women entrepreneurs try to make their marks in their own virtual and brick-and-mortar enterprises. They dare this choice despite the whisper that female employees prefer male bosses. Near the nadir of the list are jobs that require strength.
Modern machines are rapidly equalizing the need for strength in the workplace. Occupational engineers – especially the newest crop of female occupational engineers – should consider it their sacred duty to make strength a non-factor in employment – perhaps by inventing exoskeletons that make their female wearers muscle-bound goddesses. While they’re at it, women in the military await not-yet-perfected strength- and endurance-boosting brainstorms.
We’ll know we’ve reached the promised land of gender equality when working mothers sincerely encourage their husbands to be their childrens’ stay-at-home parent. This simple break from the past has the additional virtue of ensuring that father’s income doesn’t beat mother’s income – the grand-slam hole-in-one completed-hail-mary of life all wrapped up in one flashing neon package.
If it’s clear who’s supposed to do what with the children, both parents will experience radically diminished role jealousy – which effortlessly puts mother higher on the domestic authority podium. Personnel selection among job applicants / other xy/xx pretenders to the nanny role will disappear just like that. Dad as caretaker and home-school teacher evaporates anxieties about whether hired help in contact with the children have their best interests at heart. And engaged fathers occupying all those significant roles are much more portable than hired hands when going on trips and vacations.
Nietzsche warned that some major social changes take at least two centuries before they become accepted routine. Unfortunately it may take that long before fathers completely break the venerable chains which manacled them to the outside job site. It isn’t clear at this juncture in time whether father are ready or willing to give birth to their own mothers.
How will marriage survive?
Ecclesiastes had the winningest marriage lottery ticket in the ancient Western world. Seven hundred wives, three hundred concubines. Even the notorious Henry VIII – with all his regal pretensions and hormones – was hardly a match. The overwhelming majority of men might have harbored wet dreams of Ecclesiastes’ abundance. But made due with only as many or as few female mates as could fit with them on their well-worn mattresses.
Sharing a bed is not the same as marrying – except in the state of South Carolina if you’re not careful. Biology – as it was played traditionally – said men had an advantage over women when trying to imitate Ecclesiastes. They can more blithely notch their belts with no tell-tale consequences.
Late twentieth century feminism voiced its grievances about the vestiges of marriage which survived to its day. Money and signs of disrespect – like the demeaning use of the words “honey” and “babe” – were their first targets. A decade or so later the uneven hand of biology came under the scope.
Reproduction – including the act of coupling – has unequal consequences on the bodies and minds of its participants. The phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’ originated in the Baroque era. In the late twentieth century it was revived and treated as if it was an inalienable right. Since there is no compelling biological reason why the pleasure aspect of plaisir d’amour can’t or shouldn’t be equal – like everything else involving genders – it follows that there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be so. Liberated women demanded an equal right to plaisir!
Men’s consciousness raising has to meet the species’ need to survive into the future. Revise that proposition. Men with bounteous resources probably are not in any compelling need to have their consciounesses raised – if they stay within their lanes and don’t abuse their good fortune. Men with only moderate or modest or limited resources – the vast majority of men – need to have their backs covered in the new world. The ones who are destined to have their lives pared so their rulers can use them as cannon fodder. The ones who are compelled to have their work alienated from them because that’s what history has always done. The ones who gamble with dangerous and obnoxious jobs. The ones who are alienated from their children by calculating mothers and hostile courts.
Men’s consciousness raising needs to address the advantages gained by self-described ‘liberated’ women in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Many men have given up on the prospect of marrying – for fear that at some unknown point their wives will go to court and be awarded half or more of their accumulated wealth. The workplace has defined equality for paper or keyboard shuffling jobs as priority in favor of women – but not for dangerous or unattractive employment. Social policy has unabashedly idealized single mothers. Fathers are fortunate if they are allowed to be in the same room as their children.
In other words, men’s consciousness raising has the urgent mission of finding convincing reasons for men to continue participating in society.