Committee Of Correspondence

Women in America

Barbara Bergmann
9:35 a.m.  Tuesday  11/12/96

       Women are walking away from violent and domineering partners as never before, which is good, and men are walking away from long-term commitment, which is sad. That creates large numbers of single parents. Government programs that supplement the pay of low-wage single parents with child-care and health-care vouchers would encourage job-holding and reduce poverty, but wouldn’t do much to discourage illegitimacy, which Kate O’Beirne suggests is an important goal. That is regrettable. But it would be even more regrettable to continue letting almost a quarter of the country’s kids grow up in poverty. Think what kind of a country we will have 30 years from now if a quarter of the adult citizens have had nightmare childhoods. That doesn’t improve the character.
       Herb Stein asks if it’s right for married parents (the virtuous) to pay taxes to help single parents (who have loused up). The answer, of course, is that it is right and good for the more prosperous–married, single, or whatever–to help the less prosperous, as Jesus advised us. However, a major contribution should come from child-support payments from absent parents, mostly fathers. We need to get child support out of the courts and administer it like a tax: Establish payment levels as a percentage of the absent parent’s current income, and turn the collection over to the IRS. More work for “big government.” Linda Chavez
12:04 p.m.  Tuesday  11/12/96

       Bergmann, Pollitt, and Friedan all seem to think that government can solve most of, if not all, women’s problems–ensure higher wages, take care of providing for their children, care for them in their old age. And they see great promise in a gender gap that shows women rushing to support candidates who promise more government entitlements. Exactly who do they think will pay for these government programs and mandates? The average family already pays up to 40 percemt of its income in various federal, state, and local taxes–that’s often more than the entire earnings of a working wife. Government isn’t woman’s savior but her taskmaster, taking away her individual freedom and replacing it with collective decision-making that robs her of real choices.
       Feminists clamor for more child-care centers, but say nothing about cutting taxes so that more working mothers might stay home with their own children. Bill Clinton wants inner-city public-school students to dress like parochial-school students, but won’t give their parents a tax credit or school voucher so their children could attend such schools. And while Bergmann may sarcastically deride efforts to toughen divorce laws and preach family values, in fact, the precarious state of the two-parent family not only [impoverishes] women but their children, too. Betty Friedan
1:19 p.m.  Tuesday  11/12/96

       I think there is a lot of obsolete thinking in some of the moderator’s questions. There is something in all these questions that puts the blame on the women for there being so many single parents and the single parents not doing well. Partly, that’s because women still do not earn as much as men–although they are certainly catching up. But partly, it is because a single parent simply cannot raise a family with a good standard of living.
       It takes two paychecks to raise a family. So when you are talking about a single parent, you are talking about the fact that it takes more than one single mother, (or father, for that matter) to raise a child well. And it is not true that families with one male earner are better off than they were before. They are not better off. That is one reason why the great majority of married women now do work outside the home.
       Fathers may not accept 50 percent of the responsibility. A lot of women wouldn’t necessarily want them to, because women get a lot of power out of being the main one. The latest evidence I’ve seen is that fathers are accepting 40 percent of the child-care and household responsibility. But as Hillary Rodham Clinton said, it takes a village to raise a child.
       And why are we regressively discussing all this as if it were just a question of the mother selfishly wanting a higher standard of living and working when she should be staying home? This is obsolete. It is not a possible solution. We should be talking about really good societal solutions. Why are we way behind most other countries in good, affordable, scaled-to-ability-to-pay child care–as they have in countries like France? Why are we not (instead of spouting hypocrisy about family values) saying the welfare of families–whatever their economic level–is a nation’s priority. Katha Pollitt
1:47 p.m.  Tuesday  11/12/96

       I’m always amused when conservative women pundits like Linda Chavez and Kate O’Beirne mourn the death of traditional marriage and “morality.” I don’t see either of these formidable women subjecting themselves for two minutes to the kinds of misery they think other women should embrace in the name of cutting big government and lowering taxes. And have they forgotten that marriage takes two? The first Mrs. Dole and the first Mrs. Gingrich had plenty of family values, and look what happened to them!
       Uncle Sam hasn’t replaced Mr. Right–most women still want to marry. He hasn’t even replaced Mr. OK. He’s replaced–however stingily–Mr. Wrong, as in violent, addicted, belittling, unfaithful, AWOL, and pays no child support. That the survival of a woman and her children should not depend on the benevolence of one man–this is good! Besides, raising children is essential social labor, not some little private indulgence. Why shouldn’t society underwrite it–not just for the poor, but for everyone?
       P.S. I’d like to hear Linda Chavez explain how she squares her attacks on government-funded child care with her support for welfare reform, which will push millions of infants and toddlers into full-time day care–and probably substandard care at that. (Only married mothers with middle-income husbands would be enabled to stay home by the big tax cut she favors.) What’s good for children doesn’t seem to enter into her argument at all where the poor are concerned. Herb Stein
2:39 p.m.  Tuesday  11/12/96

       I am trying to distinguish two problems–the poverty problem and the women’s problem.
       In 1994 (the latest figures I have handy), about 16 percent of all women and about 13 percent of all men had incomes below the poverty line. I don’t place any weight on the absolute size of these numbers, “poverty” being very hard to define, let alone measure. The point is that poverty is not specifically a women’s problem, and doing something about it is not specifically a women’s policy. I think we in the country, and probably on this panel, are agreed on doing something about poverty.
       The question is whether being a woman, or being a single woman, or being a single mother, not in a situation of poverty, however we measure it, is a social problem requiring a “societal” solution, to use Friedan’s word. People have problems, men as well as women, but they do not all call for societal solutions, and they are not all amenable to societal solution.
       I gather from the discussion that many women would regard a stable marriage with mutual commitments and shared responsibility in and out of the home, which might or might not involve both spouses working outside the home, as a highly desirable way of life. Why don’t some women who would prefer that way of life find it? Bergmann says that “men are walking away from long-term commitment.” Why is that? Can the government provide any substitute for that, in cases where the income is not the central problem? Why should we despair of changing attitudes, or mores, or values, after some of the people on this panel have given a demonstration of their ability to do that by their past writings?