The Root of the Conservative War on Contraception Comes From a Deep-seated Anxiety
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Still, I’m grateful to Steele for his honesty in explaining what he thinks this issue is about. The new GOP code word this year is “dependency,” and they’re afraid of it for a few different reasons. Sen. Jim DeMint says Obama is out to make more Americans dependent in order to insure that they vote Democratic. Steele thinks that if women can depend on Obama to give them a pill (?) they won’t rely on men, as fathers and “potential fathers.” Santorum has been the most direct in tying government dependency to the decline of the family. In Obama’s America, “the family is not there,” Santorum said. “The government is there to provide. It is not the road to success.”
But the civilizing, stabilizing benefits of marriage, as described by Murray and embraced by Santorum, seem to derive not from the partnership or companionship or economic stability marriage can offer. In fact, they only appear to spring from a particular form of marriage – which Murray is pretty honest about identifying as headed by a man. It is the loss of the role of provider that’s sapping the work ethic of white lower-class men, Murray argues openly.
A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. If that same man lives under a system that says the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, that status will go away.
Santorum has attacked feminists for their “misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.”
In the view of Murray, Santorum and, to some degree Steele, government dependency frees a woman from being dependent on a man – and that’s not good for men. It’s as though liberated from the burden of providing for a woman (even just providing contraception!), a man can’t be trusted to be responsible, for his children, or even himself.
All of this concern about the independence of women – supposedly facilitated by the possibility of their dependence on government – goes against the grain of global trends. In the developing world, we know that educating women is key to improving the living standards of their communities and their countries. When girls are educated, they postpone motherhood, and when they do have children, their kids are healthier, better educated and their families are more stable. (Nicholas Kristof has written about this; I wonder how he balances the imperative of educating and empowering women with the requirement that they “civilize” men.) The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found that countries where women have more power are more economically successful.
Interestingly, in this country there seems to be one almost foolproof way to prevent single parenthood (besides contraception): college. Only 6 percent of college-educated single women had children from 2006-2008, according to the National Marriage Project, a pro-marriage think tank housed at the University of Virginia, versus 54 percent of women who didn’t graduate from high school and 44 percent of those with high school diplomas. Murray also finds that college-educated women are far less likely to become single moms; college-educated couples are also less likely to get divorced or to have kids who spend time in single-parent homes. If they don’t like contraception (the easiest way to help single women avoid having kids), they should at least push college as the solution to too many kids being raised by single moms.