Saturday, January 15, 2005

David Brooks says women should marry and have children

NY Times columnist David Brooks writes today that women should marry early and have children in their twenties during their "most fertile years," then move into a career in their mid thirties. Instead of the way its currently done where women interrupt their careers in their mid thirties to marry and have children.

David Brooks' suggestion may be logical, but the problem I have with it is that I don't want to get married and have chidren right now.

He also seems to be suggesting that we need goverment programs to encourage women to marry earlier, but I think we already have too many government programs and we would be better off eliminating those we have instead of piling on new ones.

Over at Rising Hegemon (a blog with a political viewpoint I don't think I'd agree with), the blogger Attaturk (who describes himself as "a man, not unlike other men, except for my womanly manner") writes that David Brooks' suggestion is creepy. "The guy is really creeping me out about the need for women to have babies," he says.

Pamela Leavey at Light Up The Darkness seems to be very mad at Brooks for his suggestion. She accuses him of saying that women should just be wives and shouldn't have careers. I'd be mad at him too if I thought he was saying that, but it's pretty clear to me he was saying that women should just change the order in which they do things.

However, I think that if women followed Brooks' suggestion, they would set themselves up for a huge failure. No one would want to hire a woman first entering the labor force in her mid thirties, and she'd never wind up having any sort of serious career.


Adam said...

He also seems to be suggesting that we need goverment programs to encourage women to marry earlier.

Ugh, no. No way.

drunkenbatman said...

That really is kinda creepy. Any real form of social engineering kinda wigs me out, although I can see where in some cases it's a good idea.

sandy said...

Let's see, if women followed David's suggestions, they would fail and not have a career at all, according to Libertarian Girl. But after reading David's own words, she can't follow them to their logical conclusion? Women are more valuable as producers of a work force (of males) than contributing to the work force themselves. What he suggests is actually more disgusting than women only being valued as wives. He seems to think our value is merely as breeders. Family values. Wohooo!

"I suspect that if more people had the chance to focus exclusively on child-rearing before training for and launching a career, fertility rates would rise. That would be good for the country, for as Phillip Longman, author of "The Empty Cradle," has argued, we are consuming more human capital than we are producing - or to put it another way, we don't have enough young people to support our old people."

Amber said...

I personally can't imagine what an effective government program (is that an oxymoron?) to encourage earlier marriage and childbearing would look like, and I don't think that's the way to go. I think the only possible way the government could have an impact in this area is to perhaps lighten up on the high school to college to work to retirement to death (and oh yeah, you can have kids in there somewhere, if you get around to it, but we won't talk about that) spiel they spout at government schools. However, I can't say I trust them to do any better with any other message... anyways, that wasn't the reason I wanted to comment.

I wanted to comment on your last paragraph, where you state that women who start later in the workforce would be setting themselves up for failure. I disagree with this. I think that a 35 year old, fresh out of college or a job training program, would compete favorably with a 22 year old in the same situation. The 35 year old would probably have an advantage in some ways, because she would most likely have more maturity and greater life experience. So long as she's willing to accept the same sort of salary a 22 year old could command, I think the 35 year old would be a better pick. Speaking from my own personal experience, my work ethic and sense of direction have gotten stronger as I've aged, and I think I am not alone in this.

Also, a 35 year old might not be entering into the traditional "wage slave" work environment. She and her husband have probably built up some capital over the years, and she may have the money, confidence, connections and knowledge to start her own small business - all things a 22 year old could very well lack. Or perhaps one of her "mom friends" might have already started a successful small business and be looking for dedicated employees who understand a bit more about life... and perhaps she doesn't want to deal with a 20-something recent college grad who doesn't value her life experience.

Mark H. Foxwell said...

Ah, what you won't recognize is that we don't have free system that evolved freely. We have had centuries of political struggle _toward_ freedom and democracy, but we are not there and never have been in the past. If there is to be a truly free society, be it unregulated and hence "liberatarian" or the result of collective social determination to liberate people in a meaningful way (which may well mean all kinds of collective organization that persists forever)--that is in a hypothetical future.

Right now we live in a propertarian dictatorship. People with wealth are the aristocracy, around whom society is supposed to revolve, and people without it must dance to the tune of someone with it--a lot of wealth, if you just have enough to survive for a month or a year, you can only buy a little time with that. Whereas people with wealth have set things up so that it always returns to them, usually in ever increasing amounts--it comes from you. Just as, in the Middle Ages, there were lords and clergy that everyone had to agree were entitled by their God-appointed position in the world to rule or hold the keys of arcane knowledge--so today, we just accept as a given that property entitles its holders to power and that we are accountable to them, not the other way around.

It is only in this context you can make sense of what happens in our society or in any part of it, like the labor market.

Brooks is apparently saying a _lot_ of reactionary stuff, and you are giving him credit for being moderate! But why should _only women_ hold off on career development? Aren't the men who father these children Brooks wants to "encourage" (of course until feminists fought to change things, this "encouragement" was more easily and cheaply done with coercion rather than by positive means and probably would be done that way again) just as involved in their offspring's lives? If it makes sense for women to devote their young years to getting pregnant and raising babies, shouldn't their husbands be right there with them? And then when they both get older they _both_ could go out and have careers. Why just women?

Oh, because who would _feed_ the mother and child? Well gosh, I guess the only way that God intended the world to be is that a young man marries a young woman, then he spends 95 percent of his waking hours either at work "bringing home the mammoth steaks" or at a bar blowing off steam, then back home to the wife, maybe knock her up again, and so it goes until he dies of a heart attack. Or more likely, when his precious career really takes off, he ditches the first wife, and marries a young one to have fun with and the first wife and her kids are left to scramble.

Now suppose we were more open to other ways to organize society. The older generation might take care of the younger one, which is busy having grandchildren. Or if you are really interested in _freedom_ perhaps what we need is ways to bring together raising children _with_ all the stuff we do as grownups to make the world run. No need then to put any of it off, no need to separate men and women onto different tracks.

But we don't live in a humanistic utopia, we live in a competitive, exploitive, ruthless capitalist society. As long as that is true you can't expect anyone in power, or any apologist for the powerful, to either be decent or make sense.

It is crystal clear to me that this Brooks idiot is a reactionary who wants to further close the prison walls on all of us, and figures that it is necessary to take baby steps to take our hard-won freedoms away one by one. (Though things are happening and have been all our lives that threaten to take them all at once, and are sucking the life out of them all the time. But meanwhile some people fight for more freedom instead and so it goes back and forth.) If you study the history of feminism at all you can see that there are movements that come in waves, and then countermovements to take back or denature the freedoms won before, and so women are often struggling to regain the same freedoms their ancestresses already fought for, won--and lost.

Sexual difference is a biological fact, but sticking women with the _role_ of raising the kids instead of roping _everyone_ in on it is a social choice. But here's the trick--we don't choose our social mechanisms arbitrarily. They have to mesh with the other mechanisms. It may be that gender polarization and trying to lock women up in the house are not _necessary_ to a capitalist society, but these stereotyped roles _do work_, in the sense that it is a tried and proven fact you can run a competitive, ruthless capitalist civilization on that basis and reproduce another ruthless, competitive generation that way. It may be that women, and men for that matter, might be miserable and unfulfilled--but so what, it isn't really about people being happy, it is about the system reproducing itself.

And the way ruthless, competitive systems reproduce themselves is to set up an elite minority with privileges and power--the concentrated productive power of all the other, exploited people, in fact--and leave the day to day problems of managing the society so it stays on a track that benefits them up to their discretion. Of course they are trained in this, by their families and by the instititions of their society, just as those they dominate are trained in their roles. Part of this training has the effect of separating those who might apply their consciences rationally from the levers of power, by first of all trying to persuade people that the way things are is the way they must be, and then by teaching people to deceive themselves and take pride in that--and eventually by either distracting the persistant troublemakers or getting rid of them somehow.

So if you want your neighbors to respect new ways of organizing your own life that are meant to benefit you and those you care about, and if you are not content to be taken as just another warrior in the war of all against all, you have a slightly different war on your hands. You can only control your own life, but if you do not freely choose to find other people and trust them to work _with_ you for some purpose that is not merely selfish, to deliberately work together toward a good society, you can expect nothing but the tried and true roles a society that does _not_ care about you to be practically available.

Our society says that a woman who wants to do something other than have babies for a man is really not a woman but a woman pretending to _be_ a man. Therefore unlike a man, who is supposed to have a wife to keep his house and have his babies for him, you have to choose. They will tell you this is just nature, but it is not. This is oppression, for everyone.

Stand up for your freedom; corporate columnists won't give it to you.

Pamela Leavey said...

Well put Mark Foxwell!

Libertarian Girl,

What any writer means is clearly up to the interpretation of the reader, but I fear you missed part of the point I was getting at, which was that Brooks column falls neatly in line with Bush's plans to sell marriage to the public. That is part and parcel of the Fundamentalist influence on the Bush administration.

Women have been fighting for decades to get out of the house and have lives beyond their family. We still don't have complete equality in the workplace and if Bush has his way, he'll set us back a few notches.

I would suggest you might take a women's studies studies class and learn some of the history of what women have been through under the influences of Christianity. Women were once the power holders in this world, Christianity buried that fact centuries ago.

There is more to Brooks' column than meets the eye, and more to the Bush administration's marriage plan.

As an only parent, a business owner and a women who has spent years studying women's history I see what is in play here, and it disturbs me, for the future of my daughter and every woman in this country.