Kudos to Courageous Columnist Kathleen Parker

Kudos to Courageous Columnist Kathleen Parker

Two of my favorite female pundits are Kathleen Parker and Maureen Dowd. Both write syndicated columns for major American newspapers and speak from a woman’s perspective on contemporary social and political issues.

I enjoy reading them because they are both informed, generally reliable (on the facts), rhetorically pleasing (clear, crisp, provocative), and courageous.

More often than not I agree with Dowd on political issues and disagree with her on social issues and especially gender issues (other than the need for total equality of women and men). More often than not I disagree with Parker on political issues and agree with her on social issues and especially gender issues.

Parker writes for the Washington Post (and her columns are syndicated to numerous newspapers) and is generally conservative (even though she has been quite critical of what she regards as an extreme rightward tilt of the Republican party). She frequently writes about men and clearly disagrees with those who argue that men are not necessary. She is not beloved by many feminists.

One of her recent columns is about President Obama’s failure to speak out publicly about the importance of fathers. (The column’s title in the Post was “America’s reluctant first father.”) Of course, as she notes, the president has created a task force to promote fatherhood. Her complaint is that he could do so much more to promote it.

Parker dares to say what many are afraid to say publicly: Children raised in single parent homes, whether the missing parent be a mother or a father, tend to be at a disadvantage. She highlights the plight of a Hispanic scholar at the University of Texas (Lino Graglia) who is under attack for saying that “blacks and Hispanics are falling behind in education because they tend to come from single-parent families.” That is, to many contemporary people in higher education “pure blasphemy.”

The shocking statistic is that approximately 70 percent of African-American kids are born out of wedlock. Parker dares to say that “They are disadvantaged by neighborhoods and a community culture often bereft of healthy male role models.” About the president she says if he “uttered these words, they would be embraced as irrefutable truths.”

Over the years Parker has stood up for men without defending patriarchy. In 2008 her book Save the Males: Why Men Matter Why Women Should Care was published. She has been an outspoken advocate for good men, good fathers, good male role models and for boys. She does not presume that all men are good; she simply advocates for society to highlight and value the accomplishments of men and especially the importance of fathers.

I have watched in vain, however, for any word from Parker about men’s health. I would like for her (I’m turning the tables on her now) to speak out (as she says the president should) about the need for society (the media, the medical community, the government) to promote health among men. The vast majority of gender-specific health studies and public service commercials are aimed at women while men continue to die, on average, younger than women. The U.S. government includes an Office for Women’s Health but not one for men’s health. There’s inequality. (Yes, yes, I know all the arguments for it, but after twenty-some years I think balance has been achieved and it’s time to have greater equality in this area.) And when was the last time anyone saw a public service announcement aimed at men to promote men’s health? They are rare compared to the constant barrage of public service announcements about women’s health.

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  • Tim Reisdorf

    It’s always good to see people standing up for healthy and intact families – even for the role of the father in those families as the importance of the mother is often seen as singularly primary. I would give kudos to D P Moynihan who drew national attention to the crisis of fatherless families many years ago. Regrettably, the situation has only worsened as there are many moral hazards in our society concerning this issue.

  • K Gray

    Remember in 2008 when Jesse Jackson Jr. was caught on mike wanting to crudely “bust” then-candidate Obama for “talking down to black people?” He was referring to Mr. Obama’s comments responsible fatherhood in[campaign] speeches in African-American churches. One 2008 news article said “In a recent Father’s Day speech at a black church, Obama took absent black fathers to task, saying, ‘We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child — it’s the courage to raise one.’ ” Jesse Jackson and co. did not like that, and the issue has gone quiet since then.

    On this issue, we apparently are NOT supposed to follow science — social science, statistics, evidence, longitudinal studies, etc. Too negative! And it contradicts too many powerful modern conceits: that women can do everything that men can do and vice versa (e.g., fulfill the role of a father); that autonomy and freedom mean no one should depend on anyone else through life; that marriage is about falling in love and being happy for as long as you’re happy until you’re not, then ‘move on’; that humans cannot/should not remain ‘sexually unfulfilled’ at any stage of life; that only ‘wanted’ children should be born, and so forth.

    In the name of equality, the outcomes of these modern maxims are supposed to be ignored.

  • K Gray

    Re Lino Graglia: I took his famed antitrust class in law school. In my experience, he was unfailingly an old-school gentleman, although intimidating. The older, most renowned professors seemed to treat all students as intellectual beings rather than political categories.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    You may be interested in this recent essay by Kay S. Hymowitz in the City Journal as to the dearth of C-level females. It seems balanced, thorough, and thoughtful – though not especially brief. I’d be interested to know what you think.

  • I am extremely tired of male victimhood. can we focus on the real victims of patriarchy before rushing to woundedness/

    • rogereolson

      I assume you mean the myth of male victimhood? Are you arguing that children raised without fathers are at a disadvantage? If so, you are going against much, if not most, social scientific research. And haven’t we heard about female victimhood for a long time and continuing? IF some males are victims of social injustice, don’t you think it would be a good idea to focus some attention on that? Justice isn’t a finite pie, you know. There’s enough to go all around if we try.

  • Jon Altman

    The problem with Parker’s column about President Obama’s supposed “reluctance” to address fatherhood was that it was not based in fact. Fellow WaPo editorialist Jonathan Capehart extensively documented the NUMEROUS times President Obama has spoken out about fatherhood.

    • rogereolson

      Good. I hope both are right–that Obama has spoken out about the problem and should speak out even more. But my point was to congratulate Parker and say “may her tribe increase.”

  • I recently heard this idea that President Obama has been remiss about speaking out regarding fathers from another conservative. I thought it was bizarre, but I’m truely shocked that someone with the stature of Ms. Parker would also put out this ridiculously unfounded claim. It must be the current conservative meme. The reality is that Obama has often spoken out on this issue. He’s been positively Cosbey-eque in his message. It could be that the media, being part of the educated mass hasn’t made a big enough deal out of it. And certainly not all liberals – particularly feminists who disdain marriage – have been happy with him over it. But just a couple of samples:

    ” We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled – doubled – since we were children. We know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it. ” – Obama, June 2008

    “But we also know that what too many fathers being absent means — too many fathers missing from too many homes, missing from too many lives. We know that when fathers abandon their responsibilities, there’s harm done to those kids. We know that children who grow up without a father are more likely to live in poverty. They’re more likely to drop out of school. They’re more likely to wind up in prison. They’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They’re more likely to run away from home. They’re more likely to become teenage parents themselves.
    “And I say all this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life. He left my family when I was two years old. And while I was lucky to have a wonderful mother and loving grandparents who poured everything they had into me and my sister, I still felt the weight of that absence. It’s something that leaves a hole in a child’s life that no government can fill. ” -Obama 2010

    “In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence—both in my life and in the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference. ” – Obama, Parade Magazine, June 2009

    These are just a couple of examples which I found by searching for “Obama Father’s Day”. I know he’s spoken on the topic at other times, but I don’t have time to spend digging at the moment. At any rate, I don’t think Parker deserves praise. She appears to be engaging in what has unfortunately become normal conservative behavior: saying something demonstrably and patently false about one’s political opponent until it becomes viewed as truth by dint of repitition. If conservatives hadn’t spent the last 4 years making the defeat of Obama their top priority (as opposed to the good of the country), perhaps they could have amplified Obama’s message regarding fathers so it could have a greater impact.

    • K Gray

      President Obama’s initiative is called the Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund, a line item in the fiscal 2011 budget. To my knowledge that budget has not passed the Senate, but the fund is probably operational in some manner – providing grants to states for family-related programs.

  • John I.

    Re men’s health awareness. Is there no “Movember” in your neck of the woods? That is, the growing of moustaches in November to raise awareness about men’s health issues.

    • rogereolson

      Good question. I first heard of “Movember” via a sign in a store window on the pedestrian zone in downtown Boulder, Colorado–about five years ago. It made me curious, so I googled it and learned that it is a movement begun in Australia to raise money for men’s health (especially prostate cancer) research. Since then I’ve seen a few signs of it here and there (in the U.S.). But what dismays me is the way the media and non-profit health organizations pretty much ignore it (as they do men’s health in general). All year we are inundated with information and appeals about breast cancer and women’s heart health. I rarely see any public service announcement aimed at men’s health. When I have asked the organizations (local and national) that promote women’s health so passionately why they spend so little on men’s health they always give me answers worded almost exactly the same which tells me health professionals have discussed the issue and decided to neglect it and answer questions “this way.” The first main answer is that men are not interested in their own health. My response (always ignored) is “So what? Society should be. Women should be. When men die young they often leave behind an impoverished widow and family.” The second answer given is “Women are the ‘decision makers’ about health in most families.” Again, I ask “So what? Aim some public announcements at women about men’s health.” No response. Here’s my theory. Females make more sympathetic causes than men. People will give to breast cancer research and women’s health research and public information projects (e.g., “Go Red for Women”) but not to men’s health research and projects. I notice, for example, that the vast majority of “poster children” for health and medical related fund raising (e.g., children’s hospitals) are girls. Rarely boys. So, I think the neglect of “Movember” in the media and by government and non-profit organizations is rooted in a gender bias that favors females in all things health-related. I could go on and on giving evidences, but I think anyone who pays attention to public health information and fund raising can’t fail to see it.