To truly be ‘pro-family,’ you have to be pro-worker

To truly be ‘pro-family,’ you have to be pro-worker February 21, 2013

Kathleen Geier asks “Why have family-friendly work policies fallen off the national agenda?

A big part of the answer is that the category of “family-friendly” has been replaced by the category of “pro-family,” which is, in turn, a euphemism for anti-feminist and anti-gay.

And since family-friendly work policies would increase the options, choices, freedom and quality of life for women, they tend to be opposed by pro-family groups.

Those “pro-family” groups — and the religious leaders who support them — have also demonstrated for decades now that the value they place on “family values” is always secondary to the value they place on unfettered corporate freedom. Hence, for example, their utter lack of support for Title IX or for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act — two measures that ought to have the enthusiastic support of anyone who values families and dislikes abortion.

This is a two-part problem. The first part is that we have surrendered the necessary task of advocating on behalf of families to “pro-family” clerics and lobbyists who are more anti-modern than actually pro-family, meaning families do not now have any effective advocates for their interests and for what Geier calls “policies that promote work-family balance.”

The second part is that these “pro-family” clerics and lobbyists have been pushing an anti-feminist, anti-woman agenda that winds up hurting families.

Bryce Covert has a smart discussion of this in a post titled, “We’re All Women Workers Now: How the Floor of the Economy Has Dropped for Everyone“:

Our workforce, once dominated by men, is now pretty much equally split between the genders. But a funny thing has happened since women entered it in droves: rather than all workers enjoying the stable, unionized, blue collar jobs men typically held until the latter part of the 20th century, the jobs held by all workers look more and more like stereotypical “women’s work.” These jobs expect workers not just to make a product, but to do it with a warm attitude. They are less likely to be full-time, but instead modeled after part-time work for “pin money.” And an increasing number of jobs are low-pay, low-benefit work in the service sector, once the purview of women workers. We’re all women workers now, and we’re all suffering for it.

… Even full-time employment looks increasingly like the service sector jobs that were once thought to provide women “pin money,” not the sole source of income for a family. A report from the National Employment Law Project found that mid-wage jobs have been all but replaced by low-wage jobs in the recovery period. Retail has led the pack in creating jobs — about a third of the people who got a job in November, for example, got it in retail. The sector added over 140,000 jobs between September and November. Food service and other service sector jobs also lead the pack. These have traditionally been dominated by women, but now if you want a job, both genders have to take a look at working jobs that offer little pay, few benefits and barely any stability.

There’s a general principle at work here. It’s what Martin Luther King Jr. described in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Privilege can’t be preserved by keeping others down — that will only lead to everyone being kept down with them. If you want to preserve your privileges, insist that they are not privileges at all, but rights — and that they are the right of everyone.

One way or the other everyone will eventually wind up in the same situation — rights for all or rights for none.

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  • The thing that seems to me is that the 1950s was an attempt to reach some kind of idealized gender-essentialist nirvana brought on by the rise of the middle class, and the concomitant boost in spending power it brought on to a large sector of the population.

    The sad irony is that the ideal of one income earner per family does not in any way require that that one income earner be a man and only a man.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m not sure it’s an ideal, either. One full-time income per household being enough to support the household, sure. But that could as easily be achieved by having Abby work eight to noon and come home to have lunch with her wife Barbara and their toddler Cathy before Barbara goes to work from two to six.

  • B

    I knew a woman who would very passionately insist that she was NOT a feminist and in fact did not like feminism at all, while she was training to be a neuroscientist.

    I was always tempted to ask what group she thought was responsible for the fact that no one had told her, “Well, women can’t be neuroscients, but you could be a biology teacher!” like they told women not that that much older than our parents’ generation, but I decided to keep my mouth shut.

  • Oh, totally. It is as I like to say, we should have the economy of the 1950s with 2010s society grafted onto it.


    And never mind those (different-sex, two parent*) families for which
    that’s simply not an option: if one parent stays home, the family will
    starve/be unable to pay rent.  Or the cases where the father has lost
    his job so if the mother can work, that’s what’s keeping the family

    Well, obviously the only reason a father would be unemployed or underemployed is because he’s been emasculated by his wife’s uppityness and therefore is no longer manly enough to get a proper job, or because the good jobs are taken by uppity women.

  • Wednesday

     I wonder if she felt she had to disavow feminism because her fellow neuroscience students were presenting her with a strawman version of it? Or she’d seen a self-identified feminist say something utterly clueless about neuroscience and she decided feminists were dumb.

    When I was in college, my school got slammed by a letter in Ms. Magazine for a lot of things that were not a big deal (oh noes urinals in some womens’ bathrooms!) or the result of a misunderstanding of undergraduate slang (there’s a difference between being socially clueless and actually stalking). The letter was written in bad faith by someone not an undergraduate, and Ms. refused to publish a response letter written by actual undergraduate women.

    As a result, it became impossible to have any real discussion about the actual gender-related problems in the campus culture, and among the undergrads, the word “feminist” became equated with “stupid outsiders who get all worked up about trivial things”. This, coupled with the usual  disparagement of feminists as “shrill, hysterical b*s” from Rush Limbaugh fans meant that I did not identify as a feminist for most of my undergraduate career.

  •  Women did a lot of paid work too, it’s just that it wasn’t accounted that way. Many, maybe even most of the tradesman’s fields were the sort of thing where a married woman would be sharing in her husband’s work, it’s just that her labor was accounted as an extension of his.

  • P J Evans

    I’m not sure programming was female-dominated even during WW2. (For one thing, it was so small as a field, that it might as well not have existed. Even with Grace doing stuff.)

  • The other thing that’s hidden in the bullshit is that even back in those halcyon days of yore with martinis and dinner on the table at five, there were still quite a lot of women holding down paid jobs, not for “pin money” but to make ends meet. In particular, among many other things, how about the help? You roll back the clock to where those folks want to, and you’ll find rather a lot of people employing low-wage predominately female domestic help.

    When they say “women didn’t work outside the home”, “women” is actually shorthand for “middle-class white women”

  • banancat

     I will go even farther and say that I don’t think it’s ideal to need only one full-time income per family.  Even in your scenario, it’s still presumed that a stay at home parent is ideal, and I don’t agree with that premise.  I’m totally fine with a system where maybe 1.5 full-time incomes is necessary for the average two-parent family and the extra 0.5 goes towards security and luxury, but only when daycare is free or heavily subsidized, is high quality, and includes extra services for children with special needs.  And single parents or two-parent households where one person can’t work would be accounted for in some ways, probably through subsidies which would also be available to adults that can’t work full time regardless of their marital status or if they have children.  I am just so tired of this ideal family always including a child at home exclusively with one or more parents.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m less presuming a stay-at-home parent is ideal and more presuming that both of them want to be a full-time parent at least part-time, at least while the kid’s too young for school. But I do see how you got where you did from what I said.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Both of my example people, I should say. Not necessarily applicable to any other example.

  • B

     Never heard anyone else in the lab presenting anyone with a strawman version of feminism, or slamming anything.  :shrug:

    I agree stuff like that happens, but I have to say that personally I’ve seen a lot more genuine concerns being dismissed as “strident shrill feminists!!!” then I have actual strident, shrill feminists.  (Including on my college campus.)

    (Now I’m curious what the difference between being socially clueless and actually stalking is, though.  The first thing that comes to mind is Gavin de Becker’s distinction between stalkers who are just socially clueless and stalkers who are genuinely dangerous — the former typically realizing that sheer persistence really *doesn’t* compel a woman to want you after the police show up with a restraining order, the latter not so much.  But those particular socially clueless types are still stalkers.)

  • You do realize that the first computers were primarily programmed by women, right?  Those giant computers that took up an entire room?   Yes, those were programmed by women. They were indeed the first programmers.  ENIAC in particular was often programmed entirely by women with men overseeing the operations of the computer.  I’ll even name them for you: Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman. 

    There’s also Ada Lovelace, who computed the first algorithm on a machine — the Analytical Engine that Charles Babbage invented. She’s often heralded as the first programmer. 

    So the first programmers were female.  Did it eventually turn into a male dominated job? Yes it did, but that doesn’t erase the women that started it.

  • I think one aspect of social cluelessness is not being aware of nonverbal cues or shades of meaning in a spoken sentence that would make a person realize that they are being ‘let down gently’ and being told to go about their way and that’s that.

  • I think the real hostility to “pro-family” economic policies that would have the side effect of being “pro-worker” is that they involve the re-extension of government interventionism into areas neglected for the last generation, such as employee rights in the workplace, fair wage payments, reasonable hours of work, and all those other nuts and bolts people don’t think we need unions for anymore.

    Martin Jay Levitt, who at one time had been a union buster, said that the fundamental drive for a lot of executives (especially when opening their war chests to launch the beginning salvos of their war on labor) isn’t economically rational at all: they want – almost need – absolute control over their business – their fiefdom, rather.

    And so even absent unions, when laws and regulations get passed which circumscribe the absolute power of the CEO and/or business owner, those folks who want absolute control hate it –  they absolutely hate it so much they’ll do anything (even spend untold sums) to roll them back, even if it would be far more economically rational to simply eat the extra costs and get on with the business.

  • B

     That’s very true. 

    I know de Becker talks about another aspect of our culture, which is that we have so many books and movies that have the basic theme, “Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl does not love boy, boy follows girl around and persists in trying to win her again and again despite being repeatedly told she’s not interested, girl falls in love with boy.”  So at least some young men grow up with the idea that if they just persist long enough, the object of their desire is bound to fall in love with them.

    But IIRC his opinion was that that particular flavor of stalker wasn’t usually actually dangerous and if that all else fails being served with a restraining order generally clues them in that life doesn’t always imitate art.  (YMMV, of course.)


    I think one aspect of social cluelessness is not being aware of
    nonverbal cues or shades of meaning in a spoken sentence that would make
    a person realize that they are being ‘let down gently’ and being told
    to go about their way and that’s that.

    That was me during high school and college. My autism spectrum disorder was undiagnosed at the time, and I veered back and forth between “can’t take a hint” and “avoids all contact out of fear of being the Creepy Stalker Guy.” After nearly developing Nice Guy Syndrome (TM) during college, I basically wound up in a permanent state of avoiding contact.

  • Lori


    I’m totally fine with a system where maybe 1.5 full-time incomes is
    necessary for the average two-parent family and the extra 0.5 goes
    towards security and luxury, but only when daycare is free or heavily
    subsidized, is high quality, and includes extra services for children
    with special needs.  And single parents or two-parent households where
    one person can’t work would be accounted for in some ways, probably
    through subsidies which would also be available to adults that can’t
    work full time regardless of their marital status or if they have

    The thing is, a system that requires 1.5 incomes to support a family requires two working people. Having one stay at home parent isn’t an option when you have to have 1.5 incomes to get by. There’s certainly no way that in the foreseeable future we’re going to give government subsidies to people who are able to work, but would prefer to be stay at home parents. A system were a family can manage on only one income does not require a stay at home parent, but it does allow it to be an option. It’s true that it’s unfair for the idea of at least one full time parent to be held up as always being the ideal. However, it’s not really any more fair to advocate for a system that makes that choice impossible for all but the wealthy, simply because it’s not what you consider ideal.

  • The other thing about it is that in asserting that one full-time at-home parent isn’t ideal and society should be structured in a way that takes it off the table for most people, there’s an implicit assumption that it is ideal to have a society where every adult who’s able should have a paying job. And that has its own problems, not the least of which is that it encourages having the sort of economy that adds jobs at the same rate as it adds people, without regard to things like how many people it actually takes to provide all the goods and services the people actually need — that is, the sort of “Anything less than constant growth at an ever-increasing rate is failure” economy we’ve already got.

    (Based on my own childhood experience, I’d spent most of my life concluding that having one full-time stay-home parent at least until the kids were in their teens was indeed ideal, and that society should try to make that an option for as many people as possible and provide what help it could to those for whom it wasn’t. Now, my wife, who’d rather like to give up working for a living, still feels that way, but when I compare my son to other babies I know around the same age, I’ve come to see definite advantages to putting small babies in daycare. There were periods when he seemed quite literally to be obviously smarter and more with-it at the end of the day than he did at the beginning.  We still fret  a bit that he doesn’t get as much one-on-one time as he does when he’s with us (and also, of course, since we basically don’t see from nine to five, that a lot of his most “productive” hours are when he’s with people who aren’t us), but when he’s around our friends who don’t have their children in daycare, it definitely seems like he’s got some significant and tangible benefits out of it.)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If 1.5 incomes is *necessary* for the averag two-parent family to get by on, and you are providing free or heavily subsidised daycare, and people who can’t work full-time are also subsidised—who is paying the taxes to support all of this? You’re suggesting an incredibly expensive welfare system in a society where basic cost of living for two adults and a couple of children eats up 1.5 FTE. Without even getting into how far from ideal I think your scenario is: how does it even work?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Whenever a woman tells me they’re not a feminist I ask “who gave you permission to apply for your job?” and after cocking their head and looking quizzical for a minute they generally get it.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    And it actually is true that having women enter the workforce did increase competition for jobs and thus probably did contribute to driving down wages. It’s just that the women finally entering the workforce is not the actual *problem* in this situation.

    How do your anti-feminist conservatives deal with the existence of countries where the rapid rise in female labour force participation did not coincide with wages going down, but the opposite, in fact?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Define ‘labor force’.

    “Labour force”, in international statistical terms, is the sum of all employed and unemployed people, where employed = “worked for pay or profit” and unemployed = “did not work for pay or profit but was seeking and available for work”. (Also, “profit” here is stuff like stock options, not “a positive outcome achieved”.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    So still not counting people who work their butts off but not for money, such as people who stay at home to care for young children or elderly relations.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Well, yes, I know, but that’s the measure. In terms of what it’s for, it’s perfectly useful. It’s not a good measure of “people who do very important things that deserve to be acknowledged”, but it was never meant to measure that. Anyone who decides to infer anything about general usefulness from LFS stats is a fool.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That wasn’t my point–my point was, as a measure of people who contribute to the economy, it’s incomplete.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     How do your anti-feminist conservatives deal with the existence of
    countries where the rapid rise in female labour force participation did not coincide with wages going down, but the opposite, in fact?

    I’m guessing the same way they deal with every other fact that doesn’t agree with the World According to Limbaugh:  They ignore it.

    And sometimes insult the person who tried to tell them about it.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Or call it Liberal media lies. 

  • The_L1985

     And if you dared to court a man while teaching, you were fired.  It was actually in your contract that you could not date or be alone in the company of a man who was not a relative.

  • The_L1985

    Stop fucking mansplaining, idiot.  You have no idea what you’re talking about, and your ignorance is glaringly apparent.

  • banancat

    I really want a high-tax, high welfare society.  Everyone uses that as an insult, but it really doesn’t sound horrifying at all.  The taxes would come from the highest earners though, especially those that make money from investments or from the labor of others, rather than their own labor.  So those people would subsidize those at the lower end of the income.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I don’t find it horrifying per se, but when you said your ideal society requires 1.5 FTE to meet the basic needs of an average family, you’re not talking about welfare redistributing some income to the bottom. You’re proposing a system where a very large share of society receives significant financial support from the state. You’re not talking about subsidising the lower end of the income scale; you’re talking about subsidising the middle and upper middle classes as well.

    I don’t have any moral problem with relatively high taxes on high income earners, but in your ideal society the maths just doesn’t work. There just aren’t enough very high income earners who you can tax at a reasonable rate to support the kind of system you’re talking about. Not to mention the appalling state of work-life balance under this system.

    And from my reading of the discussion so far, you’ve arrived at this vision of society because you don’t like the idea of 1 income being enough to support a family for social reasons. If I understand what you’ve said correctly, you think living costs should be extremely high to put pressure on the concept of stay-at-home parenting, and all the millions of people who suffer economically under such circumstances will be managed by taxing the very rich. Pardon the frankness, but that seems arse-backwards to me.

  • Well, the problem could be short-circuited entirely if we figured out how to let machines do all the crappy work nobody wants to do.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    We’ve done that for a whole lot of work, which is where the lion’s share of productivity gains have come from in the last few decades. However, I don’t think it’s possible to completely eliminate all manual labour–and there are workers for whom that’s the best they can contribute, so I don’t think it would be an ideal scenario even if we could.

    All of which are moot points, because we’re not there in any case. We have low-wage workers and we have people who can’t or don’t work full-time, so saying that an ideal society should have very high cost of living to address the problems of imposed gender roles in child-raising is, in the books of this avowed lefty, a Very Bad Idea.

  • Oh, I agree, and it is precisely because machines can do so much of the crap work that really, the cost of a lot of things that we need to survive could be a lot lower. Between that and the Guaranteed Annual Income the day is approaching when the very idea of needing to work for a living has to go by the boards.

    Until then, the ideal should be that one income-earner in a family should be able to provide for the entire family.

    It shouldn’t take 1.5 or 2 incomes to keep a family going.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart


  • Why do feminists (and their useful idiot manginas) hate math?

    Did… did you just use the word “mangina” unironically?  




    … no, wait, I can get through th-


    I am sorry, it is just (HAHA!) I never heard someone use that word who was not trying to act like a caricature of an idiot MRA activist.  

    Whew, thanks, I have not laughed like that in a long time.  :D

  • AnonaMiss

    Here’s something I bring up to conservatives who at least pretend to be fiscally responsible, but are also against women ‘flooding the workforce’:

    If, suddenly, all women left the paid workforce – how do you propose we make up for the loss of 1/3* of the country’s tax revenues? If you think the deficit’s a problem now, it would be significantly worse if we just slashed tax revenue by 1/3. Not to mention the number of single mothers and low-income families who would suddenly not make enough to support themselves, who would swell the welfare rolls. You can argue all you like that the economy wouldn’t have gotten to this state if we hadn’t entered the paid workforce in the first place, but that horse left the barn 50 years ago, and trying to force it back in now would destroy the economy.

    * Rough estimate

  • Umbral_tiger

    The first computer programmers were women. Did you know that? Probably not. The accomplishments of female scientists and inventors over the past hundred years or more gets ignored because of willfully ignorant people like you. How about we stop doing things based on the bits between ones legs and start doing them based on what’s between ones’ ears?

  • The Cricket

    What Bryce Covert said really hits home my dad was a police officer for 30 years. After a woman joined the department the pay cuts were so servere that he had to work as trucker for awhile. Which police work is an extremely low paying anyway. I worked fast food for a long time and met a few men who even lost thee jobs in the mines because a woman applied and the company feared being sued so they fired somebody and made room, causing a man with a wife and four children to go from 30 dollars an hour to 5.15. Which goes along MLK jr.’s letter also. I’m all for equal rights but when pay is lowered because women entered the work force or a man is fired so a woman won’t sue that’s not equal it’s pathetic.

  • The Cricket

    Also I have to say I’m not a feminist fan at all. Pro equality is what I’m passionate about, meeting actual feminist is what turned me this way I know all aren’t the same, but no matter how you slice pushing the equality of one group to the of the detriment of others is plain wrong. I have a five year old physically disabled son, and have caught so much crap for wanting to take of him myself. I will say the few I’ve met who aren’t man/family haters are quite amazing.

  • I’m… having an extremely difficult time parsing the concept of “one side is equal at the expense of the other.”

  • The Cricket

    Yeah I completely worded that wrong sorry lol. I’m trying to rub my sons back while I gripe. But I a way that still workout I meant ppl using equality as an excuse to raise themselves above others, not really wanting equality.

  • While I’m not going to say that there aren’t extremists in feminism who really do hate men (for whatever reason) and see themselves as superior, it really isn’t that common, at least these days (I can only speak in regards to third-wave feminism). Most feminists you’ll encounter on this blog (including myself!) are for equality of all sexes wherever applicable.

  • The Cricket

    I find that wonderful I believe nobody should be kept down. Most I have met are much older than me I’m 29, but I’m also from such a small rural area, I’m aware that we are socially behind here. One of the reasons ive started frequenting this site.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Feminist. Noun. One who believes in bringing about the social, political, and economical equality of the sexes.

    Third-wave feminist. Noun phrase. One who believes in bringing about the social, political, and economic equality of people on all sides of all axes of the kyriarchy.

    Kyriarchy. Noun. A system of “ruling and oppression” in which many people may interact and act as oppressor or oppressed. For example, a cisgender white lesbian is privileged on the axes of race and gender identity and lacking privilege on sexual orientation and assigned-at-birth gender, and a straight transgender man of color is the reverse.

  • You seem to have misunderstood what feminism is. Protip: The angry young woman you met in college whose enthusiasm has temporarily outpaced her understanding is not a representative sample.