Friday, November 16, 2007

Feminism 101: Lab Work

Idaho legislators are very concerned about the problems of Idaho families. They set up a Task Force to look into possible remedies and came up with some:

Lawmakers look for ways to keep moms at home to strengthen families
Task force blames breakdown of traditional family for social ills
Rep. Steven Thayn and his wife, Sherry, raised eight children on their family farm. She stayed home, and they home-schooled several of their children before eventually sending them to local schools.

Thayn said more two-parent homes and fewer working mothers could be both a social and economic boon. The Emmett Republican sees the breakdown of the traditional family structure as the root of societal ills such as drug abuse, crime and domestic violence.

That's why, as chairman of the Idaho House of Representatives' Family Task Force, he and others are considering controversial solutions such as repealing no-fault divorce laws and finding ways to encourage mothers to stay home with their children.

"In one of the articles I read, quite a large percentage of mothers really do want to spend more time at home, and if that's the case, what can we do to help them?" Thayn said.

This whole article is perfect for showing how to do feminist lab work on all sorts of idiotic statements. Note, first that this Family Task Force seems to base its recommendations on Mr. Theyn's personal beliefs and life experiences. Well, they also listened to speakers who associated increased crime and drug use to single-parent families (and probably did this by not taking into account the income levels of those families). But how they came up with the idea that mothers should stay at home is not at all clear, and the idea that a traditional family would have less domestic violence is just plain rubbish.

Second, note that the proposals the Task Force created are both very detailed: repealing no-fault divorces, and extremely vague: finding ways to encourage mothers to stay at home. Why are those encouraging ways left so fuzzy? Probably because Theyn isn't actually planning to help mothers to stay at home in any concrete fashion requiring money.

Will all mothers paid the salaries they forfeit? Will all of them get health insurance for themselves and their children? Will their retirement funds be taken care of? When their children are viewed as acceptably mature, will their retraining costs for the labor market be covered? And when the re-enter the labor market, will their fair treatment and promotion chances be guaranteed?

I suspect not. And this is an important feminist point: The problems this Task Force sees with Idaho families are to be fixed by the mothers, essentially for free. Even a non-feminist reader of the proposals might spot the difficulty in expecting women to stop working when their families depend on that money. But a feminist interpretation gives the woman some rights over and above those of the eternally self-sacrificing mother. It also casts light on all the different costs that the mothers are supposed to bear (in silent submission, I guess).

Third, the odd combination of recommendations: removing no-fault divorce and encouraging mothers to stay at home, have more things in common than just their origin in Mr. Theyn's dreams about the mythological 1950's families. They both serve to lock a woman into an abusive marriage by directly affecting her chances to leave it behind and by making her less able to earn her living in alternative ways.

Fourth, the proposals are utterly and totally based on the view that the best possible family is one where the mother stays at home with the children. Other family arrangements are ignored. There is nothing about "one parent" staying at home. Nope, it's the women who are to stay at home. And the justification given for this extreme focus on mothers? This:

"In one of the articles I read, quite a large percentage of mothers really do want to spend more time at home, and if that's the case, what can we do to help them?" Thayn said.

Note that several recent studies also tell us that quite a large percentage of fathers really want to spend more time at home, too, but Thayn doesn't seem to want to help them achieve this desire. Thus, it isn't families that the Task Force wants to help. Instead, it wants to make women (and men) conform to certain types of families only.

Oh, and what might some of the more concrete ways of "encouraging" mothers to stay at home be? The linked article suggests a few: Making childcare and early childhood education harder to find!

Now that will learn those darned women to stay at home.