Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Do US Politically Active Women Have A Problematic "Ambition Gap"?

In Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, she points to an "ambition gap", particularly in Gen-X and younger women (women born after 1963), that is causing problems in the political economy. 

Some child development experts, such as autism expert Stanley Greenspan, see such a gap as problematic for children as well.

According to the New York Times, "American Women", the research arm of Emily's List, and Planned Parenthood, have polled women in the United States (or more broadly America, I am not sure which) and identified the following priorities:

"economic policies for women, including paid leave, higher minimum wage, equal pay for women and men for equivalent work, and birth control coverage."

Interestingly this list does not include an item of primary concern to peer marrieds, which is recognition that children are the responsibility of both parents (both the financial needs of the child and the daily unpaid work of meeting a dependent child's needs and supporting his/her development).  The fact that paternity is now increasingly inexpensive to establish through DNA makes this type of right of a child within the boundaries of constitutional and legal reform, so it is curious it is omitted.  There is evidence that Northern European countries are moving toward this standard, perhaps even as a provision in their constitutions and/or seeking modification of the United Nations "Rights of the Child" Treaty accordingly, as I'll explain below.  Also, Tunisia, a country of the "Arab Spring" also seems to be headed in this direction of equal rights and equal responsibility as it recently constitutionalized this concept.

One historian of women's movements for legal rights in the United States, Joan Hoff-Wilson (the author of "Law Gender & Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women"), believes that women have caused problems by always seeking rights AFTER they have become of little value, rather than seeking the rights they really need. 

Child development psychologists such as Dorothy Dinnerstein see this as especially problematic for children.  There is a "too little, too late" recognition of the right for the purposes of supporting child development.

A cynical view of this is that a significant percentage of women don't want the responsibility, work or risk of gender equality and want to use the child to meet their needs for relationship rather than dealing with the "difficult conversations", in Sandberg's parlance, and emotional territory of a peer relationship with a husband and shared responsibility for a child and for earning money.   Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and author of "The Lazy Husband" sees this a a problem of both men and women, that they are using children to support their emotional needs and needs for relationship, rather than risking the territory of an adult relationship with each other, and supporting the child as a child.

A more charitable view is that many women don't understand that a peer relationship is possible or why it is important for supporting the child's development without distortion.

And, as a has been a frequent subject of this blog, it is true that many federal systems are built around recognizing the only responsible parent as the mother, and only occasionally paternal responsibility and only financial responsibility in that case.    The federal systems pay women and men money to go along with this program and charge them money if they don't.   So, there is financial pressure to conform to this model, even if you know it is not in your child's interest.  There are significant risks and costs to the patriarchal/maternalist model; as noted elsewhere in this blog, children are more likely to develop emotional problems in these families, which are costly to remedy (and sometimes cannot be remedied), they don't do as well in their cognitive development and school performance and the risk of divorce is 50% higher.  Some are concerned that the effort to create socialized medicine and socialized child care may be an effort to push these costs to the broader economy, thus separating, in a way that is harmful to children, parental "choice" to bring a child into the world from the consequences of that choice and how it is handled. 

Hoff-Wilson was specifically concerned when she wrote her book over 20 years ago, in 1991, that the preoccupation with paid parental leave was going to be another example of "too little too late."  Sandberg, in 2013, in "Lean in" book agrees.

What is going on in Northern Europe and should the US consider it?

First, a little historical background:

1.   Northern Europe is a region of the world that never fully adopted - and consistently challenged -  in what some call the "European Dialectic", the Roman Empire/Roman Catholic version of Christianity.  This is relevant because the Roman Empire/Roman Catholic version requires "complementary" or different roles by each biological sex.[1]  The constitutions of Roman Empire-legacy countries often include requirements that the mother be the primary unpaid worker in the home and the only parent responsible for children.  The constitutions of Ireland and of some Central American countries are examples of this.   In Northern Europe, there was significant resistance to the Roman Empire view, however.  After the Norman Conquest in 1066, it took less than 200 years before England created the Magna Carta, which required the King to submit to the law (effectively a Constitution); a concept that is opposite to the Catholic Church view that the Pope's word is authority that overrides any law.  In Germany (specifically Saxony), Martin Luther led the Reformation which challenged the Roman Empire/Roman Catholic view further.  After the Vatican responded with the Counter-Reformation elevating a status of "Mary" which included an ideology of women being the only parents responsible for children, thinkers in Northern Europe again (this time in Scotland, England, Holland, Scandinavia, parts of Germany, and parts of France) responded with the Enlightenment.  The United States was founded in the late Enlightenment.  It adopted the English "rights of person and citizen" model of constitutionalization, in contrast to the contemporaneous French "rights of man and citizen" model.

2.  During the 19th Century, the Western United States and Northern Europe again led a challenge to the Papal and canon law of the Roman Empire by constitutionalizing prohibitions against discrimination in women voting (the Vatican does not allow women among its members).    Women had held legal voting rights in various places in earlier periods; in New Jersey at the founding of the US, they held constitutionalized voting rights, for example.  But the movement in the 19th and early 20th Century was broader and sought to make discrimination against women in voting (or elective office) definitively prohibited by the law.

3. In the period between the 1950s and 1990s, this again happened when the United Nations "Rights of the Child" Treaty was initiated in England  and ratified by virtually every member of the UN, except the United States.  Most states in the United States have adopted all or significant portions of the treaty, however, especially its "best interests of the child" standard.  One problem with the UN Treaty is that it lists standards for the child's rights, but does not say who is responsible for meeting them. Is it is the mother?  The father?   The state?  It does say that a child is entitled to a relationship with both parents, but it doesn't say who is responsible for meeting the child's needs.  The Vatican signed this Treaty and it has formed the basis for the prosecution of the Vatican, especially in Northern Europe but to some degree in the United States, for sexual abuse of children by priests.  The UN has been holding meetings again, with representatives of the Vatican (and Islam as well), toward recognizing responsibility of both parents.  One possible next Secretary-General of the United Nations is the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark.  She is currently the head of the United Nations Development Programme and is the highest ranking woman in the UN.  She sees children as the responsibility of both parents.

4.  Today in Northern Europe, new developments are again challenging these matters.

A.  Most Scandinavian countries have revised their social welfare models to support equal parental responsibility for the child.  Sweden gives couples tax credits if they take equal parental leave.  Norway gives the father equal parental leave rights and requires him to take 12 weeks in a "use it or lose it" grant.  These social welfare models were initially built to cope with the fact paternity was not provable, however, and, while the shift in model to two responsible parents has been very successful, there is some concern that the legacy of the original expansiveness of these programs are causing problems in concentrating wealth in the country, particularly in the hands of men, so they may be revised further or reduced. 

B.  The UK internally has a "parental responsibility" law that requires parents to meet the needs of children, such as a right to a home and a right to be maintained. The law does not see children as having a right to care by both biological parents as a default matter. Instead it holds responsible all mothers but only (a) married fathers (for any child born to the father's wife) and (b) unmarried fathers who assert such responsibility in an agreement with the mother or by court order. It also states that all parents have financial responsibility for their children.  There is increasing evidence the UK (and some countries of its Imperial legacy that adopted similar constitutions, such as Scotland, Australia, Hong Kong) are headed toward shifting this concept to all biological or adoptive parents, regardless of marital status, and regardless of biological sex, as I will discuss in an upcoming post.

C.  Germany, the strongest economy in the European Union, has followed a fiscal austerity method coming out of the Great Recession, rather than the monetarist method used in the US. As part of this "austerity", there is examination of the extensive and conflicting family subsidies in Germany, which lean toward paying the father to be the breadwinner and the mother to be the primary parent.  As birth rates have declined in patriarchal/maternalist families (other than those of first or second-generation immigrants) and risen in shared earning/shared parenting families, this is creating pressure for "austerity" with regard to the payments to patriarchal/maternalist families.  Recent remarks by Chancellor Angela Merkel suggest she may be talking about this soon.  The so-called "PIIGS" of Europe, the countries with very high sovereign debt, are countries with constitutions that embed an ideology of the woman as the only responsible parent.

D.  France still has its "rights of man and citizen" based constitution (in contrast to the "rights of person and citizen" United States Constitution), in which the "rights of man" preference was given weight by its constitutional court in a gender taxation case just a few years ago, holding that patriarchal men were entitled to pay lower taxes than other men and all women.  Some commentators think the Fifth Republic of France (formed by Charles de Gaulle after WWII) is collapsing, however, particularly because of the alleged criminal legal behavior of a number of male politicians from both the right and the left, including Nicholas Sarkozy and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The current President, Francois Hollande, is very unpopular.


What does this mean for the United States?

Some states in the United States, including Colorado, already have in place many elements of a "rights of the child" concept in which both parents are responsible for meeting the child's needs. 

These have not been integrated, however, into a constitutionalized concept which can be used to challenge federal tax and benefit policies that discriminate against people who see children as the responsibility of both parents and to support federal tax and benefit policies that recognize this.

Is it time for women to focus on this?  Rather than on "too little too late" policies, as has been a mistake in the past?



[1]  See this article for a discussion of the Papal and canon law view:  "Marriage involves more than two parties: one man and one woman.  The third party--often forgotten in what Bishop Sheen called the 'dis-God-ed' generation--is God."

In this view the child, if there is one (or more) as there often is, is not considered a party to the marriage or family.   "One must also not forget that the child has certain rights to be born or raised within the confines of a natural family.  'The unborn child must be guaranteed the best possible conditions of existence through the stability of a family founded on marriage, through the complementarities of the two persons, father and mother.'  (Compendium, No. 235)"  (There is no concept of the "born child" having needs it holds the right to have met, which s/he will have for as long as a couple decades it takes a child to reach adulthood.  While there are obviously different biological roles of the mother and father during pregnancy, in the Papal/Canon view the family is deemed to require that the father and mother hold different "complementary" roles for the much, much longer period that it takes the "born child" to reach adulthood, a view that is opposite to the view of Peer Marrieds that children are the responsibility of both parents.  In fact, in Peer Marrieds, the father holds more than half the responsibility for the unpaid work of meeting the needs of the "born child" as the women already had a period of such responsibility during the pregnancy/delivery/early lactation.)

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