Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dennis Moore and a tale of two mothers

If you’re a computer nerd of a certain age, you’ll remember Dennis Moore.

If you’re not, here goes: Dennis Moore is the central figure of a skit from the third season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Moore, played by John Cleese, is an 18th-century highwayman who models himself after Robin Hood, although his redistribution of wealth eventually backfires. You see, having defined one group as “rich” (and therefore to be robbed from) and another as “poor” (and therefore to be given to), he continues to transfer goods from one set to the other until the Fred Tomlinson Singers, who sing his theme song, startle him by changing the last two lines:

He robs from the poor, and gives to the rich.
Stupid b****!

The last scene of the episode shows Moore, having completely lost sight of his mission, stopping a carriage and forcing the passengers to swap various pieces of wealth with each other to make them equal. His crusade against economic injustice has devolved into an obsessively fussy Redistributionism.

Karla A. Erickson’s guest opinion in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, “Explaining why, next time, I won’t breastfeed”, reminds me very much of that final scene. How so? Because her rationale for bottle-feeding her next child is to correct an apparent inequity of parental attachment that breastfeeding her firstborn supposedly created. Simply put, her son prefers her to her husband for many things; Erickson, an associate professor of — wait for it! — sociology at Grinnell College, will not tolerate any form of gender inequality in her life.

Sometimes we have to do a runaround our bodies to ensure equity. Sometimes we have to do some social engineering to help dislodge our social aspirations from the dictates of our glands and gonads.

As of this writing (8/19/13, 8:39 pm), Erickson’s post has received 709 responses, most ringing changes on the theme, “You’re an idiot.” And, indeed, Erickson has taken feminism to an absurdly reductive extreme; no longer content to merely blame institutions and artificial conventions, she calls us to an obsessively fussy redistribution of natural affections and reactions.

“What will happen,” wonders Simcha Fisher, “when her son gets a little older and turns to his dad for advice about bullies, or girls, or the indignities of puberty? Will Mr. Gender Studies pen an essay ruing those disastrous hours he spent playing football with her son, because of the socially imbalanced connection they formed?”

Note well, I’m NOT saying she’s a bad mother; nor do I have anything to say on the merits of breasts versus bottles. I’m saying her rationale for giving up breastfeeding is a case of her ideology overwhelming both her common sense and her scientific education.

(Then again, as a quondam sociology major, I can testify that sometimes the education is directed more towards rubber-stamping ideology than it is towards uncovering truth.)

By coincidental contrast, we have a post on, “Seriously, is this mommy business really worth it?”, by Lea Singh, who has three kids and a JD from Harvard Law. Whether the degree is literally gathering dust I can’t say, as I don’t know whether running after the kids prevents her from cleaning thoroughly.

But there are quite a few women out there who believe her retreat from the corporate world into full-time motherhood is a waste of a good Ivy League education. In fact, Singh references a Guardian article in which Keli Goff argues that women with diplomas from Harvard, Yale, Columbia and so forth have a duty to pursue high-power careers and further the presence of women in the top ranks of American society. I for one find it ironically amusing that Goff gives such a boost to a set of schools that perpetuate and practically define exclusivity.

Underneath the odd recrudescence of noblesse oblige, there’s no small amount of distaste for full-time motherhood, as evinced by the reaction of one of Singh’s acquaintances: “That’s too bad, she could be doing so much good” … as if she’d chosen to be an exotic dancer or open a personal-injury practice. (“If you simply must be a mother, why not do it on weekends or your off hours as a hobby?”)

Singh has considered going back to work. “The trouble is, my children need their mother, and I can’t seem to find a suitable replacement. Having run into sundry nannies during our various outings, I know that nannies are social workers by another name. …

Same thing with daycare, I just can’t do it: I know too much to make that decision in peace. The bottom line is that I have been on the corporate ladder, and I have also worked for great nonprofits — and while in the working world I was always replaceable, I am not replaceable to my children. No mommy-substitute can suffice; I need to share the rough road of everyday life with my children, because that is how we build our closeness.

And if Singh does “lean in” later on, when her kids need less of her time, “I can’t imagine returning to the structured life of an office job or the demanding hours of a lawyer’s life. I would rather start a small business from home, or perhaps grow my first love, writing.” She just isn’t that concerned about the paths to power and influence.

What do we need to do — set up a central office in the government that would assign men and women to jobs without regard to their own preferences? And would that bureaucratic function be the grantor of permission for women to be mothers at all, let alone full-time mothers? Will we need monitors in our home to insure that children receive neither too much mothering nor too much fathering? Speaking of which, would not the presence of an additional male or female in same-sex marriages create a situation of automatic gender preference? Doesn’t the inevitable imbalance of gender influence rule out the acceptance of polyamorous groupings … at least until we all become asexual, undifferentiated blobs?

Or maybe certain feminists should step back, take a deep breath and stop blaming their bodies for the arbitrary, unjust hierarchical values placed on different jobs and social roles. Maybe they should take their own choice rhetoric a little more to heart and stop resenting women who enjoy full-time motherhood. Maybe they should realize we have all we can do just to get the statistical distribution curves to match without trying to micromanage social change down to the atomic level à la Dennis Moore.

Maybe, just maybe, they should learn that it’s neither purchasing power nor political power that gives equality. What makes us equal is that we are all created in the image of God, both male and female (Genesis 1:27). If we work from that premiss, cherishing our differences as well as our similarities, perhaps we can create a more meaningful, less metrically fussy social equality.