Here’s something closely related to my last post. At the Atlantic, Ann-Marie Slaughter calls us to commit ourselves more fully to the feminist dream: more public day care so that women can spend their days self-actualizing in an office while their children are raised by paid professionals. Sunshine Mary isn’t buying.
[…] The best option, both for individual children and for society as a whole, is high-quality, affordable day-care, either at the workplace or close by. High-quality means care provided by trained professionals who are specialists in child development, who can provide a stable, loving, learning environment that can take care not only of children’s physical needs but also provide stimulation and socialization.
Day care workers do not love the children they care for. They may care about them, but they do not love them; it is dishonest and denies human nature to claim that they do. Should children spend fifty hours per week with someone who does not love them? Only a very sick society would choose this, but Mrs. Slaughter is fully on board with it.
We see that there is a very fundamental disagreement–a disagreement over ends, not merely over means–between people who think like Slaughter and people who think like Sunshine Mary. Dependency is a fundamental fact of the human condition, especially where the ends of life are concerned. What is the dignified, humane way to accommodate dependence? When feminists promise women independence, they don’t mean that literally. As commenter Martel pointed out, referring presumably to the enormous subsidies being demanded to support the feminist working mother lifestyle
It blows my mind how much women need us to do for them for them to be independent.
The question is what kind of dependence, and what kind of independence. The fundamental principle of the patriarchal family is dependence on specific persons, and that is what feminism promises to deliver us from. Yes, someone must take care of children, but in the “caregiving” society ultimate responsibility will be with an organization rather than two particular people. True, on any given day some particular person must change a particular child’s diapers and read him stories, but it doesn’t always have to be the same person, and it could actually be a self-actualizing experience for the caregiver, since she’s doing it for career advancement rather than for love. And yes, of course women will still depend on employers, market forces, and the government, but their relationships to such institutions are impersonal and–at least in the abstract sense of free market and social contract ideology–voluntary; therefore they are not degrading.
The good toward which the patriarchal family is ordered is procreation. Its basic principle is the embrace of dependency. The child depends on his parents, and the parents depend on each other. These experiences of dependency, both of having others depend on us (and the responsibilities this creates) and of depending on others (and the humility this engenders), are regarded as positive goods. The more deeply each member relies on the other, the more the family can be said to thrive. Thus the family is not merely an illiberal institution; it is positively anti-liberal. Nothing is more opposed to its ethos than independence, in either the sense of autonomy or of self-sufficiency.
However, we have not completely specified the family just by identifying dependency as its principle. After all, dependence on other people is an inescapable fact of human existence. One can imagine an alternative to the family, in which children are raised by child-care experts employed by a large government bureaucracy. The children would still be dependent, but it would be an organization rather than particular people who would be ultimately responsible for their welfare. Of course, particular people (teachers, nurses, etc) would be assigned to care for the children in various ways, but this would be delegated responsibility; these technicians could be replaced by others at the bureaucracy’s discretion. Parental dependency is personal dependency: it is the mother and father who are fully responsible for the child, and this responsibility is not delegated to them by the state, society at large, or any other organization. Similarly, the duties of a child to his parents belong to the child as an individual.