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Oh boy, were there fireworks on Fox News last week. And it was all because a new Pew Research Center study claims that 40 percent of all U.S. households with children under 18 are either headed by single women as sole earners or by married women who act as primary “breadwinners.” The fact that women are providing for their families is to be applauded; however, the results of this study have sparked a fierce debate on the central role of women – and men – in the natural family.
At the forefront of this battle of the sexes is the Fox News family. After Fox News anchor Lou Dobbs and contributor Eric Erickson invoked these results as a critique on the deterioration of the family and society during “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” anchor Meagan Kelly gave her two colleagues a tongue lashing, while anchor Greta Van Susteren criticized the men in her blog, writing, “Have these men lost their minds? (and these are my colleagues??!! oh brother maybe I need to have a little chat with them) (next thing they will have a segment to discuss eliminating women’s right to vote?).”
Yes, Dobbs and Erickson came across as insensitive and awkward. Part of me thinks that they can’t help it. The major reason why they came across as inept is because they failed to address the right questions. No one asked if these women desired to work or even wanted to be the primary breadwinners.
Most working women long to be stay-at-home moms, especially when their children are young. Overwhelmingly, 84 percent of working women surveyed by Forbes Woman believe staying home to raise children is a luxury to which they aspire. What’s more, 69 percent say they feel pressured to work because their families could not survive without their income.
With a back-breaking national debt, increasing taxes, and escalating cost of living, many women do not have the option to be stay-at-home moms. Since 2008, the annual income of middle class households has decreased $3,960, college tuition has skyrocketed 25 percent, and the total amount of Americans living in poverty has increased by 6.4 million. Definitely, the fiscal climate is a reflection of the increased number of women working to keep their families afloat.
Meanwhile, it turns out that even women who do have the “luxury” of staying at home to raise their children are concluding that kids still win out over jobs. In a revealing article in The Atlantic, titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” author Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department, says, “I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can too) But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.” As a result, Slaughter, a left-leaning, high-powered professional, is seen as a traitor to the feminist myth that today’s women can “have it all” in terms of a work/family balance.
Women have come to realize that juggling a job and the needs of their family at the same time is not possible without some level of flexibility at work. USA Today reports that 92 percent of all women surveyed value flexibility when choosing a career. In light of this, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the “Work Force Flexibility” bill, which offers working parents more opportunity to spend time with their children by allowing private employers to substitute compensation time for wages earned. This allows corporations to offer the same flexibility that federal employees already receive. For the sake of women and their families, the Senate needs to follow suit and pass this same bill now.
The other issue neither Dobbs nor Erickson adequately address is the presence – or more accurately lack – of both a father and a mother in the American family.
Men are essential to the make-up and success of the nuclear family. Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker shed light on this debate in her latest article, “The new F-word: Father.” Parker wrote, “Despite certain imperfections, men are fundamentally good and are sort of pleasant to have around. Most women still like to fall in love with them; all children want a father no matter how often we try to persuade ourselves otherwise. If we continue to impose low expectations and negative messaging on men and boys, future women won’t have much to choose from. We are nearly there.” Brava!
Nearly 24 million children in America live without a father in their home, and, of those, 75 percent will experience poverty before they turn 11 years old, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. Youths, especially males, who grow up without a father are more likely to be incarcerated. Young women growing up without a father are two-and-a-half times more at risk for teenage pregnancies, compared to girls who grow up in homes with married parents. The statistics go on and on.
The bottom line is that well-intentioned, geeky guys are always going to get it wrong. But what makes this important is not their awkward discussion but the real implications this has for everyone. Opportunity for women means that we get to choose for ourselves, but today’s climate of economic turmoil, restrictive labor laws, and sad lack of dads means we have little or no choice.
That’s not right-wing rhetoric. It’s plain and simple social science.