It took a tragedy for Sheryl Sandberg to become a single mother. Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, it takes more than a village to raise a child.
Yesterday, Sandberg tried to use Mother’s Day to offer up a feminist message on Facebook.
Our widespread cultural assumption that every child lives with a two-parent heterosexual married couple is out of date. Since the early 1970s, the number of single mothers in the United States has nearly doubled. Today, almost 30 percent of families with children are headed by a single parent, and 84 percent of those are led by a single mother. And yet our attitudes and our policies do not reflect this shift.
Naturally, Sandberg is sharing this information in order to persuade everyone that government needs to deal with these problems. Hillary should have entitled her book: It Takes the Government.
Sandberg offered some facts:
Thirty-five percent of single mothers experience food insecurity, and many single mothers have more than one job—and that does not count the job of taking care of their children. A missed paycheck or an illness can present impossible choices. A single mother living in San Jose said that each month she has to choose between putting food on the table and paying her cell phone bill. When she does not pay her phone bill, she spends her night shift—her second job of the day—worried that her son did not make it home from school through their unsafe neighborhood because he is unable to call her.
If you share my special mind warp you will find it impossible to read these facts and not ask yourself: Who was militating for single motherhood? Who was saying that women were so independent and autonomous, so strong and powerful, that they did not need men? Who was telling women to liberate their sexual urges and to disregard all of the potential consequences?
You see the point. Sandberg is militating against a world that prior generations of feminists helped create. If you made the mess you should not call on government to solve the problems. You ought to launch a pro-marriage movement.
Having made herself into a leading feminist voice, Sandberg should have held the sisterhood to account for having created this mess. Alas, being a good feminist means never taking responsibility for what happens when people live according to your counsel.
Truth be told, it all began in the early 1970s when second-wave feminism washed up on America’s shores. Directly or indirectly the movement caused a spike in the number of divorces, of broken homes and of cohabiting couples. It liberated women from the shackles of housewifery and homemaking. It drew them into consciousness raising groups where they discovered how oppressed they really were. It told them to go on strike or to leave their comfortable suburban concentration camps. In the brave new feminist world men and women would share all responsibilities for homemaking. In the real world, women found themselves alone, as single mothers.
In 1992 Dan Quayle stepped into the debate when he declared that perhaps it was not such a good idea for a television show “Murphy Brown” to portray single motherhood as just another lifestyle choice.
It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.
Quayle was never seen as an especially astute or intelligent human being, so his thought was widely mocked. The feminist furies attacked him mercilessly for being a male chauvinist, an unrepentant patriarch and a sexist misogynist.
And yet, twenty years after Quayle delivered his speech, Isabel Sawhill, from the liberal Brookings Institute, declared that he had been right. Uh, oh!
In her words:
Twenty years later, Quayle’s words seem less controversial than prophetic. The number of single parents in America has increased dramatically: The proportion of children born outside marriage has risen from roughly 30 percent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2009. For women under age 30, more than half of babies are born out of wedlock. A lifestyle once associated with poverty has become mainstream. The only group of parents for whom marriage continues to be the norm is the college-educated.
Some argue that these changes are benign. Many children who in the past would have had two married parents could have two cohabiting parents instead. Why should the lack of a legal or religious tie affect anyone’s well-being?
Of course, the people who believe that these changes are benign were promoting them. They believe that marriage is a patriarchal plot to keep women enslaved in the home and that any efforts to destroy it are ultimately a good thing.
To celebrate Mother’s Day, I will quote Sawhill’s arguments in favor of marriage:
First, marriage is a commitment that cohabitation is not. Taking a vow before friends and family to support another person “until death do us part” signals a mutual sense of shared responsibility that cannot be lightly dismissed.
Second, a wealth of research strongly suggests that marriage is good for children. Those who live with their biological parents do better in school and are less likely to get pregnant or arrested. They have lower rates of suicide, achieve higher levels of education and earn more as adults.
Third, marriage brings economic benefits. It usually means two breadwinners, or one breadwinner and a full-time, stay-at-home parent with no significant child-care expenses.
But in the end, Dan Quayle was right. Unless the media, parents and other influential leaders celebrate marriage as the best environment for raising children, the new trend — bringing up baby alone — may be irreversible.
To her credit, Sawhill places the blame where it belongs. Up to a point. She should have mentioned that the media and influential leaders who have tried to undermine marriage are marching under the banner of feminism.
Happy Mothers’ Day!