I have been duped. I thought, along with my husband, that we were doing a good thing by raising our children in a household that valued traditional marriage and saw our children as gifts from God. I chose, for more than a decade, to work at home raising our children because I could not imagine a more important job during their formative years.
According to Laurie Shrage, I’m quite mistaken.
Wives who perform unpaid caregiving and place their economic security in the hands of husbands, who may or may not be good breadwinners, often find their options for financial support severely constrained the longer they remain financially dependent. Decades of research on the feminization of poverty show that women who have children, whether married or not, are systematically disadvantaged when competing for good jobs. Marriage is neither a recipe for economic security nor responsible parenting.
I was constrained by my dependence during the years I was at home with our children. Then, when I decided to seek work outside the home, I was systematically disadvantaged…simply because I had kids. A recipe for disaster, according to Ms. Shrage.
Except she is wrong. Really wrong. About a number of things. Let’s start with the idea that marriage doesn’t create economic security. Jeff Landers at Forbes says divorced women are financially less stable than those who remain married. Jacqueline Kirby, from Ohio State University points out that, “[a]pproximately 60 percent of U.S. children living in mother-only families are impoverished, compared with only 11 percent of two-parent families.” George Brown and Patricia Moran of the University of London says that not only are single mothers more likely to suffer financial hardship, they are at greater risk of depression than their married counterparts. Charles Murray, author of “Coming Apart”, notes that with the basic institutions of society (such as marriage) falling apart, we are in the midst of “nothing short of a cataclysmic cultural disintegration.” MSNBC reports that children in homes with “live in” boyfriends/girlfriends are at far greater risk of child abuse than those in homes with married parents. Mitch Pearlstein bemoans “family fragmentation”:
Divorce and single-parenthood are seen as risk factors for poverty as well as the health, safety, and educational well-being of children across the board. He verifies this not only from studies in the U.S. but across cultures. What is particularly depressing about American family life is that American children born to two married parents are more likely to experience family breakdown (or “fragmentation” as the current euphemism has it) than Swedish children born to cohabiting parents.
I could go on. Study after study shows that women and children suffer outside of traditional marriage. Ms. Shrage is just plain wrong about marriage not providing economic security or responsible parenting.
However, Ms. Shrage’s article has an even more frightening aspect. She cries out for the end of marriage, saying that it is a primarily cultural and religious affair, and the state really has no business in this. The state, instead, should focus on “civil unions” – arrangements that are much more flexible. But listen to her language:
…governments should license civil unions for a wide range of caregiving units and extend the benefits that promote private caregiving to those units that gain this status. Caregiving units are defined in terms of the commitments of ongoing support that adults make to each other and their dependents, rather than in terms of the sexual/romantic attachments that happen to exist between a pair of adults.
“Caregiving UNITS”? Ms. Shrage isn’t talking about people here; she’s talking about units – as if we are products on a shelf. Not only is this creepy, it’s telling of her entire worldview. We – us humans – aren’t beings endowed with grace and dignity, made to love and serve. We are “units”, outside of the sphere of government, cultural and religious ties, easily moved from one situation to another as the need arises. Like a household appliance, we are used when and where needed, and then on to the next task. Dehumanized to this point, it’s easy to look upon a “unit” as no longer useful, and toss it out – a broken vacuum cleaner left by the curb for the garbage truck.
Ms. Shrage’s arguments are literally nonsensical: she wants gays, lesbians, women and ethnic minorities to be protected, but her talk of “units” robs these people of their very humanity. If they are merely “units”, why do they need protection of any kind? Maybe they need a warranty, like a microwave or a laptop, but protection? Not necessary. Ought the state be impartial on marriage? That only makes sense if the state is no longer interested in the well-being of its citizens, thus creating a body that oversees things and not people.
Ms. Shrage’s article is but a small glimpse of a much larger problem: the dehumanization of human beings at every stage of life. If abortion is okay at 12 weeks, why not at 24? Why not just before birth? If a person is no longer “useful” to society, why keep them around as a burden to the health-care system and “caregiving units”? A woman shouldn’t have to be “systematically disadvantaged” because of those little “units” running around the house. Divorce sexuality from reproduction, divorce marriage from society, divorce children from parents, divorce caregiving from love and service: you have a world where people no longer matter. They are units, useful or not, to be determined on an ad hoc basis. A husband is a wife is a lover is a live-in boyfriend is a mistress is an infant is a unit.
Marriage between one man and one woman is the most likely way to provide economic stability, a safe and wholesome way to raise children, an atmosphere of love and service for multiple generations, and a sound basis for civil society. I have not been systematically disadvantaged because of my children. I have been enriched, blessed, magnified and enhanced. My husband and children are not “units” I have to contend with and work around so that I can compete for a better job or gain sound economic footing. Ms. Shrage’s idea of the “end of marriage” sounds more like the end of cherishing human life and the beginning of an assemblage of units – nothing more than things that are shuffled about, utilitarian and replaceable.