Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ms Wolf on men, women, their relationships and their respective parenting styles


A remarkable opinion piece by the U.S. feminist writer Ms Naomi Wolf appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday. In it, she argued against the notion, embraced by some feminists, of gender as nothing but a social construct. That is the position of extreme feminists, though even more moderate feminists tend to think of gender as having a biological origin, while gender roles are supposed to have only a social origin, but Ms Wolf seems to argue that even these gender roles are not mere constructs, and that rather, there is a certain ‘division of labour’ that follows naturally from maleness and femaleness. Note that there are also Darwinist/determinist overtones to the article, in addition to the author’s already-noted feminism, so I don’t agree with all of it, either in letter or in spirit, but late in the article she says something with important implications for the notion, advanced by supporters of same-sex parenting, that ‘it doesn’t matter whether a child has two mums, two dads, or one mum and one dad, just so long as the child is loved’:

Feminists understandably have often shied away from scientific evidence that challenges this critique of sex roles. Because biology-based arguments have been used to justify women's subjugation, women have been reluctant to concede any innate difference. But, in view of recent scientific discoveries, has feminist resistance to accepting any signs of innate gender difference only created new biases?

… An entire academic discipline emerged out of the wholesale critique of the male tendency to create hierarchy, engage in territoriality and be drawn to conflict.

[…] Now a spate of scientific analyses suggests that we must be willing to grapple with some genuine, measurable differences between the sexes.

[…] Moreover, in her description of our evolution, [Helen] Fisher notes that males who could tolerate long periods of silence (waiting for animals while in hunt mode)
survived to pass on their genes, thus genetically selecting to prefer "space". By contrast, females survived best by bonding with others and building community, since such groups were needed to gather roots, nuts and berries while caring for small children.

Reading Fisher, one is more inclined to leave boys alone to challenge one another and test their environment and to accept that, as she puts it, nature designed men and women to collaborate for survival. "Collaboration" implies free will and choice; even primate males do not succeed by controlling females. In her analysis, it serves everyone for men and women to share their sometimes different but often complementary strengths - a conclusion that seems reassuring.
Reassuring indeed for the defenders of the traditional family (which is to say, the true and natural family)—it seems that not only from a Christian/natural-law perspective, but also from a feminist/Darwinist/determinist perspective, men and women can be acknowledged to have different and complementary strengths. And the corollary of this would seem to be that a child of a mother and a father is better off than a child of a pair of same-sex ‘co-parents’; true parents are, after all, complements, not substitutes. But Ms Wolf does not leave this to readers’ powers of inference to deduce—she spells it out for us:

Moreover, [Michael] Gurian argues that men tend to rear children differently from women for similarly neurological reasons, encouraging more risk taking and independence and with less awareness of the details of their nurture. One can see the advantages to children of having both parenting styles. He urges women to try side-by-side activities, not only face-to-face verbalisation, to experience closeness with their mates.
(my emphasis)
Now lest anyone suspect that I am taking Ms Wolf out of context and exploiting her observations for my own purposes, let me be clear: presumably Ms Wolf does not object to same-sex parenting. But given that she herself notices “the advantages to children of having both parenting styles”, it would be interesting to see how she reconciles these two contradictory points of view.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Columba, Abbot, A.D. 2009

1 comment:

Louise said...

Presumably she "reconciles" them by an emotional sleight of hand.