When my friend heard I was going to a REAL Women conference, she laughed. Such is the public image of REAL Women.
I am happy to report that the women I met at the conference were not the strange creatures I had been led to expect. They were not frilly, sentimental and reactionary people afraid to enter the twentieth century. Neither did they hold the views sometimes attributed to them in the media – no raving that all women should be tethered to the kitchen stove baking cookies. They were simply normal pro-family activists: people concerned about the antipathy expressed by feminists, academics, and radical political groups toward the traditional family and traditional values.
This was REAL Women’s second annual conference, held on Saturday, February 15, at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. It was attended by nearly 300 people from all over Canada. The highlight of the conference was a talk by Dr. Onalee McGraw (summary below). Other speakers were Dr. Donald De Marco, Professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo, and Matthew McQueen, M.D., of McMaster Univeristy. The conference ended with a brief national meeting of REAL Women.
Many found the most enjoyable part of the conference to be a panel of REAL Women members. These women’s stories of how they became involved in the organization added a personal note to the conference. It was an effective demonstration of the way people from a variety of backgrounds have found their concerns addressed by the pro-family agenda of REAL Women.
Gearing up for new trends
The keynote address, delivered by Dr. Onalee McGraw, was without a doubt the most though-provoking part of the conference. Dr. McGraw is a member of the National Council of Educational Research for the U.S. Department of Education. In the past, she has worked for the House of Committee on Children, Youth, and Family. She has also been an education consultant for the Update. She was a delegate from Virginia to the White House Conference on the Family.
Dr. McGraw’s talk at the REAL Women conference was an extension of her paper, “The Family, Feminism and the Therapeutic State,” published in 1980 by the Heritage Foundation, (513 C Street, N.E., Washington D.C., 20002, $3.00 U.S.). In her talk, she brought the conference audience up to date on what has happened in the U.S. since she wrote that paper, in regard to issues that affect the family: day care, working mothers, sex education, government family policy, and so on.
Many social and political trends in the U.S. tend to be replayed in Canada a few years later. By keeping in touch with what is happening in the U.S., we may be able to anticipate and prepare for changes in our own society.
What follows is a summary of Dr. McGraw’s talk.
The social fall-out of feminism
Has the feminist movement peaked? Yes, it has, Dr. McGraw told the REAL Women conference. As a general mentality, as a philosophy of life, the appeal of feminism is fading. Of late, spokesmen for the women’s movement are often heard bemoaning its failure to grow.
Yet the time of feminism’s heyday has left its mark on our culture. What lasting social fall-out are we seeing from the feminist movement?
The most obvious is the trend for more and more women to enter the workforce. This would have happened at any rate, McGraw noted, because of economic necessity, the development of greater opportunities for women, the creation of more part-time jobs with flexible hours, etc. These are naturally developing trends, in which increasing numbers of women are seeking to work in paid positions without compromising their family relationships.
But there is a distinction, Dr. McGraw argued, between this “natural” trend and the ideologically-motivated pressure to work emanating from the feminist movement. Feminism has inspired many younger women to be committed to a full-time professional career.
These are not mothers who work 10 to 20 hours a week, their hours around their families’ needs. Rather, they are women committed to a “career,” with all the professional obligations that involves. These mothers are under tremendous professional pressures, enjoying little or no flexibility to shape their jobs around their families’ needs.
What effect does a mother’s commitment to a professional career have on her children? The effects are not always evident when her children are babies or toddlers. As they reach school age, however, differences begin to appear. According to one study, done at the University of Wisconsin, elementary school children whose mothers work do not do as well in school as children whose mothers stay home.
Another study, done by the National Institute of Education, showed the same results. This has generated considerable controversy and criticism, Dr. McGraw noted. Until now, it has been assumed that whether mothers work or not makes no difference to their children’s well-being. If may even be beneficial to them. And to a point, of course, the effects do depend on the individual mother and the individual family. However, studies have begun to show what common sense would tell us: that most women, with average levels of energy and empathy, cannot give full-time commitment to a job and still have the resources to meet their families’ needs.
When we move to the junior high level, McGraw told her audience, the effects become even more marked. Junior high students feel more pressure from school, from peer groups, from a growing independence, from their parents. They are considered “at risk,” in the jargon of the social sciences. They being to feel the pressure to try drugs to get involved in premature sexual activity, to become alienated from their parents.
Clearly, junior high kids still need intense parenting. Many kids who have been in day care and after-school care, and seemed to cope well with it at the time, now begin to show conflicts. The mother who is working part-time, or in a flexible job, can negotiate her commitments to allow herself extra time with her junior high child. But the mother with an inflexible, highly-demanding career does not have that freedom.
We often get the impression that adolescents no longer need their parents to the extent younger children do anyway. Adolescence, we are told, is an age when kids transfer their primarily allegiance to the peer group. Family and adults become secondary. Mothers are free to pick up full-time careers.
This is absolutely false, McGraw argued. She cited an extensive study showing that kids take on the values of the adults in their families even today. Parents still set their children’s primary values.
As a result, parents continue to have an irreplaceable role to fill in the lives of their growing children. Even after her children have entered junior high school, it makes good sense for a mother to keep her family as her primary responsibility.
In the early days of the trend toward mothers working, we were very dependent on the opinions of the experts to tell us how it would affect families. The trend had not been around long enough for us to see the results for ourselves. But studies done by professionals have their biases. In large part, workers in the social sciences and “helping” professions reject traditional views and values. This affects both their choice of studies to run and their interpretation of those studies.
Supported by government funding, these researchers have come up with a spate of studies (some quite poorly conducted) that “show” the family is incompetent or irrelevant. They then conclude, not surprisingly, that much of the nurturing of children must now be done by the schools and the helping professions.
For instance: an extremely influential study on family violence was conducted in the U.S. by a group of leading sociologists. The study yielded statistics that appeared to show an incredible epidemic of violence in the family across all socio-economic levels.
But of course, McGraw noted, the results you get depend on what you mean by violence. The definition used in this study was so broad that a lot of normal parents would fall under its definition of “violent.” One question, for example read, “Have you ever thrown anything. If you had ever thrown anything, even a pillow, even only once, you became a “family violence” statistic.
The researchers added up all these instances of “family violence” and published the results. They got a lot of mileage out of this study, speaking at conferences, universities, and public policy groups. In ways like this, the impression is spreading throughout our society that families are failing, families are failing apart, families cannot cope.
And who should we turn to for help? To the very professionals who are running those kinds of studies, of course. Let the educators and counselors and experts take over from those poor beleaguered parents.
What we need are studies free from ideological bias. These studies, when they are available, often give results that support traditional views of the family. Children do thrive better when their mothers forego an outside career to make parenting their primary task. Children are more emotionally secure when they are cared for at home instead of in institutions. The truisms are true.
It is imperative to have these studies in hand when we go to our legislators, McGraw urged. They need this data to develop government policy supportive of the family.
The day care dilemma
Day care is high on the feminist agenda. What are the effects of day care, Dr. McGraw asked. What do recent studies show?
One of the best publicized problems of day care is the risk it poses to the child’s health. Infants, especially, do not do well in group care. Children of four and five have built up immunities, but the immune system of younger children is not well-developed yet. Even in better day-care centers, babies are coming down with chronic and sometimes serious diseases. There may be a reason babies are born into families, not into communal groups.
Further negative effects of day care are now coming to light, Dr. McGraw told her listeners. She highly recommended David Elkind’s The Hurried Child and Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood. These books argue that modern life is pushing kids to grow up too fast. One example of that is day care. Day-care children often show a precocious independence and aggression. Books like Elkind’s counter the
prevalent idea that day care and pre-school are good for kids. Many people are under the impression that the effects of day care have been vindicated by sociological studies. But the fact is, studies have yielded two very different kinds of results. Some studies show that day care enhances children’s emotional development and raises their achievement levels. Others how just the opposite.
What causes these diverse results? As Dr. McGraw explained, the studies have been conducted on two distinct cultural groups. Children from middle-class families, who enjoy a fair amount of stability and security at home, do worse in day care than at home. Being gone from home long portions of the day is experienced primarily as stress.
But children from low-income, single-parent families, whose homes may offer little in the way of security or stimulation, often do better in day care. The consistency ad structure of a good day-care centre or pre-school may compensate for the stress of being away from their mothers.
Knowing this, we can stand against the cultural pressure to devalue the work mothers who stay home for their children’s sake. As mothers, we can stand against the pressure to run out and get a job in order to feel that we are doing something “really” important. We can stop wondering whether our children wouldn’t be better off under the care of a professional child-care worker. Institutional care may be of benefit to some needy families, but it is certainly not good for every child.
Families forced to subsidize socialism
Ironically, by its tax, the U.S. government is actually supporting the day-care movement at the expense of families. It does this when it taxes all working families but gives tax credits only to families who use day dare. In the U.S. today, not just poor, single mothers but even middle-class families get a financial break from the federal government if they put their children in day care.
In other words, families that care for their children are not only losing income the mother would bring in if she worked, but they are also subsidizing the costs of day care for those families that decide not to care for their own children. The government thereby actually penalizes families for doing what is best for their children.
By financially rewarding day-care families and penalizing families that care for their own children, the government is putting its official sanction on the day-care movement. In so doing, it is promoting an essentially socialistic view of the family: that all adults should be in the paid work force while children are cared for in communal settings.
There is in addition, Dr. McGraw noted, a tremendous push in the U.S. for the establishment of child development centers, in order to extend schooling down into the very early years. The experts are again telling us they can do a better job then we can as parents. This is going to be one of the battles of the future McGraw warned.
Has welfare helped the black family?
A revolution has occurred in social commentary on the black family. For years the conventional wisdom has been that really very little can be done about the problems of blacks. These problems, we have been told, stem from centuries of slavery, racism, and discrimination.
But just within the last year or so, commentators of all political stripes – including blacks themselves – have been arguing that the problems of the black family are of recent origin. Many actually stem from the liberal welfare state that has been so highly touted as the solution to the black’s problems.
It is not generally known that only about twenty years ago most black families were still intact. Two decades ago, seventy-five percent of all black children had two parents in the home. Today, nearly sixty percent of all black children are born out of wedlock. Single mothers (most of them teenagers) and their children are the fastest-growing segment of the black community.
Why is this? What has happened to the black family in the last twenty years is welfare. Instead of lifting blacks out of poverty, welfare has created a much greater poverty than merely that of low income – it has created the emotional poverty of broken families.
An example cited by Dr. McGraw tells the story. One young black man had fathered six children (by four mothers). He was supporting none of them. Asked why he did not support his children, the young man replied that the mothers were oh welfare. What I’m not doing, he explained, the government will do.
People like this young man are really quite rational in their economic behaviour. The welfare system has rewarded the black man for deserting his wife and children by relieving him of his obligation to support them. It has rewarded the black teenage girl for becoming a single parent by giving her the money to set up housekeeping on her own when she becomes pregnant out of wedlock. And, conversely, it has penalized families that stay together by offering mothers more financial support through Aid to Dependent Children than they can have if they remain married, given the low income of many black men.
These observations are beginning to be made by people from al sides of the political spectrum. The black family endured slavery and remained largely intact. It withstood poverty and discrimination. But is had not withstood the welfare state.
The last trend Dr. McGraw discussed was sex education. In the 1970s, legislation was passed in the U.S. allowing minors to be given contraceptives and abortions without the knowledge or consent of their parents. Since then, there has been an ongoing debate over what role the schools should play in this issue.
The shape of the debate has changed over the years. Back in the sixties and seventies, liberal politicians, educators and social scientists said we must give kids biological facts of reproduction in the classroom so they will know how contraception works, and then they will use it.
Ironically, McGraw commented, most experts in other fields of education hold that youngsters cannot abstract ideas about religion or politics or whatever until they are well into their teens. And yet we were expecting kids to abstract and analyze their behaviour in the area of human sexuality when they were in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.
In fact, there is no evidence that giving young people factual, intellectual information about human biology will affect their actual behaviour. This is well known among professions sex educators. As one researcher put it, there’s only one way to prevent teen pregnancies, and that is for schools to take kids by the hand “shepherd” them down to the local clinic, with or without parental permission. And even then, they will use contraceptives for only a short time, and then stop.
When study after study showed this to be the case, sex educators came up with a new strategy. In the U.S., they have begun to call for the establishment of “teen clinics” in schools themselves where contraceptives can be handed out. And they are right, McGraw said: this is the only way youngsters will be induced to use contraceptives – maybe. But even if it works, it only treats the symptom and ignores the real problem.
Research shows, McGraw argued, that youngsters who are sexually active tend to be those who have failed to build warm, loving family relationships. They are looking for love, for affection, for human contact. It actually has very little to do with their sexuality. Especially for girls, it has much more to do with self-image and the need for love. Without a good role model in the home, these youngsters have also failed to form a strong personal identity and set of values.
The reason there is such resistance among teens to using contraceptives is because it forces them to face head-on the purely sexual aspect of what they are doing – which is precisely what they do not want to think about. So they practice a tremendous amount of denial. Even with fully adequate knowledge about contraceptives, research shows, there is among youngsters a very low level of compliance.
Grounds for optimism
Dr. McGraw ended her talk on an optimistic note. She herself has been active in the pro-family movement since 1969. Sheer time and experience have taught her not to despair. Although a liberal, individualistic ideology is still held by a majority of the people who shape our culture (people in government, academia and the media), the tide is turning. Some liberals are beginning to see that the welfare state is a dead end. Some sociologists are rising to the defence of the family. Some politicians are realizing that the feminists do not speak for all women.
And, perhaps best of all, grass-roots pro-family movements like REAL Women, are awakening to the fact that the values we have taken for granted are in danger. They are rising to the challenge and working to defend the Judeo-Christian values that have made Western civilization free and prosperous and humane.