For today’s Women’s History Month post, I will talk about two articles by conservative economist George Gilder, whom Susan Faludi talks about in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. The first article is “The Relationship of Women to Wealth and Poverty”, and it appeared in a 1984 book that conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly edited, entitled Equal Pay for UNequal Work: A Conference on Comparable Worth. The second article is “Child Care in a Gender-Neutral Society, and it appeared in a 1989 book that Schlafly edited, entitled Who Will Rock the Cradle? Two Conferences on Child Care.
Gilder believes that the nuclear family is essential for a growing economy, for men are particularly motivated to work when they have to support their families. As a matter of fact, Gilder maintains that the shift from the extended to the nuclear family played a significant role in the rise of the industrial revolution. Consequently, Gilder thinks that society should support, promote, and encourage the nuclear family rather than families headed by single-mothers or couples who do not have children. That’s a reason that religion is so important, Gilder argues: it promotes monogamy. Gilder regards families headed by single-mothers and couples who do not have children as parasitic, for many single mothers are poor, their children are more likely to become delinquents than kids from a nuclear family, and people who do not have children are being supported in their old age by other people’s children, through Social Security. Gilder believes that the United States does the opposite of what it should be doing, however, for, although fathers who head the nuclear family are increasing in their incomes, taxes are a burden on them. Meanwhile, welfare programs subsidize single-parent families, and that discourages single mothers from getting married, for their needs are already being met by the government. Gilder quotes Jack Kemp, who said that “If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less, tax it.”
Gilder thinks that women should get married when they are in their twenties. At least in these articles, he buys into an idea that Susan Faludi spends pages trying to refute—-that women decrease their chances of getting married the longer that they wait. For Gilder, the feminist movement is so abrasive because its adherents realize that they have made the wrong decision and are going overboard trying to justify it. Gilder seems to believe that women should stay home with the children and should wait until their children are grown before pursuing a career. Gilder regards women as nurturers, and he also thinks that women gravitate towards the home. He cites a poll that indicates that women prefer part-time work over full-time work, and he believes that this is because women desire flexibility so that they can take care of their kids. The reason that women are paid less than men, according to Gilder, is that men work harder, and women are not willing to put in the time and the energy to do what is necessary to make a higher income, since that would interfere with their parental duties. Women also gravitate towards sedentary jobs rather than jobs that demand intense physical labor, and so Gilder thinks that it is mistaken to treat men and women as exactly the same. Gilder also believes that federal funding for child care is a bad idea, for it takes mothers out of the home, thereby depriving children of a mother, and it also puts women in competition for work with men who are trying to support their nuclear families. Because Gilder would prefer for women to stay at home raising the kids, he is critical of certain conservative proposals for welfare-reform, which encourage workfare and support child care institutions.
So Gilder believes that the nuclear family is necessary for a prosperous economy. Yet, he notes that Sweden is one of the richest countries in the world and has an “illegitimacy rate” of 40 per cent. Does that undermine his argument by showing that a country can be prosperous yet be deficient in the area of the nuclear family? Not so fast. Gilder states that European welfare states “have gained virtually all their growth for a decade from increased government consumption and exports to America.” Gilder’s point here may be that the prosperity of the European welfare states is dependent on the United States, where the nuclear family is the bedrock of its strong economy.
How would Susan Faludi respond to these arguments? In Backlash, she makes some claims that may strike one as contradictory, or as demonstrative of how complex reality is:
On the one hand, Faludi argues that no-fault divorce does not hurt children because the women eventually recuperate from the economic setbacks of the divorce and make more money. This appears to undermine Gilder’s argument that single-parent families are generally poorer than nuclear families. On the other hand, Faludi presents the economic plight of single women who are struggling to raise their kids on their own, yet have to deal with a discriminatory workplace that does not pay them the same as men and that prefers for them not to be there in the first place.
On the one hand, Faludi argues that women are not competing with men for jobs because the work that they’re doing is often low-income work that men don’t want to do anyway. On the other hand, she does present women seeking the jobs that men are doing and finding fulfillment in work outside of the home. She thinks this undermines the conservative argument that women do not want those jobs that men are doing, and she also believes that women are justified to seek more fulfilling occupations. Against the argument that they end up competing with men who have families to support, Faludi notes that the women have to support families as well.
On the one hand, Faludi believes that women are willing to do full-time work. On the other hand, she notes that they leave their jobs reluctantly because the workplace will not provide them with a flexible schedule, which takes into account their parental responsibilities. Faludi believes that federally-funded day care can take care of a lot of this, and, unlike Gilder, she does not think that everything the federal government sets its hand to do will be disastrous. She argues that day care is a place where children can learn social skills, and that federally-funded day care is better than other kinds of day care because less abuse occurs in institutions that are federally funded and certified.
As far as I could tell, Faludi does not interact with the conservative argument that men are more suited than women for physically-demanding labor. But she does argue that women are discriminated against regarding sedentary jobs as well, and other jobs that do not have intense physical requirements.
Faludi would probably also disagree with what seems to be Gilder’s solution to the problem of female poverty—-to encourage women to marry—-for she discusses examples of abuse and unhappiness within marriages. She does appear to want for women to have a degree of independence and autonomy so that, if they’re in a relationship, it’s because they want to be in it, not because they have to be in it.
I think that both Gilder and Faludi make good points, but I doubt that either comes up with a comprehensive narrative that takes everything and everyone into consideration.