“Have these men lost their minds?”
That trenchant question was posed by Fox News commentator Greta Van Susteren after a panel of her male colleagues bemoaned a new report by the Pew Research Center documenting the rise of “breadwinner moms.” Women are now the primary earner in 40 percent of households with children, up from 11 percent 50 years ago, and that news was just too much for the men of Fox to handle.
“When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society … the male typically is the dominant role,” fulminated Erick Erickson. “The female … it’s a complementary role.” Juan Williams chimed in that “something (is) going terribly wrong in American society, and it’s hurting our children, and it’s going to have impact for generations to come.”
The answer to Van Susteren’s question is clearly “yes.” These men are detached from reality in a whole bunch of ways. The growing power and influence of women at every level of society is simply irreversible and there’s only one response any sane male should follow: Deal with it. And celebrate.
Kim Parker, a co-author of the Pew study, put it this way: “This change is just another milestone in the dramatic transformation we have seen in family structure and family dynamics over the past 50 years or so. … The rise of breadwinner moms highlights the fact that not only are more mothers balancing work and family these days, but the economic contributions mothers are making to their households have grown immensely.”
That “dramatic transformation” certainly involves costs as well as benefits. The “balancing of work and family” is a source of constant conversation and consternation in every family, including ours. But the answer lies in adjusting to the real world of the future, not pining for a lost paradise bathed in nostalgic fantasy and pseudo-science.
Employers and workplaces must accommodate these “breadwinner moms” with more flexible schedules, telecommuting, paternity leaves and new measures of professional progress. Staying in the office every night till 10 just does not cut it anymore. And every smart employer knows that making reasonable concessions to these new family dynamics produces greater employee productivity, loyalty and retention.
“Many of our workplaces and schools still follow a male-breadwinner model, assuming that the wives are at home to take care of child-care needs,” professor Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins told The Washington Post. “Until we realize that the breadwinner-homemaker marriage will never again be the norm, we won’t provide working parents with the support they need.”
Personal adjustments are also needed — family by family, ego by ego — as women enhance their earning power. Megyn Kelly, a Fox News host now pregnant with her third child, excoriated Erickson for his unhinged analysis: “What’s unstable about having a working mother and a nurturing, stay-at-home father?”
It’s not just individual families who need “breadwinner moms.” The rest of us do, too. About 57 percent of all college students today are women. Two years ago, the number of women with graduate degrees outpaced men for the first time. A healthy economy has to embrace this trend and utilize this talent.
On a policymaking level, women are rising as well. When President Obama advanced three nominees for the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, two were females; a day later he picked Susan Rice as his national security adviser and named Samantha Power to replace Rice as U.N. ambassador.
For the first time in this Congress, 20 of the 100 senators are women and they include many powerful committee chairs: Barbara Mikulski of Appropriations, Barbara Boxer of Environment and Public Works, Patty Murray of Budget, Dianne Feinstein of Intelligence and Debbie Stabenow of Agriculture. Seven female senators — five Democrats and two Republicans — serve on the Armed Services Committee and at a recent hearing, several of them led the grilling of top military brass on the issue of sexual abuse. How’s that for a “complementary role”?
Of course, even 20 percent is still woefully low. In the House, an all-male subcommittee recently voted to ban all abortions after 20 weeks. That vote moved former speaker Nancy Pelosi to call the House “rigged” against the interests of women. “We have to kick open the door and make our own environment,” she told the Huffington Post.
She’s right, and every “breadwinner mom” is giving that door a little kick of her own. The men who think they can stop them have truly lost their minds.
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Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.