So two feminist law professors—Naomi Cahn and June Carbone—wrote a book, Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family. In order to get some publicity for it, they wrote an article that Slate published under the headline “Just Say No: For white working-class women, it makes sense to stay single mothers.”
But “makes sense” for whom? For fathers, the intent is to keep them out of their child’s lives. Is it for the fatherless children? The single mothers? Other married mothers?
Or what about the professors themselves?
Autonomy and independence
Cahn and Carbone give us the example of Lily and Carl, supposedly two real people from the professors’ chosen demographic. Lily is the classic example of what Peter Allemano dubbed the Bold Independent Woman of Today (BIWOT). Carl, on the other hand, was a Deadbeat long before he became a Dad.
To ensure her independence, Lily breaks up with Carl when she is four months’ pregnant. To call this independence, however, is delusional. Lily is quoted at stating:
I can support myself. I always have. I can support myself and our kid. I just can’t support myself, the kid, and him.
From this statement we are supposed to infer that Carl is a failure. However, to be determined a success, Carl would have to do what Lily can’t—support himself, the kid, and her.
But how does Lily support herself and the kid? There’s no mention of child support, although how she would otherwise gain welfare is not discussed. She gets assistance from her parents, which is not the same as independence. But these are only two aspects of Lily’s ersatz autonomy:
… programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, early childhood education and child care, mandatory family leave, and other policies that make it easier for women like Lily to raise a child on their own.
As Allemano makes clear, the BIWOT term is ironic.
The deadbeat Carl
But what about this Carl character? He is like Homer Simpson without the funny bits.
Carl, however, was not at the hospital with Lily and his paternity has never been established.
The implication here is that Carl chose not to be at the hospital. Perhaps we are to forget that Lily broke up with Carl while she was pregnant. Are the feminists now suggesting that Carl should have stalked Lily for several months and then barged into the delivery room demanding his rights?
As for getting his rights, the authors point to the fact that Carl’s unmarried status stacks the odds very much against him. So can he overcome the odds?
If Carl were that organized and determined, though, he didn’t show it during their relationship.
No, Carl has no redeeming features. And, apparently, it’s not just bad luck that caused Lily to hook up with such a dud.
The women ready for marriage in this group have grown larger than the group of marriageable men who would be good partners.
It seems that Lily will have as difficult a time in finding a “good partner” as Carl would have getting access to his child.
Lily did go out for a while with a more promising high school classmate. But then she discovered text messages with another woman on his phone.
Was Carl just as “promising” at one stage?
Something about Lily
So why did Lily, this wise, canny BIWOT, have unprotected sex with Carl?
Was Carl a rising star in a legal firm who woke up one morning with an entire personality transplant? Did he, overnight, switch from a “more stable” life to exhibiting a preference for debt and chaos?
Could it be that Lily didn’t care about what kind of person Carl was? Could it be that Lily was choosing the single mother option from the very beginning?
Surely not! No, Lily, because of class, has been reduced to fishing in the shallow end of the gene pool and, now pregnant, has given up looking for Mr Right.
Nor does she believe that she will meet someone who will meet her standards anytime soon, and the statistics back her up.
Proof positive that Lily is not at fault.
Indeed, we are to assume that Lily would be a fine catch for any young, stable, gainfully employed, career-oriented man. Yes, a man who didn’t mind his wife checking through his phone for unapproved text conversations. A man who didn’t care that she was willing to have unprotected sex with a deadbeat like Carl.
A man who didn’t mind that the only reason Lily would allow him to have a relationship with his own child is that she can’t get a better deal anywhere else.
The phony marriage
This, of course, only leads to the question of how these two professors view marriage itself and the values that inform their judgments of Carl and Lily.
Lily … believes that marriage means an unqualified commitment to the other spouse. When you marry someone, you support him in hard times. You stick with him when he disappoints you. You visit him if he ends up in jail. And you encourage him to become an important part of your children’s lives.
So Lily, according to the professors, has a conservative view of marriage. It’s all about doing the hard yards. Cue Tammy Wynette and “Stand by Your Man.”
It’s just that Lily doesn’t believe that Carl is worth that commitment.
I find the same thing with digging. It is good, honest hard work. I approve of it. I recommend it. I sing its praises. Right up until someone hands me a shovel.
Suddenly, I remember an important appointment and I’ve got to go.
But do the professors share Lily’s penchant for other people getting married, even if it’s too hard for Lily herself? On the contrary:
Those who would promote marriage seek to do so largely by taking away Lily’s independence.
They then go on to give some scathing criticism of the conservative voices who would encourage or even demand that Lily be a dutiful wife to Carl’s patriarchal leadership.
So, if they didn’t believe that Lily should marry Carl in the first place, why all the baloney about how few suitable men there were? To understand this, we must first make a digression into an issue that might have bothered some readers from the beginning.
Why the racist element?
The un-racist racist element
The authors are clear that they are only referring to White, low-income women. This is because single mothers are already a large demographic in the Black communities of America. There is no need for the professors to encourage these women to eschew marriage for a life of “independence.” Their focus here is to encourage the White sisters to follow where their other sisters have led. But why?
There are strong links between single motherhood and poverty. This is as true today as it always has been—and has been extensively documented. In America, it is currently true for non-White single mothers. So, will this move to encourage more White single mothers help anyone else? Or will it just impoverish White women equally?
To understand its attraction, we must not look at it from the point of view of the single mother. We must look at it from the point of view of feminist lobbying groups.
The real attraction of the single mother
What is it that gives Lily her “independence”? On her own, single and childless, she truly is as independent as Carl will ever be. But once she has a child, she becomes a welfare magnet.
This, of course, is where all the Carls of this world come in. They don’t have the resources to stop the need for welfare, but they have the sperm to create it.
And welfare magnets need more than welfare. They need offices to administer it. They need social workers to advise them how to claim it and how to spend it. They need government programs to provide it, with advisers to tell the government what programs to set up and how they can fund it. They need charities and non-government organisations to lobby for it so they can extend it with their own programs. They need lawyers to recommend legislation for it. They need researchers to determine how effective it is, how it needs to be modified, and academics to give the programs their expert approval.
They need an industry that stretches from Lily’s local town council to the United Nations and back again.
Lily herself will make no difference, but for every 1,000 Lilys with their hands independently out, the state will employ a proportion of the above cast of thousands. Grants will be made available for charities and NGOs to aid all those independent mothers. Private individuals and corporations, moved either by the plight of single mothers or the opportunity for good publicity, will donate by the bucket load. For activists there will be a feminist funding frenzy to ensure Lily gets all the help she needs to need more help tomorrow.
For men like Carl, of course, the professors have no real interest. His kind does not invoke much public sympathy. Even 10 times as many Carls won’t generate as many jobs for the social justice warriors. Carl can donate sperm, child support, and taxes and be glad they don’t take more.
And for every child who grows up in a single-mother household, there will be more Lilys and Carls for generations to come.