MUSINGS ON THE BETTER HALF
Two rather different news items about women made me remember my daughter
today. Jackie has been living in near-poverty for six years in Oakland,
CA, while working on her doctorate in sociology at Berkeley. She is a
fierce feminist, very bright, and very testy when her dense sire fails to
understand the limitations under which women of the world have labored for
centuries, and are still laboring. Unfortunately, that's the normal,
everyday, happily obtuse, insensitive mental state in which I live. We
seldom see eye to eye. But she sprang to my mind as I scanned the paper,
and I wondered what she would say about these understated, incomplete
snippets of information I'd just read.
The state of Wisconsin recently signed a law that allows it to take into
custody pregnant women who fail to control their alcoholism or abuse drugs.
Its basis is to protect the unborn fetus from alcohol poisoning and birth
defects, or from being born addicted to drugs. There is no question the
law is well-intended. Few Americans would not agree with its purpose. But
looking at the personal freedoms guaranteed each of us by our constitution,
I think despite the best of intentions, the new Wisconsin law violates the
rights of women. Further, once a fetus is accepted as a person under law,
does that not implicitly make abortions illegal? They become murder. I
realize that the new Wisconsin law is written explicitly to exclude
abortion from its application, but it sets a precedent that regards the
fetus as a person with a right to survival. The issue of personal freedom
is very touchy, but the constitution is clear in this regard. It was
written to permit a man to do pretty much as he pleases, and I use the term
man with foresight. If a man decides to drink too much alcohol, a legal
substance, and does it in private without subsequently driving a car or
boat, or without becoming disorderly and a public nuisance, he is free to
do so. Can we legally treat a woman differently? That seems to be what
Wisconsin is doing.
The second noteworthy news event was raised at the national convention of
Southern Baptists, held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Women were advised to
follow the scripture and "Submit graciously, " to their husband's will,
direction, or wishes. In repayment, husbands are effectively tasked with
protecting and providing for their wives, which certainly seems strange in
a society where more than 60% of married women with young children work and
bring home a paycheck. Again, with the best of intentions, the requested
behavior relegates women to a form of second citizenship and subservience.
Jackie didn't have to make that point for it to be clear to me.
Obtuse, insensitive males like myself will probably find themselves in
agreement with both of these policies, and I admit they seem rational and
socially desirable. Babies should be born as healthy as nature permits
them to be, and I think young children benefit from having one parent at
home during their pre-school years, and even beyond. I don't insist it
must be the mother, but having her home seems more "Normal" to me.
Besides, in practice, women actually control the majority of the wealth,
decide on most of the expenditures, either cajole or direct men's behavior,
and outlive men by nearly a decade. In the long run, they seem to do all
But if I were walking in women's moccasins, as the old Indian adage goes,
just how would I feel if either of these precepts applied to me? Would I
accept them? The answer would be an unqualified no. I think, were I a
woman and had those unfortunate habits, I would care enough for my unborn
child to stop drinking, smoking, and using drugs. But then, I'm neither an
alcoholic nor a drug addict. I certainly wouldn't allow anyone to tell me
not to, and I wouldn't submit graciously to anyone.
Haven't we, the males who have governed humanity and decreed religious
tenets since Adam, set up our rules and behavior in the best interests of
men, and allowed some of them by extension to apply to females? I'm not
sure it was done deliberately, but I'm not certain it wasn't.
Unquestionably, there are religious groups today, such as fundamentalist
Muslims, in which women are not permitted to vote, drive cars, or even
expose their ankles and faces to men. Their women may immediately be
divorced at a man's whim or dictate. None of that is true in America, and
a woman's lot is far better here. Shouldn't my daughter be content with
My considered answer is, yes, she should. But the nagging question that
remains is it would not be good enough for me, and I should not expect it
to be good enough for my daughter. Mathematics and physics taught me
equality is equality, or the equation doesn't work. The law Wisconsin just
passed and the behavior advocated by Southern Baptists is something
fundamentally different from equality, and we had better stand back and
carefully reflect on it. With Father's Day coming, it isn't right for my
daughter to feel alone in this matter.
Sam Orr firstname.lastname@example.org