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 right.

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 that?

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 sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)