I am not Mel Gibson and you, presumably, are not Helen Hunt (Helen, if you do read this, you’re awesome). But the movie starring these two actors – in which Gibson’s character falls, hits his head, and is suddenly able to hear women’s thoughts – is unfortunately reminiscent of a current policy debate.
On Wednesday, the Pew Research Center released a report on women as breadwinners. The report found that in over 40 percent of households with children, women are the primary breadwinner, up from 10.8 percent in 1960.
Such a travesty! At least according to some. Redstate.com founder and Fox News political analyst Erick Erickson made waves on Wednesday when he said that “liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology – when you look at the natural world – the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role.” Erickson went on to defend his position in a blog post where he bemoaned the critique of “feminists and emo lefties” who have “their panties in a bunch” (a phrase which has since been removed from the post).
This statement was followed up on Thursday by co-host of Fox’s The Five and resident blusterer Eric Bolling, who said that more women in the workplace leads to more abortions.
Let me start by saying that Erickson and Bolling have made a career of antagonistic, obfuscating statements and could care less what anyone says about them. In their minds, they could win any argument, whether it’s against Socrates or a brick wall. Nothing anyone says will likely change their mind and they’re not worth criticizing directly.
But I would like to address this story from two perspectives. The first is an analytical one. It seems to me that Erickson and Bolling, as well as others who have lamented the study’s findings, completely miss or misrepresent the inherent causality. Part of the reason that women are now the breadwinners in 40 percent of households is the rise in single-parent households. That is problematic. Research shows that children raised in single-parent homes perform worse in terms of educational attainment than those raised in two-parent households.
But these commentators seem to place the blame for this reality on women, who are upending nature, whereas the true culprits are often men, who have shown a growing inability to commit to the stable family unit. That is not to say that there are no women who choose to be single (obviously there are some) or that women never leave men as single fathers. It is merely to say that men more commonly are delinquent parents.
The rise in single-parent households is problematic and we should try to find remedies that target the actual cause. At the same time, we should look at the fact that more women are now breadwinners as a positive step and help support the financial stability of women (particularly single moms) by, I don’t know, paying them the same amount as men.
The second perspective is rhetorical, and it is simple. Can political commentators, many of whom happen to be men, stop pretending that they are Mel Gibson in What Women Want and can read the minds of women? Erickson’s and Bolling’s comments imply that they believe that they have this super power.
Erickson points to women’s motivation as upending the conventions of nature and biology, as if more women becoming breadwinners is some feminist plot to subvert and diminish the power of men. Bolling, meanwhile, seems to think that women: a. get pregnant on a whim, and b. have abortions on a whim, betraying his complete lack of understanding of both the cause of abortions and the motivations of women.
Women making more money is a good thing – we should celebrate and support that. More women being single mothers is a bad thing – we should work to fix the breakdown of the family unit. But we must be careful not to manipulate causality to bemoan a faux feminist takeover or pretend that we understand the minds of all women everywhere.
What do women want? The hell if I know, and that’s the point. I’m not the person you should ask.