Saturday, June 8, 2013

Speaking Strongly While Female

I don't generally watch Fox News.  But this discussion hosted by Megyn Kelly at Fox News in response to this Fox News discussion hosted by Lou Dobbs, has engendered a lot of Internet discussion among the blogs I frequent.   It's all about whether women are somehow hurting their children if they are the primary breadwinners in two-parent heterosexual families.

If you listen to the Lou Dobbs discussion, what it amounts to is four men reacting to a recently reported statistic that in four out of 10 married heterosexual families in the U.S., the woman is the primary breadwinner.  I listened to the discussion carefully and discovered that the ensuing conversation was entirely about everything that these men believe is going wrong in society, which they believe this women-as-breadwinners situation is either a symptom or a cause of-- or both.  However, as the men went on to discuss divorce, abortion and deficient public school education, they made no real attempt to connect any of this to the actual statistic they were supposedly discussing.  How exactly women being breadwinners was related to divorce, abortion, or the travesty which they consider public school education to be, was never made plain.  The idea seemed to be simply that the "natural order" of the world was being upended if even 40% of married couples had the woman as the primary breadwinner-- and apparently this supposed disruption is cause for great alarm and despondency.*

One of those involved in the discussion, Erick Erickson, then wrote a follow-up blog post in which he says:

"But we should not kid ourselves or scream so loudly in politically correct outrage to drown the truth — kids most likely will do best in households where they have a mom at home nurturing them while dad is out bringing home the bacon. As a society, once we moved past that basic recognition, we’ve been on a downward trajectory of more and more broken homes and maladjusted youth."

Erickson links to the Core Beliefs of the patriarchal Christian website Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) at the end of his article.  CBMW then supports Erickson's position in their own article.   But it is noteworthy that Erickson's article never actually cites any studies supporting this position-- and throughout his article he contrasts, not couples where the man is primary breadwinner with couples where the woman is primary breadwinner, but couples where the man is primary breadwinner with single-parent households.  In short, he is comparing apples and oranges.  His point appears to be that because children of single-parent households do not do as well as dual-parent households, therefore children should be raised in households where the man is the primary breadwinner and the woman stays home with the kids.  (Hannah at Emotional Abuse and Your Faith does a very good job at picking apart the arguments both in Dobbs' discussion and Erickson's article.)

But all of this is just background for what I want to talk about today.

My purpose in blogging about this is not to defend the position that women are not harming their children or upsetting the natural order if they become the primary breadwinners for their families (though of course I agree that they are not).  Rachel Held Evans has done a marvelous job of defending that position both rationally and scripturally in her post Why the Church Can Support "Breadwinning" Wives Too, and I don't have much I could add there.  What I want to talk about is what happened to Megyn Kelly when she confronted the opposing viewpoint in her Fox News discussion.

It appears that though Megyn Kelly of Fox News is certainly politically conservative, she is not of the CBMW camp.  She is married with a powerful and highly visible career, and according to this article she and her husband are now expecting their third child.  There is no way I can see that Ms. Kelly could not have felt that the main topic directly impacted her as a woman and a mother.  Her opening remarks, though said with a smile, are a challenge to the two men whose vocally held position is that women like her are harming their children by their life choices.

"What makes you dominant and me submissive, and who died and made you scientist in chief?" Kelly asks laughingly -- this last being in response to Erickson's assertion that "liberals" are being "anti-science" in ignoring the natural male dominance supposedly prevalent in the animal kingdom.  She then goes on to point out that the data does not actually support the idea that children in two-parent homes where the woman is primary breadwinner and the man is home with the kids, fare any worse than children in two-parent homes where this is reversed.   Erickson then states that he believes the studies were primarily focused on wealthy couples and could not hold true for the middle class, which "cannot have it all."  Why "not having it all" only applies to women who want to care for their children and be the primary breadwinner, but not to men who want the same, he never actually addresses except to insist rather vaguely that women in general are more nurturing.

Kelly calls Dobbs and Erickson out on their claim that they were "not being judgmental" in insisting that women who make the choice to have careers with young children at home were "imposing a worse future on their children."  She says it is "offensive."  To counter, Erickson states that it is a simple "statement of fact" that it's hard for a woman to work full time and nurture her children. Again, he does not state why this is only true for a woman and not for a man.

Kelly quite calmly states that the blog did offend her.  She holds up the documents showing the studies that support her position and accuses Erickson of claiming not to be judging while actually judging anyway:  "[You're saying] 'I'm not, I'm not, I'm not; now let me judge, judge judge.  And by the way it's science, science, science."  She does not raise her voice while stating this, though she is emphatic about it.  At this point the men begin to smirk, and Erickson chuckles to Dobbs as he re-enters the conversation, "Be careful."  The implication is "Watch out for the angry woman!"

As Dobbs begins the same argument he was making in his original video, listing all of society's ills and then linking them to women in being in the workplace, Kelly calls him on it:  "Why are you attributing that to women in the workforce?"

His reply?  "Excuse me, let me just finish what I was saying if I may, oh dominant one!"  He thus picks up on Erickson's jab and amplifies it.  This seems to me to be a direct attack on her for being a woman while being host (i.e., in charge of the discussion).  Would he have mocked a man in this way?

As Kelly, taken aback, asks, "excuse me?" Dobbs begins to talk about studies supporting the problems in single-parent households. But the fact is that this is not evidence that supports the position that there is any harm caused to children by women in two-parent families being a breadwinner, or even the main breadwinner.  Kelly quite reasonably insists that the statistics for the latter really do not support the point being made against the former, and reminds Dobbs that she had defined the discussion from the beginning as being about two-parent households where the woman works outside the home.  Dobbs then begins to insist that they have to talk about single mothers, that this is absolutely what the discussion is about.  As he attempts to wrest the conversation away from her onto a tangent that Kelly, as the discussion leader and moderator, has determined to be off-topic, she must fight to regain control of the exchange.

It seems to me that Dobbs is insisting that the conversation must include the problems of single motherhood because to him, it's all part of the same thing: the upsetting of the natural order in which men protect/provide and women nurture, and all of society's ills are part and parcel of the same.  Kelly, however, does not start from this presupposition, nor does she buy into it.  Dobbs begins to laugh at her as she forces the conversation back to what is to her the point-- whether women in two-parent homes being the primary breadwinners is damaging to the children.  She then turns the conversation back to Erickson, quotes his article, and then begins to cite long-standing studies that contradict his position.  Kelly is very emphatic by this point and its clear that she is a little ruffled.  Erickson replies that the studies she cites are "politically motivated" (while his own statements presumably are purely objective).

Erickson then cites a Pew Studies poll in which three-quarters of those polled agreed that "the increase in moms as breadwinners makes it harder to raise kids," as he paraphrases it.  Kelly points out that the public majority has been wrong in the past-- in the area of inter-racial marriage being harmful, for example.  Erickson admits to this but insists that it's still better in the majority of cases for the mom to be home.  After the studies that Kelly has cited, this frankly comes off as, "I've made up my mind; don't confuse me with the facts."  He insists that he is not, as Kelly puts it, "denigrating the choices made by others."  But to insist that another person's choice (Kelly's, for instance) is actually harmful to children is a denigration of her choice whether he likes it or not.  His position amounts to "What you're doing is wrong and damaging to the most vulnerable members of our society, but I'm not saying anything bad about you for doing it," which is self-contradictory to say the least.

David Hayward over at NakedPastor has responded to this with a cartoon and comments: Emotionally invested preconceived stereotype of women.  He points out some of the difficulties Kelly faced in that interview which a man would probably not have faced:

"She was the host and yet had to constantly fight to maintain moderating position. She literally had to verbally fight, along with raising her voice, to keep control of the interview. The reasoning of those two men is obviously not based on research but on emotion drenched in traditional mores. But it's typical of people who have issues with strong women to point to their style rather than content. She had content that she used a strong style to try to communicate. They used rudeness, along with a domineering attitude, interrupting, overtalking, to communicate no content."

Now, I'm not saying that Kelly conducted the interview with absolute perfection. But some of the comments on Hayward's blog included the idea that Kelly was "yelling" and had "become aggressive," and that this constituted a "weakness" in how convincing her point of view was.  I don't believe that those making these comments were being consciously sexist.  But the fact remains that according to the entrenched social attitudes that still prevail today despite all the strides forward that women have made in terms of equal dignity, women are expected to always remain "sweet," and any emphatic or passionate behavior is usually held against them.   A man who strongly, even angrily, confronts an injustice is often admired, while a woman who does so is considered "strident" or "aggressive."

But logically, someone's argument is not necessarily weak just because they are impassioned about it.  The question is why they have become impassioned.

The fact is that as a woman, Kelly had to fight to have what a man would be given without a fight-- the right to moderate the discussion as leader and host.   Her  raised voice in this case was related to trying to do the job she had been given-- even if that meant interrupting a participant who seemed determined to take over.

Also, is it appropriate to compare the level of calm of someone who has no direct stake in the issue at hand, with that of someone who is actually one of the subjects being attacked by a position being taken on that issue?  As a woman, Kelly was the only one in the conversation whom the subject of conversation directly and personally impacted.  What these men were saying amounted to a direct attack on the choices Ms. Kelly herself had made in her life.  Should she be faulted for getting upset about that?  Should the male participants be commended for not getting upset when their life choices were not under attack?  No one was telling the men, "Your having a career is hurting your children!" 

It's kind of like looking askance at a person of color for being unable to discuss Jim Crow laws without raising their voice, while a white person is able to remain dispassionate.  

Kelly should not have had to endure the condescension and mocking of those men.  She should not have had to force them to allow her the place of leadership to which she was entitled as host.  She should not have been subjected to laughter and raised eyebrows for using such force.  And she should not have been faulted for having emotions about a topic which could not help but be an emotional one for her.

Particularly when she was able to back up her position with evidence that the men in the conversation were sorely lacking.

Megyn Kelly is a conservative and I'm a moderate, and we may not actually agree on very much.  But we're both women who have careers and children at home.  And when it comes to having a right to speak strongly while female-- I'm completely on her side.


*I am being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but I don't believe I'm actually exaggerating the emotional nature of the Dobbs video discussion. The men really were very alarmed and despondent about so many women being breadwinners as pointing to the anticipated demise of everything they hold dear.  It seems a bit hypocritical, then, that they would appear to treat Kelly's emotion in her video as if it were a point against her.


Mara Reid said...

Two thumbs up!

For you AND for Megyn Kelly.

That "Oh, dominate one," bugged the heck out of me too and displays loud and clear what it's all about.
It is about who is the boss. And these men ARE emotionally invested in protecting their positions in the hierarchy chain they worship.

I'm conservative like Kelly. But I'm embarrassed by the religious right.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for this post, and a loud "you go girl" to both of you. I am a woman and primary breadwinner for my family of 5. My husband is stay at home dad. I know for a fact that those men are full of sh** because for my kids they are SOOOO much better off with him than they would be with me. He has more patience and love with them than I am capable of. And I am eternally grateful to God for setting it up this way, because both of us were brought up conservative and would never have planned it that way, precisely because before we actually did it we believed the same thing.

Coincidentally I am in a situation at work that is dominated by this same ignorance. The company I work for claims to value diversity, but they are fooling themselves. The women who do get ahead there are the ones willing to work the 70 hours a week, neglecting their families in the process. I don't think men should do it either, but perhaps because of biology and science they are more likely to do so. Consequently I work for a dept that employs 54% women, but only 9% in upper management. And then it is the men in management making all the decisions on behalf of those under them, without having a single woman's voice to advocate for the rest of it.

I am determined to affect change there, but in an environment where strong women are scoffed at and ultimately driven to quit....its all a matter of strategy.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Article... Thank you for pointing out so well that hardly anyone asks a man how he is going to balance a career with parenting.

heather said...

I agree with this article!

Anonymous said...

I watched this interview and was very proud of Kelly. She did have to fight for control and yes she was mocked. I thought she remained professional and definitely had done her homework. As for the men, it does not surprise me that they would cite her passion as the reason for her being wrong. When you are wrong (as the men were) you'll grab onto any thread (no matter how weak) you can to try to prove your point.

believer333 said...

This only cements the suspicions that those men entrenched in concepts of male dominance also hold real contempt toward women unless those women are holding men as superior. This is the direct result of the teachings of patriarchy.