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On the Mommy and Daddy Binary

[this post was originally posted on Shakesville with the title Mommy v. Daddy ]


Via Media Matters, I find this gendered analysis of Tuesday’s debate in the LA Times:

The late conservative economist Jude Wanniski once dubbed Republicans the “Daddy Party” and Democrats the “Mommy Party.” On Tuesday, Obama seemed to prove his point by laying out the more expansive government role in caring for middle-class Americans. And he mentioned not only his mother, but his wife and grandmother too.

First, let’s talk about how this is insulting to men, via its implicit contention that men don’t care for other people, and, quite specifically, if one takes this tired metaphor to its logical conclusion, that fathers don’t care for their children. Men are there to provide and discipline; women are there to care. This lie is the foundation for every damnable binary about sex and emotion in our culture—men are rational; woman are emotional—and it is on what we’ve based our pernicious refusal to regard the most destructive versions of emotions like anger, jealousy, possessiveness, vengeance, apathy, and selfishness as not emotions at all, but merely biological evidence of strength, as long as they emanate from men.

Every man and woman reading this post who was raised in a house with a father who did not see “caregiver” as part of his role, who couldn’t have a bad day without the whole house having a bad day, who called his sons and daughters emotional or hysterical or weak if they cried, without a trace of irony as he stomped around the house in a fit of pique that no one could ignore, unable to properly process his emotions because he’s not supposed to have any, knows intimately the damage done by narratives that tell men they aren’t meant to care and that only girls and pussies show emotion.

The “daddies aren’t there for caring; that’s what mommies are for” meme can’t die soon enough or hard enough. It hurts the men who believe in it, it hurts the boys and girls they raise, it ain’t a picnic for Mom (or second Dad, or Grandma, or whomever else may be a secondary care provider). It’s bad for families, and every member in them, and it’s bad for the country when writ large. Men are designed to care, too—and they should, for themselves as much as anyone else.

And now let’s talk about how that snip of gendered analysis is insulting to women.

See: All of the above. Every time one sex has assigned to it a particular trait or behavior or emotion, then the other is assigned its opposite, or merely its absence—and a failure to demonstrate its opposite or absence, as prescribed by one’s own gender, thus results in a deviation of which our gender-obsessed, binary-obsessed, gender role-enforcing patriarchy will not approve.

Any woman, then, who doesn’t want children for whom to care, who doesn’t want to fill the mommy role at all, or who becomes a mother but refuses to sacrifice her every need and desire at the altar of self-subjugation, who has the temerity to care about herself, publicly and unapologetically, is, by definition, not a “real” woman.

Unless she’s a prominent conservative; for them, we make exceptions.

What I find most troubling for women about Doyle McManus’ analysis, however, is this: “And he mentioned not only his mother, but his wife and grandmother too.” Merely by speaking about women, Obama “proved” Wanniski’s Mommy Party / Daddy Party thesis. It’s bad enough, you see, to care about people (like a woman does), but to care about women—well, that just proves you practically are one. And so is your whole party.

Naturally, it goes without saying that, in this calculation, being womanlike is a bad thing.

The implicit recommendation is to stop speaking about women, or caring about them, or behaving like they’re supposed to behave according to the stereotype underlying this whole argument, i.e. Mommy. It’s only by not caring about, acknowledging, or respecting women at all that Barack Obama and the Democrats can shed the disastrous image of the Mommy Party. (And of course a woman cannot participate as a candidate—not a “real” woman, anyway, who wouldn’t selfishly let a career stand in her way of caring about her partner and children.)

Leaving women not cared about, acknowledged, respected, or effectively participating is, one supposes, a small price to pay for a gentleman’s victory.

I take a slightly different view. Ahem.

My view, which I daresay will come as a surprise to approximately no one, is that men who have empathy and compassion for other people are always a welcome contribution to American politics, and women who have empathy and compassion for other people are needed in much greater numbers in American politics. (I am decidedly dissatisfied with a Congress that is 16% female—positively shameful, that.) My view is that we should collectively take vocal and uncompromising issue with people who actively discourage women’s participation in politics, whether through propagating stupid memes about Mommy and Daddy Parties or by treating them like garbage. My view is that Obama should talk about his mother, his grandmother, his wife, his daughters, his sister, his female friends and colleagues, and women generally at every opportunity he is given, and give women a chance to tell him their own stories along the campaign trail. And my view is that he should be proud to do so, and aware of why it’s necessary.

That’s my view. My question is: What would a late conservative economist say, do you think, about a Daddy Party with a mommy on its ticket?

I suppose it’s okay—as long as she’s hostile to women, too. That seems to be the important thing.

And isn’t it always.Every man and woman reading this post who was raised in a house with a father who did not see “caregiver” as part of his role, who couldn’t have a bad day without the whole house having a bad day, who called his sons and daughters emotional or hysterical or weak if they cried, without a trace of irony as he stomped around the house in a fit of pique that no one could ignore, unable to properly process his emotions because he’s not supposed to have any, knows intimately the damage done by narratives that tell men they aren’t meant to care and that only girls and pussies show emotion.

The “daddies aren’t there for caring; that’s what mommies are for” meme can’t die soon enough or hard enough. It hurts the men who believe in it, it hurts the boys and girls they raise, it ain’t a picnic for Mom (or second Dad, or Grandma, or whomever else may be a secondary care provider). It’s bad for families, and every member in them, and it’s bad for the country when writ large. Men are designed to care, too—and they should, for themselves as much as anyone else.

And now let’s talk about how that snip of gendered analysis is insulting to women.

See: All of the above. Every time one sex has assigned to it a particular trait or behavior or emotion, then the other is assigned its opposite, or merely its absence—and a failure to demonstrate its opposite or absence, as prescribed by one’s own gender, thus results in a deviation of which our gender-obsessed, binary-obsessed, gender role-enforcing patriarchy will not approve.

Any woman, then, who doesn’t want children for whom to care, who doesn’t want to fill the mommy role at all, or who becomes a mother but refuses to sacrifice her every need and desire at the altar of self-subjugation, who has the temerity to care about herself, publicly and unapologetically, is, by definition, not a “real” woman.

Unless she’s a prominent conservative; for them, we make exceptions.

What I find most troubling for women about Doyle McManus’ analysis, however, is this: “And he mentioned not only his mother, but his wife and grandmother too.” Merely by speaking about women, Obama “proved” Wanniski’s Mommy Party / Daddy Party thesis. It’s bad enough, you see, to care about people (like a woman does), but to care about women—well, that just proves you practically are one. And so is your whole party.

Naturally, it goes without saying that, in this calculation, being womanlike is a bad thing.

The implicit recommendation is to stop speaking about women, or caring about them, or behaving like they’re supposed to behave according to the stereotype underlying this whole argument, i.e. Mommy. It’s only by not caring about, acknowledging, or respecting women at all that Barack Obama and the Democrats can shed the disastrous image of the Mommy Party. (And of course a woman cannot participate as a candidate—not a “real” woman, anyway, who wouldn’t selfishly let a career stand in her way of caring about her partner and children.)

Leaving women not cared about, acknowledged, respected, or effectively participating is, one supposes, a small price to pay for a gentleman’s victory.

I take a slightly different view. Ahem.

My view, which I daresay will come as a surprise to approximately no one, is that men who have empathy and compassion for other people are always a welcome contribution to American politics, and women who have empathy and compassion for other people are needed in much greater numbers in American politics. (I am decidedly dissatisfied with a Congress that is 16% female—positively shameful, that.) My view is that we should collectively take vocal and uncompromising issue with people who actively discourage women’s participation in politics, whether through propagating stupid memes about Mommy and Daddy Parties or by treating them like garbage. My view is that Obama should talk about his mother, his grandmother, his wife, his daughters, his sister, his female friends and colleagues, and women generally at every opportunity he is given, and give women a chance to tell him their own stories along the campaign trail. And my view is that he should be proud to do so, and aware of why it’s necessary.

That’s my view. My question is: What would a late conservative economist say, do you think, about a Daddy Party with a mommy on its ticket?

I suppose it’s okay—as long as she’s hostile to women, too. That seems to be the important thing.

And isn’t it always.

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2 comments on “On the Mommy and Daddy Binary

  1. This very accurately reflects my views in regards to certain, generally male-ordained, largely inaccurate, gender assigned roles and stereotypes which, if allowed to persist, may pave the way for a lot of disharmony and discord between the two genders and further widen the ‘gap’ that already is. It often worries me how male politicians are permitted or even encouraged to be bull headed, stubborn, firm, as well slightly aggressive in their pursuit to apply their own individual agendas as that shows ‘strength’ yet some if females were to step their foot down and be just as firm, determined and unwavering they are then seen as irrational, ‘hot headed’ and ‘emotional’ women and in that in the eyes of modern society is mostly viewed as unfavorable or perhaps even ‘not fit to run a country’. On the contrary, if a female politician is seen to be soft, compassionate, empathetic with the plights of the under-privileged across the world then they are dubbed ‘weak’ and also unfit to run a country with such sentiments.

  2. I definitely agree, but it ignores the other problem with the mommy and daddy binary- it leaves the rest of parents in the cold. Only men and women have any place in a child’s life, if someone else tries to care for a child then people start screeching child abuse.

    Defining everything as either a male or a female trait not only implies that men of who have “female” traits aren’t really men women who have “male” traits aren’t really women, it erases all the people with any other gender entirely (and implies that it’s bad to be them. Because, of course, a woman who isn’t really a woman isn’t a man, she’s some other gender, and that’s bad. The only reason it’s bad is because it erases her identity- not because having a different gender is bad)

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