|Unplanned Parenthood Illegitimacy and the liberal elite. |
By JAMES TARANTO (Best of the tube tonight: We'll appear on Fox Business's "Lou Dobbs Tonight." The program starts at 7 p.m. ET, with our panel around 7:40.)
Social issues are so fascinating for the same reason debates over them are so often dull and frustrating: because the language of ideology, morality and law is insufficient to describe the human complexities involved. Writing at National Review Online, City Journal's Heather Mac Donald calls our attention to a case in point:
Katie Roiphe's full-throated defense of single parenthood should not really come as a surprise, given the iron-clad grip of feminism and the related prerogatives of the sexual revolution on the elite worldview. This proud single mother and NYU journalism professor, who is definitely not "too poor to marry," is insulted by a New York Times article on the 53 percent illegitimate-birth rate among females under 30. . . . But despite its overdetermined status, Roiphe's Slate piece is nevertheless a sobering reminder of how great the abyss still is between those who understand the costs of family breakdown and those who see it as merely "refresh[ing] our ideas of family." Roiphe concludes that there are no (annoyingly retrograde) studies on "what it will be like for . . . children to live in" the coming world without marriage. Actually, we know already. It's called the ghetto. Mac Donald is right as far as she goes. Roiphe's views are fully consistent with the selective nonjudgmentalism that is an essential component of contemporary feminist ideology (selective because feminists are happy to stigmatize men--"deadbeat dads," for instance--and women like Sarah Palin who reject the pieties of feminism). It's also true that Roiphe is blasé about the effects on children, including children less privileged than her own offspring, of growing up without fathers. To her, the only risk worth worrying about is that they will bear the brunt of others' censure.
But when you read Roiphe's article, it turns out there's more going on here. For one thing, ideologically she is just confused. Consider her second paragraph:
Conservatives will no doubt be elaborately hysterical over the breakdown of morals among the women of Lorain [Ohio, dateline of the Times piece], but they will be missing the major point, which is that however one feels about it, the facts of American family life no longer match its prevailing fantasies. For those who have associated single motherhood with the poor and uneducated, and increasingly, with the urban very-educated . . . they now have to confront the changing demographics of the vast American middle. No matter how one sees this development, . . . one has to recognize that marriage is very rapidly becoming only one way to raise children. Having accused conservatives of "missing the major point," she goes on to restate, repeatedly and at considerable length, the point they in fact quite easily grasp.
Further, her actual dispute is not with conservatives, whom she thinks unworthy of anything more than a thoughtless dismissal. Rather, she is upset with the liberal elite--in this case, with the Times--for failing to live up to its professed moral relativism:
The tacit judgment of the New York Times-style liberal is in many ways more pernicious than the overt moralizing of conservatives on the downfall of family and marriage. It is easy to dismiss the Santorum faction for its cartoonishly old-fashioned view of extramarital sex, and this group is at least forthright about its view, whereas the subtle psychologizing put-down of the New York Times-style liberal, the slight hint of self-congratulation that they are not a single mother in Lorain, Ohio, bringing their son to the bar where they work, is more poisonous for its pretense of fairness and open-mindedness. As Mac Donald notes, Roiphe herself is an unwed mother. Roiphe's piece includes a link to a confessions-of-a-single-mom piece in which she describes encountering similar judgment from her liberal friends, which made her emotional enough to repeat herself:
Someone who was trying to persuade me not have the baby said that I should wait and have a "regular baby." His exact words were, "You should wait and have a regular baby!" What he meant, of course, was that I should wait and have a baby in more regular circumstances. But I had already seen the feet of the baby on a sonogram, and while he was pacing through my living room making his point, I was thinking: This is a regular baby. His comment stayed with me, though. It evoked the word bastard: "something that is spurious, irregular, inferior or of questionable origin." Someone said, similarly, to a single friend of mine who was pregnant that she should wait and have a "real baby." As if her baby were unreal, a figment of her imagination, as if she could wish him away. Maybe Katie needs better friends. Someone like Rick Santorum would have supported her decision to give her child life rather than abort him.
What these anecdotes show is that the stigma against illegitimacy (though not abortion) is alive and well among affluent social liberals. Surely that is an important reason that, as Charles Murray has shown, their out-of-wedlock birthrates are much lower than those of the less privileged.
Roiphe seems to want society to shed what standards it has left in order that she can feel good about herself. And this isn't the first time she has issued public demands for acceptance of her personal life. In 2007, she wrote a piece for New York magazine that was subtitled: "Yes, I'm getting divorced. Yes, I have a child. No, I'm not falling apart. So why does everyone insist I must be?"
There's another curious aspect to the story of the man who suggested that Roiphe wait and have a "regular baby": The advice was completely unrealistic. According to yet another Slate piece on the subject, this child was born in July 2009, when Roiphe was 40, at most a few years from the point at which it would be impossible for her to get pregnant absent heroic medical intervention.
In Roiphe's telling, her second child was the result of a pregnancy that was unplanned but not unwanted. She had a longing for another child. Whether or not she had acknowledged this desire, she did not take the usual preparatory step of getting married before getting pregnant, or at least before giving birth.
Not an insignificant number of affluent women who want children make the same mistake of putting off marriage until it's too late, because of unrealistic expectations about men and about the duration of their own fertility. Some, like Roiphe, end up having kids in "irregular" circumstances. Many end up childless for life. Either way, it's as much a failure of family planning as not taking the pill when you don't want to get pregnant.