If you’re not part of the solution…

imagesForeign policy analyst and academic Anne-Marie Slaughter made the decision to turn down a high level government position in 2011.  Her decision inspired her to write a widely-read article in The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  A year later she gave a TED Talk in which she argues that caring for family members is a human problem, not a women’s problem.  She says when people who work for her take time to attend to urgent family problems the work still gets done, and gets done better than if they were made to stay at work at the expense of their families.  She says breadwinning and caregiving are both necessary for proper nurturing of human life, and notes that while American culture has given women permission to do both, it remains for men to be allowed as much freedom of choice. She also talks about the barriers to gender equality and the costs of that inequality, asking:

“If breadwinning and caregiving are really equal then why shouldn’t a government invest as much in an infrastructure of care as the foundation of a healthy society as it invests in physical infrastructure as the backbone of a successful economy?”

Why, indeed.  It’s because of the deep and pervasive belief that caregiving is the problem of women.  While that belief is very old and people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds ascribe to it, I’m calling out Mormonism as contributing to the problem of undervaluing caregiving when it should be part of the solution.  But before I go further, what does Slaughter mean by an “infrastructure of care?”  She doesn’t spell that out in her TED talk, but I think things like paid maternity/paternity leave, family tax credits, subsidized preschool, and health care for children are all under that umbrella.

Why is Mormonism part of the problem?  Because it explicitly states that caregiving is the purview women:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” [1]

Why should Mormonism be part of the solution?  Because it also explicitly says that both breadwinning and caregiving are very important.  Our leaders take pains to say women and men are equal (but usually with the caveat about different roles).[2]  Fathers and mothers are “equal partners.”[1]  This is a foundation on which to build an argument for a better infrastructure of caregiving.  But it turns out that the majority of American Mormons are economic and political conservatives who tend not to favor policies and programs that support caregiving.  Why is it that American Mormons so consistently privilege the well-being of businesses in their politics?  Why are infrastructures of care dismissed as too costly, or too intrusive to the private lives of families?  Why are people who use social services condemned as leeches?

I think the answer lies in the very real costs that come from siloing women and men into roles determined by gender.  Those costs include the personal happiness of women who may feel trapped by the daily grind of caregiving or men who may feel equally trapped by the thought of being chained to the corporate gallows.  But there are economic and social costs as well.  And if caregiving is forever the personal problem of women, then why would governments, corporations, or other institutions support infrastructures of care?  They wouldn’t.  And in the United States, where the that belief is quite common, they really don’t.  There is no mandatory paid maternity or paternity leave in the U.S. and relatively small tax credits for having children [3].  For example, compare the U.S. where the Child Tax Credit is $1000 per child per year to Australia, where an ordinary family would be eligible for about four times that amount, and paid maternity leave is mandatory [4].  In addition, there is virtually no help for people getting back into the work force after taking time off to care for children and there is no Social Security for the unpaid work of caregiving.  There is very little social support for men who opt into a primary role of caregiver.  It’s still the case that for men who fail in the home, other successes more than compensate, and the reverse is not true.[5]

But Mormonism has the theological foundation to counter that worldly idolization of the bottom line.  Mormons see children as “an heritage of the Lord.”[6]  “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness.”[1]  “Families Can be Together Forever.”[7]  And “The Family is of God.”[8]  Mormons practically make an idol of the nuclear family, but in making nurturing the primary responsibility for women (but not for men) the Church contributes to the social problem of forever privileging breadwinning over the other needs of families.  There is just no way to gather the political will to seriously support infrastructures of care if the problem of caregiving is forever the personal problem of women.

If political expediency, even for a cause as worthy as helping families, were the only reason for doing away with siloed gender roles in Mormonism, then I would not support it.  But, as I’ve argued elsewhere,[9] nothing in Mormon theology adds up to women and men possessing separate but equal spiritual attributes that would necessitate them being in forever separate-but-equal roles.  In fact just the opposite.  Both men and women strive to acquire, through the grace of God, attributes that are godly and indistinguishable between genders.

Mormonism rightly understands caregiving to be at least as important to the human condition as breadwinning.  It could become a small but important part of the solution to intractable gender inequality in the world if the Church made these few revisions:

By divine design, parents are responsible to raise their children in love and righteousness, to nurture them, and to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.  In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Of course, undervaluing caregiving was a problem before The Proclamation was written, and eradicating separate-but-equal gender roles from the Church wouldn’t suddenly make the U.S. a world leader in support for caregiving.  But shouldn’t the Church show moral leadership wherever it can?  By teaching that women are primarily responsible for nurturing the Church puts the problem of caregiving primarily on women’s shoulders.  If it were seen as a human problem rather than a women’s problem I think we’d start to see more support for caregiving overall, which would be to the benefit of everyone and be more consistent with true principles of gender equality.

 

[1] The Family: A Proclamation to the World
[2] “Men and women are equal in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the Church, but equal does not mean that they are the same. Although responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature, they do not differ in their importance or influence.” Melvin J. Ballard at BYU Education Week, August 20, 2013.
[3] That’s only a meaningful comparison in context of the overall tax rate, so I compared countries that have tax rates that are roughly the same as the US: Australia, Germany, Japan, Canada, China, and South Africa.  In all cases family tax credits are income-tested.
Here are approximate tax credits for those countries:
US - Child Tax Credit of $1000 per child per year
Australia – Family Tax Benefit estimated about $4,000 per child per year.  It’s a complicated calculation.
Japan – Kodomo Teate Law estimated about $2,700 per child per year
Germany – Kindergeld, averaging about $3,000 per child per year
Canada
– Canada Child Tax Benefit estimated about $2,700 per child per year.  It’s a complicated calculation.
South Africa - No family tax credit
China - No family tax credit
[4] Quimby Masters kindly provided me with a detailed explanation of the Australian Family Tax Law.  Taking an example of a school teacher’s family with an income of $66,000 AUD per year, if that family had five children ranging in age from 5 to 15 they would receive $26,832 per year in family tax credits, bringing their actual income to $92,832, of which they would not be taxed on $26,832 of it.  In addition, every employed woman is entitled to 6 months paid maternity leave, paid at minimum wage.  Individual employers may add to this.  All women are also entitled to 12 months off work, with the guarantee that they will get their job or an equivalent back if they return to work at the end of 12 months.
[5] “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”  David O. McKay.
[6] Psalms 127:3 
[7] Families Can Be Together Forever 
[8] The Family is of God
[9] I wrote about this in “The Attributes of God Point to an Egalitarian Priesthood,” Exponent II, Vol. 33 No. 4 (Spring 2014).

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Who Are We Missing

“You want to know what my real charge to people is? My real charge to people is look around and see who’s missing. And try to invite that person…Look around. Who’s not here? So there’s all this, like, I’m sad that this is this way. OK. What is the one thing you could do to fix it? Go do that thing. Just go do that thing, you know?” ~Michel Martin, On Being Interview

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to canvas my neighborhood on behalf of the Mark Udall campaign. Udall is a Democratic senator in the state of Colorado and is currently in an impossibly tight race to keep his seat. As I think his opponent is a nightmare, I was happy to try and help where I could. I also had the luxury of a free Saturday and a partner at home that could watch our children while I participated in the American democracy.

There was nothing particularly eventful about my time as a canvasser. I mostly adorned my neighbors’ doors with those flyers that most of us immediately put in the trash recycling bin. A few days later, however, I received a phone call from one of the campaign field organizers asking if I could volunteer another Saturday. This time, however, my circumstances had changed. mr. mraynes began teaching an all-day Saturday class and I no longer had anybody to watch my children. I explained this to the staffer and then was treated to a lengthy lecture about women like me who were not doing enough to help Mark Udall win re-election and that I needed to get my priorities straight.

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Exponent Classics: Something About Learned Women

Something About Learned Womenby Lucy M. Hewlings,
First published in The Women’s Exponent, vol. 7 no. 17
February 1, 1879

The question has been asked, “Was there ever a time when there were no learned women?” To this query we reply, No! never since the creation of Eve, our first mother, down to the present, when the cause of women’s social and political rights has become a distinct national question; we admit there has been an unusual intellectual activity for the last twenty years, both in Europe and America, and that there has been advancement and progress in this respect within the last decade, but we are apt to felicitate ourselves, and perhaps are too indiscriminate on the progress achieved in female education.

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Exponent II’s Political Issue Now Online

It’s here! It’s here!

After our Exponent II Gets Political Blog series, we are pleased to announce the online publication of our Fall 2012 issue (scroll to the bottom of the page). Hard copies will be in the mail this Saturday morning.

We are so excited about this issue with insightful pieces from Mormon academics, politicians, and women discussing frankly their choices for the next United States president. And, there’s the suffrage song written by Woman’s Exponent founding editor Louisa Greene Richards, “Woman Arise.” There are a few (very few) copies still available, so get your subscription now before we’re sold out.

Letter from the Editor

“Hey, Red Aimee! Have a great summer. Stay cute and cool.” This sentiment, or something closely resembling it, fills the pages of my eighth-grade yearbook. At the time, I tried to think of it as a term of endearment, hoping that it meant I was at least interesting enough to have been given a nickname. But the truth was, as an inactive Mormon  girl growing up in Provo,Utah, in the 1980s, the last thing I needed was to also be considered a Communist!

Growing up, I had always been vocal about various social causes. At age eight, I joined Greenpeace and circulated a petition through my elementary  school to “help save the whales.” In the sixth grade, I chose to research the Soviet Union for our school’s World’s Fair. As a child of the Cold War who’d spent sleepless nights wondering when the “star wars” would begin, I wanted to learn about the children of the U.S.S.R. and whether or not they shared my fears. At age 12, I was too young to be interested in Communism-! was interested  in world  peace-but my teacher was uncomfortable  with  me researching this “godless nation.” In this politically  conservative environment, my burgeoning progressive viewpoints were often seen as radical at worst and marginal at best to many of my peers and teachers. Staged debates in middle and high school on topics including women serving in the military, capital punishment, climate change, and the welfare system often left me standing on my own. The fact that my progressive positions could be labeled “Communist” by my peers speaks to how unacceptable and threatening even a baby Democrat could be to
some in this bastion of conservatism.

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Poll: Political Leanings

mormon politics graph

Source: Pew Research Center, 2012.  (Click to enlarge.)

Since this is a Mormon blog, and in America, at least, most Mormons tend to be politically conservative, I thought it odd that so few politically conservative Mormons contributed to our upcoming politically-themed issue of Exponent II magazine and our recent series of politically-themed blog posts. Exponent staff tried to make both the magazine and series politically balanced, but achieving balance was challenging because conservative submissions were so scarce. Is the Exponent community really that different from the rest of our Mormon peers? Let’s find out.

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