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No Housing for the Unwed…and Other Scary Tales from the Neo-Patriarchy

I use the term neo-patriarchy a lot, to describe the worldview that underlies many of the skirmishes in the “war on women.” The important thing is to take it seriously rather than dismiss it as a fringe ethos or an illusion created only by Akin-ish rhetorical mistakes or misstatements.


Neo-patriarchy is a belief that the family and marriage in the 21st century should more or less skip over the 20th century and go back to the 19th.  Roles between husbands and wives should be differentiated—complementary rather than egalitarian and flexible—with the father ruling the household. Promisekeepers call this “taking responsibility,” as if the only way to be a good man, husband, and father is to control or rule the family. This encourages “marital interdependence,” its advocates will say, and that dependency binds a marriage tighter.

Neo-patriarchy sees reproductive freedom, men’s and women’s sexual agency, no-fault divorce laws, some custody arrangements, and abortion and contraception rights as corrosives to the marital structure. Some social conservatives fight all of these things; others, only one or two. Neo-patriarchy rejects women’s emancipation as a movement that weakened the family and mutual dependency and obligation between the sexes. Single parenthood by choice and alternative lifestyles outside of the heterosexual norm undermine the married heterosexual household unit that they feel is the only suitable environment for children.

It’s not that conservatives make lurid rhetorical errors when they talk about “legitimate rape” or the sorrows of birth control. It’s that they hold a worldview that has these beliefs in it or that might reasonably inspire these beliefs, and in which these beliefs form a coherent if disturbing whole.

If you want to know what neo-patriarchy sounds, looks or feels like in everyday life, here are four modest examples from last week’s headlines.

A real estate broker in Tennessee refused to rent a house to an unmarried couple.  He asked if they were married and when he found out they were not, called them “a disgrace to our country, having children out of wedlock.”  

Sarah Silverman, who recently called Romney the most “progressive thinker of 1950,” got lectured by a rabbi for her advocacy and her “let my people vote” campaign. “You have latched on to politics because you are searching for something to build,” he wrote—something that was to be found in babies and hubby. “I pray that you pursue marriage and, if you are so blessed, raise children.”  The rabbi got his ass handed to him by Silverman’s dad, whose letter in response began, “Hey asshole,” and ended, “You don’t fuck with my family.”

Then there’s a pastor in Iowa who would “like to slap” a pro-gay female churchgoer, and wished that her husband would “correct her.” “What makes me madder is that this person’s husband won’t correct them [sic]. I don’t like rebellious women. I don’t like rebellious men either. They’re even worse.”

And remember Arkansas legislative candidate Charlie Fuqua, who writes that the death penalty option for disobedient children would be a good deterrent to sassing out.

In his heart and soul, such as they are discernible, patterned, or consistently intelligible, I don’t believe that Romney has zealously radical convictions about marriage and sex. He doesn’t seem that impassioned around anything, even his own ambition, which he pursues with robotic soullessness.

So far as I can tell, his only abiding and lasting loyalties are to private commitments of family, friends and faith. Probably, in those commitments, he’s a perfectly nice man.

But that has nothing to do with the presidency. Were he president, Romney would “dance with those who brung him”—many of whom espouse radical social views.  

Those who hold these views are a minority, but a powerful one, within communities of faith. It’s important not to dismiss them as fumbling outliers who are, habitually, speaking inartfully or getting misunderstood.

One alternative in everyday life to slapping wives and putting disobedient children to death within the frame of the Judeo-Christian tradition —even for those with strident views—is the social practice of empathy.

My 82-year old mother is a woman of faith and she is the most sincerely empathetic person that I know. When confronted with new people, even people who have done terrible things, she listens more than she talks. She nods a lot. She keeps some private judgments to herself, and acts in public according to the Christian values of forgiveness and good manners and the Golden Rule. She’s not one to cast the first, or any, stone.

There are other examples of empathetic practice around marriage and sex, but they are harder to hear over the din of judgment hurled across the cultural chasm.

I recall a story some years ago from a “single mothers by choice” advice book. An unmarried woman had moved to a small, very conservative town, for her job. She wanted to have a baby, time was running out, and marriage wasn’t in her future. The woman got pregnant, and was delighted that she could become a mother. She had a good job and was stable in her life, but she feared deeply the reaction from her new neighbors. They were socially conservative, and she didn’t really fit in, and hadn’t lived there long.  Now she was having a baby out of wedlock.

Instead of feeling judged and shunned, the opposite happened. Neighbors that she didn’t know well left gift baskets of hand-me-down infant clothes on her doorstep.  They shared casseroles and volunteered to help.

They didn’t deny her housing, write her angry letters, or assault her. It sounds basic, but maybe we need to be reminded of this alternative empathetic approach.

Hopefully these small quotidian acts of grace that bind civil society together still happen. Hopefully they are still a moral norm, perhaps more quiescent than visible now, true, but ready to resurge…any day now. Hope drips eternal.

Live today! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Two-thirds of parents say technology makes parenting harder

Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.

Sex & Relationships
  • Today's parents believe parenting is harder now than 20 years ago.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found this belief stems from the new challenges and worries brought by technology.
  • With some schools going remote next year, many parents will need to adjust expectations and re-learn that measured screen usage won't harm their children.

Parents and guardians have always endured a tough road. They are the providers of an entire human being's subsistence. They keep that person feed, clothed, and bathe; They help them learn and invest in their enrichment and experiences; They also help them navigate social life in their early years, and they do all this with limited time and resources, while simultaneously balancing their own lives and careers.

Add to that a barrage of advice and reminders that they can always spend more money, dedicate more time, or flat-out do better, and it's no wonder that psychologists worry about parental burnout.

But is parenting harder today than it was, say, 20 years ago? The Pew Research Center asked more than 3,600 parents this question, and a majority (66 percent) believe the answer is yes. While some classic complaints made the list—a lack of discipline, a disrespectful generation, and the changing moral landscape—the most common reason cited was the impact of digital technology and social media.

A mixed response to technology

children using desktop computer

Parents worry that their children spend too much time in front of screens while also recognizing technologies educational benefits.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

This parental concern stems not only from the ubiquity of screens in children's lives, but the well-publicized relationship between screen time and child development. Headlines abound citing the pernicious effects screen time has on cognitive and language development. Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issue warnings that too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image, and the fear of missing out—to name a few!

According to Pew's research, parents—which Pew defines as an adult or guardian with at least one child under their care, though they may also have adult children—have taken these warnings to heart. While 84 percent of those surveyed are confident they know how much screen time is appropriate, 71 percent worry their child spends too much time in front of screens.

To counter this worry, most parents take the measured approach of setting limits on the length of time children can access screens. Others limit which technologies children have access to. A majority of parents (71 percent) view smartphones as potentially harmful to children. They believe the devices impair learning effective social skills, developing healthy friendships, or being creative. As a result, about the same percentage of parents believe children should be at least 12 years old before owning a smartphone or using social media.

But a deeper concern than screen time seems to be what content those screens can access. An overwhelming 98 percent of those surveyed say parents and guardians shouldered the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate online content. Far less put the responsibility on tech companies (78 percent) or the government (65 percent).

Parents of young children say they check the websites and apps their children use and set parental controls to restrict access. A minority of parents admit to looking at call and text records, tracking their child's location with GPS, or following their child on social media.

Yet, parents also recognize the value of digital technology or, at least, have acquiesced to its omnipresence. The poster child for this dichotomy is YouTube, with its one billion hours played daily, many before children's eyes. Seventy-three percent of parents with young children are concerned that their child will encounter inappropriate content on the platform, and 46 percent say they already have. Yet, 80 percent still let their children watch videos, many letting them do so daily. Some reasons cited are that they can learn new things or be exposed to different cultures. The number one cited reason, however, is to keep children entertained.

For the Pew Research Center's complete report, check out "Parenting Children in the Age of Screens."

Screens, parents, and pandemics

Perhaps most troubling, Pew's survey was conducted in early March. That's before novel coronavirus spread wildly across the United States. Before shelter-in-place laws. Before schools shuttered their doors. Before desperate parents, who suddenly found themselves their child's only social and educational outlet, needed a digital lifeline to help them cope.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rely on e-learning platforms and YouTube to supplement their children's education—or just let the kids enjoy their umpteenth viewing of "Moana" so they can eke out a bit more work. With that increase in screen time comes a corresponding increase in guilt, anxiety, and frustration.

But are these concerns overblown?

As Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and the media at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, parents don't always need to view screen time as a negative. "Even the phrase 'screen time' itself is problematic. It reduces the debate to a black and white issue, when the reality is much more nuanced," Radesky said.

Radesky helped the American Academy of Pediatrics craft its statement about screen time use during the pandemic. While the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences and maintain limits, the organization acknowledges that children's media use will, by necessity, increase. To make it a supportive experience, the statement recommends parents make a plan with their children, be selective of the quality of media, and use social media to maintain connections together. It also encourages parents to adjust their expectations and notice their own technology use.

"We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard," Radesky said. "There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don't be on it all day."

This is good advice for parents, now and after the pandemic. While studies show that excessive screen time is deleterious, others show no harm from measured, metered use. For every fear that screens make our kids stupid, there's a study showing the kids are all right. If we maintain realistic standards and learn to weigh quality and quantity within those standards, maybe parenting in the digital age won't seem so darn difficult.

How meditation can change your life and mind

Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.

Videos
  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
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