Last month the American conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson called attention to the importance of the family. How if we want to have happy, functioning societies the wellbeing of the family should be a central concern of political life. That was part of his message to which most of us could sign up.
More controversially for some, he argued that the unfettered operation of the free market could hurt the family. In particular, he suggested that where men didn’t earn decent wages, women didn’t want to marry them. The absence of marriage eventually leads to the breakdown of the family - to fatherlessness and single parenthood. Even a cursory glance at the data confirms that many our social ills follow from that.
The data amply support the link which Carlson highlighted between male employment and marriage (see here, here and here). But by making a link between employment markets and marriage he highlighted an unresolved tension in conservative arguments – that the free market can weaken the very families it relies upon to thrive.
Right-wing commentators David French and Ben Shapiro were quick to defend the market from any ideas which might curtail its freedom. If people had disorganized families, this was down to individual agency. They tried to make sure that the separation between our personal lives and the economy remained intact.
Others were more interested in exploring the questions which Carlson provoked. JD Vance (author of Hillbilly Elegy)acknowledged the conflict which Carlson’s argument pointed to, by demonstrating that what was good for the market was not necessarily good for the nation but needed careful working out. Others showed that his arguments about the family were essentially right. Eli Finkel made the point that the poor want to be married just as much as everyone else. Writing in the Federalist Willis L. Krumholz, explained that government measures had however made marriage impossible for the least well off. Suzanne Venker weighed in confirming how marriage is put beyond the reach of the poor because, as she demonstrated with a barrage of evidence, women prefer to marry decently earning men. The result is, as academics Bradford Wilcox and Samuel Hammond have shown marriage has become a privileged institution almost jealously guarded by the middle class.
However, the free market should not be held responsible for the decline of the male wage.
For in all this discussion hardly any mention was made of the almost universally accepted ideology, feminism, whose central and explicit aim has been to dismantle the supportive role of the male in the family and the family with it. And this is important because our understanding of the impact of both state intervention and the free market on the family is significantly flawed if we leave feminism and the consequences of feminism out of the equation.
This is because state intervention and its destructive effects have been enormously amplified by having to accommodate what is essentially feminist policy. And while the free market should be treated as a tool rather than a religion as Carlson wisely suggests, it is the same source, feminism, which has disastrously exacerbated the free market’s most harmful effects.
For when the family is eroded through the mechanisms of feminist state policies, it can no longer protect its individual members from the excesses of the market. Individuals become vulnerable to debt, drugs and the lure of material goods as family relationships are broken and family resilience is lost.
To understand what has happened to marriage and the family and the political implications of this we need to recognize that we have been in hock to an ideology which has actively sought to undermine the male breadwinner role within the family and the family within it for nigh on 70 years.
And it is this male breadwinner role which middle-class women, often feminists themselves, benefit from, both through marriage and then when they get divorced. Working class women, on the other hand, do not get married as the forces ranged against their men mean they are unable to provide support.
Feminists have always made it clear that they regard men providing financial support for women as the root of all evil. Quotations are easily harvested from the wealth of feminist writings, here, for example, is Selma James, who set up the International Wages for Housework Campaign, speaking in 1983:
‘The wage relation is not only a power relation between waged worker and employer but between those workers who do and those workers who do not have wages. This is the material basis of the social antagonism between the sexes. Whether or not we are in a relationship with men, let alone a dependent relationship, women’s dependence in society generally sets the terms of the relationship between all men and all women. Whether or not money passes hands between any particular individuals, the “cash nexus” binds the sexes to each other and into society. Women, the poorer sex are the socially weaker sex; men, more powerful financially, can exercise social power against us in every area of life’.
This is the nub of ‘patriarchy’ – seen as the oppression and exploitation of women by men based on the economic ‘power’ of the husband and father in the home.
And feminists have been clear that they want to get rid of it. For example here is Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch:
“Women’s Liberation, if it abolishes the patriarchal family, will abolish a necessary substructure of the authoritarian state; … so let’s get on with it”.
Or Kate Millet who was also influential in her day:
“Why are we here today?” “To make revolution.” “What kind of revolution?” she replied. “The Cultural Revolution.” “And how do we make Cultural Revolution?” “By destroying the American family!” “How do we destroy the family?” “By destroying the American Patriarch.” “And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?” “By taking away his power!”
Male support for the family or ‘patriarchy’ as feminists like to call it was (and is) regarded as a cause of many problems. Here in the UK, it was described as the cause of marital breakdown in a highly influential policy document, without any supporting references.
‘Inequality is not a recipe for wedded bliss. It is, on the contrary, one of the main causes of marital breakdown’.
Male support for the family was described as the cause of violence against women by the United Nations, and therefore the ‘economic independence of women was regarded as crucial’.
Jessie Bernard regarded it as psychologically crippling:
“The wife of a more successful provider became for all intents and purposes a parasite, with little to do except indulge or pamper herself. The psychology of such dependence could become all but crippling.”
It is even given as the explanation for men ‘abandoning their children’;
“Men who are out at work for nine hours or more, five days a week, are effectively exiled from their children. If men feel that they have not role except as financial providers, it is scarcely any wonder that so many abandon their children….”
A central aim of feminist policy has therefore been to dismantle ‘patriarchy’ or male support for the family and feminists advocated various measures to achieve this. One of them is to abolish marriage. Professor Carol Smart CBE explained in 1984 that while abolishing marriage might sound unpopular or unrealistic tackled indirectly, it could be done:
“It would be far more effective to undermine the social and legal need and support for the marriage contract. This could be achieved by withdrawing the privileges which are currently extended to the married heterosexual couple. Such a move would not entail any punitive sanctions but would simply extend legal recognition to different types of households and relationships, and would end such privileges as the unjustified married tax allowance. Illegitimacy would be abolished by realizing the right of all women, whether married or single, to give legitimacy to their children. Welfare benefits and tax allowances would also need to be assessed on the basis of individual need or contribution and not on the basis of the family unit”.
Another popular option was to get rid of the father. Eminent journalist Polly Toynbee suggested in 1989 that:
‘Women and children will suffer needlessly until the state faces up to the reality of its own inability to do anything about the revolution in national morals. What it can do is shape a society that makes a place for women and children as family units, self-sufficient and independent’.
And Anna Coote, a government policymaker also explained in 1991:
‘The father is no longer essential to the economic survival of the unit. Men haven’t kept up with the changes in society; to they don’t know how to be parents. Nobody has taught them: where are the cultural institutions tell them that being a parent is a good thing? They don’t exist. At the same time, women don’t have many expectations of what men might provide’.
Another solution is to increase the economic clout of women while reducing the relative value of male earnings. This can be done either by reducing the relative share of male employment (done) or reducing their hours (done), or by reducing the value of the male wage (done). Also important is of course simply increasing female earnings.
This is why feminists are so unrelenting about the gender pay gap even when it is acknowledged that women are paid the same for the same work. It is not about equality but about women and children being able to survive independently of men.
Finally, the system of taxes and benefits can be manipulated in such a way as to render female dependency on males all but impossible, make single motherhood a viable lifestyle and get all mothers out to work.
This was the approach adopted in 1990 by some well-known feminists, Anna Coote, Harriet Harman, and Patricia Hewitt. They produced a document for a government think tank called ‘The Family Way’. This explained that the Labour Party wanted to remove the discriminatory nature of the Married Couples Tax Allowance so that it could be used equally by both spouses. However, these feminists argued against this because such a measure would still provide financial support for marriage which they regarded as ‘indiscriminate’. It would be far more ‘efficient – more ‘targeted’’, they explained, to use public resources to support children and those who care for them [i.e., women] rather than discriminate according to the parent’s legal status.
They recognized that ‘A shift of resources away from the married couple’s allowance would, of course, affect married men’s take-home pay’. They acknowledged that this might be politically unpopular but discussed various strategies by which it might be done. After a continuous barrage of pressure arguing how The Marriage Tax Allowance was unjustifiable and should be spent on needy mothers the feminists had their way in 1999.
What they did was set up a system where even married families with children were treated as individuals. The family of two working individuals living with their children would benefit infinitely more from the personal tax allowance liability and from the higher rate tax bracket than a single earner family with a similar income. On top of this, they manipulated Child Benefit, Tax-Free Childcare Allowance, Child Benefit Tax Charge in ways which ensured that any family where the woman dared not to work would very substantially miss out. It is detailed here.
The result has been a Marginal Effective Tax Rate of nearly 73% - higher than any other OECD country. Consequently poverty has been heavily concentrated among single earner families and of course families with more children where the mother is least likely to be able to work.
It also means that the primary breadwinner is unable to increase his or her income because it would merely mean taxes would increase and benefits decline. This destroys the rewards of work and undermines the incentives to get on. It also means that employers have little incentive to raise wages because only the taxpayer will benefit. The result is dependence on welfare and a mother who is forced out to work.
At the same time processes are in place to discourage marriage or even couple formation as a ‘tax trap’ means that some families are financially better off living apart. The Institute of Fiscal Studies said in 2010 that 95 percent of all single people would incur a couple penalty if they married or started to live together as a couple. Half of these would face a penalty of £101 per week. , but the situation is not about to significantly change.
Patricia Morgan explains how the expansion of means-tested or ‘targeted’ welfare has meant that further and further up the income distribution, the state outbids husbands and fathers transforming them into liabilities. This may be why although the affluent are very much more likely to be married than the those with lower incomes the trend away from marriage is gradually working its way up.
The result of these policies has been that the UK has the highest rate of family instability in the developed world which comes with the concomitant problems associated with fatherlessness and poverty such as poor social outcomes in education, employment, and mortality, crime, further family breakdown and drugs. This has been estimated to cost the UK 51 billion a year in tax, benefits, housing, health, social care, civil and criminal justice, and education.
Feminism is the quack doctor on hand to sell its poison as the cure. Rather than strengthening the position of the male so that marriage once again becomes viable for the less well off his relative position is further weakened. For example, a Joseph Rowntree report noting that “male employment has fallen and earnings among low to mid skilled men have grown relatively weakly” proposes women’s employment as the solution:
“for couple families having both partners in work offers strong protection against poverty even when wages are low. Given the uncertain prospects for future wage growth, women’s employment will continue to be vital for lifting families out of poverty.”
I don’t know how relevant this little case study is to the situation in the States. But I know that the paper on which Carlson based his data refers to a male’s relative earnings and the paper itself said the decline in manufacturing was part of the process. This seems an acknowledgment that there are other processes at work.
We need to stop pussyfooting around these issues. These changes are not a result of the culture of modernity or of some zeitgeist over which we have no control. They are the result of 70 years of an ideology which has been explicit in its aim to destroy the breadwinning role of the male and the family. The progressive ideologies which have helped to destroy marriage have been the complicit handmaidens to this process as have the armies of Social Workers who feed off it.
Feminists have rent apart the fabric of society and we should, to borrow a feminist expression, ‘call them out’ for it. By identifying and naming feminism, by understanding its workings we can together labor to repair the deep wounds to society.
At the same time, we need to be careful to rescue any useful babies that might be swimming in the bathwater, for they are there. We also need to try to understand the psychology of feminism and the motivations that have propelled them.
If we can do these things, we can move forward to a healthier society where family and community is at the center. And feminism will become a fascinating period in history, an example of a hugely destructive movement but one from which a great deal can be learned.