Why Do Some Defenders of Tradition Find Family Life so Unappealing?

A couple of stories have crossed my radar lately that have led me to ask this question.

University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen dissected the argument of the amicus brief filed by Hawkins and Carroll in Utah’s attempt to ban same sex marriage in that state. The brief makes the following assertion:

Traditional, gendered marriage is the most important way heterosexual men create their masculine identities. Marriage forms and channels that masculinity into the service of their children and society. Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would eliminate gender as a crucial element of marriage and thus undermine marriage’s power to shape and guide masculinity for those beneficial ends….

Many of the historical supports that have traditionally preserved men’s involvement in their children’s lives have been eroding for contemporary families. Historically high rates of non-marital cohabitation, out-of-wedlock childbirth, and marital divorce have dramatically altered the landscape of fathering, leaving unprecedented numbers of children growing up with uncertain or nonexistent relationships with their fathers. …any signal that men’s contributions are not central to children’s well-being threatens to further decrease the likelihood that they will channel their masculine identities into responsible fathering. We believe the official de-gendering of marriage sends just such a signal.

Cohen sums this up this way: “Yes, the very existence of gay marriage will encourage the evolutionary tendency of (straight) men to neglect their children.”  (The full article is called “Does Gay Marriage Make Straight Men Hate Children?“)

The underlying assumption in this convoluted argument seems to be that left to their own devices, men would naturally not want to be fathers. As women are not brought up in this quote, a parallel assumption seems to be that women need no external coaching in femininity in order to assume full responsibility for their offspring. Women relish parenting, and would never have an impulse to escape the pressures of parenthood.  Right, ladies?

But wait, not so fast. Here comes conservative activist Phyllis Schalafly. Writing in the Christian Post, Schalafly makes the case that eliminating the income gap between men and women would lead to a breakdown of society:

Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don’t have the same preference for a higher-earning mate.

While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship. This simple but profound difference between the sexes has powerful consequences for the so-called pay gap.

Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.

In other words, in Schlafly’s worldview women would have no inclination to marry if they were not financially dependent upon men.

Why do traditionalists like these think that family life is so naturally unappealing that people need to be coerced into it?


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