Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pour Yourself a Cup of Ambition, Ladies

After many years at her current place of employ, my wife left her job this last week. Unlike so many others in this rather difficult employment market, she's moving on to another job. It's a good move. Her departure was amicable, and her new position is a significant and positive step up in her field. Work, for Rache, has always been an important thing. She's a smart, capable, and intensely committed staff person. That means that after two decades in the same field, she's on a path that will lead her deep into primary breadwinner territory. While we could live simply on what I earn as a pastor, her work now provides a significant majority of our household income.

Interestingly, the issue of women in the workplace has surfaced in the Virginia governors race. Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate, is catching all sorts of flak for his Master's thesis. He got his graduate degree in public policy from Regent University, which used to be called CBN University. Oh yes it is. It's Pat Robertson's grad school. In that thesis, McDonnell runs through a series of familiar conservative themes. In particular, he argues that having women in the workforce is bad for families.

This has not played particularly well.

McDonnell has been doing a great deal of backpedaling and counterspinning over the last few days. He's pointed out that he wrote the thesis two decades ago...although he was hardly a kid at the time. When you're 34, you're a grownup. Is he saying that his graduate study didn't matter? I'll admit that any masters thesis that includes condemnations of homosexuals and fornicators probably isn't going to make it's way into the Journal of Public Policy and Management. But it still formed him.

He's also pointed to his legislative record, which is a mix of practical politics and conservative social engineering. He's not quite the fascist that the Huffington Post would have us believe, but then again, he's not anywhere near the political center...even in the conservative state of Virginia. He knows this. His campaign theme for populous and moderate Northern Virginia appears to be: "Hey Guys! I also grew up in Northern Virginia! How 'bout them Skins! How 'bout them Redskinettes? Aren't they hot? Man, don't you wish you could marry one too?"

As the political backpedaling goes on, I find myself wondering if perhaps we should look more closely at the statement that got him in the most trouble. It's not politically expedient, but perhaps we should critically consider McDonnell's most challenging assertion.

Are women in the workplace bad for the American family?

If you look at the historical statistics for working women in the United States against the statistics for divorce, they sure do seem to be trending the same way. Both are an arc, and both arcs point strongly upward. Of course, this is just a correlation, and correlation is not causation. They may not teach that at Regent's Public Policy program, but it's a reliable axiom for anyone else who studies statistics. But for the sake of argument, let's say that here is something to that correlation. Let's cede McDonnell his point. Women working has a major and negative impact on the stability of the traditional family unit. But why? I see two major reasons.

First, when women are able to work and support themselves, the dynamic of the household becomes radically different. Women who work cease to be economically dependent on the largesse of a man. Wealth is just a societal instrument of power, and where individuals become culturally detached from the ability to sustain themselves, that power imbalance can become a means of coercion. If you don't stay married, you starve, so you better stay married, little missy. That dynamic of oppression is not necessarily the case, of course. Couples where one partner works and the other cares for offspring work just fine...so long as each partner views the others interests as equivalent to their own. Marriages that hew to the Christian ideal of mutual care can manage that dynamic just fine. But I think ultimately "traditional" relationships that weren't founded on mutual respect just can't survive the transition of women into the workforce.

Second, I think the dynamics of the American workplace make two-income families a desperately challenging proposition. The demand for endlessly rising productivity and the expectation that we'll all be full-time employees who are constantly on call place an often unmanageable amount of stress on the family unit. The combined net income for the household may allow for big houses and big cars and a gutbusting cornucopia of consumer products. But that stuff don't count for nothin' if you're stressed and screaming at each other about who's going to take the kids to soccer this Wednesday, because I've got a deadline, dammit. As women have entered the workforce, those old expectations about work have remained. Where couples could be working less than two full-time jobs and maintaining balance in their lives, we are instead driven into much harsher emotional terrain, and it's doing damage.

So McDonnell's thesis is, on the one hand, correct. The dynamics of a marriage in which the wife is subordinate to and economically dependent on her husband cannot stand in the face of women in the workforce. He is also correct in that our expectations of work have not changed to permit for healthy two-worker families.

On the other hand, and here I come at it with my pastor hat on, McDonnell's thesis is ironically unscriptural. While many conservatives seek out texts here and there to argue for the divinely ordained subordination of women, they're not really paying attention. Where scripture speaks to the issue in the most sustained way, it says something very different. The most pertinent passage is in Proverbs, which makes a profound and sustained case for married women as an active and honored part of the working world, and declares that their work is a sign of a healthy and blessed family. If anything, a Bible-based approach to public policy should be making sure our workplace dynamics make room for both women, men and healthy families.

Guess they must not have bothered much with the Bible in that master's program of his. Oh well.


  1. Great post! Tis true that in conservative circles a woman working in place of the traditional bread winner is verboten. Seems to be working pretty well for the wife and I, though. And with that, I'll drop a shameless plug for my own blog here at blogger intended to follow my renewed attempts (3rd time's the charm) at being a full time SAHD. It's quite sparse right now, but I'll be posting some stuff soon.

    The Diligent Dad

  2. I have a friend attending a Bible church where church discipline has been bandied about as a remedy to him being a SAHD. http://www.sakeriver.com/forum/index.php?topic=4009.0

    But I'll pass along the news in VA to them. Very interesting.

  3. While many conservatives seek out texts here and there to argue for the divinely ordained subordination of women, they're not really paying attention.

    ..and many so called "pastors" that can't even see a Truth built into creation itself, i.e homosexuality is wrong, continue to ignore the fact that "equality" does not equal "freedom" to do anything one desires. We are created male and female for a reason, to diminish this fact is to corrupt the very image of God and the very order He has ordained since creation. The empirical evidence of a world ignoring such divine revelation is abundant; abortion rights, homosexuality, divorce, the desire to be a single parent, teenage pregnancies, fatherless homes, is a direct consequence of failing God’s clear directives.

    Interestingly, the issue of women in the workplace has surfaced in the Virginia governors race.

    Really? Is this a joke? I must be sleeping at the wheel. Are you familiar with a man named Obama? If not, I am surprised a “christian” like you deems an old paper (20 years ago) of such importance in Virginia politics.

    advice - –“Guard your steps when you go into the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.”

  4. @ Mark: Welcome back, Mark! Have you been assigned as my troll? It's going to be a pleasure working with you!

    I suppose the more pertinent question is: with what in that paper do you disagree? McDonnell's thesis lays out a hard-line conservative position, one which you would...if your bloggery is any measure of what you actually believe...completely and utterly agree.

    That position paper was written when he was a mature adult, as a way of articulating the policy agenda that must be pursued to "reclaim America for Biblical values."

    Are you pleased that McDonnell is now disavowing the values you furiously defend for the sake of political expediency..or because he has, by your own argument, rejected them as flawed? Perhaps you should be angry at him, too.

    Advice: "..the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." (Jas 3:17-18)

  5. Interestingly you quote James 3. Perhaps verse 14 "lie against the truth" was overlooked? verse 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.

    I simply repeat - Are you familiar with a man named Obama? If not, I am surprised a “christian” like you deems an old paper (20 years ago) of such importance in Virginia politics.

    Who do you think Obama's civilian security force "that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as our military's enemy is? It is off topic, but curious to know your "christian" thoughts. Perhaps it would help better understand why you find an old paper of such importance, or has it little to do with a Biblical worldview and much more a worldly ends? Whose security is at stake here?

  6. @ Mark: An excellent non-answer! You've been practicing!

    No, I did not overlook those verses. I decided that to include them would be too pointed, though I'm pleased that the Spirit opened you to them.

    Civilian security force? Could you elaborate? I know he's the CinC of the United States Military, but the thing you describe does not appear to actually exist. Are you referring to the Homeland Security Department? Or are you referring to the gossipy whisperings and innuendo propagated following one speech during the campaign?

    Advice: "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."

  7. WASHINGTON, DC - Department of Homeland Security officials have issued a report which links people with pro-life, anti-illegal immigration views, teachers of end-time prophecies, and veterans of war with "right-wing extremist" groups. Associated Press and OneNewsNow - 4/15/2009 8:35:00 AM

    CANDIDATE BARACK OBAMA: "We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."

  8. @ Mark: And so conservatives are being imprisoned? Rounded up? Actively oppressed and prevented from expressing their free speech rights, while jackbooted feminists re-educate them in the camps set up for that purpose?

    When that happens, I'll fight for your liberty. Again, though, what you're describing isn't real. It is also totally unrelated to the post at hand.

    Did you have anything to say about the post itself?

  9. Couples where one partner works and the other cares for offspring work just fine...so long as each partner views the others interests as equivalent to their own.

    It appears as if you are saying one's self esteem is the key, when in fact it would be each partner viewing God's glory over and above thier own interests that is key. That starts with the man leading and the woman submitting to his leadership. When a man loves his wife like Christ loved the church, submission to each other will be the result, although imperfect this side of heaven.

    Otherwise - I mostly agree with your assesment.

  10. @Mark: The key to a Christian marriage is, as you say, not "self-esteem." Both partners in the relationship must place the other's interests above their own. Our relationships are governed by the Royal Law. Seeking our own self-interest is a violation of that law.