Friday, November 09, 2007

Domestic deja vu

Idaho lawmakers have convened a task force to envision a world where women and children are beholden to the men of their households, where divorce is costly and difficult to obtain, and gender roles are enforced with a vengeance.

That's why, as chairman of the Idaho House of Representatives' Family Task Force, he [Rep. Steven Thayn R-Emmett] and others are considering controversial solutions such as repealing no-fault divorce laws and finding ways to encourage mothers to stay home with their children.

Visionary, I know. Who could have ever thought of such a thing?

I was shocked back in February when Idaho lawmakers shot down statewide regulation of child care centers with the intent to scare parents (who am I kidding - they wanted to scare women) into forgoing careers and staying home with their children. It was an embarrassing episode for the state, and it earned Republican busybodies little love from working parents and their supporters. And yet, they're at it again, not even attempting to disguise their retrograde attitudes about women and families.

Several advocates urged the task force to adopt legislation to strengthen day-care regulations and make early childhood education part of public schools, two hot-button issues on which the House and Senate have clashed.

However, the task force report does not recommend tightening regulations for day-cares with fewer than 13 children. It does not mention early childhood education.

Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, a proponent of early childhood education and
stronger day-care regulations, has been at odds with Thayn. Schroeder said stronger day-care regulations, including mandatory background checks for providers, are about keeping children safe from pedophiles and that research shows early childhood education helps children.

"Basically, we have in my opinion, and I stress in my opinion, a group of people who are living in the past," he said.

"Basically, they are people who think women ought to stay home and take care of the kids."

Thayn does not shy from this view, calling pre-kindergarten education a "free
babysitting service" and suggesting that early childhood education, day-care and Head Start may hurt families by keeping mothers away from home.

Please note that there is zero discussion of men as primary caregivers, not even an acknowledgement of their growing presence in Idaho families. What's astounding is when after threatening working families with physical harm of their children, Rep. Thayn comes out with statements like these:

"It seems to be (proponents of such programs) just assume that mothers
have to work, and they're not really asking the question, ‘What can we
do to help them stay home?' " he said.

Excuse me Mr. Thayn, but it's pretty clear that you're not asking that question either. You're asking what we can do to entrap women into the role of unpaid primary caregiver. And kudos, because making divorce harder to obtain and childcare impossible to trust are excellent ways of doing just that.

If Idaho lawmakers are actually serious about making stay-at-home parenting a comfortable reality for more Idaho families, they'll start to think more critically about the problems that families face than Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries,

"Divorce is just terrible," Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, said. "It's one of Satan's best tools to kill America."

and start to consider what statements like the below really mean.

Controversially, the group is using the typical family of 1950 as its benchmark, though Thayn says it's simply a baseline and not a suggestion that families were perfect in 1950.

"I don't think the family structure was really ideal at that time, either," he said. "I don't think the family ever in the history of the world has reached its potential."

This is because the tactics we've tried, the tactics you are advocating, have not worked. Tactics like disallowing women economic independence, creating barriers out of bad marriages, and leaving caretakers vulnerable to the whims of their partner have made many people downright miserable. If in thousands of years of practice at a compulsively patriarchal, heterosexist family structure haven't arrived at anything resembling a reliably functional family, it's really time to try something new.

It's time to create social and economic support networks to empower stay-at-home caretakers - moms, dads and all others who hold their families together alike. It's time to start thinking of divorce not as a disease, but a symptom. It's time to listen to families of all kinds, and to make policy decisions according to the needs and desires of actual Idahoans, not an impossible and to many undesirable picture of a nuclear family.

We can't make progress by repeating our mistakes over and over. We have to think bigger, for the sake of Idaho's families.

Cross-posted at Red State Rebels.

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