New research presented at The American Political Science Association's annual meeting last week found that parenthood makes women more liberal and men more conservative. Which raises the obvious question: What the hell were Sarah Palin's politics like 5 kids ago?
The study, done at North Carolina State University, showed that mothers are more liberal than childless women on social welfare issues and the Iraq war; fathers are more conservative than childless men on social welfare but similar on the war; and Palin's national prominence didn't push the average mom one bit farther to the right, even among Republicans. (This on top of the general tendency for women to be more liberal than men.) Which means, as Julia Whitty at Mother Jones puts it, "the Republican party which calls itself the family-values party might as well call itself the daddy-values party. Or maybe the white-daddy-values party. Or the red-state-white-daddy-values party."
Says Dr. Steven Greene, co-author of the study, "It appears that the Democratic position, that government has a role in addressing social problems, appeals to women with children. Whereas men with children are drawn to the Republican arguments that government should not play a major role on social welfare issues." Without having heard or read the paper, I don't know if the researchers offered an opinion as to why that might be, and I have no training or expertise to back up any speculation. But what I do have is a hobby horse, which I shall now gracelessly mount.
The social pressure on men to be "providers" for their families has got to give. Not only does it contribute to sexist hiring practices and unequal division of domestic labor — the men have to be making more money and working longer hours, don't you know, or their womenfolk will starve! — but my guess is, it contributes to the political gender gap. It makes sense that a dude who thinks it's his manly duty to bring home the bacon for his dependents (who may or may not include his wife) will A) be even more resentful of the government taking his hard-earned money away and sharing it with people who, in this worldview, are simply failing at their own duties, and B) be offended by the notion that he might ever need the government to provide for his family.
I was really shocked to realize how pervasive this attitude still is among at least my straight male contemporaries, once we all hit the age where people start thinking about settling down. Suddenly, even the liberal, feminist-leaning slackers I hung out with all went apeshit about being able to "provide," believing they would need enough financial security to support an entire household single-handedly before they'd be ready for marriage. (Granted, some of them might have been using this as a convenient excuse not to commit to women they were unsure about. But I think a lot of them were serious.) It didn't matter if they were dating women with good jobs, or even women who made more money than they did. They all seemed to believe that being the primary, if not sole provider was still part of the deal. What the hell is that about, in this day and age?
To be sure, it's about the still pervasive idea that child-rearing will and should fall primarily to women, for one thing. But it's also clearly about an ideal of masculinity that casts men as the depended-upon — and women, of course, as the dependents. (One wonders if women are more inclined to support government spending on social welfare because culturally, we're already expected to accept being taken care of, one way or another — setting aside the reality that loads of women are taking care of themselves, their kids, and their partners, often with shit jobs that are lower-paying in part because women are not assumed to be primary breadwinners.) You add that to the cherished American belief that individuals are completely responsible for every single thing, good or bad, that ever happens to them, and it's no big leap to "red-state-white-daddy-values."
One cure for those values, though, might be having daughters. Other research has shown that having girls makes men more feminist and more likely to vote for liberal candidates — while having boys apparently pushes people to the right. Researchers speculate the reason for that is, as Megan put it, "equality matters most to many people when the people they care for deeply are most likely to lack it." Maybe if we could get the red-state-white-daddies to empathize with their wives as much as their daughters, being part of a traditional family would make everyone more liberal.