From the “who didn’t know this?” files: a study based out of North Carolina State University proves that parenthood makes women more politically liberal and men more conservative.
“Parenthood seems to heighten the political ‘gender gap,’ with women becoming more liberal and men more conservative when it comes to government spending on social welfare issues,” says Dr. Steven Greene, an associate professor of political science at NC State and co-author of the study. Greene and Dr. Laurel Elder of Hartwick College used data on the 2008 presidential election from the American National Election Studies to evaluate the voting behavior of men and women who have children at home. Parents who have grown children were not part of the study.
“Basically, women with children in the home were more liberal on social welfare attitudes, and attitudes about the Iraq War, than women without children at home,” Greene says, “which is a very different understanding of the politics of mothers than captured by the ‘Security Mom’ label popular in much media coverage. But men with kids are more conservative on social welfare issues than men without kids.” Men with kids did not differ from men without kids in their attitudes towards Iraq.
Again, this shouldn’t be news to anyone, and it’s fairly easy to see why. Having a child really opens your eyes to how rarely conservatives take women and children’s needs into consideration. Not to say that women who don’t have children aren’t afforded the same knowledge, but after years of hearing the right-winger blather about “family values,” which suggests that they hold mothers in high regard, it’s a bit surprising to discover how many basic conservative platforms–anti-abortion, anti-welfare, anti-health care reform, anti-childcare vouchers, anti-public school funding increases–work in direct opposition of women with children. Oh, if your child is still in the womb, they care about it, provided it remains there to full term. After that, anything you may need in order to properly take care of your child, whether it be affordable health care or daycare is your problem, and hey, if you can’t handle it on your own, maybe you shouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place. To paraphrase George Carlin, when it comes to conservatives and children, if you’re pre-born, you’re fine, if you’re preschool, you’re fucked.
I certainly won’t deign myself as speaking for all women when I say this, and it may sound weird, but it wasn’t until after I had a child that I truly understood the need for safe, legal abortion. When I was a teenager (and, probably not coincidentally, a practicing Catholic), I maintained a wishy-washy, pompous “Well, that’s fine for you but I would never do such a thing!” mindset in regards to abortion. That changed when I became a mother, and I discovered that having a child is a lot of work, it’s expensive, and more often than not families are left on their own to manage when things get rough. Also, postpartum depression really, really sucks, but that’s for another post. Let me point out that my child was planned. I was twenty-five years old at the time, married, and both my then-husband and I had decent jobs. Even then, though, I was turned down for coverage by my employer’s health insurance provider, because my pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition. Also, my maternity leave was unpaid. We managed, and I don’t regret a second of it, but what of women whose pregnancies are unplanned, teenage girls whose birth control failed, or who were never taught about proper birth control options in the first place, those who don’t have the means to care for a child? The conservative answer (not to mention the Libertarian answer) is, of course, “Not my problem, she shouldn’t have been having sex if she wasn’t prepared for the possible consequences.” Be that as it may, let’s stop pretending that insisting a woman should carry a pregnancy she doesn’t want to term is anything other than good old-fashioned, Puritan-style punishment for having sex, and that accomplishes nothing except making a small handful of smug, self-righteous windbags feel good about themselves.
As for men becoming more conservative when they have children, I’d hazard a guess that it’s specifically when they have female children. Men get weirdly protective of their daughters, and often they buy into the conservative paranoia that results in such myths as “Liberals and feminists are encouraging our children to have underage sex” and “Virginity is the most important thing a young woman has to offer, it must be protected at all costs!” They get convinced that, with Democrats in charge, illegal immigrants and other men with darker skin colors than ours will be allowed to run around unmonitored to rape our daughters and murder our sons. If this is ridiculous to read, believe me, it was even more ridiculous to write, but if you think I’m exaggerating, look at the reaction to Obama’s speech to schoolchildren earlier this week. There were people who were actually convinced that his speech, which, after all that commotion, turned out to be about the importance of working hard and staying in school, was going to “indoctrinate” young people into some sort of socialist agenda. One woman was filmed literally weeping, claiming that she was terrified of what Obama might say to her children. We could simply wave these people off as maladjusted nutjobs who get all their news from WorldNetDaily, and that’s probably true, for the most part, but I’d be willing to bet they weren’t quite as unhinged before they had children. Parenthood makes you paranoid, and it makes you wary of the world around you, believing that danger awaits your children around every corner. Conservatives know this, and they tap into it with finely tuned precision to win and keep constituents. Conservative pundits like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are even better at manipulating that kind of paranoia, they just do it for ratings.
Another not entirely surprising finding from the study concerns America’s favorite political disaster Sarah Palin.
Greene also notes that, “despite media speculation that Sarah Palin, given her status as a self-proclaimed ‘Hockey Mom’ and working mother of five, would be effective at attracting the votes and admiration of parents, especially mothers, the research showed no evidence of a ‘Sarah Palin effect’ (between parents and non-parents), even when looking exclusively at Republicans.” Greene explains that this means there was no difference in how parents viewed Sarah Palin versus how non-parents viewed Sarah Palin.
Again, I was saying this months ago, and I was hardly the only one making such an observation. Sarah Palin being sold as a typical working mom with the needs of other working moms at heart rang hollow from the very start, especially since it was apparent that, part and parcel with identifying as a hardline, Christian conservative, she was working directly against them in several ways. The image only grew flimsier when, within barely weeks after Palin publically declared that she would support no other sex education for children but abstinence-only, 17 year-old Bristol Palin became pregnant. Instead of letting the overly polished, unruffled “super mom” mask drop for a moment so we could see and perhaps embrace some shred of humanity, Palin insisted that she and her husband were “happy” about their unmarried teenage daughter accidentally getting pregnant while still in high school. Recall how quickly babydaddy Levi Johnston and his family were shut out and cut off when he and Bristol broke up and see how “happy” Sarah and Todd really were about the situation. The point is, a lot of other women besides me could see right through the “she’s just like you” bullshit from the very beginning, and the more obviously phony that got, including but not limited to the infamous $150,000 clothing budget, the more she and her handlers dug their heels in and insisted it was true. Then it just became insulting, and when you insult potential voters, even those on the fence, they tend to go and vote for someone else. The best thing that can come out of that particular debacle is that maybe politicians will stop with that patronizing, “just a working class Average Joe/Jane” shtick. Coming from humble beginnings, sure, that’s still plausible, but if you’re running for an office any higher than, say, city councilman, you’re already given up any claim you can have on being “average.”