Social issues are so fascinating for the same reason debates over them are so often dull and frustrating: because the language of ideology, morality and law is insufficient to describe the human complexities involved. Writing at National Review Online, City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald calls our attention to a case in point:
Katie Roiphe’s full-throated defense of single parenthood should not really come as a surprise, given the iron-clad grip of feminism and the related prerogatives of the sexual revolution on the elite worldview. This proud single mother and NYU journalism professor, who is definitely not “too poor to marry,” is insulted by a New York Times article on the 53 percent illegitimate-birth rate among females under 30. . . .
But despite its overdetermined status, Roiphe’s Slate piece is nevertheless a sobering reminder of how great the abyss still is between those who understand the costs of family breakdown and those who see it as merely “refresh[ing] our ideas of family.” Roiphe concludes that there are no (annoyingly retrograde) studies on “what it will be like for . . . children to live in” the coming world without marriage. Actually, we know already. It’s called the ghetto.
Mac Donald is right as far as she goes. Roiphe’s views are fully consistent with the selective nonjudgmentalism that is an essential component of contemporary feminist ideology (selective because feminists are happy to stigmatize men–“deadbeat dads,” for instance–and women like Sarah Palin who reject the pieties of feminism). It’s also true that Roiphe is blasé about the effects on children, including children less privileged than her own offspring, of growing up without fathers. To her, the only risk worth worrying about is that they will bear the brunt of others’ censure.
But when you read Roiphe’s article, it turns out there’s more going on here. For one thing, ideologically she is just confused. Consider her second paragraph:
Conservatives will no doubt be elaborately hysterical over the breakdown of morals among the women of Lorain [Ohio, dateline of the Times piece], but they will be missing the major point, which is that however one feels about it, the facts of American family life no longer match its prevailing fantasies. For those who have associated single motherhood with the poor and uneducated, and increasingly, with the urban very-educated . . . they now have to confront the changing demographics of the vast American middle. No matter how one sees this development, . . . one has to recognize that marriage is very rapidly becoming only one way to raise children.