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Fatherhood & Conservatism

by Roland Dodds

This winter, my wife and I had our first child. As any parent knows, that meant significant changes to our fundamental patterns of life. Sleep was interrupted, personal time placed in the dustbin. Parenthood changes you in rather obvious ways.

Yet, I am experiencing another set of conversions as a result of fatherhood often less understood or examined. While I have felt less at home in the liberalism I maintained for the last 15 years prior to my daughter’s birth, I see a correlation between my current political direction and the fact that I now have a child.

A few years back, Ross Douthat wrote a piece titled The Daughter Theory” that has only recently found its way to the forefront of consciousness.   Ross mentions a recent study published in Sociological Forum by Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher that appears to show a connection between a man having daughters and a conservative political persuasion. Calling it the “daughter effect,” the researchers found that their findings were statistically sizeable and noteworthy, with fathers of daughters far more likely to identify as Republicans.

While my chances of voting for a Republican candidate are rather slim, I do find myself embracing positions on the Right with enthusiasm that would have baffled and terrified my younger self. Why is this? Previous research, as well as personal anecdotal evidence, affirmed that fatherhood had a net liberalizing factor on adults. Clearly, there are many liberal parents, so having a child is evidently not a determining factor in deciding one’s ideology. Was the birth of my daughter an extraneous variable in my own philosophical growth?

For years, I held social positions that would put me in the liberal mainstream. When the topic of sex in the media was brought up, I argued that the whole of our society should not conform to religious puritanism demanded by “family values” advocates. If you didn’t like what you were being presented on TV or the radio, turn it off. Vote with your feat, as you will.

In Douthat’s article, he argues that when viewing life through your children’s eyes, the challenges of the surrounding world appear more “immediately available through daughters than through sons.” I am beginning to understand this position. The entire modern world around us is so saturated in sex and deviance, that it is not as simple as turning-off the TV. It isn’t just a matter of choice, as the values represented and permeated by our pop-culture is practically inescapable. While I have never meet someone who believes the vulgar behavior present in the media should be adopted by children, I am beginning to see just how ubiquitous entertainment designed for young adults is at all levels of our culture.

When I bring up these negative elements of our pop culture, and explore the possibility that we should collectively take action against them, I get some odd looks from my liberal friends. They recognize (rightfully) that my arguments sound a great deal like those made by the religious right. They reminded me that it is the responsibility of the family to instill virtuous values in children, not popular culture (which they concede represents deleterious morals). They argue that we were all exposed to these things in our youth, but we turned out alright. Why not uphold that same attitude with my own children?

In George Lakoff’s book Moral Politics, he attempted to explain how different philosophical views on parenting explain the core ideological differences between liberals and conservatives. In his estimation, there are two parenting models: that of the Strict Father or the Nurturant Parent.

The Strict Father model conceives the father with “having primary responsibility for supporting and protecting the family as well as the authority to set overall policy, to set strict rules for the behavior of children, and to enforce the rules.” Children who are socialized to respect existing authority and moral standards are the end goals of this philosophical model. The Nurturant Parent drives to build understanding and communication between adult figures and the child. This then produces a lifetime respect for others and a moral understanding of the world in the individual.

Lakoff goes on to say:

What we have here are two different forms of family-based morality. What links them to politics is a common understanding of the nation as a family, with the government as parent. Thus, it is natural for liberals to see it as the function of the government to help people in need and hence to sup-port social programs, while it is equally natural for conservatives to see the function of the government as requiring citizens to be self-disciplined and self-reliant and, therefore, to help themselves.”

This explanation feels limiting. Can I not stand for mutual aid with my compatriots, while also expecting self-discipline and restraint from fellow citizens? It falls too conveniently into the simplistic Left/Right divisions found in American politics. Lakoff’s field of study is cognitive science; he attempts to comprehend how personality and hidden cerebral elements explain political persuasion. Yet, does simply having children cognitively make one more paternalistic or authoritarian? This seems unlikely, and I would like to offer a sociological conclusion.

Our society puts great stress on the rights of the individual. Examples of liberalism imbedded in our very social fabric are easy to come by, but Founding Father Albert Gallatin’s letter to Alexander Addison in 1789 perfectly encapsulates this individualist design. Writing on the US Constitution, he states the document “Is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals…[I]t establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of.”

This broad understanding of individual rights can be connected to my aforementioned pop-culture example. The right to one’s tastes trump the value it may have to society at large. Most of my friends do not have children, and thus can only see pop-culture’s effects through their adult eyes. They often fail to see how difficult it is to shield children from the media’ perverse qualities, especially those directed at girls. I am starting to understand families that live in isolated religious-minded communities and home school their children, and I say that as an agnostic, cosmopolitan public school teacher! There is a significant disconnect in our society between those that have children and those that do not, and this divide has only increased as a result of declining birthrates.

My daughter is only 3 months old; she has many years of childhood ahead of her before these issues will be central to our discussions at home. Yet I fear that my liberal, childless, compatriots will only be able to comprehend popular culture through an individualized, libertine framework. A communitarian approach to our culture needs to be injected into this debate, regardless of one’s political associations.

I don’t know what party I belong in these days; both the Democratic and Republican brands seem unwilling to address problems at the very foundation of our society. What I can say is that I fear my daughter will inherit a world without shared values, culture, and responsibility.

I am interested to see the perspective of other members of the community.

 

Roland Dodds writes about politics and culture, trying to make sense of the ideological Left and the Right. When not teaching, he spends time with his family in Sonoma County, and blogs at In Hope and Darkness.

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183 thoughts on “Fatherhood & Conservatism

  1. Raise thoughtful inquisitive children and they will be thoughtful inquisitive adults. Raise sheltered submissive children and they will become sheltered adults yearning to be lead around by those with stronger personalities. The answer is simple. Give your children the tools to rationally measure the impact of media and culture on their attitudes and beliefs and trust in them to make their own choices about that even if those choices don’t match yours. Strive to help build a world that doesn’t depend on the structured segregation of men and women into different classes and the son/daughter thing becomes much less of an issue. The patriarchal imprint in your own brain is a big part of the reason it’s an issue anyway.

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    • “The patriarchal imprint in your own brain is a big part of the reason it’s an issue anyway.”

      That may very well be. I am still working out that possibility. As the child gains agency and comprehension, these concerns may play a smaller role in my psyche.

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    • The answer is simple. Give your children the tools to rationally measure the impact of media and culture on their attitudes and beliefs and trust in them to make their own choices about that even if those choices don’t match yours. Strive to help build a world that doesn’t depend on the structured segregation of men and women into different classes and the son/daughter thing becomes much less of an issue. The patriarchal imprint in your own brain is a big part of the reason it’s an issue anyway.

      How is any of that “simple”?

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  2. In Douthat’s article, he argues that when viewing life through your children’s eyes, the challenges of the surrounding world appear more “immediately available through daughters than through sons.” I am beginning to understand this position. The entire modern world around us is so saturated in sex and deviance, that it is not as simple as turning-off the TV. It isn’t just a matter of choice, as the values represented and permeated by our pop-culture is practically inescapable. While I have never meet someone who believes the vulgar behavior present in the media should be adopted by children, I am beginning to see just how ubiquitous entertainment designed for young adults is at all levels of our culture.

    This is a pretty great paragraph. What’s become clear to me is how parenthood can act not in particularly as an agent of liberalism or conservatism in specific, but as an agent against libertarianism. In some cases, it’s reinforced some of the views I had. Where I thought something because it seemed right and understandable, now I think it in part because I can more clearly see it.

    For all of the grief that “Christian entertainment” gets, it was a response to something. And something significant, at that. My own consumption is going to be limited, going forward, in part because of the sex and violence I would prefer Lain (and any future children) not be exposed to. Which is as it should be, to a degree, because we can’t make the entertainment spectrum a child-friendly zone. Where I do find myself resentful is when these things are thrown in where they don’t particularly need to be just to add an edge.

    Tying the two previous paragraphs together, in the Cleanflicks case I ideologically supported Cleanflicks because of my views on copyright law. As I confront parenthood more directly, though, I find myself more actively angry at those who argue that it’s wrong to make that particular decision. I think a lot of people view it along culture war fault-lines, and some people unexpectedly find themselves on the conservative side of the line.

    Maybe I will ultimately go the way of Tod and take a more anything-goes perspective (at least from what I recall his position being). Right now since Lain cannot process what I am watching, I don’t have to make a decision right away.

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    • When I was an adolescent, I thought that Bowdler was mockable. Laugh out loud and point at those stupid, stupid Victorians! Their furniture didn’t even have legs!

      Now that I am a lot older, I find myself wishing that I could get my hands on the WTBS cuts of films like Conan the Barbarian or The Breakfast Club so I can share these movies with the nephews without feeling like I’m overstepping my bounds.

      There’s a lot of good stuff in there but it wouldn’t occur to me that it was appropriate for me to give them the ‘R’ versions. The ones that showed up on TBS? Hell, we could make an evening of that with pizza and everything.

      I mean, “Heck”.

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      • Yeah, I’ve run into this recently; my memory of certain movies is based on the network-edited versions that we recorded onto our top-loading VHS machine and watched over and over.

        So when I purchased a DVD of, say, Ghostbusters to watch with my six-year-old, there are a few theatrical scenes/jokes in there that I had forgotten about, and I am hoping like hell he doesn’t ask me to explain.

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      • My parents were pretty uncensorous with what I was allowed to play, watch, and listen to growing up. They thought the warning labels on CDs were silly, I was allowed to watch R-rated movies on my own by freshman year of high school, and they never had the D&D causes Satan Worship stuff.

        I think I turned out okay. I’m pretty sure I was 10 or so when I saw Airplane for the first time and saw it uncensored.

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    • Will Truman: Maybe I will ultimately go the way of Tod and take a more anything-goes perspective

      I’m not trying to speak for Tod here, but his attitude may be less “anything-goes” and more “after years of observational evidence, I have determined that my kid can handle it”.

      When my mom ran her daycare, I would often see her being very careful about what things the kids were exposed to during the little bit of TV they got to watch. If it was a day where she had a child who had self-control issues, she was very careful to make sure the TV was not showing anything that would get them riled up. But if the kids she had were more laid back, she was less concerned what they wanted to watch.

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    • My parents took a different take. They never really imposed outright bans on what Saul and I could see or watch when we were kids. A good part of this was because they couldn’t stand a lot of what passed as kid’s entertainment though. As a result, family movies tended to be things like the Timothy Dalton James Bond movies or the Tim Burton Batman movies or even Terminator 2 rather than whatever Disney was releasing at the time.

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  3. Awesome article!

    I don’t have kids and so my insights will be the insights of a person who does not have kids (and the responsibilities of an uncle are significantly different than the responsibilities of a father).

    But awesome article.

    We try to make sure that our cats don’t fight in front of us and that we try to be understanding when they barf in such a way that it gets on, like, seven difficult to clean things instead of one easily cleaned thing.

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    • FTR, I would kill to see a post by you explaining how raising your cats has changed your or Maribou’s political points of view.

      “As I began to note how the constant demands to feed them, brush them, clean their litter boxes and give a scratch behind their ears were both unrelenting and utterly thankless, the writings of F.A. Hayek suddenly began to speak to me in a way they hadn’t prior.”

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      • “The cats can have free reign in the house but we need to keep the front door shut. Oh, and they can’t go in the library. Otherwise, they can go wherever they want.”

        “Just provide their food, their toilet, their entertainment, their catnip, and occasional brushing and, in exchange, just make them sterile.”

        “I noticed that Cecilia hated to be picked up and hated to be carried, but she loved settling in wherever I put her down. Oh! The bed! Oh! The loveseat! Oh! The computer room window! I realized that we needed to learn to ignore the squawks and quacks of indignation and focus on the pleasure they realized when we achieved the goals I had for them.”

        Yeah, I’m not sure that I’m the guy who should write that essay, RTod.

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  4. I read this (and I get it, I have a 3 year old boy and I have similar worries regarding violence), then I see Kyle Cupps Tweet on the sidebar:

    Watched #TheBigLebowski with the baby last evening. We were working on his film appreciation and vocabulary.

    Apropo in a way…

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  5. I have to admit that I felt my proverbial hackles bristle at the line “The entire modern world around us is so saturated in sex and deviance, that it is not as simple as turning-off the TV.” I’d be very interested to see that unpacked and defined more clearly.

    Uncharitably my knee jerk reaction is “well you’re tired and stressed from this new kid and it would be nice if the whole world was stamped and glued into a shape you approve of so you would not need to exert any effort to control what influences reach your child; so of course conservatism appeals.”

    Charitably I can understand abstractly the burning terror of having this new young life in your custody and how dark and menacing the world must seem. Conservatism is, at it’s heart, an ideology that speaks to fear; fear of change, fear of loss, fear of death, fear of the other. Liberalism (and especially libertarianism) has a strong vein of “deal with it, you can if you try to” in it which doesn’t offer much solace.

    But what curious about is specifically what policy changes you feel you’ve slid to the right on? A ground war in Iran? More Abortion restrictions? Serious concerns that Obama is going to invade Texas to abduct George W Bush?

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    • Good questions . I don’t yet know what kinds of policy positions stem from my line of thinking. The still don’t see how you can live in a truly free society if the media (broadly speaking) has to conform to families with conservative cultural demands. Clearly, it is a slippery slope as well. Will it inevitably mean you ban Harry Potter in schools because someone claims it damages the minds of young children?

      I would hate to live in that world.

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          • To set up community standards, you need a mechanism for excluding and punishing people who violate those standards. There aren’t that many ways to do this on the Internet or in real life anymore. The use of social media to shame people is somewhat of an attempt to reintroduce mechanisms for controlling community standards.

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    • Pardon me while I go get my right-winger hat.

      For me, the concerns track along these lines… I’m not so worried about expressly adult content. I haven’t decided what I’ll do about it, but I’m less bothered by that than the infusion of sex into popular culture more generally, and its implications.

      People, and young people in particularly, often have really skewed views of normal. Popular media is a significant culprit (along with news media, politicians, activists, etc.).

      I’m not worried that Lain is going to see sex on television and think that it might be something she will like to do. I’m afraid that she will see it in all of its ubiquity and it will skew her baselines of normalcy. It will, in turn, pressure her into having sex. Because she “loves him”, because she wants to be a grown-up, because she doesn’t want to be a prude or a freak. And I’m worried that boys will set their baselines of normalcy, and will in turn feel pressure and in turn apply pressure. Because he doesn’t want to be a loser, because if she loves him she should.

      I’m not even talking about out-and-out rape here. I’m talking about things that contribute to it. But mostly, I’m talking about the bulk of the obscenely high rate of girls whose first sexual encounters were “unwanted.” Not because they were explicitly raped, but because there were pressures… both from the buy, and I would argue culture at large. And those that were theoretically wanted, but in part because of a culture of sexualized normalcy.

      I worry about these things because I think it was an underlying dynamic I saw when I myself was going through. I’m not worried it’ll be different for young people today, but that it will be the same.

      I don’t know what to do about it, exactly. It’s not something that can be addressed through censorship (at least, not any censorship regime I can support) because it’s the culture depicted rather than any specific depiction. But it’s definitely something that having a daughter has brought in to focus. (I think a son would have done something similar, but I had a daughter.)

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      • Is this really the case though. Kids entertainment in other countries can get a lot more risqué and violent than kids entertainment in the United States and other Anglophone countries. Japan and France come to mind. The attitudes towards sex might not be those of the Evangelical set in the United States but there is very little evidence that more sexuality in media leads to a libertine hellhole. This is particularly true in the case of Japan, which tends to have very low rates of social dysfunction even though a lot of what Japanese kids get exposed to would raise alarm bells in all but the most liberal parents in the United States.

        American cartoons during the 1980s and 1990s were very reluctant to show the effects of violence. Guns shot lasers rather than bullets and nobody seemed to ever suffer so much as a cut let alone die as a result of violence. Morals were heaped on in a very heavy-handed manner. Japanese cartoons aimed at Japanese kids of our generation did show the effects of violent somewhat to much more realistically. People got hurt or even died. Other messy aspects of life were put in the show despite the target age of the audience. It does not seem to cause as many problems as people think.

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        • Some of it depends on how we define “kids entertainment.” Preteen entertainment here is indeed relatively harmless. Not much in the way of complaints, really. But teen entertainment and adult entertainment (except “adult entertainment”) are not particularly segregated.

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          • Depends on what harms you’re considering.

            “Damseling” female characters; Barbie going all “Math is hard;” entire shows for preteen girls centered around body insecurity, popularity contests, and backstabbing; female characters whose waists are thinner than their wrists; toys marketed at boys being action- and violence-centric while those marketed at girls are all nurturing and subservience-centric – do you consider those to produce harms?

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              • Fair enough. You probably wouldn’t, however, have stipulated that preteen entertainment specifically and in contrast to entertainment for other audiences is harmless, since we don’t generally consider public executions “entertainment” anymore…

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          • What I meant was that post-toddler but preteen entertainment in the United States and elsewhere could probably stand to be more risqué in what it depicts. Having watched a lot of anime, I can’t say that their ideas of preteen entertainment are worse than the United States. Having cartoons that are more realistic in their depictions of violence with villains that are actually threatening does not seem to be harmful than G.I. Joe with its harmless violence and non-scary bad guys. Considering some of the stories about trouble Americans get into, raising kids too innocently might actually cause harm.

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            • That’s an interesting thought there – I hadn’t thought to put it that way, but I certainly see what you mean. Where a book has a character die, and stay dead, and shows the impact of their death on other characters, it’s certainly more interesting than “and then the hero killed him with a mighty roar and nobody missed him or mourned for him”

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              • The same is true for sex to. A lot of kids raised with the idea of no sex or even kissing before marriage seem to still end up having sex before marriage. Sometimes with disastrous consequences. Japan can certainly get very weird when it comes to sex from even a secular Western view point let alone a traditional one but they don’t seem to have certain teen sex issues that we do. Preteen Japanese kids entertainment has a bit more sexuality than Western preteen entertainment.

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              • @nevermoor

                There is also this brilliant bit of parenting:

                http://gawker.com/report-parents-bribed-their-teens-with-cocaine-to-get-1702713053

                “Joey and Chad Mudd from Florida were arrested Monday after they allegedly admitted to police that they regularly used drugs in their parenting of their two teenage daughters, aged 13 and 15, as a bribe to get them to do “household chores and excel in school.”

                According to the police report, published by the Smoking Gun, Joey—the mother of the teens—waived her Miranda rights post-arrest and willingly admitted to smoking weed with the kids at least five times “as a bargaining tool.”

                Even more disturbing are the allegations against the father, Chad, who stands accused of snorting cocaine with the girls in his truck in the parking lot of a Treasure Island.”

                1. I suppose the easy reaction is just to say “Oh Flordia”. When I first saw the headline, my brain immediately went to “This has to take place in Florida” and lo and behold it did.

                2. Interestingly I wonder if evangelicalism seems to have a strong hold in states and locations where there is a large percentage of people who think doing something like this is a good idea…..

                3. What is that makes so many of us Americans dysfunctional and seemingly proudly so in this way?

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                • 1. I suppose the easy reaction is just to say “Oh Flordia”. When I first saw the headline, my brain immediately went to “This has to take place in Florida” and lo and behold it did.

                  2. Interestingly I wonder if evangelicalism seems to have a strong hold in states and locations where there is a large percentage of people who think doing something like this is a good idea…..

                  3. What is that makes so many of us Americans dysfunctional and seemingly proudly so in this way?

                  I’ve gotten defensive over this kind of thing in the past, and I usually respond with some combination of snark or false analogy, and bad on me for doing so.

                  But could you please reread what you said here and how it might be offensive to certain people? Even though the relationships you posit might somehow affect the situation you describe, can you at least see the leaps in logic you’re making here? Could you please stop caricaturing certain groups of people and regions of the country that you evidently don’t know very well and entertain a very low opinion of?

                  You probably have had situations in your life when you have felt mis-characterized or your views misrepresented, or when you felt other people like you were in some way were unfairly attacked or caricatured and as a result you got defensive or felt attacked. Please try to remember how that feels the next time you feel the need to write something like this.

                  But ever since you called me out on that same thread I just linked to, I’ve tried to be better at counting to ten and trying not to indulge my own knee-jerk faults when it comes to commenting on statements such as these. I’ve failed sometimes, but I’ve made an effort. Could you try to do the same thing?

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      • I am a new father and I am more afraid of my son learning attitudes such as ‘women don’t enjoy sex’, ‘sex is dirty’, ‘gays are icky’, ‘women don’t have real agency’, ‘torture is something heroes do to bad people’, ‘acting like a romantic comedy male lead is remotely ok’, ‘the police are always right’, ‘poor people are just lazy’, ‘the civil war was about tarrifs’, ‘the confederate flag is about heritage’, ‘sex before marriage is totally dangerous, but after totally safe.’

        And don’t get me started on how I feel about the whole lets ignore climate change and throw around accusations of fraud like confetti. I could go on but this has been enough of a rant.

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      • Will Truman: I worry about these things because I think it was an underlying dynamic I saw when I myself was going through. I’m not worried it’ll be different for young people today, but that it will be the same.

        Yeah, this. Basically my biggest worry about my daughters has been (and will be; one’s 25 and the other is 11) knowing perfectly well what I was like when I was a teen and knowing there is absolutely no reason to believe the boys her age are any different.

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  6. I appreciate this post as a personal reflection, but there are a few things that stick out for me:

    – One is that the point of view that you are describing as conservative and as Puritan is just as likely today, if not more likely, to be found on the left side of the political divide. On this very site, in the last week alone there have been multiple posts about policing movies and video games and social media for incidences of sex-related deviance. And many people at the vanguard of this form of reconstituted Puritanism are young people themselves. Talking about this as a right-left, older-younger, parent-non-parent divide does not strike me as particularly accurate and definitely not very precise.

    Likewise, your friends’ responses:

    They reminded me that it is the responsibility of the family to instill virtuous values in children, not popular culture (which they concede represents deleterious morals). They argue that we were all exposed to these things in our youth, but we turned out alright. Why not uphold that same attitude with my own children?

    They sound like something that you would be likely to from social conservatives as from progressives.

    – That issue about family virtue belies that these issues, at their heart, are empirical. Does shielding your children from certain aspects of popular culture make them more likely to turn out a certain way, to hold certain values? You can reason through it and come to any number of conclusions, but none of those conclusions will be meaningful without some sort of external, empirical verification.

    – And finally, flowing from the last point, I cannot help but think that is also a question of spurious causality and privilege. The whole idea of shielding children from certain negative aspects of life is incumbent upon being someone who is in a material situation to do that. Lots of parents can turn off the TV and disconnect the video games, but as soon as their children walk outside, they are going to be exposed to violence and deprivation and unhealthy sexual norms. And those children are lucky compared to the children who get all of that without every leaving the home.

    At the end of the day, the fact that you are the type of parent who is bother to thing through these questions and who has the option of whether and when to expose your children to certain things will be much more important to who your kids turn out to be than whatever particular set of decisions that you end up making.

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    • Fair points . I think the privileged aspect is quite on point. My wife and I moved to the best part of town with the best public schools because we were concerned about the environment our daughter would grow up in. The fact that we have the means to do so puts us in the privileged class.

      Having said that, I know of many in my old neighborhood of less-means that worry about the culture surrounding their children. They may not articulate it in the way I have, but it explains why they have their kids attend after-school church programs, even if they are not religious.

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      • Having said that, I know of many in my old neighborhood of less-means that worry about the culture surrounding their children. They may not articulate it in the way I have, but it explains why they have their kids attend after-school church programs, even if they are not religious.

        This is precisely what I mean. There are lots of folks who worry about the environment in which they are raising their kids, both the local and the larger environments, but most people don’t have the luxury of entertaining thoughts about how they might affect the larger environment; therefore they focus on the local environment.

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    • Between “left” and “right” the thing objected to is more often held common than the solution proposed.

      Take a show that fails the Bechdel test, where the male lead does a bunch of derring-do while the female characters are defined entirely in relation to him or other men, and in the end the male lead “wins” the girl. There are some “sexy” scenes in the middle where some low status women are objectified, and a “sexy” scene near the end where sex with the virtuous female love interest is the man’s reward for doing manly things.

      I think you can guess without trouble, based on my description of the hypothetical show, which side my critique would come from, and how the things I would consider improvements to the show might differ from those of someone in the opposite “wing” – even though both of us might complain about largely the same scenes…

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      • I agree with this take, but I still cannot think of a good reason to take either side’s claims seriously.

        Show me the efficacy. Show me that you haven’t gotten the causality backwards and then we can talk.

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        • I’m afraid I haven’t understood what you’re challenging me to defend well enough to know if it’s even what I was saying.

          The efficacy of censoring cheesy 80s action flicks in making a more egalitarian society? I’m not calling for that, and I don’t think it would work.

          The efficacy of cultural critique and public conversations in gradually changing people’s minds, so over time there will be more fully realized female characters who have their own convincingly depicted drives, including both a sex drive and drives for things that have nothing to do with sex or support for male characters? I don’t even feel like I have to defend that. Talking to one another is how we change one another’s minds, and changing minds is how we change actions without having to imprison people.

          The efficacy of something else in producing some other result that I didn’t guess here?

          What causality? I don’t even have a guess at what causality you’re talking about.

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          • The efficacy of cultural critique and public conversations in gradually changing people’s minds, so over time there will be more fully realized female characters who have their own convincingly depicted drives, including both a sex drive and drives for things that have nothing to do with sex or support for male characters? I don’t even feel like I have to defend that. Talking to one another is how we change one another’s minds, and changing minds is how we change actions without having to imprison people.

            You don’t have to defend anymore than I have to heed it, but that right there is a claim about causality.

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            • Well I don’t feel I need to defend it because I feel it’s so obvious, so fundamental to everything humans do – people’s actions are based on their beliefs, and their beliefs are subject to change, including through persuasion.

              If you don’t believe that to be true, why for are you taking part in discussions of ideas here at OT?

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              • There is a pretty big difference between saying that people’s beliefs are subject to change through persuasion and that the type and manner of characters that populate pop culture and media have a definitive effect on the development of those who consume that media.

                The former is broad enough to be a truism, whereas the latter is a very specific sort of empirical claim.

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                • Ah – that’s entirely different from the claim of causality I made and you quoted above – my claim was that ongoing cultural critique of sexism in entertainment would likely lead to less sexism in the attitudes of entertainers, and in turn to less sexism in the entertainment they produce (which, if nothing else, would make for more entertainment that doesn’t make women feel gross, and would significantly distress GamerGaters, both worthy goals on their own).

                  I had not yet made the claim that the type and manner of characters that populate pop culture and media have a definitive effect on the development of those who consume that media. So let me make it now:

                  The type and manner of characters that populate pop culture and media have a definitive effect on the development of those who consume that media.

                  There, that’s out of the way.

                  It’s not like this stuff hasn’t been studied. A quick trip to the google machine produced:

                  Body image:
                  http://crc.sagepub.com/content/9/3/215.short?rss=1&ssource=mfr
                  http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2004-21853-013

                  Acceptance of sexism and other oppressive attitudes:
                  http://psp.sagepub.com/content/26/9/1094.short
                  http://gpi.sagepub.com/content/17/2/178.abstract

                  Sexual violence:
                  http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/25/12/2339.abstract

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                  • Thanks for the links. I wrote a longer comment and then mixed up my windows and navigated away from that, so please forgive a response much less shorter and much less thoughtful than your comment deserves.

                    The short of it is, even if I take the claims made in the abstracts of those studies at face value (I don’t have access to the actual studies), I don’t think they get us to the causality and efficacy claims. What they tell us is that there is a link between media and pop culture and the ideas that people internalize, which I’ve never denied. And they tell us that there is some evidence of causality for people who already have pre-existing proclivities. That’s interesting, but it’s not causality and it doesn’t say anything about the efficacy of trying to change pop culture and media representations as a means of changing people.

                    I go back to what I said in the original comment:

                    At the end of the day, the fact that you are the type of parent who is bother to thing [sic] through these questions and who has the option of whether and when to expose your children to certain things will be much more important to who your kids turn out to be than whatever particular set of decisions that you end up making.

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          • The cultural influence can go two ways. One way is that the media forms the “default narratives” in the audience, which then affects their behavior. The second is that the media tropes reflect the pre-existing sexist attitudes of audiences and creators. In other words, we expect to see the man do and the women be the reward, insofar as we actually think that is how things should be.

            In either case it is worthwhile to point out sexist tropes, so making demands regarding causality is missing the point. The tropes are indeed sexist and thus worth talking about.

            For example, even if a movie has zero causal influence on viewers, women might rightly want to know that this narrative exists in the mind of many people, and in particular men, so that we can be forearmed against it. What I mean is, even if the movie does not cause men to think this stuff, it’s popularity reveals that men do think this stuff. That’s worth knowing.

            But more, consider this simple fact: women might want to see non-sexist tropes merely to be entertained by non-sexist tropes, entirely on our own terms. In other words, we may want our viewpoints centered. To get this, we need to understand and explain the existing tropes, and in turn discuss this with content creators.

            All that said, I’ve indeed heard numerous men over the years state quite plainly that they were upset that romance did not work like the movies. For them to be thus upset, they had to believe that romance works like the movies. I mean, I doubt this is the kind of simplistic causality you are asking for, but I would call that an isolated demand for rigor.

            I can say outright that the ways transgender women were presented by the media were quite harmful to me, insofar as that was the only information I ever got on trans people, and it was almost entirely inaccurate and meant to appeal to the sexual preoccupations of men instead of showing the lived reality of trans women. This built in my mind a totally false idea of what it meant to be trans, so much that I avoided confronting my own gender issues, largely because I did not want to be “one of them.”

            How man cis people watched those same portrayals, from which constructed their ideas on what trans people are like? I mean, they have opinions of us, which they will state loudly. Where did they get the information?

            In any case, it’s nice to occasionally see things that are not bogus nonsense created to appeal to the sexual preoccupations of men. We have more now. I hope for even more in the future.

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  7. As a liberal (and a woman,) I get the over-saturation of sex; woman are too often seen only through the male gaze, and the permeates down right to overly-sexualized clothing for tots who happen to be girls.

    Sexual liberation is certainly a big part of liberalization, at least when it comes to the gaze. But it’s a rather insignificant part of liberalization as it pertains to women’s actual led lives. Your daughter will be able to determine the course of her life in a way that women throughout history have never been able to before. She will be her own agent. I think that tremendous.

    But I think responding to the sex-sells of pop culture as many conservatives respond will harm your daughter, not help her. It often translates into an effort to control her behavior; focusing on her, and not on the gazes that would turn her an object instead of humanizing her.

    Your daughter, by the time she’s in her early teens, will probably have already experienced overt sexual contact and/or assault, and this will happen no matter how she dresses or who she hangs out with or what TV and movies and music she consumes. This was true when culture was more restrictive; pop culture didn’t change it for the worse. If anything, it changed it for the better; there’s less rape and sexual assault of younger women today then there was in the 1960’s, before the sexual revolution.

    She needs to know how to care for herself, how to respond; teaching her from the shame embedded in so much conservatism ill equips young women to negotiate that mine field.

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  8. Some years back, when my oldest daughter was roughly 11 years old, we were driving somewhere on the freeway (I remember which freeway, it was on I-880 just north of the junction with CA 237, headed north, but I don’t remember where we were going). She was reading one of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon books, and asked me, suddenly, “Dad, what’s an orgasm?”

    I remember gripping the wheel tightly and thinking to myself, “Ok, breathe, breathe!” The temptation to run away from this question is very great. After a couple of breaths, what I did instead was describe orgasms in terms of biology. She already knew the rudiments of reproduction, my wife and I had made sure of that. So I described orgasms as the natural reward for an attempt to reproduce. She seemed satisfied with this answer, and we moved on.

    Tod, I encourage you to not run away from your daughter’s sexuality. Your feelings can transfer to her, and she will feel a vague sense of shame about her sexuality. You have a powerful role in ensuring that she doesn’t feel ashamed of her body, or how it all works. (So does her mother, of course)

    That said, I think it’s appropriate to want to have some control over what she sees for some time to come. We definitely thought about which things to let the kids see and which things not to. Labelling is moderately useful, but pre-screening is much better. Watching her stuff with her as a teen or pre-teen is a much better way of protecting her than reading some label.

    Nevertheless, don’t avoid media because it raises issues that you don’t want to talk about. Figure out how to talk about things. Your courage will translate into her courage.

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    • Good points . I have had this discussion with my wife a few times recently. I have no problem explaining sex to her at a very young age. My wife has some issues with it.

      Considering your “What’s an orgasm?” example, I would have no problem explaining to my daughter what that is and how it works. I can’t see how that information would hinder her in any way, regardless of age.

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    • This is spot on as far as I am concerned. I hope to always have the wherewithal to answers my daughters’ questions honestly, and accurately while still being age appropriate. Our children get so much misinformation from their peers and see such unrealistic images and situations in the media that my goal is to arm them with information so they don’t feel lost in the inundation of, well, crap, for lack of a better word. I may be sweating bullets when I do it, but I will do it to the best of my ability.

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  9. I think that a distinction needs to be drawn between liberalism proper and progressive sexual morality. An argument could be given that given liberal neutrality and given the asymmetry* between progressive and conservative sexual morality (some things once seen cannot be unseen, but those things not yet seen may still be seen in the future) Having a G-rated public space allows parents who want to raise their kids with puritanical sexual mores can do so while those who want to raise their kids with more progressive mores can also do so. An M or R-rated public space effectively prevents parents who are so inclined from raising puritanical kids. If I suspend judgment about whether puritanism or libertinism is the right attitude towards sexual morality qua sexual morality (and I doubt that we have any genuine evidence one way or another) then the policy which allows parents to impart their own beliefs to their kids regardless of the content of those beliefs should be preferred. Given that a liberal state should be neutral with regards to different conceptions of the good, a G-rated public square, like a secular public square is required. This doesn’t mean that we should censor TV and radio, but some standards can be permissibly enforced with regards to page 3 girls in newspapers, or having bikini or topless ads visible on streets open to the public. Similarly laws against public nudity and/or exhibitionism would seem to be justified for similar reasons.

    *The asymmetry is going to exist until someone who sincerely thinks that Puritanism is obscene and that children should not be exposed to it turns up. Somehow, I doubt that such reverse puritanism will ever exist. Restrictiveness about sexual morality seems to flow in one direction. And a sexual morality which made sexual abstinence taboo would be kind of rapey (or more than kind of).

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    • So, mandatory burka’s in public for women then? After all, once those impressionable young boys see a woman’s ankles or her bare neck it’s one endless lust enflamed slide and the next stop is hell.

      Since we’re liberal though I suppose the burka’s should be mandatory for men too yes? No of course that’d be a gross infringement of their rights.

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      • OK let’s all walk around in Burkas. If I had to choose between raising my kids in a place where burkas were mandatory for everyone and a place where public nudity was not taboo, I’m pretty sure I’d choose the former (provided that all the other illiberal things that are associated with mandatory burkas are not present)

        But seriously, I doubt even a foot fetishist would feel lust at *MY* ankle, not with its varicose veins, odd swellings, etc. I’ve got the feet of a 60 year old

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        • That may be Murali and in my example perhaps that’s tolerable (though I of course have a different opinion and it’s in our differing opinions that the devil capers). But for some people seeing two men (or two women) holding hands or exchanging a kiss would be just as obscene if not more obscene than seeing a woman’s ankles.
          The problem with your assertion, as I see it, is that once you admit that catering to the puritans, prudes and scolds is necessary to provide a neutral space then there’s a whole horde of problems that come stampeding in along with it. Like the flag burning amendment in the mock version of schoolhouse rock.

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        • Interesting assymetry there – mandatory burkas,vs. merely non-taboo nudity. Mandatory public nudity would be the flip-side of mandatory Burkas, and only in that situation would I agree with you that it was rapey.

          In your framing of it, Id choose the latter environment – I’d like as few taboos as possible against behaviour that does no enumerable harms. In fact we sort of have chosen such an environment – in various settings we go frequent, our daughter regularly sees naked people swimming, using saunas, suntanning, etc.

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          • dragonfrog:
            Interesting assymetry there – mandatory burkas,vs. merely non-taboo nudity.Mandatory public nudity would be the flip-side of mandatory Burkas, and only in that situation would I agree with you that it was rapey.

            In your framing of it, Id choose the latter environment – I’d like as few taboos as possible against behaviour that does no enumerable harms.In fact we sort of have chosen such an environment – in various settings we go frequent, our daughter regularly sees naked people swimming, using saunas, suntanning, etc.

            Its great that you can raise your kids according to your values. I’m not objecting to the existence of non-public naked spaces. People should be free to take their children their if they so wish. And others who don’t wish can avoid those places. What do we do with places which people cannot avoid? Why do you want to prevent people with different values from raising their kids as they see fit?

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            • As ever, talk of freedoms gets really challenging only when different freedoms compete.

              I think it’s a bigger infringement on freedom to say “you must cover these parts of your body in public lest photons bounce off them and into someone else’s retinas,” than to say “you may wear whatever you please, but you must accept when you go out in public that photons may bounce from various parts of other peoples’ bodies into your retinas.”

              At least when the parts of the body to be covered are “everything but the eyes and fingers” that’s an extremely burdensome demand to put on others, to avoid certain patterns of light reaching your retina. As the listed body parts become smaller in number and physical size, there may be a crossover where it’s more burdensome to have to accept seeing them than to have to cover them. But I’m not even convinced of that.

              The physical effect of clothing constricting the body is undeniably greater than that of photons on the retina – especially when it would be perfectly possible to wear clothing of the same hue and value as one’s skin, so the effect on the activation of the cones and rods would be minuscule.

              As far as restricting people’s right to raise their children as they see fit – I could turn the question around and ask why you want to restrict people’s right to raise their children as they see fit, specifically without body shame? (I don’t think that’s what you’re proposing, but I think the two questions bear comparing.)

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              • Would you let your 6 year old watch hard-core porn? If not, would you permit people to have sex in public in full view of your 6 year old? If your answer to the second one is no as well, then aren’t you using your prudery to justify restricting others’ liberty?

                Also, I’m not preventing parents from raising children without body shame. I’m just requiring that parents who wish to raise their children without body-shame be mindful of parents who would wish to raise their own children with body-shame. Its just that more and more, I see parents who wish to raise their children without body-shame want to raise other people’s kids without body-shame as well. Parents who wish to raise their kids without body-shame can take their kids to nudist colonies and beaches for the weekend.

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                  • I didn’t talk about swimming. I talked about on the street. Why does everybody think I’m opposed to nude beaches and saunas? Clearly there is a distinction between being nude at a nude beach or sauna and being nude in the middle of the street. Even if a nude beach is open to the public, we might still say that under-16s must be accompanied by their parents. We don’t say the same about public roads or for that matter shopping malls. If PG material is going to be displayed at a particular location, then entry into that location by unaccompanied children should be restricted. If there is some place in which children are allowed to go unaccompanied by adults, then there shouldn’t be anything there we wouldn’t show in a movie in which we think its acceptable for them to go to unaccompanied.

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                    • “I’m not preventing people from raising their children without body shame, as long as they keep their shameful displays of body-having to private locations on weekends.”

                      Yes, I know that’s not what you said, but I think there’s legit similarity between that and what you said.

                      Likewise I’m not preventing anyone from raising their children with body shame – if you’re ashamed of your body, cover it. It’s your body, your covering it affects no one but you, so it’s your right. I don’t want to ban burkas and I think France’s doing so was way abusive.

                      In response to your first question – and that’s actually a fair one, I think, in pursuit of establishing where my boundaries are – I would like to live in a sufficiently sex-positive society, and be sufficiently liberated myself, that I would be alright with my kid seeing people have sex (not porn, because that’s often quite sex-negative and abuse-centric, but actual affectionate sex). But I’m not there, and I would be uncomfortable with it. Not horrified, but we’d leave to give them privacy (whether they felt they need it or not).

                      As to your second example, nudity in the street – I would be fine with that. For instance, I visited a village in Sweden where most houses didn’t have running water, so there was a community shower building in town. There were not shower stalls, just a room in which half a dozen people could shower at once. When I was there I only saw people walk to and from the shower clothed, but I would have no problem with someone who preferred to disrobe at home, walk down the street to the shower, and air-dry on the walk home.

                      Now, if I have a taboo against shaming people for their bodies, and you have a taboo that it’s shameful to expose your body, and feel that it would violate your taboo not only to be seen nude yourself, but also to see anyone else nude without giving them an earful about how shameful their nudity is – well, we’re at an impasse, aren’t we? Whose taboo should society give more deference to?

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        • Temperature issues aside, I would pick nudist land. Nothing will demystify sex faster than seeing everyone in the buff. Everyone in burkas would just pique curiosity and make it that much more desirable.

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            • Given the continued survival of cultures in which people do go nude or next to nude in public, I think there is little danger of removing the desirability of sex. In the absence of a mystique around food and water, we will continue to eat and drink, because it is both pleasurable and necessary to survival.

              Have a look at a medieval hut – there were no internal walls, so anyone with younger siblings was presumably present for their conception – and here we all are, descendants of those people.

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    • More civilly than North, I get the gest of the argument but isn’t creating a g-rated public space essentially giving the public space to the most puritanical elements of society? In order to determine what is g-rated, you need a consensus on what is libertine and what is puritanical. In a multicultural society this is not easy. Even at the times when most people paid lip service to the idea that premarital sex was a no-no, there was considerable disagreement about what was permitted. Most Americans in the 1940s and 1950s would not bat an eye about a teenage couple holding hands in public, dancing, or engaging in some non-sexual physical contact but the strictest Protestants would say that such things are a sin.

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    • Having a G-rated public space allows parents who want to raise their kids with puritanical sexual mores can do so while those who want to raise their kids with more progressive mores can also do so.

      Actually, I think the most one of the most damaging things about our current culture is that we have let puritanical interests define the terms of debate such that we all have a shared understanding of what “G-rated” should mean.

      I disagree strongly with them, and I think instilling in children those very terms (such that they know what is G-rated, and therefor acceptable to the public sphere, instinctively) is part of the problem. See, eg., various people freaking out about breast feeding in public, or gay partners kissing in the park, etc etc..

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      • If we actually let the most puritanical interests dictate what was G-rated, then even Disney’s Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White would be too risqué. On the most puritanical standard, it is burqas for everyone and no public displays of affection.

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        • Those movies would almost certainly all be Rated PG if submitted to the MPAA today. Consider that Big Hero 6, Frozen, Wreck-it Ralph, and Tangled are all rated PG.

          Although, weirdly, Monsters University got a G rating, and that movie includes a Frat Party.

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        • As a parent of a 2.5 year old, I’m actually struggling with Disney movies. Because they are generally based on stories designed to scare children away from exposing themselves to risks that were fatal when the stories evolved (wandering alone in the woods, strangers, etc), they are quite dark. Even disney-fied they have some fairly adult themes (e.g. death of loved ones).

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          • Vaguely related (if that): My daughter – also 2.5 – and I were at Goodwill today doing some clothes shopping. There wasn’t much in her size (3T) that had short sleeves. I had to go with 2T for a few shirts. The only 3T shirt they had said “SEXY PRINCESS”

            The inclusion of either would have prevented me from buying it, but it had both.

            On the upshot, she now has an art desk!

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  10. To echo above, Wonderful Post!

    When my son was born I was pretty young, both emotionally and age wise. And as such, it didn’t change my politics (I grew up in a small college town, of course we were all Dems,) it simply forced me to really pay attention to politics. And in paying attention, I came to the conclusion that many of the things I found really important were things that my party no longer really cared about, if it ever did.

    That said, what I think you are experiencing is a pivot point. A point where for whatever reason your view is changed, you are forced into a new perspective by events. For me this was being laid off in ’09, others may experience it from the death of a family member or other event.

    My best friend is about to have his first child at the age of 45, and is experiencing much of what you state. Only it is not about sex or violence, it is about child rearing. He is watching his younger sister raising a 3yo in what could only be described as a most liberal parenting method and he doesn’t like what he is seeing. He knows that he has a long row to hoe having a child at this time in his life, and he is not a follower of the cult of the child. This is causing him to rethink many of his beliefs and thoughts about where society is heading.

    I would say that these changes of perspective are healthy, as they force us to new viewpoints, to challenge our beliefs and see if they still hold. To challenge our leaders and our fellow community members to be responsive to our needs, or not. And to help us form new communities as we need to.

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  11. I would also bear in mind the old joke (I’m repeating it from memory here, so I’ll try not to screw it up too badly). It goes something like this:

    When your first child eats dirt, you rush them to the doctor. When your second child eats dirt, you tell them to spit it out. When your third child eats dirt, you just say “Well, I guess they had lunch already”.

    That first child is, for lack of a better word, terrifying. The world becomes full of sharp edges and hard surfaces and germs and peril. After awhile, though, you settle back and realize kids are remarkably resilient — and also absolutely blind to lots of things.

    In short: It’s perfectly normal to be a lot more protective, a lot more conservative, when your first child is born and for some time after. Anecdotally, everyone I’ve known has seen it…slip back in a number of ways as they gained experience with child-rearing. That’s not to say they remain unchanged — having a child should make you think and reassess things. Just don’t expect how you feel now to be set in stone. Some things will change, some won’t.

    Fun example: My brother was SUPER ridiculous about his first kid. ‘Oh no, the TV can’t even be ON, not even to a blank channel if the kid is in the room. Bad for developing brains!”. Second kid? Doesn’t even care. Happy to feed her while watching Game of Thrones, despite the horrible risk that her tiny developing infant mind might see the screen and explode or whatever it was he was worried about…

    While that’s not a typically conservative reaction (paranoia about TV screwing up the kid’s brain) it’s the same impulse — protectiveness.

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  12. I have a daughter (as well as a son), and I haven’t noticed any conservative tendencies stemming from that. What I have noticed is that I feel more strongly about issues like sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Which makes me less likely to vote for a party that nominates morons like Todd Akin, or thinks that the appropriate panel of witnesses to discus birth control coverage doesn’t include a single woman.

    Anyway, this was a thought-provoking post. I hope it’s the first of many.

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  13. Tod Kelly:
    “FTR, I would kill to see a post by you explaining how raising your cats has changed your or Maribou’s political points of view.”

    I would also like to see that. My two cats never seemed to alter my political perspective, but perhaps my cognitive understanding of those changes is limited.

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  14. I have two daughters, aged seven and five. For what it is worth, this has not moved me to the right.

    Wait until your daughter is of school age. Assuming that you are not of an economic class that is indifferent to the public schools, you will find local politics deeply interesting, and potentially deeply disturbing.

    I live in a solidly red county. Mostly they are Main Street Republicans. I disagree with them on a lot of issues, but we generally agree that the roads need to be plowed and paved, and that the public schools need to be paid for, and don’t get too worked up over the idea that the curriculum includes science. I have no problem with this crowd on a local government level. There also is a significant Tea Party faction. Those guys worry me. I really don’t want them anywhere near, much less in charge of, school funding or curriculum.

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    • Ah, parenthood. Wherein you sadly learn one of your neighbors is not only religious, but crazy religious AND on the schoolboard!

      Speaking of, gotta vote this weekend for local schoolboard elections. There’s someone I need to vote against. She’s not religious crazy, she just has a serious ax to grind with the school system and by “grind” I mean “she’d like to destroy it” due to an unfortunate grudge about being let go due to, shall we say, less than stellar performance.

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    • Good question, . We talk about this a lot, and hers have generally stayed the same. She often tells me she is “not political,” but she comes from a working-class Mexican household that is very traditional compared to my middle-class, white upbringing. When we first got married, we would argue a bit about gender roles and what types of things we want for our children. Now that our daughter is born, she said she is surprised at how “traditional” I am sounding.

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      • I wonder if your wife’s more-traditional values influence on your views?

        I wonder if this is an example of reinforced gender identity at it’s most basic; where the woman’s domain, the child/family/home, influences the man’s domain, dealing with the outside world.

        My values and notions certainly shaped my husband’s response to how the outside world stood in balance to our family unit; they still do today, though our children are grown. Our eldest has transitioned from our son to our daughter, and my response laid the foundations for how my husband and our other child responded.

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        • Excellent points . Perhaps I should turn my philosophical lens onto my marriage as the root of my political changes. Although she rarely articulates specific political ends, how we live surely alters my perspective. We are both teachers, but she decided to stay home with our daughter. I am not religious, but she is nominally Catholic and thus, so am I by proxy.

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  15. The question that much-missed Brother Boegiboe and I discussed at length was whether parenting changed one’s relationship with and understanding of God.

    Ideas on God’s Love, His Justice, His Mercy, and things that we may see as His (abject) failures. It seems to me that parenting is one hell of a spiritual lesson. (And I say that as a materialist atheist.)

    Have you encountered that?

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    • Good question . My wife is Catholic, and we have decided to raise our daughter as such. I am still ambivalent about the whole thing, and told her that I will likely undermine the church’s authority with my daughter every chance I get.

      Having said that, I do feel a desire for “wholesome” space in our community, and I am increasingly seeing the church as that space (other than all that unwholesome stuff the church has done, but that’s for another day….).

      Maybe this is just a lingering authoritarianism? Many Italian fascists were atheists who still wanted the church to play a role in society; does this fall into that same category?

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      • Personally, I think it’s very important for children to be raised in the church so that they can grow up to abandon Christianity and go on to become good post-Christians.

        I mean, hey. They get to kill God. What better gift to give your child?

        These kids raised to be post-Christians have to overcome the fact that they didn’t have to kill God. They ain’t better off for it, I tell you what.

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        • I dunno. Post-Christians are generally very angry about God not existing, and about Churches existing and spouting off what they view to be falsehoods.

          It takes years to get over that and adopt a properly atheist view of “Enjoy your Sunday at church, say hi to the Reverend, I’m sleeping in then gonna eat some waffles”.

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          • Its interesting how different religions produce different reactions in the people who grew up in them but latter abandoned them. Some religions just seem to produce more rage in their apostates than others.

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            • I’ve found that the angriest atheists, for instance, used to be the biggest believers. I wasn’t really kidding when I said it was like they were angry at God for not existing. (It’s not exactly that but it’s close).

              I was raised Christian, but never really believed. It just…never made sense, I guess. I just went through the motions to keep my parents happy. (Still do, to an extent).

              Even then, for awhile I was very big into trying to understand why people believed and very sensitive to how much religion is involved in American life. (Living in Texas probably does not help).

              But I never had that…angry edge…of someone who lose their faith. I didn’t lose anything, so I never had that loss to deal with.

              The folks raised without religion seem to, by and large, view religion like I view nudists. “Oh yeah, some people do that” and then go about their day. It’s literally not on their minds unless they, you know, run into a nudist running around being nude.

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              • I was raised without religion. None of my family or friends were very religious. Some of my friends went to hebrew school but it wasn’t a big deal for them. Religion was, like you say, just another thing people do. When the Moral Majority types started to get big it was a bit of shock seeing in real life, as opposed to history books or in far away countries, people who seemed to be fighting a holy war. It didn’t help that it certainly seemed like i was the enemy. It’s taken a long time and knowing many people to get a better understanding of people and their religion.

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              • Morat20: I was raised Christian, but never really believed. It just…never made sense, I guess. I just went through the motions to keep my parents happy. (Still do, to an extent).

                Yup. That was my experience as well. Except I spent some time as a youngster seriously scared shitless that I might be destined for hell. Calvinistic pre-destinationism is an abhorent philosophy.

                It wasn’t until later — like maybe my mid-twenties or so — that I started to seriously ponder religious questions. Spent time as an agnostic until I finally admitted that whatever I believed it certainly didn’t include anything like the Christian God I was taught.

                If I’m angry toward religion about anything it’s the way it’s caused a rift between myself and my older brothers that still hew to the faith. That and the way their version of it is bound so tightly with their Conservative orientation and… well, we just don’t have a lot to talk about without getting into arguments.

                The big thing about having kids, especially the first, was whether or not to go through the motions of baptism. It would have been for no other reason than to make other people happy so we elected not to. That was pretty much like “coming out” as an atheist. Not so much a declaration as a very public acknowledgement.

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  16. Roland,

    Hello from a fellow Bay Arean! I live down in SF.

    I also bristle at this post coming from a liberal prospective but am not a father yet. How exactly are you defining deviance? Why is it daughters that demand protection from sex and deviance but not boys? Would you find it problematic if a parent had a boy and a girl and were much more censorous of what the girl could watch, listen to, see, and read?

    My parents took a rather liberal view of what I was able to watch, see, hear, and read as a kid. There was no attempt at censorship and I don’t think I came out damaged because I listened to albums with a parental warning or watched Airplane at 10 or 11.

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    • Greetings @saul-degraw! I was raised in a very liberal household; I would say I turned out pretty well. I am not sure how I would raise my daughter differently from my hypothetical son. It is a good question, just one I have yet to consider. I am almost inclined to say I would have more discussions and exposure with my daughter, considering the risks to her that are more pronounced than a boy.

      I don’t yet know how I feel about that. Hopefully this conversation will help bring my thoughts into clarity.

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      • There is also an interesting thing about how this kind of fatherhood and conservatism seems to be really about a very narrow band of cultural issues. brings up a very good point about not wanting his daughter to feel pressured to dress in a certain way or have sex with a boy if she didn’t want to. A lot of my friends feel the same way and they have daughters but I don’t think they are going to go conservative and think “Huckabee and Co have a point about sex on TV and in music….”

        Is being a father also going to make you look into GOP stances on climate change? access to birth control and abortion? the welfare state? foreign policy? education spending? This is where Ross D fails. He sort of has a point about wanting to protect children from harm (I also think dads can be protective of daughters because they know what horndogs adolescent boys and young men can be from personal experience) but I don’t think this going to get people to embrace tax cuts for the wealthy or climate change denialism. There are some steps missing in the math.

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        • Agreed . The conservatism I speak of here is generally divorced from “Conservatism Inc.” furthered by talk radio, Fox News, etc. The conservatism I am beginning to embrace has little to do with the list of Republican causes you mentioned, but more to do with a rethinking of our culture and the individual vs. communitarian debate. In said debate, my support of the welfare state would match nicely with this understanding of conservatism.

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          • Dodds
            Having mulled your post and your responses over I think I’m seeing it in a slightly different light. With you not having much real policy movement adjustments that you can put your finger on I think (and this is guessing) what we’re discussing here may be something more apolitical. What you’re feeling is a normal and understandable impulse that an extremely gifted and clever conservative writer (Douthat) has managed to scale and plant a conservative flag on top of. Sorry if that sounds patronizing by the way. I just don’t think conservativism has a claim on fatherhood.

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      • I am almost inclined to say I would have more discussions and exposure with my daughter, considering the risks to her that are more pronounced than a boy.

        So he’s physically safer; she’s at risk. Does this also mean that hypothetical-he might be at a more risk of causing sexual harm, she less likely to do so?

        As a parent, there’s not just the responsibility of protecting children to consider; there’s the responsibility of teaching to not harm others.

        One of my favorite things I’ve ever heard about how to be a good father came from T. Berry Brazelton, “A father’s job is to love the mother.” I’m a non-believer; but there is an essence of love-the-mother in Catholicism that I find very attractive. And then there’s contraception and control of body and participation in church governance, and it all goes to hell.

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  17. I dismiss liberalism and conservatism, and do what I would do if neither existed.

    Roland-fatherism is what is needed to get the kid further along in this world than anything. Be around. Preach a little “live and let live” as time marches on.

    When they get a little older, mention that when the times get tough to look down next to their feet, and picture your big foot next to theirs, so they will never feel alone or unloved.

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  18. Nice post! And welcome!

    As a father of three daughters (for what that’s worth), I have this to say:

    1. I’ve become more personally conservative and more politically liberal since having children. By that I mean that I’m less likely to curse in public and more likely to support a particular social welfare program that may come up for discussion somewhere. I believe there may be something about the experience of fatherhood that has pushed me in this direction, and I believe my opinions on such matters now are objectively superior to the opinions I held in, say, 2009.

    2. My oldest is five. We are homeschooling her currently for educational reasons. The other homeschoolers that we know have similar motivations. I have not met anyone who has homeschooled their children because they are afraid of popular culture or society or want to shelter them. In my experience, this is an unfounded stereotype, although I will admit that I would probably have little occasion to meet such people if they exist.

    On the contrary, my daughter is bi-lingual and bi-cultural. We live in a cosmopolitan city and take advantage of all of its cultural offerings: instead of learning about art in a classroom, we go to the art museum and discuss the various works; instead of half an hour a day of recess (which I hear is on the way out to keep up with standardized curriculum requirements), we’re outside at least three or four hours a day; instead of being bored learning something which she already understands or struggling with material that’s over her head, my daughter can learn at her own pace and develop her own, intrinsic drive for knowledge; etc.

    3. Popular culture is made for teenagers and overgrown teenagers; specifically, it caters to their rudimentary artistic sensibilities and their newfound disposable income. I pay it no more heed than this.

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    • Good insight , and I think we share a great deal on this subject.

      As for point 3: do you think the fact that popular culture is now focused almost entirely on the teen to twenty something demographic, does it have an averse effect on our culture as a whole? Are the desires and demands of that demographic now permitting throughout the society at large?

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      • Good questions. I think it is definitely something that’s important. As a roundabout way of getting to the answer…

        One of the criticisms that is often lodged against homeschooling is the idea that there is no “socialization”. But it is a bizarre notion of socialization that seeks to separate individuals by age and intellectual ability and expose them only to each other. True socialization means being able to relate to not only one’s own demographic, but also to those who are older, the younger, foreigners, members of different races, people with different interests, etc. We live in a bizarre society that forces us into generational cohorts, where an individual may feel more affinity for some representational figure in popular culture than for a member of her own family, albeit removed by a generation or two. So yes, in that sense, I do think the values of popular culture can permeate throughout society in the form of generational commonality, even when that popular culture is quite clearly manufactured by big business in an effort to separate young fools from their money.

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      • Roland Dodds: As for point 3: do you think the fact that popular culture is now focused almost entirely on the teen to twenty something demographic …

        When hasn’t it been? At least for music and in the age of modern mass culture anyway? The Top Forty has always been about what the kids are listening to. Same thing with movies, and to a lesser extent, TV. And I think that’s more about what particular age demographics are willing to spend their disposable income on than anything else. Music used to be a HUGE part of my life in my teens and early twenties. Now, at 54? Meh, not so much. And I rarely part with bills to acquire it any more.

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  19. This is a very thoughtful post; thank you for that. That said, I had some issues :)

    Personally, I found parenthood radicalized me to the point where it’s somewhat exhausting to even try to discuss these sorts of issues because I feel so far out of the mainstream of either liberal or conservative thought.

    I think that the root of my discomfort with your post is that you seem to be agreeing with the fundamental framing of non-kid appropriateness as directly proportional to sex and violence. Over time I have come to realize that the overwhelming factor for me is how consent, empathy and compassion are dealt with.

    My family’s particular accommodation looks quite strange to many (homeschooling, living rurally, unrestricted media access, lots of media analysis discussions, reading widely with them and talking about it all) but works well for us. We have a good handle on what the kids are interested in as well as what is outside their comfort zone. So that we can help them not see the “unseeable” things they don’t want to deal with yet, or help them figure out how to watch something they are unsure about in a way they can handle. For instance; turning the sound off on scary parts of a movie, or watching the special features first, so they can see the makeup job that went into creating the illusion of scary monsters.

    Becoming a parent has me cussing less, as I consider how uncomfortable I am with treating the meanings of any of our standard curses as disgusting or shameful things, while simultaneously not treating any works as “unsayable” with the children. We point out to them that many people are deeply upset by children cursing, and how people will react if they choose to use that language in public. To consider the effect that their actions will have on others (empathy! compassion!) not on whether words are “bad” in and of themselves.

    Virtually none of the cultural analysis that has been helpful in thinking about how to navigate parenthood for me has been “conservative” in nature.

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    • I think my wife might be cussing more.

      Then again she is running two businesses while at home with an infant and a mother with Alzheimers. I think we can spot her a few MFers when her business partner doesn’t seem to be doing a good job.

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  20. My parents did a little censoring in ways that my friends still make fun of today. Violence was okay because I was into Tom Savini and F/X and figuring out how it was done. Sex, they tried to shelter us from. So, we’d be watching some splatter movie and have to close our eyes while my father fast-forwarded through the sex scenes.

    In general, though, I think the best thing they did was to watch television with us and make fun of it. We developed a critical eye really early. Hearing them tear apart the news was especially great. I don’t know if it’s a liberal/conservative thing though. There’s quite a bit of pop culture that I have no time for it because it’s stultifying, pandering, mindless consumerist garbage.

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  21. I’m not a parent and I don’t have thoughts on the subject that haven’t been well covered upthread, but I want to thank Roland for the excellent post and for engaging so diligently and openly in the comments, even when the pushback has been a bit sharp.

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  22. (unrelated aside: this is my first time engaging since the site changes and the new commenting stuff is reasonably good. Is there a place for suggestions on ways to improve?)

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  23. Okay, I have to admit I read about a third of your article.
    As to the prevalence of sex and deviance in our contemporary society, I have just this to say to you:
    Think what you want, Believe what you want,
    but for the LOVE OF GOD, don’t poison your children to GET what you want!

    Other than that, I don’t give a flying fish what you think, or what you do.
    Your kids are yours — have fun with them.
    They won’t be kids for nearly as long as you think, and damn you
    to the depths of hell if you take (aforementioned) action to keep them children.

    (there are reasons my friend hates working for the CDC…)

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  24. The following can be put in sentimental or emotional or psychological or spiritual or social-historical terms, and there is an interesting aspect of the new “post-liberal” father projecting his own abandoned calculations onto the rest of the world, which does not share his love for (realizable investment in) his particular daughter – he may rightly fear “the world” will treat her as he or his friends might once have treated someone else’s daughter or themselves – but the exercise would lead to the same results, on average.

    The future value of a female child is substantially reduced if adult women are in general devalued and in different ways – or if the very survival of the market within which that value could be realized seems uncertain. This reasonable conclusion of a father who has already incurred substantial direct costs and is now preparing for years of further investments tends to conflict with the superficial assessment of self-value typical of the libertine or individualist perspective in which a supreme value is attached – or reduced – to free self-expression unencumbered by a concept of responsibility to the parent or family as economic enterprise.There is, or so one may hope!, the possibility of a more complex dialectic between the value of realizable positive freedom for the daughter and her market value as realizable for the parent-investor (one teaches her to make “good decisions”), but the parent-investor may reasonably doubt that the daughter will be able to negotiate matters successfully when other market participants are continually and pervasively urging different calculations on her.

    The “conservative” or “traditional” methods for predicting and preserving the return on investment will naturally become more attractive upon the actual acquisition of female offspring. They include preservation of a stable marriage market, among other things, and it turns out, as ought not to be surprising, that preservation of a stable marriage market seems to presume preservation of a stable social order. That the current state of affairs produces a different structure of incentives, in part by putting in doubt the potential profitability of such investments, may help to explain declining birth rates and the general erosion of family “values,” in something of a vicious circle.

    Or so it may seem to the new father.

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    • That makes sense. Conservatism offers a return to a past that is known, defined and predictable (if somewhat nostalgically gold tinged and imaginary). New parents are understandably risk averse and conservatism speaks to risk aversion.

      Whereas libertine futures that liberalism and libertarianism either advocate for or implicitly allow are uncertain and uncertainties can be deeply frightening. Perhaps in the future women will be able to self-actualize without being forced by society into childbirth or matrimony, though many will no doubt likely elect to pursue either or both and power to them.

      That said I think pegging declining birth rates to these things is base stealing. Reductions in the number of children is supremely rational when viewed at through a conservative/economic lens considering how badly undervalued the job of motherhood is by current society or when calculating the uncompensated opportunity cost involved for the prospective parents.

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      • Conservatism offers a return to a past that is known, defined and predictable (if somewhat nostalgically gold tinged and imaginary).

        That actually sounds a lot like the economic agenda of the Democratic Party.

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        • The more populist elements, sure, I’d say they do. The difference being conservatives have an idea of how to get back to that state socially through a whole mess of regulation whereas the best populist liberals can manage is some nostrums about “strengthening unions”.

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          • I’m not sure if conservatives have any real idea how to recreate their idealized 1950s any better than liberals do for recreating the economics. They know it needs to be done through force of law but that is about it. Everything is against them. Even many strident conservatives really can’t stand living in idealized 1950s America with all its restrictions on what you can and can not show in media. They like their sex and violence too.

            One ironic thing about the conservative love of the 1950s is that they imagine that everybody or at least all the white people were in the suburbs already but America was still a very urban place during the 1950s. Most of the rust belt cities hit their peak population in the 1960 census. It was the 1960s when cities began to rapidly decrease in size.

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            • Oh yes Lee, I agree that what conservatives want is likely impossible to achieve. But if you administered truth serum I think you could get a long list of specific policy changes and laws that conservatives genuinely think would force us kicking and screaming back in that direction. I am honestly skeptical that Liberals in the same circumstance could specifically list policy changes and laws that they honestly believe would force us back to their idealized 1950’s economic circumstance.

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              • Many liberals seem to think that ending free trade agreements like NAFTA and making sure that capital is not mobile will help. They also think that 1950s income tax rates will force more rich people to invest their money in the United States. So they have some ideas besides strengthening unions.

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                • Problem is I find very few liberals, when challenged on those assertions, who seem to honestly believe it’ll result in the outcomes they’re looking for. Most Liberals admit ending NAFTA and raising trade barriers will probably result in trade barriers being raised against the US in turn for instance. I find that heartening.

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                  • Wait… you really don’t think Liberals have ideas on how to de-plutocratize society?

                    Reinstate meaningful estate tax
                    Undo high-income tax rate cuts
                    Remove tax preference for capital gains
                    Reinstate strong banking regulations
                    Tiny tax per stock transaction (as an example of sin tax for harmful business practices)
                    End mandatory minimum sentences / end war on drugs

                    Use all that revenue to significantly reinvest in services that actually help lower income Americans, like (if we are fully putting on our ideal liberal-policy hats) a guaranteed salary and/or universal revolving credit. Also, borrow a TON of basically-zero-interest money to invest in infrastructure like roads/transit/public broadband that allows for bottom-up growth and creates jobs.

                    Do I think this package of reforms would pass? Obviously not. Does that mean I don’t have ideas I believe would move us back towards a society where CEO pay isn’t a bajillion times their company’s lowest wage? Nope.

                    Free trade doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, as the world already flattened, and current deals are more about non-trade issues like IP protection.

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      • how badly undervalued the job of motherhood is by current society or when calculating the uncompensated opportunity cost involved for the prospective parents.

        What are the metric on which this is based? And doesn’t it conflict with what you say above about women only finding self-actualization through motherhood and marriage?

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        • I’d be curious to see you quote what you’re interpreting as me saying that women only find self-actualization through motherhood or marriage.

          The metric I’m basing it on is the most libertarian one I can think of: reactions of individuals en masse to the price signals. Women are electing to have many fewer children in developed economies. One or none usually, two at the most, but birth rates are below replacement*. If you consider the price a woman pays in modern society for having children: enormous costs in time, effort and stress, significant opportunity costs in lost job opportunities or promotion opportunities; the decision on the part of most women to minimize or forgo childbirth and childrearing makes eminent sense.

          *Personally I consider this salutary, I have no beef with immigrating to maintain population levels.

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  25. “In Douthat’s article, he argues that when viewing life through your children’s eyes, the challenges of the surrounding world appear more “immediately available through daughters than through sons.””

    If Douthat really believes that, then perhaps we should make the “challenges of the surrounding world” less “immediately available” to our daughters. That is to say, maybe we should make the world a less sucky place for women.

    While liberals are far from perfect on this front, they are light years ahead of Republicans.

    The circularity of this mindset upsets me. “The world is hard on women. We must protect them further!” No. Make the world less hard on women and you won’t need to ‘protect’ them.

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  26. Curiously, as a father of two (young… one is 2 and the other is 2 months) boys, I find myself skewing further left on certain issues. And maybe because of the logic Douthat seems to be arguing from, albeit in reverse.

    I made mistakes in my life… mistakes made possible by a misogynistic, white supremist society (Note: I am intentionally not calling either of those “conservative” and am not using them as code words for conservative; I do not see them as inherently conservative nor inherent to conservativism… at least the lower-case c type). I got away with those mistakes more or less, largely because of that societal misogyny and white supremacy. I do not want my sons to make those mistakes nor do I want my sons to get away with them if they do. It is why, at 9 months of age, I essentially gave my son a “Don’t be that guy” speech. I’ll probably have to give him another one down the road though, I suppose.

    To connect with my comment above, I can see why, practically, one would adopt conservative mindsets in order to ‘protect’ their daughters. However, if the issue is, “We should see less objectification of women on TV because I don’t want my daughter to feel objectified,” the ideal solution is not “Censor TV” but “Make society less likely to objectify women by treating women as equals.” Again, one side of the aisle is doing a much better job of that than the other. And it ain’t the right…

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    • I think part of the issue here is that Roland is playing his actual policy preferences close to his chest. I don’t think I read any indication that he supports censorship or the like. Rather, he seems to be saying that before he became a parent, he ignored or derided certain ways of looking at things that are often identified with social conservatism, and now that he is a parent, he things some of those ways of looking at things are discussable.

      Also, to your point about “the circularity of the mindset” that suggests “The world is hard on women. We must protect them further!” and to which you juxtapose “No. Make the world less hard on women and you won’t need to ‘protect’ them.” You’re right, I guess, but I imagine a parent probably has to do both, depending on the child’s personality, the child’s age, and even the child’s gender. I suspect there’s a balancing act that (some? most? all?) parents do. And perhaps Roland’s new “conservatism” is just a shift in the balance.

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      • Your last point is what I meant practically. Maybe I misread him, but I got the sense he was saying “Conservatives have this right,” instead of, “I’ve adopted a more small-c conservative stance as a form kf familial self-preservation.” In part because he was channeling Douthat.

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      • Yes, there isn’t really a lot of policy shift that he’s been able to put his finger on. What we’re talking about his is a lot of paternal protective emotion. Conservatism has managed to brand itself as including this feeling which is a coup for conservatives but isn’t really very substantive.

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    • I’m with you and above – I find I’ve gotten more socially liberal on the whole since the birth of my daughter. I don’t know how much of that was causal, and how much just correlated, a steady progress in my political thinking, which happens to have had the birth of my daughter midway through it…

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        • Based on some events of my own life, I sometimes wonder if father’s concerns for daughters often flow from father’s own thoughts/deeds/actions as a young man; is having a daughter is the ultimate mirror of a man’s potential predatory nature? I don’t know this, but I’ve thought this since seeing my dad’s reactions to my dating in high school. Like that time my brother had to talk him out of getting the shot gun. . . But it still leaves me in a place where the concern to protect girls should be focused on raising boys; that it’s misdirected; and this is why I so loved your comments on this thread.

          Thank you.

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          • Thanks for your feedback. My friends and I used to joke that if we had daughters we were locking them in the basement until they were 30. Why? “Because we know what men are like!” So I certainly appreciate the mindset some are sharing here. I know the world is a difficult place for women. If I had a daughter, there are probably aspects of society I would not want her to experience. I’d be concerned about her consumption of Disney princess culture. Hell, I’m concerned that O’s favorite movie is “The Little Mermaid” what with all of its godawful messages about women (not to say anything of its complete disregard for contract law or the unanswered questions about King Triton’s murderous hatred of humans and how did he become King anyway?… wait for my post on “Team Ursula”…). And while I might opt to shield her from the messages these forms of media could give her about herself, my issue there is with society more broadly and THAT is what needs reforming… not some stupid cartoon in isolation of the forces that allow for its creation and popularity.

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  27. There has been much written about how conservatism famously has three main components- Strong defense, moral order, and free markets, and that these three are constantly in tension with each other.

    What doesn’t get a lot of attention is how contemporary liberalism also has three main components- Cosmopolitan internationalism, personal liberty, and equality.
    And these three are also in tension as evidenced by this post.

    Consider how personal liberty and the cosmopolitan acceptance of foreign cultures are at war with Equality/ Justice over the treatment of women.

    Because for all the talk about liberty, both conservatives and liberals have a moral framework of How Thing Oughta Be, and boundaries outside of which tolerance doesn’t accommodate.

    I think that’s one of the biggest errors I see happening in cultural politics is the desire to find some bright shining line which resolves these tensions.

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    • Good point . I think in a future post, I will have to better clarify what the conservatism I am experiencing entails. It surely is not for free markets or a “strong defense” as advanced by the Republican establishment.

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      • I personally, and liberals generally, get routinely accused of being closet fascists, if only because of our strong communitarian desires at times outweigh our respect for personal liberty.

        Which is another source of tension “We’re all in this together” does clash often with “I wanna be left alone!” (You know who you are!).

        Which is why I have come to embrace the vision of society being founded on negotiation and dialogue instead of rights. Negotiation allows flexible adjustments to the boundary between the individual and community, while rights lend themselves to absolutist stances.

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