On Wednesday, the Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project released a study quantifying the rise of what Pew calls the "breadwinner moms." The headline statistic was that in 40 percent of U.S. households with children, the mother is now the primary or sole earner. (The Week rounded up this and lots of other fascinating numbers from the study.)
That evening, the study was a topic of discussion on Lou Dobbs' Fox Business News program. All four of the men on Dobbs' panel — Dobbs, Juan Williams, Doug Schoen, and Erick Erickson — were horrified by the study and the social and economic changes it describes, but Erickson, a conservative commentator, drew special attention for his take on the Pew study:
This comment drew considerable backlash, so Erickson took to Twitter to reiterate his point:
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In case his argument still wasn't clear enough, Erickson then wrote a long column at his site, RedState. He starts out by noting that he and his wife both worked at the start of their marriage and when their first child was born, and then they decided the mom would stay home with the kids. "Ladies, if you want to work that's fine," he says. "But just because the world has moved on and seems to think the two-parent nuclear household with a stay-at-home mom is no longer necessary or useful does not make it so."
Erickson's Fox Business News comments made him "the most hated man on Twitter," says Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon. But his follow-up blog post "only made matters worse by showing how much he doesn't get it." Here, eight biting critiques of Erickson's science-citing theory on work and gender:
1. We're all richer — literally — because of working moms
First of all: "Oh. My. God," says Derek Thompson at The Atlantic. Let's treat Erickson's "Ron Burgundy moment with some data."
The rise in single mothers is troubling, Thompson says, but Erickson's point is that married mothers outearning their husbands is tragic. It isn't. "It's inevitable. And it's good." It is natural for women to be allowed to compete with men in the marketplace and split up domestic duties with them at home. And in fact, adds Thompson, "far from 'tearing us apart,' it's widely acknowledged that dual-earner households allow families to live more comfortably."
2. Where does Erickson get his science?
Seriously, says Amanda Marcotte at Slate. "Erickson must have this nifty scientific 'fact' by studying the animals in the well-known academic text The Berenstain Bears, which clearly shows Papa Bear going out and earning the money while Mama Bear stays at home and cooks the food for the cubs." Actual animal behavior is much more nuanced, and in many cases egalitarian: Mother and father foxes both go out to forage food for their young, for example, and "other primates besides humans mostly shun the male-dominated monogamy that Erickson prefers," living in groups with plenty of "kinky partner swapping."
And as long as we're looking to nature for our gender roles, "there are also species where males castrate themselves before sex to avoid being eaten alive by females," says Salon's Seitz-Wald. "Perhaps Erickson would like to experience that — you know, because science?"
The bigger question from Erickson's biology lesson is, "are we really going by the roles of the animal kingdom?" says Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post.
3. Amazingly, Erickson is serious
The shocking thing about Erickson's FBN appearance and blog post is how transparently he rejects the very idea of gender equality, says Salon's Seitz-Wald. "He comes off like a liberal's caricature of what conservative men think."
For anyone not familiar with Erickson's work, says Steve Benen at MSBNC, this is a good time to reiterate that "he's not kidding. This isn't satire or a parody of Republican pundits."
4. This calls for the D word
5. Breadwinner wives are awesome
Let's not be too hard on Erickson, says Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic. "Studies about gender, family, and the workplace inevitably bring out the Neanderthals in American media." And Erickson is right that the children of married, two-parent households tend to fare better than the kids of single moms. But when he takes off on how nature dictates that men should be the breadwinner, well, "my own views are a little different."
6. These are my co-workers?
Many of the big stars at the Fox News family are, of course, married women, and some of them undoubtedly outearn their husbands. Here's Greta Van Susteren chiding her colleagues, in a brief post at her GretaWire blog: (Hat-tip to Mediaite)
7. Erickson is confusing culture and science
Don't forget that one of Fox News' top talents is married working mother Megyn Kelly, says Dan Riehl at Riehl World News. And "clearly, motherhood agrees with her, as much as does her high-powered career." So folks like Erickson may "enjoy what one might call a more traditional marriage, i.e., male dominated — hey, that's their business, not mine," Riehl adds.
8. And a gratuitous jab at Erickson's weight
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