Nancy Fraser’s article is gracefully written, but I was saddened to read it. It suggests that feminism simply dismisses the interests of men. No feminist should object to welfare as it now is. AFDC does not exist, as Fraser suggests, to prop up the ideal of the “male-headed household.” After all, it has allowed mothers to live without reliance on men. Nor does popular criticism of welfare stem from feminist feeling. Rather, taxpayers, both men and women, object to paying welfare mothers to stay home when they have to work. Fraser simply does not address this concern. All the models of welfare she discusses would leave welfare mothers the option not to work. None, therefore, would be taken seriously as a basis for welfare reform.
Would the models be fair, even if they were politic? Fraser believes “Universal Breadwinner” would condemn women to an unequal competition with men in the workplace, given their greater distractions at home, while “Caregiver Parity” would let them stay home but deny them respect equal to men’s. She wants an “Integration” model whose purpose is “to induce men to become more like women are now,” that is, to balance paid and carework with neither taking precedence.
But why should men become like women? Fraser claims that men “free-ride” on women’s labor in the home. Some do, but men could equally claim that some women free-ride on them on the job, by taking more time off to deal with family concerns. It would be no more fair to men to make them give up the primacy of their careers than it would be fair to women to make them all work full-time as if they had no families. The best family policy treats the sexes as somewhat alike. Require women on welfare to work, but less than men typically do, in deference to their larger family responsibilities.
Male political thinking largely ignored women but served their interests in most ways. In western societies built on those ideals, most women can raise their families in security and, if they choose, enter the world of careers alongside men with something like equal opportunity. Most women can get enough income from working and the government to dispense with husbands entirely. That women should have such powers and claims is entirely proper in male terms.
But in Fraser’s version, feminist thinking does not serve the interests of men. It denies the value of their commitment to tasks outside the home, which is typically greater than women’s. It leaves them nothing distinctive to do other than impregnate women. Even more than welfare itself, Fraser’s article suggests how far women have given up on men in this society.