Interesting Argument

Posted by lex, on September 19, 2009

Michelle Obama has entered her husband’s health care debate with an interesting twist:

Michelle Obama said women are being “crushed by the current structure of our health care” because they often are responsible for taking care of family illnesses, arranging checkups and monitoring follow-up care.

“Women are the ones to do it,” she said to an audience of 140 people, including representatives from groups such as the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the National Council of Negro Women. “Mothers are the ones that do it. And many women find themselves doing the same thing for their spouses.”

It takes a special kind of genius to recognize a problem in what everyone else perceives as the status quo. Not being a special kind of genius – or any kind of genius at all for that matter – it seems to me but a pedestrian observation that working women who choose to have families end up facing difficult trade-offs. That is, if they choose to have careers at all while the little ones are at home – the career track and the mommy track have competing demands on a woman’s time. But this is progress after all, just fifty or so years ago expectations were broadly different. And this is what the women’s liberation movement of the 60s was supposed to be fighting for, a woman’s freedom to choose her own role in society. Still, “progress” marches on, I suppose.

There are significant statistical outliers all around this issue of course, but in our culture the principal bread winner is still very often the male half of a two parent pair. (The oft derided nuclear family is still widely believed to be the optimum environment for forming the next nation; single parent families all too often come with a host of dysfunctions *. To be sure, the single mom has a heavy burden to lift – there were 10.4 million American women playing this role in 2007 – but it doesn’t sound as though Ms. Obama’s pitch was aimed specifically at them.)

Having defined the “as is” configuration of the American home, I’d be very interested in hearing Ms. Obama’s “to be” proposals. Who, in her opinion, ought to be “taking care of family illnesses, arranging checkups and monitoring follow-up care”? And what is government’s role in structuring such a fundamental change to American society?

Because one potential solution to a problem thus defined would be government mandated income equality within the two-parent pair. If each man and woman in a relationship are exact economic peers, then we have removed one external constraint in the choice of tending to the children’s health. But if economic equality is Ms. Obama’s point, health care reform is a strange way at coming at it, and effecting this kind of change (you can believe in) would mean some rather intrusive government interventions in the partnering marketplace. Just imagine the voluntary becoming a mandatory “I’m sorry dear, you can’t marry the handsome young plumber – you’ve got an MBA, we have to find you another CEO candidate or perhaps a tenured academic. We’ll see if we can’t find you someone in your home state.”

Another possible solution would be the wholesale abolishment of gender roles within the American culture, but if that’s what’s on the table I’d be fascinated to see how government intends to see it through. If we’re to be hectored from the bully pulpit over the next three and one half years that’s one thing. But if she’s got some concrete ideas in mind, I’d love to hear them.

Inquiring minds, and that.

Update: Glenn Reynolds has a different take *, “So if, as Michelle Obama says, women are “crushed” under our health care system, then how come they live longer than men?”

Because of Teh Patriarchy!!1!

** 01-26-21 Links gone; no replacements found – Ed.

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Politics and Culture

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