Matt Zeitlin on class in our marriage debate

I threw my hat into the blogosphere’s recent marriage debate (see Martin, Singal, Matthews, and Marcotte, phew) last week with a post on how much gender plays a role in a person’s acceptance of critiques of marriage as weak or strong.

Matt Zeitlin at Pushback adds a critical component to the debate, when he zooms out and reminds us just how bourgeois our debate is:

We all know that when families far apart, children generally suffer. And with the college wage premium and financial returns to education both at all-time highs, any disruption to a working-class child’s life makes advancement much more difficult. Unstable family structures aren’t great for adults either, especially women. When parents split, it is usually the woman who is left to raise the child, meaning that she has to provide a loving, supportive home, all the while trying to make ends meet as the head of a single-paycheck family.

For those with high amounts of social capital and good jobs, this is a much simpler task, but for everyone else, it is incredibly difficult. This all gets worse when children are born out of wedlock; when parents don’t want to sanctify their bond and commitments to each other, it becomes all the easier for one parent to skip out.

I agree with Matt to a certain extent. It’s important to note what the context of considering marriage is for middle class bloggers. However, I’m always skeptical of arguments that suggest the crumbling of the traditional, two-parent family is contributing to economic deprivation for kids. Blaming “the family” for the larger economic and social factors hurting poor kids, especially kids of color, is often a right-wing talking point, in my opinion, and a cop-out for the failures of our government and society.

I have to disagree with Matt’s assessment that parents who don’t “sanctify their bonds,” are less likely to stick around and hold up their end of the parenting bargain. A dead-beat parent is a dead-beat parent in or out of a marriage. While abandoning one’s financial responsibility to his/her children may be more difficult to a certain legal extent within marriage, I’m highly skeptical that one who wants to abandon their children would only stick around because of the inconvenience of divorce. After all, I know a few dead-beat dads myself who just took off at some point but remain married to the mother of their children. If babies are being born to couples in which one or both partners are less than committed to emotionally or financially supporting the child, the obvious problem seems to be that parents who are going to bail are having kids. After all, poor parents, married or single, are poor parents.

I guess this is all a way of saying, I think the marriage disparity between high and low-income people is more a symptom of economic and social turmoil than a cause of it.

The much better explanation for the class-marriage disparity to me, is that wealthy people who are more often married long-term and having children in those relationships, have more of a financial interest in being married and staying married. They’ve got a lot to lose in a divorce. But when a woman gets pregnant with a guy who makes no money and is a dead-beat, why would she want to marry him? If anything, she wants to make sure the courts will be enforcing his child-support payments and to see little of him afterward. Even when completely committed working-class couples get married and have kids, their marriages face much higher levels of stress than the more successful marriages of the privileges, because of their financial struggles. This undoubtedly contributes to the higher rates of divorce.

Now I can see quite clearly that having two parents who are involved in your life, both financially and emotionally, is going to contribute to a more secure life, but then, the argument should be for planned, well prepared parenthood, rather than for marriage.

The myth that marriage is morally sound is part of a larger dialogue to convince people they shouldn’t expect to be able to support themselves and their kin with one, full-time income. I think they should be able to do so. Ideally, the fact that by the time I’m ready to have children, I likely will be able to do so, would be the usual situation for a woman, rather than the exception.

Now I recognize the reality is that in our current society, most people cannot expect to be able to support a family with one income and one committed parent, and this undoubtedly makes marriage or at least reliable, long-term parenting a desirable outcome for many working-class people, but I don’t think the statistics about marriage and class and race mean marriage itself is the answer to working-class problems.

If working-class people do manage to find a partner who will be committed to sharing the responsibilities of parenting, they too will have the opportunity to determine whether this commitment will be in or outside a marriage.

Wall-E, Economics, Nationality, and Androgynous Love

https://i1.wp.com/images.rottentomatoes.com/images/features/wall_e/wall-e_3.jpgI wrote a pretty glowing review of Wall-E over at Pushback, but I had a few more thoughts to add about the film. And that’s really all these are, completely incoherent thoughts, so I apologize for the stream of conscious style babble.

I was a little bothered by a few complete absences or blind spots in the film, like any seemingly non-Americans carrying on the human race on the space station, and the impossible economics of the movie. Right, right, it’s a kids’ movie. I know. But like, didn’t those people lounging around for 800 years in space have to pay for their ride? So, where were the poor people? Did they all die amid that garbage dump? Was that just too harsh a reality to show us alongside the rusted up Wall-E’s scattering the trash filled landscape? If that wasn’t it, how was that space endeavor being funded?

Now back to the nationality weirdness. Everyone on the space station was apparently American. Where was everyone else? Did they die out like the poor people?

So like, were we supposed to notice these gaps and then think the portrayed dystopia was even more disastrous because survival was so selective, or were the writers just completely blind to class issues — make that, money — and massively ethnocentric? Perplexing.

And so as not to go bizarrely from praise worthy post to condemnatory post, I’ll add one more thing I loved about it: how fabulously ungendered Eve and Wall-E were! I know, they had vaguely feminine and vaguely masculine names, but the animators so easily could’ve given them masculine and feminine secondary sex characteristics. Eve could’ve been a pink robot or worn a bow. As it was, she didn’t do anything particularly feminine. She did hardcore work and even carried a weapon. Wall-E was the twitter pated character and a dreamer, even though he was also a traditional blue-collar worker. I can’t even remember if they referred to each other as him or her or she and he at all during the film. They were like this close to being completely unsexed characters, and therefore, so close to being potentially interpreted as a queer couple. For a kids’ movie, this couple felt kinda radical…

New MTV show to unspoil spoiled rich kids?

Latoya at Racialicious brings MTV’s latest “reality” tv endeavor to our attention:

Watching My Super Sweet 16 can give us a glimpse of “the good life.” Amidst the demanding divas and epic meltdowns that lead up to insanely over-the-top teenage birthday bashes, we get a look at the posh lives of wealthy families. And while we take that often envious look at how the other half lives, how many of us sit there wishing that these spoiled teens could be slapped with a serious dose of reality?

Wish no more, because they’re about to get Exiled! Fed up with their seemingly endless mooching, their parents have had enough of this Sweet 16 set and are ready to send them away to learn the lesson of a lifetime. They’ve arranged to place their children in remote parts of the world with host families who have never tasted anything close to the high society life.

A few years after tossing the parties that made them stars in their schools and fueled rivalries among the rich kids, you’re going to see some of the Sweet 16-ers you loved to hate the most — Ava, Sierra, Amanda, Bjorn, Marissa, Chelsi, Meleny and Alex — shipped away from their plush homes and easy lives and Exiled to foreign locations such as the jungles of the Amazon, the tundra of the Arctic Circle, the Andes mountains and remote islands in the South Pacific where they’ll have to live like local commoners with none of the amenities of their normally privileged lives.

So, here’s the thing, I’ve complained about a billion times about how MTV’s reality tv either shows the ridiculously fabulous and trivial lives of the wealthy or the “trashy” and drama filled lives of the lower-middle class (shows like True Life, Engaged and Underaged) with virtually no in between, where poverty and wealth are spectacles which really define the characters and plot.

This is something relatively new, of course. For a change, we’ll see these rich kids not getting everything they want. But I’m with Latoya in her first objection:

One, they are only gone for a week. A WEEK! How is a week going to undo a whole lifetime of obnoxious behavior?

This totally reminds me of those Spring Break trips college kids can do to find out how hard it is to be homeless, where they’ll live on the streets for that week. I’m sure it’s an eye-opening experience, but I don’t know why we should kid ourselves into thinking so short a trip to the “other side” will create anything close to actual empathy or down-to-earthness. I’ll be surprised if this Exiled show doesn’t embrace such a narrative…

Aside from all this, why do these awakenings have to take place in foreign countries with foreign families? Are we to believe there aren’t families in the U.S. these kids could live with to learn what its like not to have their usual amenities of privilege? Wouldn’t a week with the family who lives just on the other side of the tracks be an even greater shock to the system?