Those conservatives who want to shape the nascent pro-family movement emerging on the right must be willing to embrace a controversial — and countercultural — reality: Healthy families require strong, stable, and secure men. That means Republicans interested in crafting pro-family policy must focus on the well-being of America’s boys and men.
Democrats have spent decades supporting policies that make men and fathers economically and socially obsolete. They’ve promoted the notion that families and societies flourish when women are empowered, even to the detriment of men. For instance, they see the fact that women outnumber men in the college-educated labor force as a win for gender equality.
It’s not all progress, however, from the perspective of modern feminists. So-called access to abortion, a major plank in the women’s empowerment agenda, was dealt a serious blow when the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision struck down Roe v. Wade and returned the issue of abortion to the states.
This seismic shift, combined with the economic challenges brought on by Covid-19 shutdowns and parental discontent with public schools, has opened the door for some conservatives to seek to rebrand Republicans as the party of families.
The initial push for this political pivot came from Republicans in the U.S. Senate. The most recent iteration of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s proposed Family Security Act would provide between $250 and $350 a month per child, based on age. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s Provide for Life Act would expand the child tax credit, enable parental leave, expand support for pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, and fund mentoring services for low-income mothers. Conservative social commentators have also made the case that limited government and support for families are compatible policy goals.
Whatever the merits of these efforts, the success of pro-family policies will depend on more than bipartisan support in Congress. The social and economic outcomes conservatives want to see must start with the understanding that men and women are not generic, interchangeable parts in the machinery of family life.
Men have played the role of provider throughout human history, though in recent decades that role has been shared. Still, no culture teaches that it’s a woman’s responsibility to take care of an adult male and the children they have together. This is why women generally seek men who earn more than they do. One analysis of U.S. Census data found that female physicians married men in the same field. Male doctors, however, often married nurses and teachers.
This is not an argument against women in the workplace. It’s an appeal for conservatives to recognize that disregarding the natural order in the name of “women’s empowerment,” whether through public policy or cultural norms, will make it harder for Americans to form strong, stable families.
Conservative politicians and pundits need to become comfortable talking about what boys and men need in terms of education, economic opportunity, religion, social norms, and relationships.
Their political speeches, op-eds, and podcast appearances need a renewed emphasis on vocational education that is aspirational, not framed in terms of a fallback option for young men who are unable — or unwilling — to attend college. Conservatives need to speak with a similar sense of clarity and concern when it comes to men, sex, and family formation.
Every conservative bill, statute, policy, or regulation that directly affects families should include some version of the following statements:
- Children have a right to the love and support of the man and woman who created them.
- The ideal family structure for every child is to be raised by his or her married biological parents in a stable and loving home.
- Men, not the state, are ultimately responsible for the children they father.
These self-evident truths should function as the “iron triangle” of social conservatism. Men need something they are willing to both live and die for. The responsibilities that come with a family give them both.
Critics on the left — as well as some on the right — will undoubtedly accuse conservatives focusing on men of promoting a regressive return to the rigid sex roles of the 1950s. What they fail to realize is that the sexual revolution and 60 years of liberal social policy did not destroy patriarchy — they distorted it by minimizing the importance of men while maximizing the influence male-dominated institutions have in every area of American family life.
Different Forms of Patriarchy
“Bureaucratic patriarchy” was introduced through the war on poverty’s expansion of the welfare state and policy incentives that provided aid and basic necessities for unmarried mothers. It has grown because of the symbiotic relationship between elected officials seeking votes, social service administrators overseeing the poverty economy, and single mothers who need financial support.
Conservatives have a hard time criticizing “corporate patriarchy,” by contrast, because it promotes financial independence for women and exploits conservative deference to the private sector. A recent video from the pro-life organization Live Action satirizes an unfortunate reality brought about by the right’s allegiance to corporations: Many businesses would rather fund abortions than paid maternity leave for their female employees. Perhaps business executives are simply taking cues from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who said, “eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”
The advent of “trans patriarchy” further complicates the pro-life, pro-family movement because men who believe they are women are committed to erasing biological sex altogether. In addition to attacking the foundation of human existence itself, this deformed version of patriarchy also seeks to usurp the family’s role as the primary shaper of children’s values.
Many conservatives fail to see how the daycare-to-demisexual pipeline was built over time by politicians increasing funding for childcare and schools, corporations offering generous benefits in exchange for employee loyalty, and gender ideologues who want access to shape the next generation of children.
The actors involved in all three deformed patriarchies are cruel taskmasters because they take a utilitarian view of women and children. A man who accepts his God-given responsibilities has a completely different orientation toward his family. His relationship with his wife is a covenant, not a contract. His children are the fruit of that union and the linchpin to multi-generational prosperity. They’re not mere “consequences” of sex and burdens to be overcome for the sake of economic productivity.
In a sense, some form of patriarchy is inevitable. The question conservative policymakers need to answer is which form they believe produces the best outcomes for men, women, and children. This is why clear thinking about families must be preceded by honest reflection on the different natures of men and women and how they can be harnessed to fortify American households. That is why now is the perfect time for conservatives to lean into the connection between strong men and stable families.