Tenured Radical has a boffo deuce of posts this week: First, in “More Annals of the Great Depression: What Divides Us, and Why,” she writes about the fact that the budget-crisis hill some of her colleagues want to die on is the (astonishingly generous!) tuition benefit at her university, although it is only for children of faculty members. She writes,
I would like to point out that the loose coalition of the willing that does not consider this cut unthinkable is made up of gay people and straight people; the coupled and the uncoupled; the married and the unmarried; those who have dependent (or formerly dependent) children and those who do not. I mention this because one of the first things people make sure to tell me in particular is that they are not homophobic (you know what? If you feel you have to say this, you are homophobic. I didn’t bring it up, you did.) Several of the kinder scolds suggested that we who were not with the program would understand this issue better if we actually had children and better understood the sacred bond between parent and child. The most ignorant argued that the childless were not excluded from this benefit, and could access it any time we liked by having, adopting or inheriting children. Of all the unspoken assumptions, perhaps the one best masking itself as intellectual common sense was that we who are childless at Zenith do have a moral and ethical commitment to our colleagues’ children, because it is these children who, as adult workers, will earn the professional wages to pay for our government benefits in retirement.
In other words, because I haven’t had children, regardless of how much I have paid into Social Security over the years, I will become a welfare queen in old age. And as I sign my government checks over to the BMW dealership and the grog shop, it will not be just any children who support me in the style to which I am now accustomed, but the children of my Zenith colleagues. . . .
No, they respond: nothing will do but an unlimited benefit reserved exclusively for the children of Zenith.
Then, she followed up with another post, “Discriminating Tastes: What People Who Are Not Normal Might Know That You Don’t Know,” in which she further elaborated on one of the points in the previous post, which is how many government and employer-sponsored benefits are crafted and doled out according to certain assumptions about what’s normal about people’s domestic arrangements, and that the normals win while the not-normals lose. She writes, “[t]o my mind, one pernicious legacy of the social justice movements of the 1960s and 1970s is the notion that the opposite of invidious hierarchy is the equality of similarity,” and notes that one result of this is that people who point out injustices get accused (even by people who share the same basic political orientation) of creating or perpetuating pernicious divisions, rather than just pointing out that they exist. (Oh yeah! How many of you have been accused of this, when you point out that the wolf has once again eaten up poor old Granny and Red Riding Hood, and a friend or colleague suggests that Granny or Red Riding Hood might have chosen to eat the wolf instead, but they were foolish women who chose badly, and clearly there are no structural, dietary, or dental inequalities that might have contributed to this outcome.)
This presumption that equality = similarity has real implications for LGBTQ people, as it does for straights who aren’t “normal,” i.e., not-married, child-free, etc.:
Take marriage. One of the things that worries me about gay marriage is not that a lot of gay people long to be more similar to, or even appear to be exactly the same as, straight people. That has always been true in one way or another. It’s that gay marriage reinforces the falsehood that everyone has access to the same privileges if they are willing to make the “same” commitments. That marriage delivers only a simulacrum of similarity, even to straight people, and that there is no logical reason to make it a gateway to privilege, is a conversation that gay marriage has made it more difficult to have. Consequently, that marriage represents the pinnacle of ethical commitment to another person is an assumption by which the unmarried are stigmatized.
One might also point to loving commitments between children and adults, in which legal custody of a child is firmly viewed by most Americans as the greatest ethical commitment possible. Commitments outside that legal and/or biological relation, however deeply felt, are viewed as a degraded version of this bond. Again, let us look to gay and lesbian people who now parent. In this case, technical inclusion of non-traditional parents has allowed the institution itself to remain a socially, legally and economically privileged site. It used to be that gay people were all perceived as potential child molesters (that was homophobia); now we seem to all be, in the eyes of our friends, potential parents. This is not homophobia, but it’s not progressive either: it means that queer people who do not own children are now subject to similar stigma that child free heterosexuals are, and their relations to children they love are not taken seriously as an ethical commitment.
Go read them both. I’ve always thought that tuition benefits restricted to children of faculty and staff members were too narrowly defined, and clearly discriminated against people who (for whatever reason) didn’t have children of their own. Before coming to Baa Ram U., I worked at a Catholic university which employed a number of religious women and men, who for obvious reasons didn’t have children. It also employed a lot of “normals” who were not-normal when it came to children. (That is, they didn’t have them.) I agreed with a colleague of mine, who was frustrated that she couldn’t bestow the favor of a college education on her dear nephew, whereas her colleagues with children could do this for an unlimited number of biological or adopted children.
Employee benefits should be available to all employees, regardless of their sexuality, the vows they might have taken (or not), or whether or not they have children. If they’re not available equally, then they’re not employee benefits, they’re special rights.
And, on a personal note: because the illustration that TR chose for her first post, “More Annals of the Great Depression,” of the Cleaver family from Leave it to Beaver (at right), I was horrified to discover that I am in fact married to Wally Cleaver. (It’s true! He looks a lot like Dr. Mister Historiann back when he was in high school!)