Fathers not allowed

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 7, 2007

In the Netherlands, children between the ages of 2 and 4 (which is the age at which compulsory schooling starts) and who are not attending nurseries, can spend two mornings a week together in so-called ‘playgroups’. These playgroups are run by the municipalities. There is also a ‘pre-playgroup’ for kids between 18 months and two years, which only lasts one hour and where they are accompanied by one of the parents (or another adult). This morning a neighbour asked me whether I wouldn’t be interested in enrolling my son for such a pre-playgroup. But, she added, it’s only for mothers, fathers are not allowed. Apparently the justification is that otherwise mothers from certain ethnic minorities, where gender segregation is an important issue, would not attend with their children.

What should we think about such policies? In principle, I would strongly condemn such policies, since they are plainly discriminating fathers, grandfathers, and male babysitters. In practice, I can appreciate the underlying goal of offering mothers from social groups where opposite-sex parental activities are entirely out of the question more options to socialise, and also the social and developmental benefits for their children; but it does restrict the options of more progressive heterosexual couples to equally shared parenthood, let alone the options of gay fathers and single fathers. Since the kids of these ethnic minorities tend to be among the worst-off in society and we can safely assume that they are benefiting from joining a playgroup, I’m trying to look at this from its positive side – but I really have difficulties convincing myself that this is, all things considered, a wise policy.

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No dads allowed at Joanne Jacobs
02.08.07 at 12:38 pm
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02.10.07 at 12:51 pm
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02.13.07 at 9:34 pm

{ 98 comments }

1

magistra 02.07.07 at 4:19 pm

I think one of the equivalent groups I went to in the UK (though run by a charity, not publicly funded) had a similar rule. This wasn’t particularly due to concern about ethnic minorities, but that they had women coming along who’d suffered domestic violence or for other reasons wanted a ‘safe space’ and would have felt uncomfortable talking about personal matters with men present. One additional thing to bear in mind is that for groups for those with babies or very young children, the mother may still be breastfeeding, which may make some women feel particularly uncomfortable with strange men present.

I can therefore see justifications for having *some* groups which are women-only, but I think there should also be ones which clearly encourage fathers as well. In fact there might even be advantages if there are groups which are specifically encouraging and targetting men as well as women. Currently, many fathers feel uncomfortable going to any parenting groups, since they are so female-dominated.

2

Guest 02.07.07 at 4:30 pm

Not doing something because it might offend somebody is generally a bad idea. At the ridiculous extreme, they don’t shut down the schools to accommodate those who don’t care for compulsory vaccinations, do they?

3

Jacob T. Levy 02.07.07 at 4:32 pm

but it does restrict the options of more progressive heterosexual couples to equally shared parenthood,

Not to mention tipping some heterosexual couples at the margin away from more progressive roles and decisions. Their progressivism isn’t fixed, and the more things in life that flash the “it’s easier all around of the mom takes care of this” sign, the more couples will take the “mom takes care of things” route.

4

Rasselas 02.07.07 at 4:41 pm

Not doing something because it might offend somebody is the engine of modern life. How could it ever be a bad idea?

5

otto 02.07.07 at 4:45 pm

JTL’s point is a good one. But what to do? If there’s a large portion of a community which practices gender segregation and state compulsion is not available before or after formal school age, all the options are bad. Perhaps the power of money to melt all that is solid into air? Special tax breaks etc. only for parents who attend non-gender segregated (pre-)playgroups?

6

harry b 02.07.07 at 4:46 pm

jacob’s nailed it. If you have to be non-progressive in order to get at the resource, that is a disincentive to be progressive. And it also reinforces the non-progressive behaviours of the non-progressive. When women who do the lion’s share of parenting see men doing the same, and acting as compentent caregivers their demands in their own marriages might change. And, finally, this is not all about the least advantaged versus middle class progressives: what about working class or poor couples in which either because of shifts or unemployment the father does a good deal of the parenting and is the one with the kids in the morning? (This is very common in the UK and US, and I’ve seen studies suggesting that parenting is more equally split in poorer families with no ideological commitment to degendering parenting)

How about dividing the spaces in two, and having one half of the space devoted to mother-only, and the other space to mixed playgroups?

7

eenauk 02.07.07 at 5:02 pm

i agree that two types of spaces – one woman-only and one for both – certainly seems like the better idea. However, i would disagree that women-only institutions like this are fundamentally un-liberal (i know ‘progressive’ is the word being used): i see it as a perfect display of pluralism. Sometimes good europeans (of the laicist streak) are so adamant about everyone being open, that they close themselves off to perfectly legitimate forms of cultural difference. But competition certainly would be healthy!

8

harry b 02.07.07 at 5:08 pm

I’m only using “progressive” in this context to mean “progressive with regard to gender roles”, and so the women only space look unprogressive by definition on that useage! I think you may be right about them not being illiberal, but that may riase an issue about how progressivism about gender departs from the demands of liberalism. (I never thought I’d say that).

9

ingrid 02.07.07 at 5:19 pm

Harry, I think the UK or USA and the NL are different. We don’t have significant numbers of working poor (yet) and class is not so much an issue here; but we do have large numbers of ‘socially isolated’ mothers with children who are living in families that practice gender-segregation. Hence I think that it is fair to say that these kids are the worse off in society, and that the bargaining aspects that you refer to will never be a real option for these mothers (these are first generation, often unskilled, immigrants.)

I also thought that the municipalities should simply have mother-only playgroups one morning a week and mixed playgroups another morning (or two). But I guess there are financial constraints since these are subsidised activities…

Our local swimmingpool has a women-only timeslot once a week, where these women can take swimming classes. I have no problems with this at all, since it leaves sufficient options for mixed swimming, and the more an activity becomes ‘bodily’, the more I can understand why sex-segregation can be defended. Hence I agree with Magistra regarding *some* parentgroups being restricted to mothers only – but not for 18+ months old kids.

10

Pete 02.07.07 at 5:19 pm

I don’t understand why being a minority group exempts people from European gender equality legislation? What happens if a man applies to work at one of these places?

11

ingrid 02.07.07 at 5:24 pm

All right, rereading my last sentence, I see that it revealed my gut-feelings. I guess the feminist in me is upset with this playground denying access to fathers. The liberal-egalitarian in me tries to find justifications for why it may be defensible in terms of the benefits to the worst-off or to liberal toleration. I suppose the feminist in me is stronger than the liberal-egalitarian – at least in this case.

12

eenauk 02.07.07 at 5:25 pm

i think progressivism is quite compatible, and probably even a necessary correlary to, liberalism. My comment was more concerned with situations when progressive positions are forced upon everyone, which is then where tolerance becomes intolerant (as they say) or rather were tolerance doesn’t make any sense any longer because it has become somehow violent. Progressives with regard to gender roles are probably always liberal, but i don’t think it must go the other way around: you can be a good liberal while trying to maintain a fair amount of religion/tradition/identity that is very un-progressive – as long as no one gets hurt.

13

ingrid 02.07.07 at 5:29 pm

Good question, Pete. I don’t know about what would happen in this case, but one may be suprised about what courts decide. A Dutch man once took a Dutch ministry to a European court since that Ministry had reserved places in its nursery to female employees only. The Court ruled that the ministry was allowed to do so on grounds that it wanted to increase the number of female employees. I found that a very disturbing ruling, and it was not even clear that it was contributing to the allegedged gender-equality goal, since it meant that, given the shortage in childcare provisioning at that time, wives of male employees where more likely to be shouldering the entire burden of child care responsibilities…

14

aaron_m 02.07.07 at 6:06 pm

“Since the kids of these ethnic minorities tend to be among the worst-off in society and we can safely assume that they are benefiting from joining a playgroup…”

Just because they get some benefit and are in the worst-off position does not lead to any clear argument for accepting the policy. If the benefit to the children is marginal compared to the no play group scenario while the cost to fathers of an additional barrier to their participation is more significant then the preference for ‘no men’ may be unreasonable.

We certainly do not allow just any kind of preference to be weighed into our reasoning about what is justifiable. If a group of men have a preference for no woman being involved in their medical care should we make an all male staffed hospital?

As to the specific case at hand, this is not about the benefits to children, which are marginal, but about the social isolation of some Muslim mothers. Ingrid’s suggestion that the policy might get at the problem of gender segregation for these women or their children can’t be right for the obvious reason. The problem of social isolation for these women is certainly real, but I am also sceptical to the idea that this problem makes the policy reasonable.

Now how on to this

“One additional thing to bear in mind is that for groups for those with babies or very young children, the mother may still be breastfeeding, which may make some women feel particularly uncomfortable with strange men present.”

This is just obnoxious. If you want men to taken on an equal share of child rearing and other work in the home then it is wildly unfair to demand that they make themselves scarce when women are breast feeding. Parents with young children spend time in places were there are other parents with young children, i.e. at the doctor’s office, day care, baby swim, and in many many other social settings (basically nobody else can stand them so they are stuck with each other). Given that under current conditions women are off work with infants much more so than men magistra’s (and Ingrid’s) proposed reason for banning men from pre-playgroups would apply to many other situations and would put men into unfair social isolation. ARGGGGG!!!! Phew, now I feel better.

Having men take on work outside of the paid labour market will require some compromise and will require women to take on some costs in addition to the obvious benefits. Think about that for two seconds please.

15

reuben 02.07.07 at 6:10 pm

There is research indicating that paternal childcare competencies are shaped less by ideology than by practice. No big surprise, and one of the things it leads to is the sort of situation Harry mentions – in which shift work means that many working class fathers who hold traditional gender/parenting attitudes actually end up doing far more frontline parenting (as opposed to being supportive dad on the sidelines) than more ideologicaly progressive dads.

More interestingly, there’s research in the UK indicating that active fathering really has to be worked at, because maternity leave and other factors (including part-time work for mothers and long hours for fathers) set up feedback loops in which the mum’s greater contact with the baby leads to greater competency, which then encourages dad to step back during difficult situations, which means he never develops his competency… and so on, in a non-virtuous cycle. This happens even when couples say they very much want to equally share the parenting. Just as mothering becomes a gendered competency, fathering becomes a gendered incompetency.

I do have qualms with gov’t programmes that encourage that dichotomy, but Ingrid’s right – in terms of real world gains/losses, this is a tough one.

16

Sk 02.07.07 at 6:11 pm

Well, you could ban males, you could ban minorities (your cautious language doesn’t successfully hide what you are talking about-fundamentalist immigrant muslims), or not ban anybody.

Liberalism used to mean the third. Reactionary attitudes mean the second. Progressivism obviously means the first.

Strange how Reactionary attitudes and progressivism are so in tune…

Sk

17

aaron_m 02.07.07 at 6:16 pm

“Since the kids of these ethnic minorities tend to be among the worst-off in society and we can safely assume that they are benefiting from joining a playgroup…”

Just because they get some benefit and are in the worst-off position does not lead to any clear argument for accepting the policy. If the benefit to the children is marginal compared to the no play group scenario while the cost to fathers of an additional barrier to their participation is more significant then the preference for ‘no men’ may be unreasonable.

We certainly do not allow just any kind of preference to be weighed into our reasoning about what is justifiable. If a group of men have a preference for no woman being involved in their medical care should we make an all male staffed hospital?

As to the specific case at hand, this is not about the benefits to children, which are marginal, but about the social isolation of some Muslim mothers. Ingrid’s suggestion that the policy might get at the problem of gender segregation for these women or their children can’t be right for the obvious reason. The problem of social isolation for these women is certainly real, but I am also sceptical to the idea that this problem makes the policy reasonable.

Now on to this

“One additional thing to bear in mind is that for groups for those with babies or very young children, the mother may still be breastfeeding, which may make some women feel particularly uncomfortable with strange men present.”

This is just obnoxious. If you want men to taken on an equal share of child rearing and other work in the home then it is wildly unfair to demand that they make themselves scarce when women are breast feeding. Parents with young children spend time in places were there are other parents with young children, i.e. at the doctor’s office, day care, baby swim, and in many many other social settings (basically nobody else can stand them so they are stuck with each other). Given that under current conditions women are off work with infants much more so than men magistra’s (and Ingrid’s) proposed reason for banning men from pre-playgroups would apply to many other situations and would put men into unfair social isolation. ARGGGGG! Phew, now I feel better.

Having men take on work outside of the paid labour market will require some compromise and will require women to take on some costs in addition to the obvious benefits. Think about that for two seconds please.

18

sam th 02.07.07 at 6:21 pm

eenauk:

[Y]ou can be a good liberal while trying to maintain a fair amount of religion/tradition/identity that is very un-progressive – as long as no one gets hurt.

But then what’s the point? If “good liberal” means just “being liberal”, then sure. But if it’s supposed to mean someone who’s both liberal and good, then you can’t – “un-progressive”, that is to say reactionary, attitudes about gender roles are wrong.

That doesn’t answer Ingrid’s original question – the wrongness of attitudes doesn’t make them go away – but it’s what makes it a hard question.

19

abb1 02.07.07 at 6:25 pm

Is that a fact that this rule is for the benefit of minority cultures, or is this just what your neighbor thinks it’s for? Because, you know, what Magistra says in #1 seems much more plausible.

20

JWP 02.07.07 at 7:08 pm

This sort of thing drives me nuts. As I see it, men have a fundamental human right to participate in the care of their children. Like other rights, it can be lost through properly adjudicated criminal behavior (neglect, abuse, etc.), but for the government to infringe on it simply in order to accommodate the bigotry and prejudice of a small minority of the population is just insane. Is this case really any different from the argument (which I believe actually existed at the time) that U.S. schools shouldn’t be racially integrated because that might harm the children of white parents who would stop sending them to public schools?

21

anonymous 02.07.07 at 7:11 pm

I am fascinated to find that Ingrid’s liberal-egalitarian side pushes her to defend the preservation of traditional gender roles, in the name of protecting the worst off. I understand the logic, but at the same time it goes against my understanding of the stereotypical liberal approach to this case, namely, to put less weight on the value of the cultural circumstances of these women.

Thought #1: The “worst off” are not necessarily poor, patriarchal immigrant families, but the women within the poor patriarchal families who are systematically denied social opportunities via the various pressures their families put on them. Making life easier for worse-off families by giving recognition and institutional support to the practices that make females in those families *worst* off is not necessarily a liberal-egalitarian approach. It isn’t clear to me that in the long run, it truly aids the worst-off.

Thought #2: Although there have been many liberal arguments about primary goods versus capabilities versus whatever, fundamentally liberals should be committed to solving inequalities by giving people money or whatever is closest to money. Making it easier to be a member of a specific culture, because people in that culture tend to be worse off, isn’t how it’s done. Let me give an example. It involves Nazi, but just to be clear I am not comparing traditional family structure to Nazism *at all*.

Imagine a prosperous, diverse country named Ollandhay, where most people are extremely well-off but about ten percent live in poverty. Of these ten percent, a very large number (almost all) are Nazis, and Nazi parents refuse to participate in any group activity unless all the other parents are straight, white Christians. The Nazis are worse-off, yes; by assumption, in Ollandhay the non-straight, non-white, non-Christian people are quite successful and happy; so by providing pre-playgroups that are only for straight white Christians, Ollandhay can improve life for the worst-off at the expense of the better off, which is what liberal principles tell us to do.

What do your intuitions tell you about this thought experiment? My intuition: the exact way we actualize liberal principles in society should not be contigent on the cultural affiliations of the least-advantaged. We should be giving the least-advantaged the resources they need to be able to make life’s choices (how to raise a family, what kinds of people to consort with, what to believe, what hobbies to have) as freely and confidently as the more prosperous. The fact that most of the disadvantaged have begun to make cultural commitments before we decide how to help them doesn’t signify.

Thought #3: I think it would be better to apply the tools we use to think about creationism in the schools, rather than the tools we use to think about tax policy, health policy, education policy, etc. Arranging an educational institution in what to liberal/progressive/rationalist types seems like the “obvious” way is deeply troublesome for religious fundamentalists: it makes them uncomfortable, it challenges their faith, it publicizes a lack of public respect for the scientific implications of extreme fundamentalist beliefs, and it may cause marginal members and families to deconvert.

22

Ingrid Robeyns 02.07.07 at 7:11 pm

aaron_m, rather than voicing your aggression/frustration, reread what I wrote. I wrote that I think that *some* parentgroups can be restricted to women only, but *not* playgroups for 18+ month olds. To my mind, if mothers want to breastfeed their 18+ month olds, that’s fine, but society or individuals should not accomodate this in terms of banning men. But I do think it would be acceptable to have mothergroups for just born babies, where they can get practical advice on breastfeeding, and discuss the enormous assault that a delivery can be on a woman’s body, without men being around. And there should be groups for young fathers too, since they might feel more comfortable talking among themselves. I don’t think that accomodating breastfeeding mothers should have wideranging consequences for fathers as long as women at work have access to a room that can be locked for pumping the milk – as is required by Dutch law.

23

Ingrid Robeyns 02.07.07 at 7:19 pm

abb1: getting low-skilled women from ethnic minorities who have no genuine opportunity to a decent job out of their social isolation, is an official policy goal in the Netherlands. So it’s not unlikely that this is the most important, or at least one very important, motivation behind this ban on fathers. But you are right that it’s the interpretation of my neigbhour (and the other mothers on the pre-playground). So what I should do is to write a letter to the municipality, and ask them for the official reason why fathers are not welcome. To be continued in a few weeks/months.

24

Matt Kuzma 02.07.07 at 7:38 pm

but I really have difficulties convincing myself that this is, all things considered, a wise policy

That’s because it isn’t. Accepting the beliefs of others as valid does not require us to abide by them and it especially does not require us to propagate them. But this is a very legitimate and pervasive kind of dilemma when it comes to the mixing of culture.

As an example, suppose I meet someone on the street. It is part of their culture not to touch strangers, but it’s part of my culture to shake hands when meeting a stranger. What do we do? No matter what, someone’s culture will be violated. As liberals westerners, the default answer seems to be that, to respect the culture of another, you abide by it. Basically, we’ve developed a kind of cultural submission, saying that the cultures of others take precedence.

Of course, much of this comes from the notion of the value of compromise – that it’s better to establish good relations than to adhere to mostly arbitrary cultural standards. The people matter more than the beliefs.

But we should never make the mistake of thinking that our cultural norms and beliefs don’t have value just because we often trade them away for good diplomacy. Giving up a hand-shake is probably worth the price, but giving up the equality of the sexes isn’t, and that really is okay.

25

abb1 02.07.07 at 7:57 pm

This doesn’t seem to be helping much with opportunities to a decent job out of social isolation. I doubt this has anything to do with minorities. I’m sure minorities have their own private clubs with their traditional rules enforced just the way they like it.

26

magistra 02.07.07 at 8:27 pm

What is odd in all this debate is that the concept of having ‘women only’ spaces/groups was once one most associated with feminist thought. The idea was that it was only in such safe places that women would be free to express themselves openly. The ‘progressive’ logic now seems to be that to allow any such groups/events is to discriminate against men, but I am not convinced. (For example, I suspect many women would be unhappy about having mixed groups for post-abortion support. That’s an extreme example, but it shows that there can be no absolutes in such matters).

All I was trying to imply in my earlier post was that there should be some limited provision of groups for women who do not feel comfortable discussing the problems of motherhood in mixed company. (That is one of the main social benefits for mothers of such schemes). As you can see, I was also keen to get more fathers involved in mixed-sex groups. But I don’t in the end see how it is progressive simply to say to immigrant women (who suffer an inherent double disadvantage) that we westerners know best and that their concerns are wrong-headed and not worth listening to.

Incidentally, I was certainly not suggesting that men should be banned from being present wherever there was breastfeeding. My point again was that individual women should be allowed some choice about privacy. Maybe it’s just knowing that most UK parents groups meet in one room, with the only privacy possible being in the toilet.

27

Ingrid Robeyns 02.07.07 at 8:34 pm

Anonymous @ # 21:
this is all nice in principle and theory, when we are in ‘ideal theory’ where we can build society up from scratch, but I think that in reality we are in a much bigger mess.

Let us assume that these women are the worst-off in society, and that the (unspoken) aim of this mothers-only-pregroup is to improve their opportunities and quality of life. Assume further that the best way to do this is to bring these women into contact with other women, that are in a (somewhat) better position in society, since they may help them in various ways. They probably already have plenty of contacts with other worst-off women, but they can not help them to improve their opportunties.
Now, suppose that in a playgroup these worst-off women can meet these other women who are better off, and who hold the contact and information to improving their lives. But the worst-off women will only come to the playgroups if there are no men.

Under all these assumptions, which really do not seem farfetched to me, it is in the interest of the worst-off women that they can attend this sex-seggregated playgroup.

So my intuition would still be that this scheme may well be to the advantage of the worst-off (these women and their children); but not to men who like to attend the playgroup, or to gender-egalitarians and feminists who are taking offence and feel that the wrong types of social norms are promoted (but: they are not the worst-off in society).

I still think, along the lines of reuben and sam th, that *in the real world*, this is really a tough case (under the assumptions spelled out in this comment).

perhaps tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, I’ll see a more satisfying solution…

28

leederick 02.07.07 at 8:55 pm

Why the apologetics?

The problems these women and their children face is caused by Islam. This isn’t going to be solved through the state co-opting a medieval segregationist code to try and mitigate the damage. Gender segregation is wrong and we should not legitimate it.

Ingrid’s point is that this is basically a good idea; but it’s a pity we can’t sign up to it because concerns for progressive heterosexual couples, single fathers, gay men, etc. That’s just feeble. This form of segregation is wrong in principle, irrespective of its impact on these groups, and we should not go along with it. Confronting these ideas will do much more good than colaborating with them.

29

Patrick 02.07.07 at 8:58 pm

Counterfactual- if it could be proven that a large group of white racists existed who would not attend job training programs unless those programs were racially segregated, would this justify the use of government money to fund racially segregated programs?

If not, what is the difference? I can think of only two possibilities. First, we might think that the women in gender segregated cultural groups are victims of their culture, and therefore not to blame for (what are purportedly) their own desires for gender segregation, whereas white racists are not victims and are therefore responsible for their own racist beliefs and the consequences of those beliefs. Second, we might think that racism is morally bad, while gender segregation due to sincere religious commitment is not morally bad.

Would we agree to fund the racially segregated job training program? Or if not, what would our reasoning be?

30

aaron_m 02.07.07 at 9:30 pm

Ingrid, if it is OK to prohibit men from being in just some public places because their presence disturbs some breast feeding women does this mean that it is also OK to prohibit women from breast feeding in just some public places because this disturbs some men?

Sure there can be good reasons to have sex specific social setting, but breast feeding hardly seems to be one of these good reasons.

31

George W 02.07.07 at 11:02 pm

As a dad of small children (ages 2 and 4) who has spent plenty of time at such kiddy-based social activities, I would not be overly put out if *some* such activities were closed to me because of my sex, since there are several legitimate reasons etc etc. But I would start feeling discriminated against if *most or all* such activities were so restricted.

Trying to put myself into the shoes of the other side (ie, women who want women-only kiddy-based social activities), I’d have to think the bar should be set rather higher: I’d feel discriminated against if *no* such activities were women-only, so I’d like *some* of them to be, but it would be unreasonable for me to expect *most or all* to be.

In short, there can be legitimate reasons to discriminate, but the effects of such self-discrimination should be roughly proportional to those reasons — ie, not too intrusive on the rights of everyone else. And (not mentioned much above) this standard should be much tighter when it’s the state doing the discriminating.

32

Sk 02.07.07 at 11:11 pm

Patrick-
You are forgetting the most important difference. In the first case, white males are doing it. In the second case, non-white non-males are doing it.

Sk

33

derrida derider 02.08.07 at 12:08 am

Maybe Holland is densely populated enough that a policy of some groups being women only works – men can conveniently go to other playgroups. But in most countries it would really be unfair – country towns and even sprawling suburbs are likely to have only one such playgroup.

Single fathers do it tough. As well as having all the problems single mothers face, they (and their kids) face real social isolation and distrust precisely because they’re relatively rare. This policy puts an unfair burden on them, as well as sending a truly dreadful signal. I say the gender segregationists can go to hell – their arguments are no better than those of the racial segregationists.

34

vivian 02.08.07 at 1:54 am

if the problem is immigrant and first-generation, traditional, isolated families, where men refuse to do any childcare, schedule some playgroups in the (foreign) languages of those communities – or hold them in conjunction with Dutch classes, or the Netherlands equivalent of citizenship classes for the parents. This provides a useful service, isn’t discriminatory (though only useful to a segment of the population), gets the otherwise-housebound parents out of the house, and, if there turned out to be men in that group, the state won’t be keeping them out.

That would more directly target the women’s isolation, not treat a visible symptom.

35

Kevin 02.08.07 at 2:17 am

Sk: Don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel!
Or, you know, not.

36

Walt 02.08.07 at 3:03 am

You know, sk, I think Ingrid is wrong on this issue, but the drooling moronity of your expression is not helping the discussion. You don’t convince someone by being a fucking idiot.

37

Alison 02.08.07 at 3:24 am

In a large Canadian city, we have a number of playgroups that include new immigrants from very modest countries as well as gay dads, lesbian moms, caregivers from countries at war, grandmothers and grandfathers who only speak Chinese, and many others whom you wouldn’t expect to find together.

They are all trying to raise kids, and that is a universally difficult task.

38

magistra 02.08.07 at 8:37 am

The question isn’t really whether general gender segregation on the grounds of religion is wrong. There are relatively few people of any religion who would support this practice – a lot of Muslims in Britain are obviously working/socialising in mixed-sex groups. The question is how you tackle those pockets where this belief does exist.

It seems to me that there are two liberal approaches. One is to simply condemn gender segregation. The other is to work with the communities/groups involved and try to get them to change their minds. This is a less ‘principled’ approach, but seems to me to have more potential than demonisation. If you want to use the racism comparison, it’s the difference between condemning white people in a particular area as racist and working with them to try and persuade them that the BNP (or other racist parties) are not the answer to their problems. If having women-only groups means you can get poorly educated immigrant women to meet women with different views and hear new ideas, then it seems worth doing that.

39

Peter 02.08.07 at 10:00 am

This is incredibly bad but representative of how sexist has turned 180 degrees.

Any of the reasons they can mention for this are non starters as such facilities are funded to be child centred – not parent or mother centred. Therefore, it’s important to get the CHILD to the playgroup, regardless of who brings the child.

In a nutshell, playgroups are child centred meaning they are there to benefit children – not to benefit parents or mothers(although there are secondary benefits for parents).

40

Mike 02.08.07 at 1:29 pm

The message of this practice is that fathers are inferior parents. If a minority group practices gender discrimination, and would refuse to attend a mixed-gender playgroup, then let them isolate themselves. Discriminating against fathers is wrong. Period.

41

magistra 02.08.07 at 2:46 pm

As a matter of interest, do all those of you who oppose women-only playgroups also oppose men-only childcare groups? There is at least one support groups for fathers in our town. I don’t know if they have a formal ban on mothers attending, but I could understand if they did decide that (e.g. if they thought it would make other particpants uncomfortable). Is that also wrong because it discriminates against women? And if you feel that is acceptable, why are all-women parenting groups not?

42

antoinette 02.08.07 at 3:05 pm

As thenon Dutch mother of two year old twins living in the Netherlands, I am keen to find out what answer you will get from the municipality. There could be norms enacted in this policy that may have little to do with consideration for the alleged cultural problem of women from the minorities. It may have to do with the fact that a sufficiently large number of non minority Dutch women consider the combination of work and care of their kids impossible and therefore opts to stay at home after having kids (the on-off debate in the Dutch media about whether such women should pay back for their high level education subsidised by the state is another interesting challenge for liberals I think). Not meaning to criticize such a choice, but it does reinforce an institutional culture which does have a bent towards female carers and unequal sharing. After all, the percentage of families in which partners both take days off for child care and generally share care equally is about 14 (based on my recollection of an NRC article of about a year ago)? how about feeling the the impact of being part of this minority…

43

aaron_m 02.08.07 at 3:24 pm

Is this all male parents group a state financed project, were the state forbids female participation?

44

cs 02.08.07 at 3:45 pm

I think we could all agree that having some women-only groups would be no problem, if there were plenty of men-allowed groups available too. The dilemma occurs only if there is a limited supply of playgroups.

I would definately fall in the camp of “make playgroups open to all, even if the sexist moms (and their children) lose out”. My reasoning is that the playgroups shouldn’t have to be a tool to solve a social problem. It’s like sending a plumber to fix an electrical problem or something. The playgroup policy should be designed so that all children can attend (in theory) and if there are social problems preventing some children from attending, then we should work on finding solutions to that problem, but not by keeping other kids out of playgroups. That way we have a chance, in the long run, to have the best possible outcome for everyone.

45

Jeffrey 02.08.07 at 4:40 pm

Multiculturalism, feminisim, equality: pick one.

46

elfvillage 02.08.07 at 5:16 pm

I like what #27 said, and think it more or less answers to the concerns of #28. Yes, we want to get rid of gender segregation. But perhaps the most effective way to do that is to get the mothers and their children to the pre-group.

I think of liberalism as the political mentality that aims at the least cruelty for the greatest number. So I think that the liberal policy in this case is the one that requires everyone to conform to what our best practices of inquiry show to be the least cruel overall.

The difficulty is that enforcing conformance is itself often cruel. The short-sighted liberal suffers from the strategic flouting of a well-established liberal policy, gender equality. And the Muslim community faces the reduction of its cultural mores to a colourful private sideline.

Because liberalism is the politicisation of the abhorrence of cruelty, good liberals aren’t happy to see either well-established kindnesses or deep cultural identities trampled. But if liberalism is taken seriously under the definition I offered, it may very well be that these are both sensible prices to pay for the long-run aim of greater inclusion in lesser cruelty.

I suppose liberalism is a hard line to follow in practice, just because our long-term rational commitment to the liberal ideal so often runs into conflict with the immediate response of our hearts to practical situation—the very response which backs up that commitment in the first place: an abhorrence of cruelty.

But provided you can stick to the long-term rational commitment, I don’t suppose the criteria of assessment in this case are difficult—even though the assessment itself very likely will be.

1. What, given what we know of one another so far, is the social arrangement likely to conduce to the most inclusive reduction of cruelty?

2. What policies, given what we know of our current circumstances and possibilities, are likely to help us progress towards that ideal?

I suppose we call the policies which arise from inquiry of the second sort ‘progressive’; and inquiries of the first sort furnish us with the current liberal ideal towards which we hope to move.

So, in this case, assuming that the liberal ideal will include a genuine and pervasive gender equality, which I think is well-established (hence the difficulty of this issue), what’s the best policy for bringing that about? Might it not turn out to be setting gender equality aside in particular areas of social life where doing so strongly conduces to its long-term realisation overall?

47

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.08.07 at 5:36 pm

“The other is to work with the communities/groups involved and try to get them to change their minds. This is a less ‘principled’ approach, but seems to me to have more potential than demonisation. If you want to use the racism comparison, it’s the difference between condemning white people in a particular area as racist and working with them to try and persuade them that the BNP (or other racist parties) are not the answer to their problems. If having women-only groups means you can get poorly educated immigrant women to meet women with different views and hear new ideas, then it seems worth doing that.

Like many ‘solutions’ the bolded section makes great sense in a vacuum, but isn’t so exciting when the proposed solution means discriminating against another group. If you can practically have women-only groups and men-included groups I’d agree with you. But if you can only afford/have enough people for one group, it is clear to me that the policy of excluding men isn’t a good one.

48

magistra 02.08.07 at 5:40 pm

Aaron – I don’t know the details of the fathers’ group I mentioned. I only saw a poster for it up in a GP’s surgery (and didn’t investigate further because it meets in the daytime, so no use for the very committed father of my child). I suspect it had some public funding, because a lot of similar initiatives do, alongside charitable money. Similarly, I don’t know whether there is a formal ban on women attending any of the various fathers’ groups I know do exist.

49

magistra 02.08.07 at 5:55 pm

As for the practicalities of having mixed and single-sex groups, I live in an English town with a population of about 30,000. I would say there are probably at least 20-30 toddler groups, playgroups and pre-school groups in the town. A couple of single-sex ones therefore wouldn’t cause major problems. Given that most immigrants (at least in the UK) live in urban areas of this size or above, I suspect you could get some kind of equitable provision possible.

50

Patrick 02.08.07 at 6:08 pm

I am somewhat skeptical of the claim that getting women and their children into playgroups even if those playgroups are gender segregated will somehow work to reduce gender segregation in the long term.

Too many other possibilities seem more likely. Religiously balkinized playgroups, for one.

51

dutchmarbel 02.08.07 at 9:48 pm

What part of the Netherlands do you live?

In Haarlem most of the play groups I know are run by volonteers, in a ‘stichting’ (non-profit organisation). The board usually consists of volonteer parents who define the rules and who employ the care-takers. Care-takers ought to be qualified.

I’ve been in one of those boards for a few years and contact with the commune was minimal and only had to do with their educational policies. We rented from the commune and got some subsidies because we fitted in their policies but all administration and human resources was for the board. As were the rules, times, schedules, buying furniture, paying taxes & insurance, educating the care-takers, etc. The payment we asked from parents was the income, together with the subsidie, and we just had to make sure we had enough paying kids to balance finances.

Also people here seem to confuse play-group with daycare. Though officially kids in the Netherlands are not oblidged to go to school till they are 5, 99% go as from their first birthday. Play-groups are intended to have kids play a few hours (usually three) with other kids. It is not day-care and is not supposed to support working parents. Day-care does that, and is available all working hours.

In the play groups I know from own experience (I live in Haarlem), as well as the day care centre and primary schools, there is no different treatment due to gender. If assistence was needed, or a volonteer, they were as happy with a guy as with a women. In practise that means it is still mostly women, but more and more men take part – thanks to the Dutch preference for the 4-day working week I think.

52

dutchmarbel 02.08.07 at 9:50 pm

They go as from their fourth birtday of course… dumb mistake ;)

53

e-tat 02.09.07 at 1:55 am

As of comment 53, there’s been nothing that considers the effect of segregation on children.

I’m left wondering who these play-groups are for. The parents?

As someone said earlier, the parents already have socially segregated places to hang out. So the real issue is hidden: it’s about who controls the development of children. Parents and only parents? If so, abolish publicly-supported play groups. And schools, while you’re at it.

If, however, the state has a mandate for developing citizens, it has an enormous latitude for stipulating acceptable behaviour. One way it does this now is by banning unruly children from school. Are unruly children disproportionately from disadvantaged families? Yes. Should government make adjustments to accommodate those children? Let me rephrase that. Does government make adjustments to accommodate those children? No.

The state has great latitude – and some authority – to define and regulate discrepant behaviour. This would apply to parents as well as children. If the state defines ‘well-behaved’ in a particular way, woe betide anyone (child, adult, racist, working-class-hero) who fails to abide.

What some underclasses in poor-to-middling areas of England are thinking is that the language of coercion is used against some underclasses but not others. The police aren’t using softly-softly tactics in Handsworth, whereas they are in Sparkbrook. This reinforces some longstanding animosities.

To recap, there is an issue of who has a controlling interest in children, and how that control is shared. There is also an issue of consistency, which is what most of the debate here has focussed on.

54

Helen 02.09.07 at 2:29 am

This is incredibly bad but representative of how sexist has turned 180 degrees.

and

“make playgroups open to all, even if the sexist moms (and their children) lose out”.

(Two different commenters)

I don’t know whether, in the haste to make their ideological point, these two commenters are doing so in bad faith or simply have not paid attention. The mothers in question are not the “sexist” problem. The problem as I understand it is that they are first-generation immigrants in a culture that forbids them to mix with men (as opposed to them not wanting to). In other words, they are the objects of the strictures of a patriarchal culture. To denigrate them for being “sexist” while they continue to be the targets of sexism is to penalise them for being penalised.

None of the commenters here have asserted that to allow them to have women-only groups is some kind of ideal solution, rather the least-worst solution to give their kids the opportunity to have a playgroup in this very imperfect situation.

There’s a limited amount you can do to change the lives of first-generation immigrants because the cultural / mental strictures are very much in place. But that’s very much not the case for later generations, despite the claims of the anti-immigration hysteria that’s so rife today.

55

Patrick 02.09.07 at 4:43 am

Helen- imagine that 20 years go by, and things haven’t changed socially for muslim women. Do you change the policy?

56

Kate 02.09.07 at 5:29 am

I think this is horrible. What about children who want their fathers to come with them–they have to have less time with their fathers because some other people are scared of men? If the women are so offended, they can stand around in a circle with their backs turned. Or they can go home.

The worst-off women aren’t going to learn anything from having the playgroup adapt to their standards. Their kids will benefit from spending time with others more in tune with the general cultural norm of the country they’re going to grow up in.

57

Helen 02.09.07 at 11:32 am

Helen- imagine that 20 years go by, and things haven’t changed socially for muslim women. Do you change the policy?

That doesn’t happen in practice, as you know. The next generation may miss out on a few mixed-sex playgroups, but they will be in compulsory education soon enough. (There are single sex schools, sure, but the most disadvantaged won’t have access to them.) The Greek Italian and Vietnamese gen-Ys I ride the train with every day bear scant resemblance to their more traditional grandparents.

Remember Kate, we’re talking about some least-worst solution, not a good solution. My take on the least-worst solution would be to agree for the suggestion to have a few women-only groups for women who seriously think they haven’t a choice and take the mixed groups as the default.

58

etat 02.09.07 at 12:07 pm

I think this is horrible. What about children who want their fathers to come with them—they have to have less time with their fathers because some other people are scared of men?

Thanks, Kate. Not necessarily scared of men, but as Helen just indicated, segregation of this sort makes children conform to the strictures of a patriarchy that mainstream social groups have struggled to reform for decades. It is the children who are done the greatest disservice in these schemes.

The children of extremely conservative social groups may come from wealthy backgrounds – in which case their isolation can be maintained. But children from poorer backgrounds will be reliant on public services, and their isolation cannot be maintained. Public support comes with obligations.

The least-worst solution includes obliging everyone to work toward commonly agreed standards. This applies to the white supremacist as well as the patriarchal immigrant. Immigrants (myself included) should be aware that the host nation expects a broad conformity, while nativist/supremacist types should be aware that society is always in flux, and that they too will have to adapt.

59

Ingrid Robeyns 02.09.07 at 12:30 pm

DutchMarbel @ #52: the mothers-only-rule does not apply to the playgroup itself, but only to something for younger children, and it only last one hour, once a week. I’ve called this a “pre-playgroup” since my neighbour had no term for it, and she described it as such. However, I’ve found information about this mothers-only group on the web, and it says explicitely that it consists of “a group activities for all the mothers and kids, followed by supervised play for the kids, and tea for the mothers, and time to talk about issues of caring, raising, educating their kids.” So it doesn’t seem to be serving only goals regarding children, but tries to reach parents – well, mothers. I called 4 numbers to get more information, but no-one picks up the phone. I will post more information when I have it all together.

You are right, though, to point out that there also exist many playgroups run by other kind of organisations than those (entirely funded by) the municipality – thanks for that correction.

60

Patrick 02.09.07 at 3:03 pm

Helen- while your conviction that the rights of women in traditional muslim families will improve in the next generation is admirably optimistic, I am not convinced that making gender segregation a more financially viable and socially accepted phenomenon will assist this process rather than retard it.

61

Helen 02.09.07 at 11:21 pm

I am not convinced that making gender segregation a more financially viable and socially accepted phenomenon will assist this process rather than retard it.

It’s not. It’s keeping it as a less-preferred minority option. If a woman fears repercussions at home if she goes to a mixed group, that puts her in the same bucket (approximately) as rape or incest victims that might choose a female only support group because it’s simply all they can do.

Here in Australia, with every new class of immigrants, there has been a fresh moral panic of “they’ll never work here!!” followed by a couple of generations, whereupon the children/grandchildren become perfectly comfortable in society, and – unfortunately – often join the chorus against the latest newcomers. Historica amnesia is encouraged here.

62

Sam 02.10.07 at 12:59 am

Gee, too bad. Last I heard, Holland was a secular state. If there are religious reasons that these women don’t want to co-mingle with men, then their mosques should provide these playtimes. It is not the government’s place to DISCRIMINATE WITH TAXPAYERS $$$.

As for the women who needed a “safe space,” I’m sorry, but then there should ahve been some women’s center to provide that space. They can’t go their whole lives avoiding 1/2 the population.

63

RS 02.10.07 at 1:22 am

“Apparently the justification is that otherwise mothers from certain ethnic minorities, where gender segregation is an important issue, would not attend with their children.”

As several people have pointed out in the comments, gender segregation may be desired/implemented for several reasons. The “apparently” in the original post implies that the justification given has not been confirmed but is complete hearsay. Also, is it really a fact that the mothers from ethnic minorities (i.e. Muslims) would NOT attend or is that merely conjecture? It would be helpful if such things are clarified.

64

Mark H. 02.10.07 at 1:25 am

Helen, unlike in Australia, many of the Muslims in the Netherlands are now second and third generation, and they are not integrating into Dutch society–culturally or economically–but rather are reasserting their religious and cultural identities.

Also, you seem to take the process of cultural assimilition for granted. Yet you forget that, in Australia as in the United States, it has historically occurred in times when the majority hardly had the namby-pamby, let’s change our culture to embrace theirs attitidue which you demonstrate. On the contrary, the majority imposed its values on immigrants, thereby achieving the relative cultural homogeneity we enjoy in the former English-speaking colonies. Historica amnesia indeed.

65

Mark H. 02.10.07 at 1:27 am

Having said that Helen, I am sure you will gladly give up your right to vote in the event Muslim men become offended by your female presence at election facilities. Correct?

66

dutchmarbel 02.10.07 at 1:32 am

Ingrid@60: If it is only one hour per week I think it is *more* aimed at the women than the kids, especially if the kids intended are younger than two.

If it is mainly for the women, to socialize and discuss childraising issues, it makes more sense to keep it strictly for women. I would not have a problem with seggragation in that context – but I would hope that they would speak Dutch. A friend of mine tried to start something like that informally, in Amsterdam, because she is a single mom with only one child. Unfortunately the mothers coming were mostly from *one* ethnic group and they spoke their own language, which made it impossible for her to join in.

67

Zeke 02.10.07 at 2:33 am

The double speak by so called feminists on this discussion is astounding.

It seems that the point being made over and over here is that gender roles, gender biases and gender discrimination are OK as long as:

1) No woman is adversely affected.
2) Only men are adversely affected.
3) No man is given special privilege.
4) Only women are given special privilege.

I am a lifelong feminist and I can tell you that NONE of these four exceptions are compatible with true feminist doctrine. If you want to call yourself a “womanist” that’s fine but please don’t call yourself a feminist and proceed to endorse or excuse gender biases and gender discrimination.

And before anyone attacks me let me say that I am a gay, single, full-time father of two children. I KNOW what orientation AND gender discrimination feels like. I experience it EVERY day from men AND women and from private AND public institutions.

If you think being a single mom is the most difficult job in the world, just try being a single dad!

68

Pete 02.10.07 at 5:33 am

I’m not saying this story isn’t true, but the lack of a supporting link and the use of the phrase “Apparently the justification is that…” makes me wish for more detail.

Is it “apparent” that this is the one and only reason behind policy or is it “actually” the one and only reason behind the policy?

69

magistra 02.10.07 at 8:42 am

I was not trying to argue simply that men should be discriminated against. My argument was that while most playgroups/parenting groups should be mixed, it made sense to have one or two which were women-only and that it *also* made sense to have one or two that were men-only. If there are fathers’ groups that want to exclude women specifically (because that would muck up the group dynamics or deter men from talking freely) that is a form of positive discrimination that would seem reasonable to me.

70

Ingrid Robeyns 02.10.07 at 9:24 am

rs @ 64 and Pete @ 69: yes, I take your point that we don’t know what the real reason(s) behind this policy is. Magistra’s very first comment already suggested that it may be an entirely different motivation, than those perceived by some of the mothers (whether or not it is the real reason).
On the other hand, independent of what the precise reason is, citizens will draw their own conclusions from this gender-seggregation, and these perceptions may have real effects (such as lending support to patriarchal family organisations) that are discussed in many of the comments.

71

dutchmarbel 02.10.07 at 10:20 am

Zeke@68: Last week I read about two young men who made it a habit to rob gay men. The police wanted to solve the case, and went on the local tv-channel to ask for support. They specifically asked for people to rapport if they were attacked.

Since they realized there might be a threshold in making a statement, they emphasized that they had assigned a special group of gay policemen they could make the statement to.

Am I anti-gay if I think it is a good thing to ‘discriminate’ in this case? If they have special female police officers for rape victims, is that contrary to feminist doctrine?

72

aaron_m 02.10.07 at 12:08 pm

Dutchmarbel

Zeke actually made an effort to be very specific about the kind of gender segregating policies he was objecting to. Specifically he objects to the idea that a policy can be justified when it has the following characteristics.

1)No woman is adversely affected.
2)Only men are adversely affected.
3)No man is given special privilege.
4)Only women are given special privilege.

Your example is obviously not a parallel to what Zeke has in mind. Straight police or male police are not adversely affected by the policies you describe in any morally significant way (the all important condition 2). In fact the failure of your comparison is so plain I have to wonder if you actually paused at all to reflect over Zeke’s position.

73

rhinoman 02.10.07 at 12:12 pm

Maybe I’m being less than enlightened here, but if people don’t like the mores of the Netherlands, why did they move there? I personally find it a bit irritating when families immigrate to a new country to take advantage of the benefits that country has to offer, and then get irritated when things are different. I wouldn’t move to Saudi Arabia and expect them to change their behavior to suit my ways. Why is the converse acceptable?

74

Susan 02.10.07 at 1:11 pm

Ridiculous. You are curtailing the (perfectly reasonable)rights of fathers to attend playgroups because some mothers subscribe to an antiquated belief that they should not mingle-or be in the same room with-married men? Huh? That is their problem, not the problem of the fathers of any children who want to exercise their right to be with their child.

If Muslims want to believe in this silly stuff; fine. But to penalize someone else because of it is beyond silly.

75

dutchmarbel 02.10.07 at 1:34 pm

aaron_m@73; the next sentence in Zeke’s post was “I am a lifelong feminist and I can tell you that NONE of these four exceptions are compatible with true feminist doctrine.”.
My point is that sometimes the benefits of making a difference outweight the disadvantages.

76

e-tat 02.10.07 at 1:58 pm

Susan@76: Agreed. Especially when the penalties directly affect children who would miss the attention of, playtime with male adults (regardless of whether they are the ‘fathers’ or not).

77

aaron_m 02.10.07 at 3:20 pm

Dutchmarbel

“My point is that sometimes the benefits of making a difference outweight the disadvantages.”

Nonsense!

You advance an idiotically ungenerous reading of Zeke’s post to make it seem like he would be committed to the view that male police officers are discriminated against when only female police officers are used to interview female rape victims.

Furthermore, you insinuate that the examples you give are some how related to the issue that Zeke was addressing, the issue being when one sex is denied equal access to a public or private resource because of their gender. The comparison you make does not hold at all.

78

Gene 02.10.07 at 4:06 pm

To approach the issue from a strictly feminist point of view seems to be blind to the practical reality of the 21st century. Fundamentalist Islam is only going to expand at greater and greater rates in the coming years. This expansion could be peaceful if Western Europe figures out ways to co-exist now. I live in the US. For years, fundamentalist Chrisitans were marginalized, pushed outside of the mainstream and there was a hope that they would just eventually adapt. What happened? The Christians were driven underground and they became hermetic. Their numbers and their passions increased under the radar of the old guard and now they’re in power. And they’re really, really enjoying this power.

79

zarzur 02.10.07 at 4:23 pm

It would, potentially, be possible for the state to attack the problem of cultural resistance from the other end, by (1) making attendance at mixed-gender play groups compulsory; (2) setting the penalties for non-attendance high enough to overcome Muslim cultural objections; and (3) enforcing those penalties vigorously and unapologetically. This strategy would encounter its own difficulties; aside from the obvious political objections, it would require a much greater bureaucratic coordination and commitment of state resources than establishing segregated play groups. Also, if “play group refusers” are imprisoned, the short-term damage to their children and society might outweigh the short-term damage that would result from gender segregation. As long as an alternative strategy is available, though, gender-segregated play groups aren’t “necessary;” they’re simply the path of least resistance.

80

magistra 02.10.07 at 4:55 pm

Can those who are arguing that *all* playgroups must be mixed fathers and mothers, please tell me how they will encourage immigrant women to abandon gender segregation and be willing to go along to such mixed groups? (I presume that this seen as desirable to everyone, to improve social integration and to benefit their children. I would prefer women to go to such groups if they are happy to do so). A lot of the responses that have come along so far seem to amount to telling immigrant women:

1) gender segregation is bad

2) they are bad people for practicing/supporting it

3) their religion is bad

4) they must obey the social norms of their new country

5) otherwise they should go back where they came from

It seems to me however satisfying this is as a series of liberal principles, it isn’t particularly likely to get these women to change their mind. In fact it’s more likely to increase such groups’ social isolation. Is there any more constructive response that anyone can suggest? (I know there was mention of combining childcare with language classes.)

81

zarzur 02.10.07 at 5:38 pm

“Is there any more constructive response that anyone can suggest?”

Stop using persuasion on Muslim women, and start using coercion against Muslim men.

82

anon 02.10.07 at 7:48 pm

Zeke commented that it is not true feminism to say that sex discrimination is acceptable as long as:

“1)No woman is adversely affected.
2)Only men are adversely affected.
3)No man is given special privilege.
4)Only women are given special privilege.”

I always thought that was true feminism, and that that was why people are now reluctant to call themselves feminists in public.

It is off the topic of this thread, but can anyone show that the actions of feminists in recent years prove otherwise?

83

gussie 02.10.07 at 8:41 pm

magistra:

“…please tell me how they will encourage immigrant women to abandon gender segregation and be willing to go along to such mixed groups?”

They don’t. They won’t. This is unfortunate, but doesn’t rise to the level of requiring discriminatory policy changes.

If a certain population refused to join groups with pro-social and wholly-adventageous results because they don’t mix with, say, certain other races or ethnicities, would you recommend that there be groups in which those races/ethniticies aren’t permitted?

If whites, for example, won’t send kids to public schools with blacks, should there be white-only public schools, if we believe the children would learn -less- racism at white-only public schools than white-only private schools? These white-only public schools would improve social integration, and be benefitial compared to the only realistic alternative, but still … do we adopt them?

Of course, that’s a loaded analogy. But less loaded … what about Christian fundamentalists, who won’t send kids to public after-school programs with secular kids? Should we have Christian-fundamentist-only after-school programs, in order to help (and ‘mainstream’) those kids? Or do we demands those families find their own programs, or none at all? How patronizing is our desire to ‘mainstream’ them, and are we indulging in an offensive behavior by offering these single-ethos-only programs?

84

Christian in NYC 02.10.07 at 8:51 pm

This playground policy fails the “common sense” test. I cannot understand why the larger society, whatever that society, must necessarily bend over backwards to accommodate immigrant communities who decide not to make an effort to integrate themselves into the society that they emigrated to. Most immigrants, wherever they are, are not refugees. They come to a country voluntarily. So if you come to a largely Christian/secular country and want to be completely isolated from that largely Christian/secular society, like the Amish or Hasids or fundamentalist Muslim groups, then fine — just don’t expect the larger society to make all sorts of special conditions to aid and abet your isolation. Common sense dictates that all people should be treated equally, with fairness, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sex, etc. This policy isn’t it.

85

Natan 02.10.07 at 8:58 pm

I would not allow my daughter to attend a playgroup where fathers are excluded. It’s bad enough that the media portrays fathers as incompetent parents who don’t understand children — there’s no need to reinforce that by excluding fathers who want to parent their own children.

This is akin to when my daughter and I are out and women I know say, “Oh, are you babysitting today?” No, I am damn well not babysitting. This is my daughter, and I am her father, and I do not babysit my own child.

The idea that we should reinforce the prejudice that fathers are not equal parents because someone has that prejudice is ridiculous! Why not exclude blacks from playing because someone is from 1980s South Africa? Why not exclude people of one religion because someone else might take offense?

It’s just reinforcing prejudice, and I wouldn’t participate in that.

86

magistra 02.10.07 at 9:20 pm

To all the angry fathers out there. Is the problem primarily the possible existence of a few mother-only playgroups or is it more that supposedly mixed-sex playgroups are in fact largely dominated by mothers and perhaps not very welcoming to fathers? If so, are there practical ways that they come be more welcoming to fathers? How important to you is the principle of having no single-sex playgroups as opposed to the practice of having the vast majority of playgroups more welcoming to men?

87

Eric 02.10.07 at 9:36 pm

As a male single parent of now grown children, I often encountered prejudice the effect of which was to reduce the options available to my children. It made me mad then and it makes me angry now, even for something as remote as European play groups. The answer to how this should be addressed is pretty much the same as that given when a traditional male activity excludes women – get over it guys and make room. It is right in both places.

88

Pat 02.10.07 at 9:44 pm

Let me try to take this–somewhat–out of the abstract.

Other than the fact that this is in the Netherlands, not the US, I’ve faced it. 14.5 years ago, after we had our first child, I–the father–stayed home with the kids, and stopped being a full-time employee. Naturally, as our sons got older, we wanted to get them out and have the opportunity to play with other kids (I was also eager to have some more contact with adult human beings–something I’ve heard mothers of small kids express in the same terms). I happen to have a gender neutral first name, and in some email contacts, people (reasonably) assumed I was female. As time went on, I made a point of making it clear that I wasn’t….

I showed up to gatherings in parks and was almost always the only male present. Eventually, I made contact with a couple other fathers in the same situation. We compared notes.

We’re the smaller minority (still). We experience all kinds of hostility and suspicion (try being a male alone with a shrieking two year old who is furious about something and is screaming for his mommy, walking out of a mall. No one bats an eye at a mother; security visits with a father, after several people give you the evil eye…). One of us had a playgroup simply up and move. They changed place, day, and didn’t even tell him. They didn’t want a man there. From my own experience and observation, they guy was pretty mild and inoffensive, and vociferously feminist. Others got invited out of groups they approached. I simply got… ignored. Efforts to simply have the most superficial social contact, focused on the kids, were snubbed.

The real losers were the kids. We adults were offended, but we had other contacts and friends; the kids were being excluded–because their parent who was around by day was male.

Eventually, we organized our own playgroup and met regularly. But we got all kinds of strange for that, too. People asking if we were all giving mom the day off (growl). Women who were at a park with their kids packing up and leaving. One who told us she thought it was incredibly rude and hostile of us to have a group of men-only as a playgroup (as if we were the ones who’d been excluding).

I’ve sympathy for the problem that is being addressed. It’s not bogus. But the truth is that if women sincerely want to encourage the idea that parents are equal and ought to be equally able to serve all needs (other than birthing and nursing…), then they need to be willing to support that–actively, and in the vast majority of cases and situations.

There’s a really bitter irony when you hear women bitch about their husbands not carrying their share, and they turn around and refuse to include men who are carrying the same load that they are in their social circle, and exclude the kids of those men. Message sent.

I’m perfectly fine with there being places where the genders can be apart. But they should be relatively rare and distinct.

Note that in one case, kids and adults are being actively excluded and in the other, adults are making a choice, rooted in their faith (a choice) to exclude themselves. One’s a choice that respects the individuals, one’s not.

Again, I have no problem with there being some–though I’d want them to be a distinct minority–groups that are single gender parent groups. But it’s not my preference, and if any of the men involved in the group I participated in had had the option, we’d have been in mixed groups. We were all interested in our kids growing up with the clear idea that it was ok for it to be mommy OR daddy that did various things. Sadly, we had to gather from all over San Diego County to provide a group for men raising kids, because the women (many of them, I’m certain, who saw themselves as feminist) didn’t apparently want that. Not in practice.

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Christopher Fahey 02.10.07 at 9:57 pm

I don’t see the dilemma. It’s wrong to discriminate based on sex. Minorities who are averse to mixed-sex gatherings must either change their beleifs or live in isolation of mainstream culture. If anything, this policy makes the taboo on mixed-sex gatherings into law. Why not go all the way and forbid women from driving cars or having jobs in order to accommodate gender-sensitive cultural taboos? Good greif, where is your common sense?

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gussie 02.10.07 at 10:41 pm

The problem isn’t the existence of mother-only playgroups, any more than the problem is a few white-only or fundamentalist-only playgroups (publicly funded, that is). The problem is the public discrimination against certain types of families: single-father, gay male couples, and straight couples in which primarily the father engages in this sort of childcare.

We simply can’t support public initiatives which cater to religious beliefs that exclude certain groups. It’s a pity, because these mother-only playgroups might do a great deal of good: but they’re unacceptable.

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JimS 02.10.07 at 11:15 pm

I recall an old saying–”your right to punch me in the nose ends where my nose begins.” In this context, a religious group’s right to practice their religion in a public setting ends (or should end) where my right to practice my beliefs ends. In this case, the children of rational and reasonable people may be deprived of opportunity so others can impose their religious practices. People who expect religious toleration have to understand that they must give as well as receive this tolerance. If they can’t do so, they aren’t ready for living in western society. This isn’t limited to Muslims, but applies to fundamentalists of all stripes. Rational thought does not have to bend to accommodate the irrational.

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Fred 02.11.07 at 12:28 am

Maybe this has been mentioned elsewhere, but there are clearly two different aims being discussed here — the primary purposes of child play groups, which are to benefit (in various ways) children and parents, help parents develop parenting skills, help children learn to socialize, etc. — and the rather separate goal of socializing otherwise isolated women from sexually segregated cultures. Why is it necessary to use the play groups to accomplish the second goal? If this is the aim, let it be confronted directly, by developing or supporting women’s groups which such women could attend and perhaps benefit from. While children’s play groups might be used to accomplish this laudable goal vis-a-vis the socially isolated women, these groups have a more primary purpose, which is to serve the children and their parents. They should not be coopted as opportunistic vehicles for other purposes, however desirable.

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Moz 02.11.07 at 12:55 am

How about an utilitarian/economic analysis: the benefit of the policy is that the children at single-parent-sex playgroups grow up better integrated and are less likely to become criminals as a result (feel free to read “socially maladjusted citizens” if that makes you happier). The cost is that a different group that is already severely discriminated against has their discrimination reinforced. The question is: does the benefit outweigh the cost?

To me, men-as-primary-caregivers is something we want to encourage, and the discrimination they face is substantial. There are, however, very few of them (this is part of the problem), and they are not very visible (another part of the problem).

Unfortunately there seem to be a lot of sexist immigrants, which means that even a minor benefit to society on a per-head basis outweighs quite a lot of cost per head to the men as primary caregivers group.

I expect that feminists who are mostly concerned with women will favour the women-only preschool, while equalitarian feminists will favour integration. But both sorts will hopefully be open to argument. Anyone not counts as a bigot in my book (try looking up what the word means if you find that offensive).

No, I don’t have an answer. I’m someone who intends never to have children and can’t really “put myself in the shoes” of someone who does. Sorry.

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Nur Jemal 02.11.07 at 2:50 am

Ok, alot is going through my mind after reading the original post and following comments.

1. What is the % of the population on social services in this country that is muslim? It must be a pretty high percentage for the gov’t to think that doing this would be beneficial!
…My conclusion is that the Social Serivces in that country is having these segreated play groups SPECIFICALLY to TARGET the muslim/”ethnic minority” population….not simply to “incorporate them” into the playgroups….
What ethnicity are these muslims? It sounds very much to me like they are from Arabic culture….

2.If in fact the Gov’t there can succeed in actually getting these women to attend the playgroups it will be a hudge milestone. Typically in these countries where they are from, the idea of even reading a book to your child is totally foreign; it simply isn’t done. There is no such thing as playgroups in traditional cultures in places like the gulf; I imagine that North Africa isn’t much different, with the possible exception of Egypt…

3.I am sure that this country wants to try and assimilate these groups into their society, but it has to be done step-by-step, slowly introducing them to the cultural norms. The void between their culture and the Western state of mind regarding so many facets of life is hudge; Kudos to the Gov’t there for the bold move of trying to help these women make the transition. If they can change the women, they can change the entire family units…

4. It seems that most posters here really have no idea what these immigrant muslim families’ values are like. Unless you really have a grasp of what Arabic and Muslim culture truly is, you have no business commenting on the topic.

5.Many of the comments are, sadly, racist and Western/Imperialistically-tainted versions of Feminism! There are many many many versions of Feminism…YOUR REALITY is not the only one that is CORRECT!
Peace-

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Nur Jemal 02.11.07 at 3:18 am

Oh one more thing, btw-
My husband was the primary caregiver to our 2, then 3 children the entire 2 years we lived abroad in the Gulf (Qatar), while I worked. We are American, muslim converts. The criticism, suspicion, and negative energy we all had to endure from this was unbelievable. Arabic society has deep-seated cultural norms regarding the roles of men and women, and we were defying most of them!

I am not a scholar of Islam so please forgive me for any inaccuracies I may communicate regarding this information. Please know they are my inaccuracies, not my religion’s! Ok, so Islamically speaking, a woman is free to work, it’s her choice, but if she does all the money she makes is for her (her own “mad-money” or “stash” so to speak), it should not be used to support the family because that is the man’s primary role.

Culturally speaking, Arabic culture puts heavy heavy shame on any man that stays home with the kids and only his wife is working. In their minds he is using her, he’s up to no good, etc. There is nothing “virtuous” that he could possibly be doing, especially if you employ a housemaid (which I did, she was my newborn baby’s Nanny!) if you get my drift! This culture absolutely positively cannot see the issue any other way…

My husband could not go to my son’s school for any reason, even though he was the children’s primary care giver because I was at work. He was under no circumstances allowed to enter the front gate of that school, let alone go inside the school. The principal would call me at work so she wouldn’t have to talk to him on the phone!

You have to understand that these may be women that have never, ever shown their faces to any man that is not in their immediate family….And now they may be living in this new Western country, with their faces exposed. What an enormous change, let alone having to show their breasts while nursing their baby in a play group.

That is how extreme this “ethnic minority’s” culture can be….

So I totally know from first-hand experience what it’s like to have a Mr.Mom in an unfriendly environment.

If the discussion was purely “should men not be included in playgroups”, I would be totally like “of course they should, segregated playgroups are an unfair and ridiculous idea!”…

But I discerned that is not really what is on the table…It seems clear to me that the purpose of this 1x/week segregated offering of a playgroup was an attempt by your country’s gov’t to assimilate the “ethnic minority” muslim women into the mainstream culture… not simply to offer a playgroup to the general Western public, and oh yeah it’s no men allowed.

Let me know if more clarification is needed..
Peace-

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Ingrid Robeyns 02.11.07 at 6:57 am

nur jemal,

The Dutch statistics make the difference between “western” and “non-western” minorities (the word used in the Netherlands is ‘allochtonen’, which means something like people from foreign origin). 10% of the population are non-western minorities, of which 5.7% are muslims – but in the large cities, including the one where I live, this is around 10%.
Of these 10%, the two largest ethnic groups are Maroccan and Turkish. But they represent a significant larger share of the poor, low-skilled, and unemployed (of course, there are also some extremely ‘succesful’ members of ethnic minorities, but they are not the target-groups of the local public policies).

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Dave_D 02.12.07 at 5:25 pm

Who cares anyway? The one group that we can always discriminate against is men in general and white men in particular. There may be 5 female only fitness centers in town but let one woman want to use the gym that the men go to and now the whole establishment and it’s clientele must accommodate her or the feds will make your life miserable. Why should this be different?

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Jay in California 02.12.07 at 6:50 pm

As a American and a Conservative, this whole issue wants to make me laugh.

Why?

Well, I was not working when my son was 2-3 so I was the one who took him to his play groups. Rather then the town being in charge of the play group, it was a local PRIVATE (ie not run by city) organization/mothers club that handled it. The fact that I was the only father who was a regular in the group made no difference to any of the moms in the group.

This whole mess in the NL is a great example of what happens when you let your government handle something that parents should handle for themselves.

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