Monday, January 19, 2004

The Other Dr. Laura

Women bloggers are going a little bonkers over the Caitlin Flanagan's review of Dr. Laura's new book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. Read Maud Newton and Joanne Jacobs for a quick summary of the debate.

The only time I listen to talk radio is when I borrow my parent's car. Sean Hannity blathers on as soon as I turn the ignition. I have only heard Dr. Laura once or twice during those occasions. I'm not going to defend Dr. Laura because I have no clue what she's about. But I will defend Flanagan, whose book reviews in Atlantic Monthly are always balanced and interesting.

Flanagan briefly pans Dr. Laura's new book, but does find that there is some good in her radio message if one isn't too troubled by Dr. Laura's personal hypocrisies (nude photos) or offensive language. I particularly liked Flanagan's defense of Dr. Laura's interest in minimizing the damage of divorce.

Flanagan writes,

In a nutshell, Dr. Laura believes that many of the aspects of adult life that I had always considered complicated and messy and finely nuanced are in fact simple and clear-cut; that life ought to be neatly fitted around duty and responsibility rather than around the pursuit of that elusive old dog, happiness. This is what makes her the most compelling advocate for children I have thus far encountered, because the well-being of children often depends upon the commitment and obligation of the adults who created them. If you want to know whether the divorce culture has been a disaster for children, tune in to the Dr. Laura show one day. The mainstream media have a cheery name for families rent asunder and then patched together by divorce and remarriage: they are "blended families." But the day-to-day reality of what such blending wreaks upon children is often harsh. The number of children who are being shuttled back and forth between households, and the heartrending problems that this engenders in their lives, is a sin. Every June, Dr. Laura fields multiple calls having to do with transporting reluctant children across vast distances so that court-ordered visitation agreements can be honored. Whereas an article in Parents magazine or the relentlessly upbeat family-life columns in Time might list some mild and generally useless tips for dealing with such a situation (have the child bring along a "transitional object," plan regular phone calls home, and so forth), Laura throws out the whole premise. What in the world are the parents doing living so far away from each other? One of them needs to pick up stakes and move. "I can't do that," the caller always says. "Yes, you can," Laura always replies, and when you think about it, she's right.

I think that what enrages some women about Caitlin's review is that she has stepped into conservative territory -- family values. Conservatives own this issue. Family and children are off limits for liberals, unless the families and children are poor.

UPDATE: This quote, which Instapundit loved, really pissed off the women bloggers. I took this discussion of wifely duties as a really minor point in the larger article, but others clearly didn't.

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