Erick Erickson and Women

by Benjamin Studebaker

Erick Erickson is editor-in-chief of, a conservative blogging website. The other day, Erickson went on FOX, where had a rather controversial reaction to the recent statistic that  shows that 40% of mothers are now the highest earners in their respective households in the United States. He said this:

When you look at biology–when you look at the natural world–the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.

Predictably, this upset lots of people. There have been lots of very angry people saying lots of angry things about Erickson. In response to this, Erickson added to his argument, with this section being most instructive:

Many feminist and emo lefties have their panties in a wad over my statements in the past 24 hours about families. I said, in a statement reflecting the view of three quarters of those surveyed in a Pew Research Center poll, that more women being the primary or sole breadwinners in families is harmful to raising children. This result came from a  survey that found“nearly four in 10 families with children under the age of 18 are now headed by women who are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families.”

I also noted that the left, which tells us all the time we’re just another animal in the animal kingdom, is rather anti-science when it comes to this. In many, many animal species, the male and female of the species play complementary roles, with the male dominant in strength and protection and the female dominant in nurture. It’s the female who tames the male beast. One notable exception is the lion, where the male lion looks flashy but behaves mostly like a lazy beta-male MSNBC producer.

I’ll look past the unnecessarily derisive “panties in a wad” line. I am also unfamiliar with the phenomenon of the “emo lefty”, whatever that is, but let’s let that be, too. I’ve looked at a lot of the commentary on it, and much of it just mocks Erickson, which is fine, but it only furthers the view that Erickson’s view is persecuted, that the left cannot refute it on its merits. The left can easily refute it on its merits. Here are just a few counterexamples in nature in which animals do not behave as Erickson claims they do:

  • Bees–female bees gather honey. Male bees are sex slaves.
  • Preying Mantis–female mantises eat the males after mating with them.
  • Spotted Hyenas–females are larger than males and dominate them.
  • Elephants–elephants have a matriarchal social hierarchy.

There are probably lots of other examples. I either remembered these or found them on the internet in about five minutes.

But let’s have some fun with this. Suppose Erickson was right, that the overwhelming majority of animals species were male-dominated. How would that empirical fact have any moral force over how human beings should organize their societies? This is a fallacious appeal to nature–the behavior of other animal species does not determine how human beings ought to behave. Many animals are violent, unhygienic, stupid, prone to rape, in various ways behaviorally unpleasant. Just because lemmings jump off of cliffs does not mean that human beings should. Our ability to recognize that condemning half  of one’s population to economic uselessness is not only disutile for women but for men as well is indicative of our superior reasoning in comparison with animals. We should not ignore our reasoning just because some animal species behave differently–they do not have access to any wisdom that is denied to us. It is much more realistic to claim that we are the intellectually privileged ones.

Erickson doesn’t merely appeal to nature, however, he also makes the fallacy of appeal to democracy, pointing to that Pew poll, which shows that 75% of Americans think that having the mother as lead earner makes raising children harder, 50% think it’s better if the mother stays at home, with only 8% holding that view of fathers. So apparently lots of people have the wrong opinion that it’s more important for mothers to stay at home than it is for fathers, that mothers are more critical to raising children than fathers are. Their sheer numbers provide no evidence of the truth of the view. If you polled the folks in South Carolina in 1850, you’d get a majority approval for slavery. If you polled the Spanish population in 1500, you’d get a majority in favor of executing, forcibly converting, or expelling non-Christians. Polls have no moral force.

Having dispelled Erickson’s arguments as to how we should interpret the 40% figure, here’s my take on it. The 40% of prime earner mothers can be subdivided into several categories:

  1. Mothers who work in two parent households where the father also works who happen to earn more than the father–there is nothing inherently objectionable about this.
  2. Mothers who work in two parent households where the father stays at home–there is nothing inherently objectionable about this.
  3. Voluntary single mothers with means–there is nothing inherently objectionable about this.
  4. Involuntary single mothers who struggle to get by–this is the only form that poses a problem, and the problem would exist if it were an involuntary single father struggling to get by too.

I do not know how that 40% is divided up among these four possibilities. What I do know is that in the case in which it’s a problem, it’s not a gender problem, it’s a poverty problem. The issue is not that the mother is alone, the issue is that the mother is poor and burdened with a time-consuming, low-wage job (possibly more than one), and that consequently the child receives insufficient attention, an inferior education, or enjoys an inferior standard of living. This would be just as true in the case of a single father who struggled financially.

If we want to help children growing up in inferior environments, the right course of action is to lift involuntary single mothers out of poverty, and/or to prevent them from having children they don’t want or cannot adequately care for in the first place. This requires social welfare policy and/or government involvement in the decision of whether or not citizens can have children, not lamentations about the state of the culture. Of course, given his political views, Erickson will never endorse the sort of policies that might be helpful to those children and to those mothers. But then again, Obama and the democrats do not care enough to do anything either. The serious issues in the United States, the poverty, the inequality, the rampant having of children by people who are unable or unwilling to play the necessary role in raising them, all of these things are ignored, with no policy devised for fixing them, while we engage in sideshows about what various sad, reactionary individuals say on FOX.