Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman, Republican of West Bend, became nationally known during the siege of the Wisconsin Statehouse last winter. He became the unofficial spokesperson for Governor Scott Walker, making the rounds of all the news shows and being genial and pleasant – right up to the day the Republicans rewrote the Governor’s union busting law, broke the state’s Open Meeting Law and forced the law through the legislature. Then, Grothman went on the air and characterized the protesters as “slobs” who were not even public employees but just a bunch of young people boffing their girlfriends inside sleeping bags in the Statehouse Rotunda and trashing the capitol. Oh, yeah, he also said the protesters were anti-Christian. Grothman survived an attempted recall because his district is exceedingly Republican, but he is Wisconsin’s poster boy for extreme conservative social attitudes.
His latest foray into the social values battleground is a bill he proposed that would legislate single parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse. During an appearance on Alan Colmes’ radio show, Grothman attacked women and scolded America for encouraging “a single motherhood lifestyle.” He told Colmes, “There’s been a huge change over the last 30 years and a lot of that change has been the choice of the women.” He thinks “we should educate women that this is a mistake. I think when you have an epidemic of this great proportion, people are not so dumb that it’s surprising when they get pregnant.” He continued on this vein, saying of “unwanted or mistimed” pregnancies, “I think people are trained to say that ‘this is a surprise to me,’ because there’s still enough of a stigma that they’re supposed to say this.”
Okay, so it’s all the fault of girls and women. We are just too stupid to know what we are doing and we are doing it at an astounding rate that has never been seen in the history of the world.
Grothman suffers from the conservative disease of ignorance of social history. Like far too many conservatives, Grothman believes that this nation was a perfect place, where nuclear families lived in neat little houses in neat little neighborhoods, the men went to work, everyone had a job, the little women all stayed home to raise their above-average children, everyone went to church on Sunday, there was no crime, no spousal or child abuse, no sex outside marriage and the skies were not cloudy all day.
In 1938, of 2,250,000 live births, 87,900 were acknowledged illegitimate babies. In 1958 (which happens to be the year with the highest number of teen pregnancies in American history), of 4,250,000 live births, 208,700 were acknowledged illegitimate. The key word is “acknowledged,” by the way. There is no accurate statistic of the number of shotgun weddings in those 20 years and certainly no accurate statistic for the number of illegal abortions and shell-game births. Guitarist Eric Clapton is the son of an unwed teenage mother, but to protect her and the family from the stigma of illegitimacy, her parents kept the girl’s pregnancy a secret and while she was in the hospital, with grandma staying out of sight, grandpa moved the family clear across the city and the new baby was presented as the girl’s brother. Wartime was a perfect time for the shell-game routine for illegitimate births, especially in a city with a high immigrant population. My own grandmother arrived in America with two illegitimate sons and pregnant with my father. When my grandfather was back in their native country on business, she moved, left no forwarding address, and presented herself to the neighbors as a World War I widow.
Grothman is looking at the statistic that says around 40% of American births are to unwed mothers and crying “moral degradation!”. Yeah, we know, this nation has been going to hell in a handbasket since my generation (his too, by the way) hit puberty. He is not looking at the circumstances of those mothers. Some women choose single motherhood because the available pool of men is not exactly stellar husband material. Some are in very committed relationships and just never seemed to be able to organize a wedding. Some couples simply choose not to have that piece of paper. Many of those mothers believe that their relationship is solid and the surprise isn’t the pregnancy, it’s how fast the father can find the door. A lot of them truly are surprised because people like Grothman have done such a wonderful job of undercutting factual sex education in our schools. In fact, a recent study showed how abysmally under-educated our teenagers are about how pregnancies really happen. A public health nurse in Georgia told me that the amount of misinformation she dealt with was frightening, with most of the unwed mothers she dealt with believing the exact opposite pattern for when a woman is fertile. And the situation is just getting worse, with Utah’s governor about to sign an “abstinence only” sex education bill, even though communities with abstinence only sex ed have seen an increase in teen pregnancies.
Society has spent hundreds of years trying to solve society’s problems. Nations have repeatedly subjected themselves to the control of religions, with no impact on immoral behavior unless they enforced those moral laws with bodily mutilations and beheadings. Societies have stigmatized certain persons for a wide range of reasons, frequently stigmatizing one person while excusing that person’s partner, as in the case of prostitutes and the upper class men who used their services. Every modern industrialized nation has tried a wide variety of programs and initiatives to solve the problems of poverty, poor education and unwed parenthood, which do interrelate. There has only ever been one solution – a thriving economy. When there are jobs that can be done – and done for a living wage – by persons of wide backgrounds and skills, when education is geared to the full spectrum of needs – academicians, white collar executives, blue collar apprenticeships – and not just to some uniform test that only increases the drop-out rate, when these things are in place, the whole society is lifted.
There has been an expected backlash against Grothman’s bigoted bill, with petitions and protests, but perhaps what is needed is for someone in the Wisconsin State Senate to print out the facts about child abuse in their state and drop it on Grothman’s head. Then, some Democrat should introduce a bill that would charge the fathers of those illegitimate babies with abandonment, neglect and abuse of both the child and its mother.
And the Republicans keep insisting they are not engaged in a war on women…..