Two years ago, Idaho House of Representatives rejected a $6 million federal grant geared towards increasing access to early education and child-care. The grant would have benefitted the Idaho State Board of Education, allocating funds for child-care and early education for kids ages five and under. Idaho is a red state. "Trump Country." A "pro-life" county.
A lawmaker in opposition of the grant made a sexist rebuttal of the vote, stating, “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going, we are really hurting the family unit in the process.” So, the "family unit" is harmed when children have access to education, or is this (once again) patriarchy talking about controlling women?
While the public issue is about funding for education, the ethical issue is the sexist views and gender bias that has surfaced from state representatives, those responsible for approving education funding in the public arena. The “good” being protected shifted from education to that of defining roles within a “family unit”, causing outrage from the public who protect diverse perspectives and promote a commitment to ethical communication.
Can a community host an ability for diverse people to thrive when the leadership (legislators) are sexist? Yes, but sexism is a cancerous communication, and a healthy flourishing community does not tolerate its presence.
As a former single mother, my “family unit” represented me and my child. Every choice I made, as a parent, was in responsibility of protecting the independent sustainability of our family. The choice to homeschool was not an option, as solo parenting is not valued (read: funded) in this nation. But the opportunity to enroll my child in full-time kindergarten, and early education programs, gifted me the opportunity to reduce costs of childcare while my child engaged in mind-developing activities and I worked full-time in my trade, providing 100% of our family needs.
This state legislator's othering protects and promotes the “good” of the family unit, but from a standpoint of ethics rooted in religious ideology that defines a traditional, gender-normative depiction of “family unit” where mothers stay home with children. In this ideology, solo mothers are forced to carry shame in being outside the "norm." This narrow-minded opinion of a “family unit” is a narrative one may choose for themselves, but cannot force into public acceptance, legislated into law, or presented as "common sense”.
In Idaho, sexist communications surface as a result of slow progress and too little diversity, creating a monologue of false standards, competing narratives, and only reveal a leadership that is out of touch from the needs of an entire community. It is important for public dialogue to remain centered around the common ground of the “good” in question, to prevent unethical communication to deter the public from the matter at hand. In this case, the dialogue for education funding was publicly overrun by sexist ideology that has no business in the governance of public policy. When we refuse to face our dysfunctions, and acknowledge the harm they cause, we are actively participating and perpetuating them.
Many unifying values and uniting principles get lost within the othering of fundamentalist ideology and unethical communication. How can we stay alert to these dysfunctions of community and diseases of democracy? We must commit to active listening. We must grow increasingly capable of identifying the words, phrases, and communication practices that promote othering.
When we refuse to face our dysfunctions, and acknowledge the harm they cause, we are actively participating and perpetuating them.
Feminist theorists and cultural critics are devoted to this work. We listen with ears perked to the sounds of division. We look with eyes peeled for signs of supremacy. Our senses are well-rested and in-tune. We pay close attention to the quality of care over women, children, the marginalized, and the oppressed. What is "good" for a whole community must reside central to the intersections of a diverse people. And what is a community without the inclusion of *all within it? An exclusive cult.