by Nikki van hiqkro\x/ER
Is Pregancy Obsolete?
It has been interesting to observe the reaction over the last decade to the declining
fertility rate. At first the consensus among
sociologists was that women were merely
postponing pregnancy. I noted a sort of
smug confidence that, although women
might opt for a delay, there was just no
way that they could overcome their powerful maternal instincts and forgo motherhood altogether.
As we moved deeper into the seventies
and the birthrate continued to decline-
making it obvious that most women were
having fewer children, but that many
women were having no children—the prognosis changed somewhat. The social scientists then began to speculate that this unusual 60's generation might, in fact, pass
up motherhood altogether, but they still
projected things would return to normal.
Any population figure that indicated that
the birthrate had gone up for some period
was grasped as a sign that women were
once again listening to the message indelibly written into their genes. One could
almost hear the sigh of relief that went
along with the forecast.
I am one who believes that one's desire
for maternity and motherhood is a conditioned choice. That desire can be increased
or decreased depending on the messages
that society gives us. The conditioning has
not changed over the last decade or so. We
are still told in every possible way that
motherhood is the be-all and end-all of
However, a new sense of reality about
the costs of parenting imposed upon
mothers has broken through the propaganda barrage. The underlying messages about
society's support for motherhood have included the loss of jobs because of pregnancy, denial of health insurance for pregnancy and related matters, refusal to hire
because of pregnancy or responsibility for
small children, refusal to rent apartments
or homes to families with small children,
abandonment by fathers, lack of child
support, lack of child care, and displacement and financial insecurity as rewards
for the full-time mother/homemaker vocation. All the soap commercials in the world
can no longer obscure these economic
realities of motherhood.
Pregnancy, motherhood and child care
are treated as aberrations, things that cannot be integrated into the mainstream of
life. Consider the firefighter Linda Eaton
of Iowa City, Iowa, and teacher Janice
Dike of Orlando, Florida and their battle
to be allowed to breast-feed their babies
during unscheduled work time. And then
there is ridicule. (See the cartoon series
"Momma" in the Houston Post as an example of downright viciousness toward
Please understand my comments are
not directed toward mothering, per se. If
goes without saying that there must be
tremendous rewards and gratifications involved in bringing a life into the world and
having a hand in shaping it. No, this commentary is about the treatment of mothers
and children by the society.
Because of the contradictions in our
family-oriented society, many women have
decided not to have children. These decisions in most cases have not been easy. For
most of the women I know who have
made them, it has been quite excruciating
—not because of some maternal instinct,
but because they are passing up a very exciting and important human experience.
Will the birthrate continue to decline?
The answer is probably yes. Our society
has outpriced and undervalued the role of
motherhood. And, women have gotten
The Mayor is a Loser
I suppose I would feel less offended
about the McConn gambling matter if I
were not personally aware of great difficulty in raising money for worthy causes
to meet the many needs of our citizens
here in Houston. Apparently it is not too
difficult to raise money for "unworthy"
causes, such as Las Vegas gambling debts,
particularly when one is the Mayor of
Houston. What is most discouraging is
that the Mayor would choose to use his
influence in this way, rather than in improving the lives of our citizens.
Remarks made before the media
suggest that Mayor McConn is treating
the whole matter rather lightly. A "personal indiscretion," he calls it. He jokes
about his gambling prowess. His remark
in the May 1 issue of the Houston Post
about his wife's expressed displeasure
implies a "boys will be boys" writeoff of the whole matter.
The scenario begins when the Mayor
goes out to Las Vegas to attend a Home-
builders' Convention and he and a couple
of unnamed friends sustain several
thousand dollars in gambling losses. The
Mayor's share was $3200. McConn then
calls the city purchasing director Jack
Key, who had said that if McConn had
any money problems, "he had friends out
there who could help him." McConn asks
Key to arrange a $6000 loan. Part of the
money was to pay off the current gambling debts and $2800 was for additional
Apparently it was a "no questions
asked" deal. McConn still claims he had
no_idea where the money came from and
it is evident he made no special effort to
find out. "Ignorance is bliss."
CoincidentaUy, or so we are told, a
city contractor, Jimmy Co wart, complained to the FBI about alleged kickbacks in the amount of $6000 paid to
Jack Key. Key told Cowart that the
money was for someone other than himself.
The very appointment of bankroller
Jack Key as purchasing director is
questionable. Key had no prior
experience in such a position. Inexplicably the Mayor and City Council members defended the appointment on the
basis that Jack Key's brother, Bob Key,
had done a good job as acting assistant
director of the City's Health Department.
You tell me what one has to do with the
other. The reasoning escapes me.
The entire escapade in Las Vegas
presents an image of the mayor as a man
lacking a sense of financial responsibility.
His construction company is still
$200,000 in debt, but this personal indebtedness did not deter him from gambling away funds and then borrowing to
Perhaps Mayor McConn is guilty of no
more than stupidity and gross irresponsibility. Nevertheless, I question whether
we can afford to have someone of his
caliber holding the highest elected office
in the City of Houston.
The Rich Get Richer
A picture is beginning to emerge of the
form that Governor Clements' promised
tax savings is going to take. Teachers' salaries are targeted to make up some of the
savings. It figures. They are mostly women.
There was a glimmer of hope at one
time that we were going to save money
on some big executive salaries because the
governor was bringing in some "dollar-a-
year men," but that now looks like it
might be nothing more than a clever
sleight of hand. At least one of those volunteer's expenses is exceeding the salaries
of many full-time employees. It seems that
the volunteers were brought in on some
rather unusual consultant contracts that
legally allow them to bill the state government for unlimited expenses. So there
goes that savings. As usual, the big guys
aren't having to share in the belt-tightening.
The Texas Department of Community
Affairs was selected quite legitimately,
some feel, for some fat trimming. Omar
Harvey, the man appointed by Clements
for the job, promised a 25 percent cutback
in TDCA personnel. So how did Harvey
go about getting rid of the deadwood? In
the April issue of Texas Monthly, Paul
Burka described the promised surgery as
"It was a little like a doctor helping
an obese patient to lose weight by
lopping off a foot, an arm, and an
ear. There were no personnel evaluations ('We lost some good people,'
Harvey admits) and no studies to
find out which divisions produced
and which ones didn 't. Nor was there
any attempt to identify superfluous
positions below the managerial level. "
Author Burka concludes that, "In the end
the reductions had no relation to a division's work or its reputation with the
Governor Clements has come out in
favor of decontrol of oil prices and in opposition to any windfall profits tax.
Although he initially opposed any increase
in maximum interest rates that could be
charged by savings and loan institutions,
he seems to be weakening on that position. These last two matters are not directly related to the cost of government,
but they certainly are related to the cost
of living for Texas consumers.
Somehow I don't feel terribly optimistic about the tax savings that we are going
to realize under the Clements administra-
tion-a little shifting and changing of budget accounts perhaps, but little real savings. There is also something that needs
to be said for the quality of our government and the services it provides people. I
would personally challenge anyone to find
a living, breathing Texan who would not
agree that there is waste in government.
But should the savings come at the cost
of our children's education or through irrational personnel cutbacks that may save
a little money in the immediate sense, but
cost dearly in the long run, as worthy programs are gutted and experienced personnel are dumped?
In the meantime, fat expense reports
are being tolerated, energy costs are allowed to go up and perhaps interest rates
will be allowed to rise.
I sometimes wonder if it is really possible to get a leader who is as genuinely
interested in saving the money of the average consumer as he is in saving money for
businesses, corporations and wealthy individuals. Somehow our election process
just seems to work against such leaders
emerging. If you'll excuse me, I think 111
resume eating my cake.
Dr. Nikki Van Hightower is president of
the Houston Area Women's Center and a
former radio commentator.