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Can the Traditional Family Survive
by Carolyn Graglia
|It is a great pleasure to address you young
conservatives of Texas. Being young is wonderful, but to be conservative can be
difficult. In the present culture, you are often outsiders, distrusted, even
shunned by the politically correct mainstream. I admire you and thank you for
your willingness to defend conservative principles.
My topic is the question, "Can the Traditional Family Survive Feminism?" My answer is, "Perhaps, but with great difficulty." In the movie Saving Private Ryan, there is a very moving scene in which the dying leader of a group of men that had rescued Private Ryan from behind enemy lines tells the grateful private to "earn it." Many died in World War II so that we could live in a better world. I doubt that we have earned it. The immediate post-war period did witness our mid-century's golden age of the family, with high marriage and birth rates, low illegitimacy, divorce, and crime rates, and the growth of a broad and stable middle class. But then our marriage and birth rates plummeted, while the rates of crime, unmarried cohabitation, divorce, illegitimacy, and abortion skyrocketed. We now have the highest divorce and abortion rates in the western world, and one out of three children born today in this country is illegitimate.
How did such a massive change in social values occur in just two decades? No foreign enemy, no force of nature, no economic catastrophe caused our social and moral decline. We did this to ourselves. We trashed our own society. The force that I indict as critically, but of course not solely, responsible for our plight is the contemporary feminist movement which was revived in the 1960s. As my book, Domestic Tranquility, documents, the homemaker and her family were the primary target of a vicious and successful war waged by this movement. Proof of that success is all around us. Two years ago, the front page of The New York Times quoted then President Clinton's statement praising the efforts to put welfare mothers into the work force and their children into day care. He said: "Work is more than just a weekly paycheck"; "It is, at heart, our way of life. Work lends purpose and dignity to our lives." In the 1950s, a president would have been far more likely to say that the home and the family and the rearing of children--not market work--was, at heart, our way of life, and that no other way of life could have a higher purpose and a greater dignity than rearing one's own children at home. Who dares make such a statement today? The latest New York Times Style Manual tells the writer not to use the term "housewife" and to resist using the term "homemaker" because it is "belittling." As one psychotherapist has noted, although "1950s' culture accorded its full-time mothers unconditional positive regard," today's "stay-at-home mothers I know dread the question 'And what do you do?'"
In 1998, Time magazine had a cover story asking "Is Feminism Dead?" and voicing regret that perhaps it was. Noting that only 28 percent of women said that feminism is relevant to them, Time deplored the fact that Ally McBeal was the most popular female character on television. Ally was an unmarried lawyer with an excellent job in a law firm, leading the life of a young sexual revolutionary. Living precisely as feminists encouraged women to live, she was doing exactly what her society had socialized her to do. However she identified herself, Ally, like many women today, played the role feminism scripted for her.
To the annoyance of Time and feminists, Ally was discontented with her unmarried state and was more concerned with her "mangled love life" than her career. Surprise! Although Ally was smart enough to graduate from law school, she had apparently not yet been able to discern the connection between her pursuit of casual sex and her unmarried state. As Robert Wright bluntly puts it in his book The Moral Animal, "if it is harder to drag men to the altar today than it used to be, one reason is that they don't have to stop there on the way to the bedroom."
Far from dead, feminist ideology is now incorporated within the fabric of our society. The crucial question today is whether real manliness is dead. For if feminism's domination of our culture is ever to be significantly weakened, manliness must be resurrected. If it is not, women have little choice but to live by the feminist script. Men should understand that this script is extremely demanding of a woman and can leave very little of her left over for her husband or their children. But is it fair to wish feminism dead? Doesn't feminism only want women to lead whatever life they choose? Feminists claim that they simply want women to have the opportunity to fulfill their potential without having the barriers of society strung so tightly around their goals that women have little chance of success. These goals, feminists will say, can include being a homemaker--solely that. But feminists speak with a forked tongue, for the actions of their movement belie their words.
Within the memory of no one living today have the barriers of society been strung so tightly that women could not pursue careers if they chose to. From the time in middle school when I decided to become a lawyer (that was in 1941) until I left my law firm to raise a family, I encountered no barriers, but only support and encouragement. Living on the edge of poverty in the working class with my divorced mother, I could not have succeeded otherwise.
When I entered college in 1947, I knew that women were in all the professions. The doctor who performed my pre-college physical was a woman. Women, in fact, were in the first medical class at Johns Hopkins University in 1890. They now are the majority of entering students at the most prestigious medical schools. My mother's divorce lawyer in 1936 was a woman and a mother. And the president of the bank where I opened my first account in 1942 was a woman and a mother, Mary G. Roebling, who said American women have "almost unbelievable economic power" but "do not use the influence [it] gives them." Women's failure to pursue opportunities in the workplace has always been much more of a choice than feminists admit. The most significant barrier to a woman's market success is her own unwillingness to constrict her maternal, marital, and domestic roles.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman--the feminist whose writings were the foundation for the work of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan--wrote in 1898 that the mistreatment of professional women "is largely past." "The gates are nearly all open," said Gilman, and the "main struggle now is with the distorted nature of the creature herself." Remember that she said this in 1898! Contemporary feminism is grounded on Gilman's belief that a distorted nature characterizes those women who prefer homemaking and child-rearing to marching through those open gates into the workplace.
It was this struggle to convince the homemaking creature like me of her distorted nature that Betty Friedan took up in 1963 in The Feminine Mystique. Friedan berated women with the fact that "despite the opportunities open to all women now," even the most able "showed no signs of wanting to be anything more than . . . housewives and mothers." Echoing Gilman, she complained that so few women were pursuing careers even though all professions are open to women, since the "removal of all the legal, political, economic, and educational barriers." Remember that Friedan said this in 1963 before the concept of affirmative action was developed.
Far from claiming that discrimination kept women from the workplace, Friedan blamed the housewife's belief that "she is indispensable and that no one else can take over her job." She was right; that is precisely how many of us did feel. Friedan sought, therefore, to destroy the housewife's confidence that she was engaged in an important activity for which she was uniquely qualified. Feminism's effort to re-educate housewives as to their distorted nature and degraded status pitted the most educated, sophisticated, wealthy, aggressive, and masculine portion of the female population against women who generally possessed less education, wealth, and worldly experience, who were more likely to be docile than aggressive, feminine than masculine.
Thus began the contemporary feminist movement. Its founding principle was that the traditional male role as a producer in the workplace is superior to the female domestic role. Feminists urged women to abandon homemaking and child-rearing as inferior activities and to enter the workplace so that women would become independent from men and gain equal political and economic power with them. In the words of economist Jennifer Roback Morse, a feminist who had second thoughts, the movement chose "'Having it All' as our slogan and equality of income as our goal," and so she says, "we embraced a shallow materialism and a mindless egalitarianism." Morse wisely asks: "When we harden our hearts to place a six week old baby into the care of strangers, who will moderate us?" The feminist egalitarianism that Morse speaks of is, it should be clear, only vis-à-vis men, not vis-à-vis other women. The movement has largely been concerned with professional women, and it is the most elitist of ideologies. Feminists denounce the worthlessness of homemaking and of child-rearing, yet the movement's goals require the existence of a servant class, a lower-class infrastructure of other women who will perform those domestic and child-rearing activities which feminists scorn.
In pursuit of their goal to drive all women into the work force, feminists waged war on what had been the two underpinnings of our civil society, the traditional family with a breadwinner husband and homemaker wife and traditional sexual morality. The tangle of pathology that so many of our families have become is proof of this war's success. One of feminism's primary tools in their war was promotion of the sexual revolution. Because feminists correctly perceived that a woman's child-rearing role is the greatest impediment to her career success, they encouraged women to postpone, or even forgo, marriage and, if they did bear children, to leave the bulk of child-rearing to paid employees. In sum, women were told to abandon what had been, for many, the very successful "matrimonial strategy," which was to marry young, bear three or four children, and work outside the home only until a child was born and, perhaps, return to work once the children were grown.
The sexual revolution undermined the matrimonial strategy by encouraging women to engage in promiscuous sex on the same terms as men. As Richard Posner correctly notes in his book Sex and Reason, the "freer women are sexually, the less interest men have in marriage." Since their own interest in marriage was minimal or non-existent, feminist sexual revolutionaries urged women to abandon the ideals of premarital virginity and marital fidelity as vestiges of discredited Victorian morality. Premarital sex, they said, should be seen as a morally indifferent and harmless source of pleasure.
How harmless this source of pleasure was is indicated by the fact that the United States now has the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases and of abortion in the Western World. 24 million Americans, for example, are infected with the Human Papilloma Virus, an incurable sexually transmitted disease linked to over 90 percent of all invasive cervical cancers, which are the number two cause of women's cancer deaths. Sexually transmitted diseases cause twenty percent of our cases of infertility--an increasing and heartbreaking problem in our society that is now so familiar to those who know women in their late 30s and early 40s desperately trying to conceive. But this was inconsequential to the women who spearheaded the feminist movement, only one of whom married and bore children and all of whom rejected child-rearing as inconsistent with career achievement.
Thus, in 1965, feminist Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, applauded the single sexual revolutionary because, unlike the housewife, she was "not a parasite, a dependent, a scrounger, a sponger, or a bum." In 1993, her revolutionary ardor still afire, Brown advised women to look at their friends' husbands as potential lovers; she never felt guilt, Brown said, about the wives who can't keep their husbands at home. Nothing better illustrates how feminists molded our society than a comparison of Cosmopolitan under Brown's editorship with the women's magazines of my youth, which affirmed the homemaker's worth and the societal importance of traditional virtues.
Our no-fault divorce regime that enables men to abandon and impoverish families was crucial to the feminist goal. By subverting housewives' social and economic security, no-fault enforces feminism's diktat that women must abandon homemaking for market production. Betty Friedan explained that feminist divorce policy purposely deprived women of alimony to force them into the workplace. No-fault tells mothers it is unsafe to devote oneself to raising children, warning them "that instead of expecting to be supported, a woman is now expected to become self-sufficient."
No-fault's declaration of war against homemakers had exactly the result feminists sought: to make women distrust their husbands and fear leaving the work force; many women say they work only for divorce insurance. All fifty states have no-fault divorce; only Louisiana, Arizona, and Oklahoma have now slightly modified it. I have testified before two committees of the Texas legislature in favor of bills reforming no-fault. Both times, the only opponents of the bills were feminist lawyers.
Professor Herma Hill Kay of the University of California Law School at Berkeley, who was one of the proponents of the ground-breaking California no-fault divorce law, warns that reforming no-fault in order to protect women who have already chosen traditional roles will only "encourage future women to continue to select traditional roles." Kay concedes that "many couples still choose to follow the traditional allocation of family functions by sex," thus creating a family in which the wife and children depend on the husband "for support." But, says Kay, women must learn that "their unique role in reproduction ends with childbirth" and that "like men," they should "lead productive, independent lives outside the family." In order to teach this lesson to women, Kay argues, society must "withdraw existing legal supports" for traditional marriage, a goal, she says, that no-fault divorce laws now accomplish.
Anyone who wonders why our society so readily embraced divorce laws that are patently hostile to the traditional family should know that the woman expressing these views does not simply belong to a fringe group of so-called radical feminists, but is a leading policymaker in our society. Not only was Kay Dean and professor at Berkeley, but she was a member of the California Governors Commission on the Family, A Co-Investigator on the California Divorce Law Research Project, and the Co-Reporter of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, which means that she drafted the model divorce law that the prestigious American Law Institute recommends for adoption throughout the United States. The barbarians are not at the gates; they help run our society.
Thus, at the urging of feminists, we have made marriages unilaterally revocable at will, thereby rejecting traditional marriage and discrediting it as a woman's career. And this is why feminists speak with a forked tongue when saying that a woman's goals "can include being a homemaker--solely that." If marriage cannot be a woman's career--and no-fault divorce tells her it cannot--homemaking cannot be a woman's goal, and child-rearing by surrogates must be her children's destiny. It is because feminists do in fact reject homemaking as a legitimate goal that they never treat women's underrepresentation in workplaces as legitimate. Rather, they see it as something to be deplored and corrected on the theory that if they were not discriminated against, women would be represented equally with men at all levels within every workplace. The assumption underlying all affirmative action for women is that no woman willingly chooses the domestic role.
Another weapon against housewives was to marginalize them by degrading their role. Child care, in the words of one feminist, is "boring, tedious, and lonely," and being financially dependent on a husband is "irksome and humiliating." Friedan's Feminine Mystique described the housewife as a "parasite" who lives without using adult capabilities or intelligence and lacks a real function. "Parasite" became the feminist word of choice to describe the housewife. In her famous essay setting forth feminist goals, Gloria Steinem, the media darling, called homemakers "parasites," "inferiors" and "dependent creatures who are still children."
Decrying the lives of housewives as a "waste of a human self," Friedan likened them to people "with portions of their brain shot away and schizophrenics." Housewives are "less than fully human," she wrote, for they "have never known a commitment to an idea," "risked an exploration of the unknown," or "attempted . . . creativity." For me, those euphoric years when I conceived, bore, and raised my children provided far greater opportunities to explore the unknown and exercise creativity than did my years in the workplace writing legal briefs.
A survey of women who have left the workplace to raise their children at home shows the success of feminism's effort to degrade the housewife. The most frequently mentioned disadvantage of not being in the work force was not the loss of income but the lack of respect from society. Women at home complain that the message they are bombarded with from the media, from friends, and most hurtful of all, from family members--even their own husbands--is one of reproach because they are wasting their education.
Commenting on my book, a friend who is a law professor, and much younger than I, said that she and many of the women in her generation who gave up child-rearing for careers were sold a defective bill of goods by feminists. Many of her women friends who are lawyers, she writes, are "simply miserable in the practice of law and in the 'escape' jobs on the periphery." "We all engage in deception," she says, and "that deception is the modern Big Lie that women find fulfillment in their careers," but "we have allowed the media to so flavor our goals and views that we continue down a path we despise."
My message is that the domestic life is not a sacrificial life and that one's education is never wasted--you can use it every day. My education enabled me to be a better mother, a more interesting wife, and to create a many-faceted life out of my domestic role. My education showed me how to find the greatest delight in the simplest activities of daily life. These are rewards that can make an education worthwhile. A paycheck is not the only source of value.
It should be clear that the feminist movement could have been orchestrated by Playboy magazine: readily available sex for men without marriage; readily available abortion to eliminate inconvenient children; and devaluation of maternal commitment to child-rearing so that mothers would always work and never become dependent upon their husbands. Did this movement really advance the position of women in our society when it supported no-fault divorce, the sexual revolution, and the glamorizing of careers at the expense of motherhood, leaving behind broken families, mothers who are devalued and abandoned, and young women who become the trophies--of either the bimbo or brainy variety--that advertise men's success?
Many men have enjoyed the fact of women's increased sexual availability, they have sloughed off old wives and acquired young "trophies" under the sanction of no-fault divorce, they have encouraged abortions--thus avoiding responsibility for children they have bred--and they will willingly see women sent into combat to face the inevitable rape, injury, and death. In the eyes of such men, women are not uniquely precious individuals but only easily disposable sex objects. Contemporary feminism taught that lesson to men.
A sea change has occurred in men who only several decades ago took pride in their ability to provide for wife and children. With scarcely a whimper, many men accepted the feminization of our society and capitulated to feminist demands that impaired men's own earning abilities. Then, they too encouraged their wives to leave children hostage to the vagaries of surrogate care and pursue the economic opportunities, which would spare husbands from assuming the role of breadwinner.
Feminism will not die and the traditional family will remain in peril until we derail the feminist engine of reform by killing the sexual revolution, by replacing no-fault divorce laws with laws that protect homemakers and families, by ending preferential treatment of women in education and workplace, and by reforming all laws that discriminate against one-income families through requiring them to subsidize child care for two-income families. All government initiatives designed to help families with children must be directed to all families--not just to families that use child care--for example, by increasing the federal income tax dependent exemption and providing larger child credits.
But these things will not happen until a change occurs in those men who have rejected the value of a woman's traditional role and of a man's contributions that make this role viable. Without those contributions, what do men think will define their manhood? If women's traditional role is expendable, then, as increases in the number of well-educated, never-married mothers indicate, so also are men expendable for all purposes other than sperm donor. When men who no longer value the traditional role of either sex abandon women to fend for themselves in the workplace, they teach women to cease valuing men. The result is a society increasingly like Sweden's, which has the lowest marriage rate and one of the highest illegitimacy rates and employment rates of working-age women in the western world.
Not all women seek the passive, feminized male of feminist ideology. Some of us consider child-rearing the most rewarding activity of our lives, and we are happy to be dependent on a husband who enables us to stay home and enjoy all the delights of a domestic life. We seek a man who believes that there are real differences between men and women. We seek a man who does not expect his wife to be a clone of himself. We seek a man who does not think that the best he can do for a woman is to guarantee her unlimited access to abortion, to assure her the right to fight and die in combat, and to create for her a society that expects its children to be raised by someone other than their mother. When a critical mass of the kind of man we seek appears, feminism will begin to die, and the traditional family will cease to be in peril.
Carolyn Graglia is the author of Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism.
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