Femi-Nihilism: The Feminist Mistake
When I turned 27, I thought my life was right on track. Respectable job? Check. Marriage? Check. Nice home in the suburbs? Check. Family? Check. Well . . . almost. My husband and I were expecting our first child. Three months later, when she was born and I laid eyes on her and held her in my arms, my heart jumped tracks. But my life didn't, at least not yet.
Four months later, I suppressed an emotional tsunami, and dragging my kicking and screaming heart by the scruff of the neck, began handing her over daily into the care of another woman so I could return to work. At the time it seemed I had no choice. It wasn't until years later that I realized what had led me to that conflicted place. It was feminism.
There's a general malaise among women in America today. In an article titled "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," in the American Economic Journal (August 2009), researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers reported that, while the lives of women in the United States have improved extraordinarily "by many objective measures, yet we show that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men." As women have gained more freedom, education, and power, they have become less happy.
According to feminists, this only shows how much work still needs to be done. "I am fortunate enough to inherit the opportunities for which my second-wave foremothers pioneered in the 1960s and 1970s," writes feminist author Kimberly George. "But I also find myself in a historical moment with so much left to do . . . to ensure that new generations of women are able to make new progress in gender justice."
Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly, authors of a gutsy new book, The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know—and Men Can't Say, give a startlingly different reason for female discontent. There is no gender injustice, they say, and the problem is not that feminists still have work to do. The problem is feminism itself.
"If you ask a feminist to define feminism," they write, "she'll give you the standard, bogus answer: 'Feminism is about equal rights for women.' That benign, but very inaccurate, definition gives people the impression that feminism is a good thing. After all, who doesn't believe in equal rights?"
"But feminism is not about equal rights at all," they state flatly. And with refreshing straight talk, the niece and aunt co-authors proceed to dismantle feminism and to show just how destructive it has been.
Seething in the Suburbs
Modern feminism was born in 1963 with the publication of The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. An at-home mother of three, herself the product of a dysfunctional home, Friedan came to despise what she called her "comfortable concentration camp." Raising children and maintaining a family home has always been hard, but rather than face her personal problems and develop coping skills, as most of her contemporaries did, Friedan turned her focus outward and blamed society.
Having been involved in Marxist politics before getting married, she diagnosed the problem as one of class struggle: American society was steeped in patriarchy, and women were the subservient underclass. To overcome their oppression, they would have to revolt. And to achieve fulfillment and self-actualization, they would need to pursue careers, just like men.
Venker and Schlafly handily debunk several of the pervasive myths that launched and continue to propel feminism. For example, feminism has been credited with securing a host of gains for women, such as equal opportunities in the workforce and in education. But feminism should not get credit for any of these things. Women in America have always been free and rich in opportunity, as Phyllis Schlafly's own life demonstrates.
"Phyllis knew feminism was a farce long before other folks wised up," Venker writes. She worked her way through college in the 1940s, testing ammunition for the government by night and going to school by day, to earn a master's degree in political science from Harvard. She wrote and self-published her first book in 1964, and by the end of the 1970s, she had raised six children and received a law degree from Washington University Law School. Her success shows that, whatever isolated injustices may have occurred, entrenched suppression of women in America comparable to pre-Civil War oppression of blacks simply did not exist.
Another myth is the overall feminist construction of the "women's movement." In Chapter Four of The Feminine Mystique, titled "The Passionate Journey," Friedan cast herself as a second-wave general, as one who was picking up the battle where our courageous foremothers had left off. The first wave in the struggle, as she portrayed it, was the suffragette movement, which succeeded in gaining voting rights for women in 1920. Today, this construct is the commonly held view of women's standing in America.
But Venker and Schlafly expose this narrative as historical revisionist posturing. While it is true, they note, that the suffragettes were courageous leaders, it is not true that Betty Friedan followed in their footsteps. The suffragettes were family-oriented women who valued marriage and children and who adamantly opposed abortion as "the ultimate exploitation of women." They were not radical revolutionaries leading a revolt.
Demanding Power, Forfeiting Influence
Betty Friedan was. But oddly, hers was in many ways a revolt against the natural expressions of womanhood. Ironically, in grasping for empowerment, the feminists dismissed and forfeited the real power that women possess. First, contrary to the feminists' victimhood paradigm, pre-feminist women usually held the upper hand where it mattered most—in the home. They raised the children, perpetuating their influence into the next generation. They made most of the household decisions, freely spending their husbands' paychecks to manage the home as they saw fit. In fact, in pre-feminist times, laws in all fifty states required a man to provide financial support for his wife and children.
Even more significant is an all-but-forgotten reality about male-female dynamics, which Venker and Schlafly revive. "Before the 1960s," they write, "Americans understood that women had something men wanted, needed, and couldn't have without a woman's consent: sex and his own children. By equating sex with love, as women naturally do, men become better human beings—and society is better for it."
George Gilder, author of Men and Marriage, underscores this profound female ministration:
The crucial process of civilization is the subordination of male sexual impulses and biology to the long-term horizons of female sexuality. In creating civilization, women transform male lust into love; channel wanderlust into jobs, homes, and families; link men to specific children; rear children into citizens; and change hunters to fathers. The prime fact of life is the sexual superiority of women.
For statements like this, Gilder was named "Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year" by the National Organization for Women (NOW).
The Grit & Glory of Motherhood
NOW, of which Betty Friedan was a founder, is clueless about the soul of womanhood, especially when it comes to motherhood. While NOW feminists were sloughing off motherhood and clamoring over petty grievances in America, one American mother found herself thrust into real patriarchal oppression, and her response proved the greatness of which women are capable.
Betty Mahmoody had misgivings about traveling to Iran with her Iranian-born husband and their preschool daughter Mahtob in 1984, but she consented to his pleas for a visit with his family. It was only to be for two weeks, so they went.
But on the day before their scheduled return, Mahmoody informed his wife that they would be staying in Iran permanently. She had no say in the matter. Over the ensuing eighteen months, Betty navigated an environment that might accurately be described as a comfortable concentration camp. As a woman in a polity where men were free to wield despotic authority over their chador-clad wives, she had no legal standing whatsoever. And because her husband knew she wanted to return to America with Mahtob, he had her movements constantly monitored, and he strictly forbade her to take Mahtob anywhere without his permission. But eventually, with the help of a few sympathetic Iranian nationals, Betty was able to escape with Mahtob—by fleeing 500 miles overland into Turkey.
Betty's story is told in her 1991 book and film, Not Without My Daughter. What is notable is that, at any time during the ordeal, she could have left Iran and never returned—as long as she left Mahtob behind. But she didn't do that. Instead, she resolved that she would not leave her daughter to live the remainder of her life under such oppression, and so she expended all her efforts, at great personal risk (if captured, she could have been executed), for the well-being of her child. This is the kind of sacrificial love that God plants in every mother's heart, and it is what modern American feminism marginalizes.
Free of Feminism
I think the most devastating aspect of the feminist agenda is the way it sets mothers at odds with their children and devalues motherhood.
The most extreme manifestation of this is abortion (the non-negotiable emblem of women's rights, according to feminists). But a tamer manifestation, the idea of seeking fulfillment and identity in the workplace and relegating motherhood to an accessory in life rather than a full-fledged, worthwhile calling, has become deeply rooted in the American psyche, even among the non-feminist general public. It heavily influenced my decision-making as a young adult, and it's what led me to return to the office when what I really wanted to do was care for my child.
Had someone asked me at the time if I was a feminist, I would have said, truthfully, no. But I had thoroughly absorbed the feminists' value system without even realizing it. Three years would pass and a second child come along before I would leave the workplace to be with my children, but ever since then, I have loved and respected my husband for saying, "We'll figure out how to make it work." We did, and I have never regretted that decision.
So as a post-feminist mom, I say kudos to Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly for writing the book I wish I'd had when I was twenty. To open-minded feminists, I recommend a thorough reading. The closed-minded ones might flip out. •
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