FLORIDA, April 25, 2013 — Feminism is a tremendously controversial subject. Has it liberated women from an unfulfilling life, as many claim?
These days, more women than ever before are delaying marriage or choosing not to marry at all. Is this a positive consequence of feminism? What might be described as the impetus for the feminist movement? Furthermore, what legacy has feminism left for men?
A great deal claim that feminism has disrupted Western family norms, bringing about considerable strife. What can be said about this argument?
In this first part of our discussion, the oft-lauded and criticized Suzanne Venker shares her answers to these questions. The author of The Flip Side of Feminism and 7 Myths of Working Mothers, among other titles, she has firmly established herself as a traditionalist social critic for the twenty-first century.
As is probably apparent, her work centers around our society’s ever-changing family norms, along with the key contemporary issues faced by women.
Joseph F. Cotto: Feminism is a tremendously controversial subject, needless to say. Do you think it has liberated women from an unfulfilling life, as many claim?
Suzanne Venker: I think feminism helped those women who wanted more out of life than just being wives and mothers feel “normal” about those desires. And I think it helped women who were in abusive situations feel they had a support system.
Unfortunately, the movement went south very quickly. Feminists became obsessed with a false notion of equality, where men and women become essentially interchangeable—which pit men and women against one another. Feminists trumpeted sexual “liberation” and independence from men as the answer to what ails the modern woman.
The result is ironic: forty years later, women feel abnormal for wanting to be domestic!
It’s one thing to tell women there’s more to life than just being wives and mothers, but feminists encouraged an entire generation (two, actually) to focus their energies exclusively on a career, so much so that women now leave no space at all for marriage and motherhood.
It isn’t until women are older that they realize they were misled. Some never married at all and wish they had; some did marry but waited too long to have children and now can’t have them; and some did marry and have children but feel regret over not staying home, or just being there for their children when they were little.
These circumstances are all a direct result of the feminist environment in which modern women were raised.
Cotto: These days, more women than ever before are delaying marriage or choosing not to marry at all. Do you think this is a positive consequence of feminism?
Venker: I think delaying marriage in and of itself is fine. The problem is that it often gets delayed indefinitely. Americans like to work in extremes for some reason: we move away from one cultural norm and try to replace it with something just as extreme on the other side!
The days of women going to college to find husbands are gone, but the new plan is no better. Women today set aside zero space for marriage and motherhood. It’s almost as if they don’t exist. Research shows that women’s priorities change as they get older. What looks appealing at 23 isn’t so appealing at 33 or 43. So many women map out their lives with one set of expectations, only to end up wishing they’d done things differently.
And then, of course, there’s the proverbial biological clock. The fact is, there’s a window for having children—and that window will never change. Which means postponing marriage and motherhood is okay to a point, but only to a point. Of course when I say this, I’m referring to women who want to get married and have kids. Not every woman does.
Cotto: What would you say was the impetus for the feminist movement?
Venker: Most people, myself included, have pointed to Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, as being the catalyst for the feminist movement. But one of the reasons Friedan was so successful, or her book was so successful I should say, is because of its timing.
Her book was published in 1963, which was a time of great rebellion in America. Several factions emerged at that time—the antiwar movement, the gay activist movement, etc.— to question authority and the moral code in general. These folks argued that America is oppressive, as did feminists.
Of course, black Americans truly were victims. So what feminists did was try to piggyback off the civil rights movement by claiming women were treated the same way blacks were. To suggest that being female in the 20th century was in akin to being black, with all its implications, is preposterous. They were once slaves, and it would be years before people began to view black Americans as human beings. Some still don’t.
But that’s what feminists did, and it worked.
Cotto: From your standpoint, what legacy has feminism left for men?
Venker: Over the last few months, I’ve been highlighting the consequences of feminism on gender relations and on men in particular. My argument has been that feminism has reduced men to superfluous buffoons.
Before feminism, men were viewed as respected providers and protectors of their families. Their masculinity was needed and revered. So was femininity. All of that changed with the sexual revolution, which taught women that they can (and should) have sex like a man: without getting attached. It also taught women that they should never depend on a man. So: men heard that message and subsequently lowered the bar on their own success.
Rather than accept their role in what has happened with men, feminists keep doing their damage. Consider these statements made by several high-profile feminists:
Author and journalist Natalie Angier begins an article in The New York Times by writing, “Women may not find this surprising, but one of the most persistent and frustrating problems in evolutionary biology is the male. Specifically… why doesn’t he just go away?”
In a CNN interview with Maureen Dowd about her 2005 book, Are Men Necessary?, Dowd says, “Now that women don’t need men to reproduce and refinance, the question is, will we keep you around? And the answer is, ‘You know, we need you in the way we need ice cream—you’ll be more ornamental.’
Lisa Belkin, a blogger for The New York Times, wrote, “We are standing at a moment in time when the role of gender is shifting seismically. At this moment an argument can be made for two separate narrative threads—the first is the retreat of men as this becomes a woman’s world.”
In an article in The Atlantic entitled “Are Fathers Necessary?” author Pamela Paul wrote, “The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution.”
That is feminism’s legacy.
Cotto: A great deal claim that feminism has disrupted Western family norms, bringing about considerable strife. What do you think about this argument?
Venker: I agree. You have to remember that in the beginning, it was all about convincing people that America was a racist place drowning in discrimination. Many people became convinced that Western family norms were oppressive. Anything that smacked of tradition was met with disdain, and this attitude became more pronounced over the years.
Misery loves company, so those who felt they’d been wronged in some way were given an outlet to redress their grievances. That’s not to say no one ever was, or is, wronged. The world is an imperfect place with many bad seeds. I only mean that people came to believe this was the norm—that America didn’t have their backs or that oppression was rampant.
From there it all became very political, and today we have what Bill O’Reilly once dubbed “traditionalists” and “secular-progressives.” The former group considers Western family norms indispensable, whereas the latter group does not. On the contrary, they want to change America. Feminism is part of that agenda.
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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