Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’

Retrograde Feminism

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/08/10 at 9:11 AM

Feminists who scold stay-at-home mothers misunderstand education and motherhood

The New York Times recently published a front-page story on the increasing willingness of Ivy League women to make career sacrifices for their future families.  Based partly on a survey of 138 undergraduate women at Yale, the article reported that more than half of the respondents plan to cut back on work outside the home or stop working entirely when they have children.  The piece also cited recent Yale alumni studies which showed that nearly half of female graduates in their early 40s no longer work full-time.

Reactions to the article were intense.  Feminist pundits and bloggers pounced on the report, questioning its methodology and mocking the “throwback views” of the “smug” and “oblivious” Yale women.

“These future moms betray a startling combination of naiveté and privilege,” wrote author Karen Stabiner, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed typical of the backlash.  “To plot this kind of future, a woman has to have access to a pool of wealthy potential husbands, she has to stay married at a time when half of marriages end in divorce, and she has to ignore the history of the women’s movement.”

Most women do not have as many career choices as Ivy League graduates, and many women who work outside the home do so because of financial pressures that some of these Yale graduates may never face.

Still, if feminism is truly about choice, why should women who have the opportunity to devote more time to motherhood be condemned for seizing it?  Why should they sacrifice the right to raise their children as they see fit simply because their lifestyle does not conform to the ideals of the “women’s movement?”  And what sort of women’s movement promotes the retrograde idea that women who plan to be full-time mothers are guilty of ingratitude for their first-rate education, or are even unworthy of it?

That idea was repugnant to early feminists.  Mary Wollstonecraft, widely considered the “mother of feminism,” criticized it in her landmark 1792 treatise, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.”  In a society that considered higher education largely irrelevant for women because of their role as mothers, Wollstonecraft argued that the education of women was all the more important because mothers play such a vital role in shaping the next generation.

She wrote: “As the rearing of children, that is, the laying a foundation of sound health both of body and mind in the rising generation, has justly been insisted on as the peculiar destination of woman, the ignorance that incapacitates them must be contrary to the order of things.  And I contend that their minds can take in much more, and ought to do so, or they will never become sensible mothers.”

Today’s feminists seem to have lost Wollstonecraft’s appreciation of education’s intrinsic worth, and their resentment of highly educated stay-at-home mothers reveals a flawed understanding of both education and motherhood.

As John Henry Newman wrote in The Idea of a University, knowledge is “its own end.”  An education that imparts knowledge and the ability to think critically has value regardless of which career path a graduate takes.  And graduates who choose to share the fruits of their education primarily with their children are making a significant contribution to society.  They are forming citizens and guiding the intellectual and moral development of the next generation.

Rather than being scolded, these young women should be congratulated for realistically assessing the demands of career and motherhood, and making provisions now to achieve a balance that will suit their families in the future.  A women’s movement that condemns them is not worthy of the name.

Our Sunday Visitor  November 20, 2005 

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. 


The Perils of Post Modern Girlhood

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/07/21 at 11:09 AM

She arrived pink and plump, sporting a full head of cotton-soft brown hair and that intoxicatingly sweet scent that only newborns have. All gurgles, whimpers and tiny yawns, her delicate fingers gripped mine as I thought of all the things I wanted to give this brand-new baby girl: love and security, freedom, opportunity and the inner strength to weather life’s fiercest storms.

Like the arrival of her sister and brother before her, my newborn daughter’s debut last month reminded me once again what a perilous and potentially heartbreaking endeavor parenthood is. In welcoming a child into your life, you consent to share in her vulnerability as well as her joy, to risk the pain of seeing her hurt by a world far less enthralled with her charms and protective of her innocence than you are.

That’s particularly true for parents of girls, a fact I was reminded of last week when I spotted the cover of Caitlin Flanagan’s much-debated new book, “Girl Land.” I felt simultaneously captivated and disturbed by the photo staring back at me, an image of a little girl only a few years older than my own girls striking a seductive pose in imitation of a pair of scantily clad, emaciated mannequins standing before her. I quickly purchased the e-book version and spent the next few days balancing my new bundle of joy in one arm and Flanagan’s alarming treatise on the perils of postmodern girlhood in the other.

A teacher-turned-social-critic, Flanagan focuses her attention on the fraught period of female adolescence with an emphasis on the ways our prurient, porn-saturated culture short-circuits the healthy development of girls. Her premise — that teenage girls need more protection from the invasive and obscene elements of our post-sexual revolution society — has riled many feminists, who have blasted Flanagan’s emphasis on female vulnerability as retrograde and patronizing.

In an age when baby girl onesies come adorned with such slogans as “little hottie” and “diva in training,” padded bras and pole-dancing kits are marketed to preschoolers and teen girls routinely use their cell phones to send boys pornographic pictures of themselves, it’s tough to imagine how any halfway-conscious parent can argue with Flanagan’s assertion that our hyper-sexualized culture poses particular risks for girls. For those still unconvinced, there are reams of reports from groups like the American Psychological Association describing links between the rising sexualization of girls and their struggles with depression, eating disorders, promiscuity and poor self-image.

Flanagan’s book skips most of these studies but accurately captures the emotional truth behind them: the feelings of excitement and danger that surround a girl’s gradual transition to womanhood. That transition, Flanagan argues, increasingly is complicated by a culture that encourages girls to view and market themselves as sex objects long before they understand the potential costs of doing so.

For all the feminist ridicule Flanagan has incurred for her parenting suggestions — that fathers more thoroughly vet their daughters’ boyfriends and parents keep the Internet out of their daughters’ bedrooms — she sidesteps the most promising fix to the problems she describes: the decision by parents not merely to police or shelter their daughters but to begin early instilling a clear moral framework rooted in transcendent values, one that helps girls make virtuous, disciplined decisions about their budding sexuality. Flanagan seems to regard chastity and sexual purity as an impossible option for teenage girls, even as she painstakingly chronicles the grief girls come to when they adopt the hook-up culture’s anything-goes ethos instead. As a result, her book ends not with the countercultural call to arms she apparently intends but with a whimper of resignation.

Happily, parents still can use books like Flanagan’s and studies like those circulated by the APA as helpful reminders that when it comes to raising girls today, the challenges are real and the stakes are high. In a culture that equates femininity with monomaniacal fixation on appearance, obsessive acquisition of status objects and aggressive sexuality, the moral formation that parents give girls matters as never before. And the battle to defend the innocence and dignity of our daughters must begin not in adolescence but as soon as that innocence and dignity come under attack — which is to say, practically from birth.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 02, 2011

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.