Has feminism made women miserable?
Oh God, are we really having this discussion?
Yes, we are.
That, in fact, was the gist of an all-female panel discussion at the conservative Heritage Foundation which chose to “celebrate” Women’s History Month last week by inviting a trio of professional women to trash the very movement to which they most assuredly owe their status in the workplace. Not to mention the respect they are accorded by formerly male-dominated political bastions like the, um, Heritage Foundation.
But why let details like that stand in the way when you are, as the panel promised, “Evaluating Feminism, Its Failures and Its Future”?
I watched a video of the discussion, which took place in Washington, D.C., and featured columnist Mona Charen, The Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway and Karin Agness, founder of the Network of Enlightened Women, a group for conservative college students.
There was no praise for the feminist movement, only a misguided indictment of it based on the premise that having children outside of marriage is bad for kids, bad for women, the fault of feminism and should be restigmatized. Also, panelists said, feminism is bad because women are not as happy as they used to be.
“We’re telling women they should delay marriage, ‘lean in’ on career, focus on themselves,” Hemingway said. “And we know these things don’t lead to female happiness.” (Was happiness the goal? I always thought it was equality.)
“Feminism, with its disdain for family life must take blame for the disintegration of family function,” Charen said. “To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, women need feminism like a fish needs a bicycle.”
The (here we go again) happiest women, Charen added, are protected and supported by men “during those times in their life when they are having and raising children.”
“Feminism,” she said, “disdains this natural urge in women, urging them to rely only on themselves.”
In frequent conversations with young women on college campuses, Charen said, “They are always repeating the mantra that has been drubbed into them by their parents, by their professors, and by our society in general: ‘Make sure you can handle things on your own, don’t ever rely on a man.’ That’s a terrible message. Millions of women have taken this feminist advice, and it’s led to a great deal of unnecessary misery.”
Listening to Mona Charen makes me feel unnecessary misery.
She’s conflating the challenges faced by low-earning single mothers with the entirely positive feminist message to heterosexual American women that they don’t have to rely on a man to make them happy or to support them.
Do we really want to tell young women to forget their careers, find a man, get married, have kids and it will all work out? It won’t all work out. Most American women -- yes, even married ones -- feel they have no choice but to work outside the home after they have children. That’s the economic reality we live in. I would never denigrate the choice of a woman affluent enough to be able to stay home to raise her children, but she could find herself in grave economic danger if the marriage fails and she has no way to support herself.
And that ain’t the fault of feminism.
It took a few minutes of watching the video before I realized that these women have nothing good to say about “feminism” because, by their definition, it’s the ideological opposite of “conservative.”
To them, it does not stand for the political view that men and women are equal, that women should be able to control their own reproductive fates, that no government entity, educational institution or business should be able to discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender. Instead it’s a synonym for “liberals” or “Democrats.”
Agness acknowledged that President Obama’s first act as president was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but she did not explain whether this was good or bad.
If you think women deserve equal pay, the Ledbetter Act is good. Obviously. But if you, like Agness, believe that “the left is quick to offer policy solutions that seem to want to get in the middle of that employee/employer relationship,” then it’s bad. Because, you know, employers always have their employees’ best interests at heart.
She offered as proof a failed 2013 bill, proposed by Alabama Republican Rep. Martha Roby, passed by the Republican House, ignored so far by the Democratic Senate, that would allow private employers to give their employees comp time, instead of the time-and-a-half overtime pay that is required by federal law.
Many women’s groups have opposed the measure, fearing it would lead to coerced unpaid overtime. Conservatives have embraced it as a “family-friendly” measure, but mainly because it will, of course, save employers money.
So, is there anything that feminism is good at? As it turns out, yes.
“Despite the failures of feminism today,” said Agness, “they have been tremendously successful in elections.”
She doesn’t explain why, but I will.
Most women — especially single women — prefer Democratic candidates and policies because on issue after issue — health, education, the minimum wage, Social Security, Medicare — they are perceived as friendlier to women and families.
To understand that, you don’t even have to be a feminist.