Feminism’s failure to capture the female heart and its success in hurting women is documented, in different ways, in two insightful new books. Both are written by professional women coming from different generational and life experiences.
- The first author came of age in the 1940s and 50s, discerned the poison of radical feminism from the outset and chose a different life-road. (F. Carolyn Graglia, Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism, Spence Publishing);
- Another tried to live the feminist ideal, met incredible professional success, but found that it all ultimately left her empty. To her own surprise, she discovered her fulfillment in a most unlikely place (Iris Krasnow, Surrendering to Motherhood: Losing Your Mind and Finding Your Soul, Hyperion Books)
Both speak from their own experience. These are not dry theoretical arguments, informed only by data and untouched by the reality of the real world. They are human, real-life cases against feminism. They are, of course, the most compelling kinds.
Graglia grew up in a poverty stricken home with a divorced mother. She wanted to make a better life for herself and decided at an early age that that road would be best realized by becoming a lawyer. Contrary to the feminist warning that women could only achieve professional status in society at great struggle, Graglia recounts that she received only encouragement in her decision to study law. She attended Cornell and Columbia where she graduated in 1954 and went on to land a job with a major Wall Street law firm. She moved on from that firm to earn other prestigious positions. But in the end, she gave it all up to stay home with her first child — because that’s what her heart wanted. She resisted the cultural trend to balance career and family and stayed home with her children until they were grown and out of the house. To be a women lawyer in the fifties or a full-time mom in the 60s and 70s; which was more controversial? Graglia reflects, “My own career pursuits elicited vastly more tolerant reaction four decades ago than is now evoked by a decision to devote oneself to being a full-time mother and housewife.”
This is Graglia’s first book and she wanted to write it since the early sixties in reaction to the rabid works of Simone de Beauvior and Betty Friedan. Both women painted a venomously negative picture of homemaking and rejected the life of domesticity as unsuitable for anyone. This made Graglia angry but she was too busy enjoying the life of caring for home and family to write her book. She waited until her children were grown and out of the house to take on that project.
Graglia explains that contemporary feminism did three primary things that were very destructive to women, children and society. First, it distanced itself from the early, more moderate, turn-of-the-century feminist efforts and destroyed what she called the “women’s pact.” This unspoken pact held that the three primary paths available to women (to not marry and/or bear children, to marry and bear children but have a surrogate raise them, and to marry, bear children and make these two relationships one’s primary career) could all co-exist peaceably and no one’s choice would be maligned. Radical feminism changed all this and the third choice was deemed unacceptable.
Second, in ironic contrast to the breaking of the women’s pact, it held up self-determination as the primary good for women. But this had its limits. It is only tolerant of women who choose to actualize themselves in the marketplace and is religiously intolerant of women, like Graglia, who determine to become stay-at-home moms and faithful wives. These women are non-persons in the feminist value system. The contemporary feminists see only market work as honorable.
Third was an attack upon faithful, marital sexual relationships. The new feminist engaged in indiscriminate, or what Erica Jong called in Fear of Flying, “zipless” sex: sex unencumbered by emotional attachments. The old taboos encouraging women to be chaste were deemed foolish. There was nothing to be lost, and everything to be gained by sexual assertiveness and self-determination. This philosophy failed, however, to calculate the heavy price of promiscuity in broken bodies, broken psyches, broken hearts and broken promises. Other authors denounced heterosexual intercourse altogether as a wholly oppressive action by males and pulled many women hesitantly, but dutifully (as loyal feminists), into lesbian relationships.
Another irony of feminism Graglia highlights is while all of its key leaders (Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millet, Germaine Greer, and Gloria Steinem) denounce domestication as a deadening slavery, only Friedan ever experienced both marriage and the birth of children. The others rejected something they have only observed. Contemporary feminism’s disconnect from experience has been its primary Achilles Heel. It’s why it has failed in its mission to become the mainstream sentiment of women. It wars against the most basic habits of the female heart: the deep desire to commit oneself to a loving, caring protective man and bear and nurture their common children.
Graglia’s book is unique, not just in its intelligent case against feminism, but in it’s equally smart defense of domesticity as a fulfilling lifestyle choice for women. Unfortunately, such a defense is rare. Graglia recognizes, “those under the age of thirty-five have rarely heard the housewife depicted in anything but demeaning terms.” The tragedy in this is that many women will never realize that caring for a home and raising children are among the most significant tasks the hands, the heart and the mind can undertake.
Surrendering To Motherhood
Iris Krasnow was raised in the height of the feminist revolution, believed it all and was intoxicated by the possibilities of its promises. She exceeded her professional dreams and won a coveted position as UPI’s celebrity-profile journalist, meeting the most famous and interesting people in the world and writing about their lives. She traveled to lots of exotic places, dated scores of interesting men and had exciting professional adventures. She fulfilled her feminist dream, but it failed to fulfill her.
Later, still seeking elusive fulfillment, she married a wonderful man and they planned children. “Four by forty” was their goal and they made it. She sought to become the feminist superwoman, balancing career, her marriage and her children. She believed she could have it all. Without the career to give her life significance, she believed she would go mad. In fact, it was the impossible balancing act that nearly drove her mad. One ordinary, monotonous housewife-day brought her epiphany.
On that gray carpet with egg under my nails and egg in my hair, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was exactly were I was supposed to be…. There were no shackles on this house, this is no jail, These kids are your ticket to freedom like nothing you have ever tasted, the kind that is not hinged on TV appearances or writing for Life magazine or being a size 6 again. It’s the liberation that comes from the sheer act of living itself. [M]ercifully beaten down by children but exalted, glory to God, This Was It!
This new enlightenment was reinforced through the reflective, winter-of-life thoughts of one of her feminist teachers, Erica Jong. Jong wrote in Fear of Fifty:
Now at fifty, when it is too late, I wish I had more children. But when I was fertile, I mostly saw motherhood as the enemy of art and an appalling loss of control…. For years, I resolutely remained a writer first, mother second. It took the whole first decade of my daughter’s life to learn to surrender myself to motherhood. No sooner had I learned that essential surrender than she was entering puberty and I menopause. Years after giving birth, I became a mother against my will because I saw that my daughter needed me to become one. What I really would have preferred was to remain a writer and dabbled in motherhood…. But Molly would not permit it. She needed a mother, not a dabbler.
This teacher was right and another teacher was dead wrong. The radical Angela Davis lectured Krasnow at Stanford many years earlier, proclaiming, “The women’s movement is more powerful than anything else today.” Krasnow discovered that committing herself to marriage and raising children who become loving, intelligent, enjoyable adults is far more powerful — the most powerful thing in the world.
Although Krasnow’s belief system is not constructed on a Christian worldview, but a postmodern sundry sampling of traditional and new-age thought, she possesses a deeper understanding of an important truth than most orthodox Christians do. In living the life of family found in faithful marriage and the nurturing of children, we are connecting with, and participating in, something much larger than ourselves and the obvious drama of our own busyness.
The life of raising a family, helping create and raise beings that have eternal consequences, is one of the most significant ways we can participate in eternity. These little souls mothers and fathers help create and nurture are transcendent. It is no mere coincidence that the imagery God uses to communicate the reality of his Kingdom is family. He is Father, who sent his only Son, to redeem the bride of Christ — His Church. All who enter that Great Wedding Feast will do so by being born, not once, but twice. God uses this imagery because it is much more than a useful metaphor. It communicates a metaphysical reality.
This is why feminism failed to capture the feminine heart. It creates a great divorce between women and the mystical experience that is unique to their gender and central to the rhythm of the universe. What contemporary feminists see as so humiliating to women is really what makes them most powerful.
Copyright © 1998 Glenn T. Stanton. All rights reserved.