February 22, 2006,
I simply have no patience for women.
Odds are I don't mean you, your wife, or your mother. I do mean, however, the type of gal who tends to grace the likes of the New York Times editorial pages.
I'm thinking in particular of Judith Warner. Warner is the author of a book called Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. In memorializing the recently deceased feminist "founding mother" Betty Friedan (as she is frequently described) in the New York Times earlier this month, Warner heralded Friedan's 1963 The Feminine Mystique as "surprisingly relevant today" indeed, "horribly familiar."
To understand Warner, one must understand Friedan. The Feminine Mystique, a feminist classic, has a chapter entitled "The Comfortable Concentration Camp." Friedan was a seriously desperate housewife, comparing women raising kids at home to the hopelessness of American POWs in Korea. She was married and unhappy and based a philosophy on her personal coping strategy. Friedan moved on, but not without leading others astray with her ideas.
As my friend and colleague Kate O'Beirne writes in her book, Women Who Make the World Worse, Friedan got a divorce, "but unfortunately not before she expounded on the merits of Marxist economics, persuaded far too many women that a selfless devotion to their families was a recipe for misery, helped create the National Organization for Women (NOW), and destructively politicized relations between the sexes."
Likewise in 2006, Judith Warner seems to want to base a revived Friedanism and reinvigorate "destructively politicized relations between the sexes" on personal choices she's not entirely delighted with. Her problem seems to stem from a husband who doesn't clean up his socks. Warner writes, "The outside world has changed enormously for women in these past 40 years. But home life? Think about it. Who routinely unloads the dishwasher, puts away the laundry and picks up the socks in your house? Who earns the largest share of the money? Who calls the shots?"
Warner seems to consider the life of a mom who can choose to stay at home with her children, working at writing for minimal hours, wrought with "soul-numbing sacrifices." Obviously, some women will find motherhood and home life not for them. (Though even some hardened feminists have written about the reality check that falling in love with their baby meant for their own gender biases.) But Warner's answer is to universalize her experience and encourage women to put their kids' childhoods into the "soul-numbing sacrifice" category. Some women rather celebrate the opportunity.
Warner, as she explains it in her book, believes that the village should raise the children. In Perfect Madness, Warner calls for "institutions that can help us take care of our children so we don't have to do everything on our own," wanting French-style month-long mommy vacations and other big-government solutions.
Now, don't get me wrong, a month off sounds great in a "Calgon take me away" kinda way. And I don't mean to diminish the stress and anxiety that comes with families making hard choices, sometimes a single parent making it. But ... can we be serious?
Her thinking is pulled straight out of Betty Friedan. Friedan wrote: "But even if a woman does not have to work to eat, she can find identity only in work that is of real value to society work for which, usually, our society pays." Warner, who has, in fact, been dubbed "The New Betty Friedan," would easily run the hysteria marathon with the feminist torch of victimization held high. But that's nothing to award a gold medal for.
Friedan/Warner thinking is a slap-in-the-face to stay-at-home moms who are home because they actually want to be there. And it's an attitude that is damaging to children. O'Beirne summarizes the research and debates well in a chapter of Women Who Make the World Worse called "Day Care Good; Mother Bad." Besides the ear infections and other physical disadvantages of sending your kid off to an institution, one expert on the first three years of childhood O'Beirne cites says it all and it's all so natural: "babies form their first human attachment only once. Babies begin to learn language only once ... The outcome of these processes play a major role in shaping the future of each child."
I'm not looking to inflame so-called "Mommy Wars" here, but it's pretty simple: If you can stay home with your kid, it's a good thing. Embrace it. Don't let modern-day bottle burners tell you any differently.
(c) 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.