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Feminist Revolution and Happiness?

posted by Scot McKnight

Did you see this piece in The NY Times? Any thoughts?

Feminists and traditionalists should be able to agree, for instance,
that the structures of American society don’t make enough allowances
for the particular challenges of motherhood. We can squabble forever
about the choices that mothers ought to make, but the difficult
work-parenthood juggle is here to stay. (Just ask Sarah and Todd
Palin.) And there are all kinds of ways — from a more family-friendly
tax code to a more accommodating educational system — that public
policy can make that juggle easier. Conservatives and liberals won’t
agree on the means, but they ought to agree on the end: a nation where
it’s easier to balance work and child-rearing, however you think that
balance should be struck.

They should also be able to agree
that the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests
and happiness of women. Here the public-policy options are limited;
some kind of social stigma is a necessity. But a new-model stigma
shouldn’t (and couldn’t) look like the old sexism. There’s no necessary
reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in
the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of
the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial
baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen
women” of a more patriarchal age.

No reason, of course, save the
fact that contemporary America doesn’t seem willing to accept sexual
stigma, period. We simply don’t have the stomach for permanently
ostracizing the sexually irresponsible — be they a pregnant starlet, a
thrice-divorced tycoon, or even a prostitute-hiring politician.

In
this sense, ours is a kinder, gentler, more forgiving country than it
was 40 years ago. But for half the public, it’s an unhappier country as
well.

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Jim Marks

posted May 29, 2009 at 4:31 pm


I have neither a liberal, nor a conservative point of view on this whole issue. I have the point of view of someone who sees voluntarily having a baby in 21st Century America as an inherently selfish act. And if it is an act in which you choose to engage, you do so with wide open eyes as to what the consequences of that choice are. If those consequences make you unhappy, you made the wrong choice. But I’m hard pressed to see why it is in my best interest to expend further public resources to mitigate those consequences so that more and more people can make a choice that I’d just as soon do all I can to prevent them from making in the first place.
A more accommodating education system? Our public education system is, by definition, supposed to be, a one-size-fits-all provider of education. One of the primary reasons it is currently such a disaster is that it has tried to accommodate -too much- already. When already limited resources are channeled into providing accommodation for a sub-set, this de facto takes funding away from everyone else. Whether this is schools in affluent suburbs simply getting more tax revenue than poor rural or urban schools, whether this is special education for the challenged or the gifted, whether this is ESL for the new arrivals or hypo-allergenic lunch rooms for the peanut-crippled blue bloods. A public education system is, by design, intended to encourage and create homogeneity. We are a society that increasingly rejects homogeneity as inherently bad. In order to create an educational system which can better accommodate the scheduling needs of 21st Century parents, we may need to simply abandon public education altogether. Which I think almost everyone can agree would be a Horrible Idea.
There is an endless, unavoidable tension created whenever any aspect of public policy is labeled “family friendly”. The reason for this is that in this context the word “family” is used exclusively to define “adults with children”. A man and a woman with a baby are a family. A woman with a baby is a family. A man and a man who adopt a baby are a family. But a man and a woman with a dog aren’t a family. Much of our social structure was constructed to encourage breeding. This is why the state has a public interest in marriage (which has lead to our current debate over same sex unions). This is why the state has a public interest in inheritances. This is why we have a public education system in the first place. But child survival rates are way up. People are having lots of babies and most of them are surviving. Our population is exploding and our country is filling up. We don’t -need- as many people as possible to have babies anymore. In fact, there are millions of children without parents, without homes without anyone being incentivized to have any more on their own. And so there is a tension between those of us who choose not to have children and those who do. I see an entire culture around me already deeply biased towards encouraging and supporting the having of and caring for babies. I really have no interest in putting any more of my resources into extending that bias.
I 100% agree. We need stigma attached to the having of children. Too many people have children who are unwilling to accept ALL of the consequences of having children. The root of the unhappiness of post-feminist women is not that society has not yet become accommodating enough to help them. The root of the unhappiness stems from the fact that we are a culture of radical individuals who believe that the consequences of our choices are society’s problem to deal with and not our own.
We don’t need a stigma to discourage single motherhood. We need a stigma to discourage people from having babies if they are not ready, willing and able to accept the consequences of the radical change in lifestyle that comes from having a baby.



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Nate

posted May 29, 2009 at 4:31 pm


I hate to be the one who defends the Johns, but Bill Maher’s idiocy aside, most folks who call foul on the Spitzer case do so because it seemed like a political hit job. I’ll grant that he never should have been hiring hookers, but the fact that they caught him patronizing a prostitute by means of a wiretap, a police tactic that budget and legal restrictions generally limit to investigations of crimes like racketeering and terrorism, should give one pause.
That said, the general upshot of your post I can agree with–to make sexual irresponsibility simply one option among many, to remove the category of irresponsibility, is to make mockery of what most feminists and conservatives say they’re working for.



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Peggy

posted May 29, 2009 at 4:51 pm


Interesting that you should mention the Palin family, Scot … Bristol Palin’s cover story on People (with 5 month old Tripp on her Graduation Day) was interesting in that she basically said the same thing (they are related, after all) about girls and sex that Scott Peck paid in The Road Less Travelled said about falling in love: it is a temporary collapse of ego boundaries that snap back like a vengeance when reality strikes!
Page 90 (end of the chapter on Falling In Love) says: “…it is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage. …without this trick, this illusory and inevitably temporary (it would not be practical were it not temporary) regression to infantile merging and omnipotence, many of us who are … married today would have retreated in wholehearted terror from the realism of the marriage vows.”
Same thing goes for parenting, IMO. So, Bristol Palin’s statement — that if girls really understood the consequences of (irresponsible) sex (read: a baby), there would be NO girls having sex — gets down to the heart of the matter.
Irresponsible behavior is a big problem for a society based on self-focus and the search for personal happiness.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 29, 2009 at 5:58 pm


Folks, this is a piece from the NYTimes — not something I wrote.



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Jim Martin

posted May 29, 2009 at 7:08 pm


Scot,
Thanks for linking this article from the NY Times. Very, very interesting. (By the way, I always appreciate your bringing these kind of articles to our attention.)



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Ann

posted May 29, 2009 at 8:15 pm


There should not be “a stigma” attached to having children. There should be a stigma attached to folks who seem to think that a) children are an ongoing, inconvenient result of having sex, b) sexual satisfaction is a higher goal, c) relationships with one another and with children are disposable when difficult and requiring of work (i.e., our personal ease, satisfaction and happiness are goals which should be pursued regardless of their effects on others).
IMHO (speaking simplistically), what the study *does* point to is: the feminist movement of the 60′s had a premise that when women achieved equality in workplaces, meeting men on “their” turf, men would respect, hear, and value them and their contributions to the world. The anti-feminist movement said that women should stay in their place and be happy in their “God-assigned” roles as wives and mothers. The problem for many women had been that these roles were demeaned, devalued and minimized by many, if not the majority of men.
So many women threw in the dish towel and went to the office. However, there, too, many women who entered the workforce have been excluded from power circles, demeaned through inferior positions and salaries, sexually-stereotyped, and ignored for their insights, no matter how hard and long they worked. In addition, they’ve been stigmatized or denied advancement for the biological fact of bearing children, needing maternity leave, and then, perhaps, leaving the office altogether to nurture the children. Biology met business economics, and many women lost.
The study serves to illuminate the biblical truth that the foundational problem is that humans are alienated from one another; we are not happily divided into immutable and eternal gender roles, *and* our value isn’t well-determined by familial, societal or economic measures. Humans need a determinant of worth apart from these temporal ones.
An aside: had someone the inclination, it might be wise to check if the statistical measures likely used in the study which underlies the NYT piece accounted for the increasingly polarized dialogue & atmosphere in our country and world, the increasing gap between wealthy and average incomes, the economic squeeze on the middle class, the increasing impoverishment of the poor, etc.? As one who used to work in economics, I tend toward analytical suspicion!
ISTM that we’ll be happier when we found families, communities & workplaces within which we are built up and encouraged in our unique gifting and affirmed within our gendered and individually differing strengths. Sounds like the reign of God!



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Barb

posted May 29, 2009 at 8:30 pm


Ann–yes-your list of three current attitudes is right on.
I think that there are two categories of unhappy people.
there are rich people, where both Husband and wife work–where the need for bigger and better stuff overrides the happiness found in family relationships–therefore everyone–including the children–are unhappy. Then there are poor people who work at low paying jobs that don’t provide any security for the future and the stress of this seems to bring a kind of dispair also–but sometimes its because they don’t have the good “stuff” that rich people have. I see our greed for stuff to be at the root of our unhappiness.
Ann–your last paragraph says it all.



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RJohnson

posted May 29, 2009 at 9:25 pm


If we accept that there should be a social stigma to irresponsible parenthood (whether it is the single starlet having her third child or the serial-father of 21 kids by 11 women), I hope we can agree that this stigma should NOT apply in any way to the children of these unions.
For too many years the term “bastard child” was applied to the only innocent party in these circumstances…the child who never asked to be born into these situations. As we move forward into addressing this, let’s remember to stigmatize the practice of the parents, not the resulting offspring.



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ChrisB

posted May 29, 2009 at 10:21 pm


Ann said: “There should not be “a stigma” attached to having children.”
I don’t know. From the stereotypical baby-machine welfare mom to the unmarried mother of children conceived via artificial insemination, there is a lot of selfishness out there that doesn’t care about what’s best of the children, only what’s good for me. I think we can stigmatize that.



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My 2 Cents

posted May 30, 2009 at 10:16 am


Good thoughts on this, Ann. Are these new parents so self-absorbed they do not have a single aspiration for the next generation?
It is sad how the Christian world has devolved the contribution of women–treating them as undervalued nannies. No wonder women couldn’t take it anymore. What happened to the Susanna Wesley and Mary Edwards Dwights (daughter of Jonathan Edwards), who taught some of the greatest thinkers (their children) in latin, greek, philosphy, religion, etc.? AND many times these women single-handedly kept their families afloat!
It is obvious that Wesley and Edwards both had a superb education as women. SOMEONE made it so they were included in the conversation and stimulation of their capacities. Just think about their influence. It didn’t devalue the men in their lives for them to be fully who God made them to be and to use their gifts.



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Joanne

posted June 1, 2009 at 9:10 am


I do think we need reconciliation between men and women and it begins not with adhearance to immutable roles but with JEsus Christ who reconciled us to himself and invites us to be reconciled to one another. In that new union of Christ’ body, we cannot regard one another from a human vantage point in which women are demeaned either in the home or in the workplace.(one way or other, sexism or rigid roles and powerlessness). Believers need a different perspective rooted in the kingdom of God. In my belief that is about living kingdomly… with shalom … working toward well-being and justice for everyone, including children.
Ethics also applies, whether a woman is in the home or in the workplace, each family has an ethical responsibility to their children and must make decisions for the well-being of their family. In some cases a couple will choose a traditional way and in others a family will choose to make other sacrifices to meet the needs of their children. There is not one way commanded by God. The point is that mother and father often make sacrifices for the well-being of the children and family. that might mean Dad takes a job that is more family friendly and mom takes a job that is more family friendly and they sacrifice wealth to care for children during the childbearing years. It might mean that one parent stays home to care for the children and the other works outside the home. But it is the choice of each couple to make.
I don’t think happiness is a good evaluator of whether or not the feminist movement has been successful or whether or not being a stay at home mom is better. I was home for 20 years raising children (and committed to their well-being) and suffered significant depression, and while that was not the cause, isolation was a contributing factor. Wealth does not bring happiness, poverty does not in itself bring happiness. (maybe maturity and perspective?)



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joanne

posted June 1, 2009 at 11:39 am


I have a couple of more thoughts. The thing about articles and such as this is that they lead toward a certain range of conclusions. There are however a number of other conclusions that can be made.
1. People, families in our society lack boundaries. I believe that working women need to place boundaries around their family and in their own lives that will help them find happiness or well being–including boundaries in from husbands who disrespect them by not pitching in.(stop enabling thoughtless husbands and ask for what we need) I believe also that women who work in the home full time might also need to put up some boundaries in their lives that will help meet some of their needs for respect from spouses who devalue what they do. This also includes boundaries that help families promote the well being of their children such as limiting working hours, taking time, prioritizing children and marriage etc. It’s not all or nothing… stay home or go to work.
2. I don’t think we do a good job of helping people become mature and whole. When we are not mature and whole, all of our lives, relationships and workplaces are affected. This includes inability to set boundaries, the ways in which men and women disrespect one another in the home and workplace etc.
3. I think that we learn how to live, become mature in the new community in Christ and by kingdom values first. Then we take what we learn and live that in a variety of other community contexts, including work and home. The new community formed in Christ has powerful implications for maturity and helping people become mature and powerful implications for how we relate in the rest of our lives. I don’t think reconciliation is about return to traditional roles but learning to live and work together for the good of the family in ways that are loving, ethical, and just.
So the article and study leads to conclusions about the feminist movement and if women are happier but I think it cannot really assess that fairly because of so many other factors in human relationships and maturity level.
my thoughts for what they are worth.



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