July 22, 2009
Over the last 50 years, America has witnessed the cultural devastation of femininity and motherhood. When women fall, an entire way of life and civilization itself are not far behind. In order to reverse this state of affairs, a profound change in attitudes and prevailing mores is necessary. It’s not a question of returning to a former time, such as the 1950’s or the Victorian era, but of returning, as Richard Weaver put it, to the center of things, to the essence of who we are.
Attitudes are not all. We need ultimately to reverse existing laws and practices. First and foremost, we must restore customary economic discrimination in favor of men. America’s businesses and institutions must be free once again to favor men over women in hiring. If they are not, family life will never return to a reasonable state of health; the happiness of women and children will continue to decline; and men will fail to flourish and prosper.
It will take many years to recover the sensibility that sanctions a form of discrimination that was once common. It’s important to begin laying the groundwork. The essential foundation of change is a renewed understanding of ideas and practices that were once so basic and unspoken we did not feel the need to make them explicit or to defend them. Let’s begin this task together by clarifying the issue.
What is customary discrimination?
Customary discrimination, in relation to the sexes, is the voluntary and informal practice of favoring men over women in hiring. It is not encoded in law or enforced by regulation. It exists as a result of a common understanding that men must support families and cannot adequately do so if they compete with large numbers of women, a form of competition that lowers their wages and reduces their marketability. The relative stagnation of men’s wages in the last 50 years proves the point.
Why and when did customary discrimination end?
Customary discrimination came to an official end with the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made discrimination against women in hiring unlawful, and its subsequent enforcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. At the time the 1964 legislation was adopted, there was not widespread agitation for a change. The bill was the work of a relatively small minority. However, given the subsequent change in attitudes regarding sex roles, this radical experiment in social change was inevitable. It wasn’t dissatisfaction with home life so much as the novelty of the unknown and the romantic fantasies of the minority of feminists temperamentally unsuited to domesticity that convinced impressionable women to pour into the market for careers.
Businesses have profited from the end of discrimination as it opened up the pool of available labor and provided a check on wages.
Why would American businesses and government ever voluntarily return to a state of affairs that is not in their interest?
Though businesses profit from a larger labor pool, they also suffer costs due to more women working. Women, over the course of their careers, have higher absentee rates; are more easily distracted because of family duties and greater sociability; require expensive services such as day care; and file costly discrimination and harassment suits. Men are naturally more suited to competitive work and a collegial atmosphere. In many fields, the working environment would be more collaborative, focused, and placid due to smaller numbers of women, especially women who are unstable or unhappy due to the conflict between work and home.
Obviously, women would still be present in some numbers in all fields, especially at lower levels. With the removal of anti-discrimination laws and a renewed sensitivity toward the obligation of businesses to reinforce family life –similar to the awareness they now hold regarding the natural environment – the economy would gradually arrive at a smaller and reasonable number of women in the workforce.
Does a return to customary discrimination mean women never hold jobs?
No. Women even remain a majority in certain fields, such as education, low-level office work, psychology and nursing. These fields are suited to the interruptions of family life, to the years before marriage, and to the natural skills of women. Business and institutions would be as free to favor women as they were before, but would violate an unwritten code if they favored anything but exceptional women in lucrative fields.
Especially gifted and ambitious women, generally those who will not have families, will still be exceptions in all fields, as they were before the feminist era. There will still be women doctors, lawyers and professors, just far fewer of them. Ambitious women will not find it as easy to make their way as they do today.
America needs the labor of women. We cannot afford to go back in a global economy.
Competition in the world economy is not the first and most vital task of the American market. Given its size, the American economy has vast potential for serving itself and Americans alone. In any event, our economy requires a healthy, moral and educated workforce. It also requires a large number of consumers within its own borders. Consumers are born, and raised, not manufactured.
America cannot have this adequate workforce without healthy families. The dramatic increase in divorce, the decline in the health and literacy of children, the increase in unethical business practices are all directly related to the departure of women from their main function in the home. The dramatic drop in fertility is also a result of this loss of function. Fewer children mean fewer consumers. We face economic crisis because of an end to customary discrimination, not the other way around.
Doesn’t this mean poverty among women will increase as those who are divorced or single won’t be able to support themselves or their families?
Divorced women would still receive the support of their husbands. However, parallel changes in divorce law are necessary to make for less incentive for women to divorce. Women should generally face the loss of child custody and a serious decline in income if they initiate divorce, except in the event of proven malfeasance on the part of the husband. Single women will still be able to find jobs and receive help from fathers and extended family. Most of them will not be rich.
Why would women ever accept a return to discrimination?
The end of customary discrimination was never in the interests of women. It has forced the majority to help support their families while raising their children and managing a home. The experiment was tried. The apple was eaten. Women now see that careers come with personal costs and that many jobs are not as thrilling as feminists claim. They are ready to embrace discrimination again.
Won’t there be fierce competition among women for high-earning men? And, won’t women become obsessed with men’s careers?
There is competition for high-earning men now. They have always been desirable mates for some, not all, women. Most women will be able to find what they cannot find now: a man who can support them and their children in reasonable comfort for many years.
It’s true that when women are not focused on career, they focus more on the careers of their mates and prospective mates. In some, this focus becomes excessive and neurotic. Such is the price to pay for a return to sanity for many. Though they won’t be caught up in building their own careers, women will find much that is satisfying to absorb their minds and express their varied interests. The rewards of larger families, domestic crafts, volunteer work, artistic pursuits and vigilance toward the elderly will be rediscovered. Instead of being openly disparaged by our opinion-shaping institutions, these will be embraced and publicly celebrated.
Won’t American families always be tempted to increase their incomes, and thus their buying power, by sending wives out to work?
With a greater awareness that the short-term luxuries purchased with a second income come with long-term costs, this practice would decline. Also, prices would eventually return to a one-income standard. To arrive at this event, there would be an inevitable period of sacrifice, perhaps a lengthy one. Would men and women accept this burden? Americans have accepted and endorsed many changes in recent years to protect the natural environment, having realized the consequences of not protecting it would be catastrophic. The same change in awareness could occur regarding family life and the culture at large. People could come to admit what they already know: that a country and an entire culture are quickly decaying. If we continue as we are, it’s not a question of if but of when we will not possess the luxury of turning back.
– Discussion –
Mark P. writes:
This is an interesting article, but I disagree with the beginning: “Over the last 50 years, America has witnessed the cultural ruin of its women. When women fall, an entire way of life and civilization itself are not far behind.” The reality is that the cultural ruin of America was caused by women. Specifically, women’s political, sexual and financial freedom is largely responsible for the decline of the West and not some abstract “culture.”
We harp a lot on liberalism, but what is liberalism but female thinking unbounded? I finally understand what that famous author meant when he said that civilizations die by suicide. Every civilization at the peak of its power, prosperity and wealth, and in a moment of decadence, emancipates women and, in a few short decades or centuries, it collapses. Babylon did it. Sparta did it. Rome did it. Now America will do it.
The basic problem with cultural discrimination is that it requires a theory or theories about how the world works. To have theories about how the world works requires making generalizations that are tested by, and adjusted to, reality. Women are diametrically opposed to generalizations. Why? To avoid having the analytical power of the generalization applied to womens’ physical appearance or other characteristics.
What all women implicitly understand, but are loathe to admit, is that 90% of a woman’s value is embedded in her physical appearance. Men choose women largely on looks based on a sliding scale of what men want and what they can get. The problem for women is that physical appearance is not only determined at birth, but it has a limited shelf-life. Whatever advantages women derive from looks do not last.
Now, when women were married at 20 and, a short time later, busy with their own children and families, the impact of this knowledge was limited. Family life occupies its own sphere and kids suck the narcissism out of women. With women competing in the world with men, this worry about appearances blooms to a neurotic high. Women are never certain if their success is the result of “who they are” or how they look. Consequently, this neurosis permeates every sphere of life within which women operate.
This is how you get a female police officer telling an investigator in the Berkowitz case that “Jews and Italians date, too.” Or, Maureen Dowd’s permanent screams on why society no longer finds her attractive. Or, the articles about the new standards of (chocolate) beauty established by Michelle Obama.
Women are at war with themselves and their short-term, pragmatic, narcissistic neuroses have swallowed the Western world.
Thank you for your interest.
You say, “The reality is that the cultural ruin of America was caused by women. Specifically, women’s political, sexual and financial freedom is largely responsible for the decline of the West and not some abstract ‘culture.'”
When I speak of women’s fall, I don’t mean a careless accident or an event imposed by others. I mean their moral downfall. I think my meaning was clear, or perhaps I assumed it was clear given the consistent argument put forth throughout this site. Women have freely chosen their own ruin and have caused an entire society’s decline. I agree that female thinking “unbounded” is catastrophic. My point that men must have economic primacy over women supports that view.
You say we cannot apply any form of working generalizations to the economy or society because women are incapable of generalizations. Women are less capable of generalizations than men, and are more wary of them. A society run by women is less capable of the abstractions needed to ensure its own survival. This is all the more reason why male thinking should assert itself in the economic sphere, which is my point in this article.
I do not agree that women shy from generalizations primarily for fear of their application to physical appearance. It’s a novel argument. Their general disinclination for abstraction lies more in biology and maternal solicitude. You say, “What all women implicitly understand, but are loathe to admit, is that 90% of a woman’s value is embedded in her physical appearance.” This is an overstatement which I hardly think you yourself believe. Perhaps for that portion of women seeking to be soap opera stars or to work as super models, 90 percent of their worth is in their appearance. Perhaps for that lonely segment of modern society that possess no family or friends or community ties, 90 percent of their worth is in their physical appearance. Perhaps for those young women currently seeking a mate, 90 percent of their worth is in their physical appearance when they are in the company of men for whom 90 percent of a woman’s worth is in her physical appearance. For women in general, I would say the figure ranges somewhere between 20 and 60 percent, depending on the particular circumstances in which she lives. Most women possess a network of social ties that shows considerable attention to their appearance, but sees more.
I doubt we will agree on the nature of female psychology. I do agree with you, however, that whatever neuroses women have about their relative appearance is exacerbated in a world where their entire value – arguably 90 percent of their value – is linked to their economic performance. I agree with you that “women are at war with themselves.” They are on the verge of schizophrenia. The attempt to be both man and woman at once is a psychological calamity. It’s an experiment women have chosen and men have supported.
I’m not sure you have addressed my main point, that customary discrimination can and should be restored. You seem to be saying it can’t be restored because women and their neuroses already dominate society. Men are passive victims, and it is too late. Do you really think we shouldn’t even try?
Karen Wilson writes:
I enjoyed reading your posting but I think the failure of Western family life has deeper roots than the feminist movement and financial independence of women and a return to discrimination in favour of men in the work place will not change that. In fact it may exacerbate it. I have had a career in Medicine and have worked with many Asian and Arab physicians and lived in Asia. Comparing the West with the East, I would say that the cause of the collapse of family life in Western society is a consequence of marriage losing its traditional role as the foundation of society and the means of preservation and transmission of its culture, tradition, values and beliefs. Western marriage has become essentially a civil partnership based on mutual attraction. Founded on such flimsy roots, it soon runs into trouble.
In the East, marriage is a serious business with considerable care taken over the selection of life partners. The union is not just one of a couple but one of 2 families who must be of the same ethnic, religious and socioeconomic standing. Likewise the partners must share the same criteria and same educational and social level. Thus a sound foundation for the marriage is established and the pool of potential partners defined. The idea of people marrying someone of a different ethnic group or social class on the basis of “falling in love ” is unthinkable and strongly discouraged as it is believed that such a marriage would be built on unsound foundations and eventually fail. In the West by contrast, little consideration is given to the selection of a life partner and people marry on the basis of mutual attraction which is often fleeting and superficial. Thus many Western marriages are doomed from the start and when tensions emerge, they easily fracture. As the social and religious backgrounds of many Western marriage partners is different, there is little family support for the failed marriage.
In short, the state of Western marriage is more akin to homosexual civil partnerships than to traditional marriage. Superficial unions entered into for superficial reasons. You mentioned the fact of women competing for high earning men in Western society. This is illustrative of the superficial basis of Western marriage. A union founded on eonomic consideration only without regard for social, educational,religious and ethnic compatibility. Marriage is about committment and compatibity and should not be based on competition. The majority of women are unsuited to be the wives of high earning men as they lack the social and educational background. They should be discouraged from seeking such unions and focus on building relationships with men of their own level with whom they can build solid marriages and families. The idea in Western society that anyone can have anything they want regardless of their own personal qualities (and ability to pay) has been one of the major causes of its destruction and the instability in marriage.
In Asian families, most high earning and highly educated men are married to similar women (indeed the idea of an Indian doctor not marrying a women doctor or similar professional is socially unacceptable) and these marriages are very successful with low rates of divorce and marital disharmony. Their children also demonstrate higher academic success than Western children. There is a high degree of committment to family values, educational excellence and financial success. This is still achieved with Asian wives working in demanding professional jobs. Asian families expect women to be highly educated and have careers and it has not disrupted their family life or resulted in a reduction in births. The problem of family breakdown and falling birth rates is almost exclusively a Western one and and is caused by a lack of committment to family life.
The divorce rate among university graduates is the lowest in society. Most divorce is initiated by women who don’t work. For example the divorce rate among doctors who marry other doctors or professionals is low, most marriages are a personal and professional success. On the other hand, the divorce rate among doctors who marry nurses and less qualified women is high as is the rate of marital dysharmony and dysfunctional offspring. Thus the marriage of people who are not socially and educationally compatible leads to social and financial decline for many men. This is a situation which our Asian colleagues very successfully avoid.
I think the solution for Western family life is a return to the traditional view of marriage as a foundation of society with the preservation of traditional values and perhaps the start of arranged marriages? (They were common in France until the early 20th century).
Just noted another comment “They are on the verge of schizophrenia. The attempt to be both man and woman at once is a psychological calamity. It’s an experiment women have chosen and men have supported. “
Why is this happening with Western women whilst women in other parts of the world are coping very well with careers, marriage and families? Benazir Bhutto was beautiful, educated and had a career without developing a psychogical calamity.Likewise many women all over Asia are doing so. In Asian countries women are encouraged to be highly educated and have successful careers and it enhances their marriage prospects. Likewise with Asian women in America and Europe. They are surpassing their white western colleagues. If this is an experiment, they are certianly doing it very well.
Thanks for your comments.
I agree with your point that Western society is suffering from a marriage crisis and would benefit from some of the pragmatism of the East. But, arranged marriages violate the Western tradition. The guidance of the older generation does not. Parents and relatives are mostly cheering bystanders today. It would be nice if they’d help more with the mating free-for-all.
The dual-income model adopted by Asian families has indeed had an effect on their birth rate and traditions. There are many Asian families in this country. Most are dual-earning couples and few have more than two children. The absence of traditional mothers and the preoccupations of professional women have led to an obsessive careerism in their children. Education is a relentless series of hurdles to overcome with little joy in learning and a contempt for the Western humanities, which are considered pointless and decadent. Many of the children excel in music and are excellent students, but they represent a culture which will never be ours. They have little or no religious acculturation and the boys spend all their spare time with electronic games. These families do divorce far less frequently than American families. I’m not sure that’s the influence of tradition or simply the higher intelligence of the women. Asian women may be capable of grasping the abstract, long-term rewards of marriage in a way Western women are not. Nevertheless, the divorce rate has increased significantly among Asian women as well.
You say, “Benazir Bhutto was beautiful, educated and had a career without developing a psychogical calamity.Likewise many women all over Asia are doing so.” Many women in the West have managed to have successful careers and family lives. It does not create psychological calamity in all and in many it creates only a hidden psychological calamity. In other words, often all appears well from the outside. Things are smooth and the woman beautiful and collected. But, domestic unhappiness or chaos lurks in the background. Nevertheless, my interest is not in individuals, but on society at large. Radical individualism in the West comes with widespread divorce, neglect of children, falling birth rates, and a decline in civility at all levels of life. It would be nice if we could say, “Let those who can have careers and healthy families do it. Let those who can’t, stay home.” Unfortunately, civilization doesn’t work that way. Young people make decisions about their family lives when they know nothing about family. They are guided by working models. Society flourishes on notions of duty and sacrifice that are radically opposed to feminist self-fulfillment. Look at Russia, and its catastrophically low birth rate, and one can see the effects of the separation of women from a feminine ethic. Regardless of whether Asian society can sustain long-term feminism, and I doubt that it can, Western society clearly cannot. The evidence is already in.
Steven Warshawsky writes:
I am sympathetic to the concerns driving Laura Wood’s discussion of how to re-orient the economy towards a male-dominated workforce. Yet upon inspection, her argument utterly fails as a piece of economic and political analysis. Significantly, she offers no theoretical or empirical support for her many assertions about the role of women in the economy, and in the end offers no persuasive reasons why American voters should support a repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which apparently she supports.
The major premise of her argument appears to be that allowing women to enter the workforce in large numbers increases competition in the labor market thereby reducing men’s wages, which she asserts have experienced “relative stagnation” over the past 50 years. This is much too broad an assertion to be accepted at face value. Yes, there is empirical research showing that immigration has reduced the wages of younger and lower-skilled workers in America. There may be some industries where the entry of women has had a similar effect on men’s wages. Which? But the notion that men as a group have experienced “relative stagnation” compared to women is far-fetched. The last 50 years in this country have witnessed an explosion in the average man’s (and woman’s) standard of living, i.e., his (and her) productivity and purchasing power have increased enormously. What stagnation is Ms. Wood referring to? She is projecting her ideological assumptions onto the economy, without any evidence to support her position.
The next major premise of her argument appears to be that, if women are excluded from the labor market, the remaining jobs will pay a sufficiently higher wage to enable men to support their wives and children “in reasonable comfort for many years.” Again, she offers no empirical evidence for this dubious position. Wage rates are influenced by the supply and demand of workers, of course, but they are primarily determined by the value of the output that workers produce. Take a married couple where both the man and woman work, e.g., the man is a lawyer and the woman is a teacher (one of the professions that Ms. Wood assumes will continue to be dominated by women). Will the man’s productivity and income increase if the wife stops working? And will that increase, if any, be greater than the loss of income caused by the wife’s unemployment? Highly unlikely. If this were true, there would be many more one-income families in the country.
It is unclear if Ms. Wood recognizes that excluding large numbers of women from the economy will result in significantly less economic growth and material prosperity. Perhaps this is a trade-off she is willing to make. But, if so, she has neither acknowledged the scope of the economic harm her proffered policy would entail, nor has she identified the concrete benefits that supposedly outweigh these harms. My own view is that she too quickly dismisses the economic value, and need, of having two incomes in a family. It is not merely a question of being able to afford “short-term luxuries.” For example, what if two incomes are needed to be able to afford to live in a safer neighborhood or send a child to a better school? Should only the very top earners – who can afford these kind of advantages on a single income – be allowed to enjoy their benefits? Why?
Perhaps most importantly, Ms. Wood has not explained why individual workers and businesses should not be free to make their own decisions and trade-offs in this area. Even if Ms. Wood believes that employment laws have tilted the playing field in favor of women (an argument that, while plausible, requires elucidation), I think it is fair to say that, even on a level playing field, women will continue to play a major role in the economy (especially in the cognitive professions like medicine and law, where physical strength is not necessary). Few businesses will engage in “voluntary and informal” discrimination against women to the extent Ms. Wood envisions. Rational employers will continue to hire women in large numbers. Which suggests that Ms. Wood’s preferred economic arrangements will never occur under a regime of individual liberty. Does she therefore support a statist solution to the problems she highlights?
Excellent points. Mr. Warshawsky asserts my argument is based on wild economic assumptions. For the sake of brevity, I omitted some of the economic facts. He presumes I am unfamiliar with them. I was not writing a full-blown treatise, but stating an argument succinctly.
Women have been far and away the primary beneficiaries of any gains in real wages over the last 25 years. From 1979 to 2006, real wages of men declined by two percent, while they increased by 24 percent for women. (See chart on median incomes here.) The differences are the most dramatic at lower income levels, with male high school graduates experiencing drops of 15 percent and comparable women’s wages rising by four percent. Wages for college graduates rose by 17 percent for men and 32 percent for women, as women became more numerous in higher paying jobs. Economists dispute how much the stagnation of male wages at the lower end has influenced – and been influenced by – employment gains by women.
Mr. Warshawsky commits a common fallacy of fiscal conservatives. If the economy is free, society is sustained. But, no economy is free of cultural assumptions. These guide individual choice. The cultural assumption that women’s labor is not needed in the home or for child-rearing or to mantain the birth rate has affected the economy. The large numbers of dual-earner families have led to a spike in the costs of basics, such as housing and education. Under the influence of prevailing cultural assumptions, community has changed to the extent that many parents now put their children in almost constant paid activity when they are not in school. They have no choice. A way of life that was once supported by non-working women has vanished and thus families are no longer free to choose an inexpensive way. Women are forced to work. The careerism of women has certainly led to increased taxes, as we pay for more social programs that provide what was once offered by families and as we continually increase the expense of education to meet parents’ babysitting needs. The freedom Mr. Warshawsky envisions does not exist. Women who are careerist are free, but those who wish to support their families in non-economic ways or to have larger families are hampered by the changed economy at large.
Mr. Warshawsky asks why businesses would voluntarily change their practices. As I said, there are some economic incentives to employing fewer women. Businesses currently shoulder the expense of filling gaps while women are on maternity leave and are taking care of family interruptions.They also often lose women whom they have spent years training to motherhood. Many employees conduct personal business on the job that was formerly taken care of in the home. Think of the taxes that go to support day care and ballooning education. Furthermore, in the years ahead, there will be more awareness of the effects on the economy of the lower birth rate, particularly among educated women. An economy is also supported by the sheer number of productive citizens it has. Obviously, businesses don’t think that long-term. It’s not worth their while to encourage fecundity. But, the larger culture presumably does have some ability to think in the long-term. Business generally respond to the attitudes towards women’s work at large. If fewer women offered themselves for committed career, obviously business if they were free to discriminate would respond in focusing more on men.
Mr. Warshawsky says: “My own view is that she too quickly dismisses the economic value, and need, of having two incomes in a family. [empasis added] It is not merely a question of being able to afford “short-term luxuries.” For example, what if two incomes are needed to be able to afford to live in a safer neighborhood or send a child to a better school? Should only the very top earners – who can afford these kind of advantages on a single income – be allowed to enjoy their benefits? Why?”
Surely, Mr. Warshawsky agrees economic ‘need,’ once food, shelter and medical care are provided, is a subjective phenomenon, a thing greatly influenced by cultural standards. Given the freedom for women to work and the eagerness of employers to benefit from both a larger work pool and the compliant work style of women, what is to stop cultural definitions of need from being continually re-defined to adjust to the reality of working women? Further, whether women work or do not work, there will never be equity in purchasing power or living conditions. The most important thing here is that those changed standards in recent years have had a particularly egregious effect on the middle and working classes. The doctor/lawyer couple can afford to smooth over the edges of a dual-income life with nannies and paid services. The middle class family comes home at the end of the day to cold pizza and kids unraveled by ten hours in day care. Many of these families end up in divorce court. Mr. Warshawsky is utterly blithe about their welfare and apparently does not see the effects of the absence of parental care on our everyday culture. He has not noticed the increase in unruly children, the greater obesity in children and adults, the decline in manners and overall civility, and the ever-pervasive loss of literacy, reflection and thoughtful civic participation. All is well as the engine of economic prosperity churns forward. At what point, I ask, does the economy itself come to a screeching halt? At what point is it turned into a swamp overseen by the lucky few on the shores, like a river overloaded with industrial pollutants?
My point is that all of this has changed – our economy and our culture – because of ideas and values. These are the ideas and values embraced by the minority of individuals who lead and who shape public opinion. A minority disdainful of family and of community embraced liberalism and feminism, bringing an entire culture under its sway. They brought ruin onto the less fortunate. I would say they brought ruin onto themselves as well. I see a precipitous decline in family happiness at all levels of society. An economy supports more than material needs. It both determines and expresses a way of life.
I enjoyed your wonderfully revolutionary post, but I believe that ultimately you fall into the same trap as many conservatives who believe that only ideas drive culture without adequately acknowledging changing technological circumstances. We must always keep in mind that the triumph of feminism is also a result of the twentieth century removal of the body from work. Prof. Kenneth Minogue is another anti-feminist piece who explores this issue. In Why Civilizations Fail, Minogue quote’s Diana Schaub’s essay On the Character of Generation X:
“[Betty] Friedan was right that the malaise these privileged women were experiencing was a result of ‘a slow death of the mind and spirit.’ But she was wrong in saying that the problem had no name — its name was boredom. Feminism was born of boredom, not oppression. And what was the solution to this quandary? Feminists clamored to become wage-slaves; they resolutely fled the challenge of leisure.”
He himself goes on to say,
“In earlier centuries, the project of getting women into the labor force would have been visionary, partly no doubt because no one thought in terms of a labor force. For one thing, women were necessary to keep the home fires burning. In any case, the world of work outside the hearth was hardly inviting. Ploughing the land required relentless physical input beyond the strength of most women; nor were they keen to exercise the broadsword…In the modern world, however, getting women out of the home and into work was not at all visionary, since the thing called ‘work’ was now largely done in centrally heated offices in front of a computer. In the push-button world men had created, physical strength was hardly ever needed, especially in the more attractive jobs. Work had been the curse of Adam, parallel with childbirth as the curse of Eve, but work now turned out to be a rather agreeable shuffling of symbols in an office full of friendship and event.”
The importance of sex differences becomes ever less important in a society coddled by its own technology. It requires vigilance on the part of moderns to maintain something that to earlier generations was simply the natural outgrowth of their material situation.
Technology has made it easier for women to separate themselves from family. Feminism would never triumph in agrarian societies in the same way. But, modern society isn’t unique in facing threats to family and to social stability. Ancient Greece and Rome were enervated by lowered birth rates and a decline in family life. Slavery separated aristocratic women from children and moral decadence weakened marriage. The human race has maintained an ongoing battle against order, civility and prosperity. I don’t think these things are ever, as you say, “the natural outgrowth of their material situation,” but certaily modern society and technology present unique challenges and have facilitated feminism.
While sex differences are less important in the modern workplace than they were on the farm or in the medieval village, there is one major factor that has remained unchanged and offsets this loss of significance to sex differences elsewhere. That is the universal need of children for stable family life. Given the sophistication of society and the large demands placed by higher level work on mental acuity and psychological stability, this need is arguably greater than ever. While a child who had a haphazard childhood in former times may have been able to function well tilling a field or welding iron, he cannot function well in a world that demands intiative, concentration and higher literacy. The absence of parents from the home and the raising of children by institutions does not satisfy the basic needs of children in an advanced society. Again, this works out better for children of the wealthy, who can be provided with individual care, if not the care of their parents, and with schools which lavish them with attention, albeit the attention of strangers. They too, however, experience high levels of divorce in a world that denigrates sex differences and this indisputably affects their psychological welfare, as numerous studies have shown, and influences the entire tenor of society.
Karen writes, replying to Laura’s earlier comments:
Thanks for your reply. Just a few points – arranged marriages don’t violate Western tradition. They were the norm in France until the twentieth century and in other parts of Europe too. They are still common with Orthodox Jews. In Catholic Europe there is still significant family influence over marriage partners.
The dual income model has not signifantly impacted Asian family tradition. High caste families always had smaller families and many Asian families have more than 2 children. On average they have a larger family size than whites. Among many Asians especially Muslims, 4- 6 children is quite common. Asian children do study hard and value education and they are achieving more than whites. Obsessive careerism is preferable to the lack of it common to whites. Many whites are studying useless degrees (Black studies, Media Studies etc) and regard university time as entertainment rather than personal development. The Asian children generally have more religion in their families than whites do. Adherence to Islam, Hinduism or Christianity is usual and more common than in white families. Asians can never be Western people but they are well on the way to superseding Western people both in the USA and UK and in the global economy at large. Many white children spend all their time with electronic games and are indeed less well socialised than many Asian children. Divorce rates among professional Asians are very low and people weather the storms of marriage better because they have stronger cultural ties than just mutual attraction.
“It does not create psychological calamity in all and in many it creates only a hidden psychological calamity. In other words, often all appears well from the outside. Things are smooth and the woman beautiful and collected. But, domestic unhappiness or chaos lurks in the background” This is untrue. Most psychopathology and emotional distress is seen is non working women. It is very rare indeed to see any form of psychological calamity in women who have professional careers.
Radical individualism in the West comes with widespread divorce, neglect of children, falling birth rates, and a decline in civility at all levels of life. It would be nice if we could say, “Let those who can have careers and healthy families do it. Let those who can’t, stay home.” Unfortunately, civilization doesn’t work that way. Young people make decisions about their family lives when they know nothing about family. They are guided by working models. Society flourishes on notions of duty and sacrifice that are radically opposed to feminist self-fulfillment. Look at Russia, and its catastrophically low birth rate, and one can see the effects of the separation of women from a feminine ethic. Regardless of whether Asian society can sustain long-term feminism, and I doubt that it can, Western society clearly cannot. The evidence is already in.
The cause of widespread divorce is due to liberalism and inappropriate choice of partner. Its solution is in a return to traditional marriage and refutation of liberalism. Russia’s low birth rate is not due to feminism. Women can combine a feminine ethic with careers and family life. Asian society is coping very well and will indeed sustain itself. All the evidence shows that Asia is set to overtake the West and and Asian families within the West will dominate the West. Their family tradition provides a stronger framework for success on an individual and societal level and has emerged clearly as superior to the Western model.
First, I agree with Karen’s point about the decadence of Western childhood and the shabbiness of educational standards. But, Karen seems to say this is not influenced by women in the workforce. In other words, the upbringing of children has been unaffected by the absence of mothers from the home. Children who are raised in institutions or in empty homes with only computers for company face conditions that are as wholesome and conducive to their welfare as children who once returned to neighborhoods where they could play and congregate with other chidren under the watchful eye of mothers. Children who spend their formative years in public schools from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., as the offspring of working parents in my area do, are no different in their potential than children who spend time in their actual homes.
Karen says Asian families are unaffected by feminism. Here’s one blogger who disagrees. I have to ask Karen this, “Do you believe that infancy and early childhood spent in day care centers is harmful to children?” Regardless of what the absence of mothers means to Asian families, who may because of the relatively short span of feminism over the course of the generations still have extended family members who can care for children, in Western society it necessitates day care for all but the wealthy and the lucky few who live near non-working family.If Karen believes the effects of day care are negligible, I recommend the studies of Jay Belsky (link will be provided) which showed that day care causes increased aggression, learning problems and family instability.
While Western society does have a tradition of arranged marriage, it seems unlikely to be reborn any time soon. In Western society, arranged marriages occurred in the context of female pre-marital chastity and a way of life that kept unmarried women in the homes of parents. In any event, the notion of arranged marriages is foreign to Western societies today. Too high a value is placed on individual love, and I think that strongly distinguishes Westerners from Asians, who altogether place a higher value on conformity and collectivity.
Karen and I disagree on a remedy for the decline of marriage. The psychological atmosphere of sexual egalitarianism is destructive of Western marriage, which is heavily dependent on the amity and spirit of cooperation between husband and wife. Career women, understandably so, are more fixed on their own needs and unable to spare the energy to maintain this spirit which is the natural province of women. Feminism has turned marriage into a battleground. Daily life with children becomes a series of tedious and draining negotiations between competing demands. Nothing occurs naturally. Sex falters and the number of children declines.
Bill Carpenter writes:
Thank you for your excellent essay, which I found via View from the Right.
I am working my way through the third season of “24” while rowing in the basement. It is a relentless study of the consequences of mixing work and sex. The show is by its nature one disaster after another, but in season three, each disaster is made worse by having women doing men’s jobs or otherwise involving them in men’s work. If you could stand the show, you would find the consistency of this presentation interesting, and surprising in a mainstream network program.
Thank you. I have never seen “24.” I will try to give it a try.
Thanks for your comment but you seem to misrepresenting what I said.
“Do you believe that infancy and early childhood spent in day care centers is harmful to children?”
I have not mentioned day centres and indeed career women don’t put their children in day centres. Most professional women take time off, work part time or have live in nannies while their children are young. Indeed it was the norm in the UK until relatively recently for upper middle class women to have nannies to look afer their children regardless of whether or not they worked. The use of Day Centres is largely confined to working class children. I know from professional experience that they are harmful but a lot of the social backgrounds of these children are equally destructive. There is a significant difference in the childcare arrangements of career women and women who are working in ordinary jobs. [Laura writes: I mentioned day care centers because they are used by large numbers of women in the U.S. Even if some professional women are able to afford nannies, they help create a culture that normalizes working mothers. That culture leaves middle class and working class women with no option but to use day care, which is expensive and harmful to children. Day care is a strong disincentive for these women to have more children. Interestingly, professional women show extreme indifference to the plight of middle class and working class women which is directlty caused by the example they set. So much for the vaunted sisterhood of feminism.]
“Regardless of what the absence of mothers means to Asian families, who may because of the relatively short span of feminism over the course of the generations still have extended family members who can care for children,” – this is untrue. In Asia there have been more women in Medical and Law Schools for significantly longer than in Western societies. India had a female Prime Minister long before Britain (and so did Israel). In Asian societies there is not “feminism” as in Western societies. There is strong encouragement for women’s education and development of their talents. There is not easy divorce, abortion and widespread sex out of marriage. Women are encouraged to work hard and make the best of themselves but not at the expense of losing their femininity and developing masculine traits as many American women do. [Laura adds: Strong encouragement of women’s education and talents is an American tradition too, but it was wisely directed toward their ultimate success as mothers and wives. See the quote from Tocqueville on the home page. I emphatically disagree that there is not feminism in Asian societies. The community in which I live has many Asian immigrants. In fact, my very closest friend is an Indian woman who is a successful financial advisor. I love her dearly. She has been married three times. Her daughter is on her second marriage. I have met many Asian girls. They are under enormous pressure to succeed, often in areas to which they are fundamentally unsuited. My son told me many hilarious stories about the Asian girls in his calculus class who were an emotional mess because they hit a wall in their studies. They could not do well in calculus and were frantic. Their parents were pressuring them all to have careers in medicine and the sciences. I know one Asian girl who broke down in her first year of college. She is clearly not cut out for an intensive career and yet that is the only path before her. Now Karen would say all this ambition is wholesome and far better than the slothful behavior of some Americans. I think it interferes with the composure needed to succesfully start and form families. Remember, many of the immigrant families in Britain are part of arranged marriages because it is a way of bringing more people over from their home countries. They also have great incentive to have large families to create an ethnic community. It will be interesting to see how many children of these professional women go on to have arranged marriages and large families.]
“Too high a value is placed on individual love, and I think that strongly distinguishes Westerners from Asians, who altogether place a higher value on conformity and collectivity.”This is exactly the problem – radical individualism which makes personal happiness, freedom and individualism the highest good and renders personal sacrifice and family tradition redundant. The shocking statistics of marital failure and dysharmony in Western society have demonstrated beyond any doubt that individual love is an insufficient basis for a marriage. The other factors must be present to make the marriage work. When couples are incompatible in other spheres- education, social background, religious and ethnic bakground, then individual love will not overcome these differences but will wane into resentment. Thus the freedom to choose any life partner regardless of conforming to family and societal expectations has decimated Western family life. A certain degree of conformity and collectvity is essential to maintin any society and culture. It is the lack of it which is destroying Western society. [Laura adds: Too great an emphasis is placed on romantic love, but it is still a very important part of marriage in the West. Our indvidualism, creativity, and spirit of initiative depend on it. I do not support arranged marriage for Western society. Parents can do many things to instill the wisdom to choose well in their children and to create the opportunities to find suitable partners, but they should not actually choose their child’s spouse. I would never want to do so. An adult must have no temptation to blame his parents when marriage gets rough.]
“Career women, understandably so, are more fixed on their own needs and unable to spare the energy to maintain this spirit which is the natural province of women. Feminism has turned marriage into a battleground. Daily life with children becomes a series of tedious and draining negotiations between competing demands. Nothing occurs naturally. Sex falters and the number of children declines.”– this is utter nonsense.You are making sweeping generalisatons which are not borne out in real life. [Laura adds: Look at the birth rate and divorce rate among Western women and tell me this is utter nonsense. We simply do not agree.] There are plenty of career women who have very successful families and plenty of bored housewives whose families are utterly disastous.[The fact that there are women who manage well does not change the general effects on society at large. “Bored housewives” is a cliche that is rarely born out in real life. I have known many woman bored to tears at their desks at work, shuffling papers all day long when they could be involved in the intellectually demanding and creative work of educating and guiding their children and of forming real homes that are more than weigh stations. If there are bored housewives it is not because the job itself is boring, it is because these women lack the imagination and training to do it well and make use of their inborn talents. Do you really think it is more fascinating to spend your days filing affidavits or schmoozing with corporate clients? Most working women are not Nobel scientists.] I know several female surgeons (few more demanding jobs than that) who have 4-7 children each and a female OB/GYN who has 5 children all themselves doctors. There is an Investment Banker in London who has 8 children. [Good for her. I hope she gets a national medal and becomes prime minister too. I hope she climbs Mount Everest and is the first investment banker in space. The fact is, most mothers cannot meet the physical, emotional and spirtual needs of eight children while being investment bankers. But, perhaps you don’t think children have anything but material needs? Perhaps you view the motherhood of human beings as comparable to the motherhood of calves or puppies. Breed ’em and leave ’em. When do you think this energetic woman has the time to discuss the meaning of life with her children or to understand their moral failures and correct them? Young children often experiment with evil in a way that only a perceptive parent can see and correct. A child may suddenly start lying and no one in the world knows but his mother. It is she and only she who can at that moment tell the child that she knows he is a liar and tell him why it is wrong.]
Nowadays the only people who have large families are the very poor and the affluent and many of the affluent are professional women. The majority of women who don’t work and are not on welfare have small families. Many housewives are fixed upon their own needs and neglect their families. [There you go again with those useless housewives. Look, I used to work in an office and I can tell you of the enormous hours wasted by the women, sitting around chatting all day and using the office as an ongoing kaffee klatch. When I go to my doctor’s office, I can barely get the attention of the clerks and nurses, they are so busy sitting around chatting. I can also tell you that as a housewife I have worked hundreds of 12-hour days cooking, cleaning, caring for my children, mowing the lawn, pulling weeds in the garden, listening to my husband’s day, calling elderly relatives who are alone and need some encouragement, volunteering at schools, educating my children at home, nagging my children to practice their musical instruments, paying the bills, waiting for contractors, arranging for home repairs, and trying to smooth over the rough edges of modern life for the people I love. Yet, you have not a single good thing to say about the unpaid work of mothers. We are slouches and bored drones.] Many lounge around in sports clubs, golf clubs and shopping malls and exhibit severe forms of narcissism. There are many housewives who have no idea how to educate their children or prepare them for exams, university and careers. [Yes, but at least housewives spend enough time with their children and husbands to at least know them. If they fail to do their jobs adequately it is not for lack of opportunity. Perhaps you might personally advocate not for the elimination of housewives, but for their better preparation. After all, many of these housewives you see have never received the slightest support or guidance in their work.]
The fundamental reason for marital failure is incompatibility of the partners. People marry the wrong people because they place too much emphasis on love which is often infatuation and not enough emphasis on fundamental suitability. Until that issue is corrected ( and with certain ethnic groups it won’t be), Western marriage will continue to fail. [I believe the fundamental reason for marital failure in America is that the culture at large sanctions marital failure. Most women would not seek divorce if they knew they were going to lose the support of friends and family.]
Please accept my congratulations on your article. There is so huge a vacuum or lack of expression from this perspective that it is heartening to see someone writing so well on these matters. It is all the more important that it is coming from a “housewife.” I wish there were many more like you out there.
I have felt for quite some time that while unfair discrimination is bad, absolute and universal non-discrimination is evil. So the answer to bad discrimination is not non-discrimination but a reasonable and fair discrimination. I am glad to see that you are building a nice case for the same.
Thank you very much.
[The subject of customary discrimination] is a painful truth and flies in the face of strict female individualism and egoist self-satisfaction. People never want to be told not to be so selfish. As long as women do not demand financial support, men will refuse to offer it. Good for you for making people reconsider it.
You’re right, it is a painful subject. Any woman brings it up at the risk of being accused of free-loading. Women who are employed outside the home often work very hard and they should be proud of their accomplishments under difficult circumstances. But, society cannot support both models at once. It must choose. This approval for one model will always be more nuanced in private. But, young men and women cannot possibly figure out the most important decisions of their lives on their own. Society will guide them and right now it is guiding women to believe they can be everything at once. There will always be uber-women who negotiate the two worlds reasonably well. They do not provide a workable model. The result in Western society is a decline in birth rates, high divorce and a degeneration in culture at large.
Women provide an unseen defense against moral enervation. They cannot provide this defense when they are preoccupied with money and highly consuming work. I think that’s the big difference between some of my critics and me. This invisible task, which can never be fully put into words, is something I think they do not acknowledge or respect. In any event, this work is not hurt if a minority of women pursue career and professional success. I do not envision a world completely absent of ambitious and high-achieving women any more than I envision a world in which all housewives are selfless saints.
I believe that women should be free to do what they want, and to pursue their dreams. And when they really have this freedom, a large majority of them would do what you are doing, homemaking. The unfortunate thing is that women are NOT free. They are subtly coerced by propaganda into doing what men do to achieve a false sense of equality. There is no reason to believe that landing on the moon is more exciting than rearing young ones to human beings. One needs a heart of a loving mother to see this. Modern propaganda not only does not encourage women to be what they are, that is women; it subtly pressurizes them to be like men. And similarly, it also wants to pressurize men to be like women. Maybe they (people behind modern propaganda) want to make this planet full of hermaphrodites. LOL. But, we will not let them succeed.
Yes, there is the additional issue of the emasculation of men. That has been barely touched upon here. As hard as it is for men to support their families, this is vital to male identity and the loss of that role has led to a more effeminate culture.
Thank you for your current thoughts on the roles of women in Western society in “Why We Must Discriminate”. I enjoyed this entry, especially in your responses to those who have written to you, and I was intrigued by this passage in particular:
“With the removal of anti-discrimination laws and a renewed sensitivity toward the obligation of businesses to reinforce family
life –similar to the awareness they now hold regarding the natural environment – the economy would gradually arrive at a smaller and
reasonable number of women in the workforce.”
I noticed this was the second reference you made to the environment in the initial entry, in addition to a third in reply to one respondent. There is an interesting parallel in the sense that women provide the principal expression or means of nurturing in human societies, while the environment nurtures our total existence. Yet both sources of succor require care and nurturing themselves.
However, pertaining to business I think your analogy is a rather awkward one. Businesses do not hold any obligations higher than generating a profit, growth and survival. The growth in laws regulating the detrimental effects of for-profit enterprises on the environment roughly parallels that of other developments that began in the 1960s. If that thick bureaucratic layer were removed then the “awareness” you speak of as an almost assured, benign reality would vaporize instantly. It is simply a matter of first order priorities.
We could not expect businesses to subscribe to any “renewed sensitivity” or “obligation” to society upon the removal of laws designed to protect the environment. Some companies are already good stewards of course, and it is open to question whether this is altruistic or simply good for the company image. As much as I favor a smaller, even a *much* smaller federal apparatus, it is clear that the bounds of environmental tolerance go unrecognized or are ignored by business. Only when disaster strikes or the offense is so egregious an affected community cannot ignore it any longer is action taken; legislation has softened this impact markedly over the years. It is probable that such protective measures are excessive in some areas.
In short, many good things, possibly some vital things, would disappear were environmental regulation to vanish overnight. On the contrary, I agree with your thesis, at least in principle, that the legally enforced social regulations that dictate the gender make-up and hiring practices of the work force are counter-productive and even destructive.
Dispensing with either set of laws would in each case leave a very different type of vacuum.
It was a loose and inadequate analogy. The anti-discrimination laws amount to over-regulation and environmental awareness has not increased to the point and never would increase to the point where regulation is unnecessary. So the two things are not comparable. I was thinking about the tendency of businesses to ingratiate themselves by showing how environmentally conscious they are. Given a radically different awareness of sex roles, businesses might market themselves as family-friendly in the same way they promote themselves as “green” today, but that would probably be a marginal phenomenon. I don’t imagine them acting as saviors of the family nor should they look beyond the profit motive.
If sex discrimination were permissible, businesses would be free to hire men and women as they saw fit. They would be free to hire all women if they wanted, from the bottom ranks to the top executives. But obviously in order for anti-discrimination laws and regulations to be overturned, major cultural changes would have to occur first. The repeal of those regulations would be an after-the-fact event. Businesses would be free to react to these cultural changes, which would probably include a major retreat from careerism by women and a greater appreciation for the male provider role. I don’t believe these developments are on the horizon.
Why bother even talking about this? Why bring it up? We’ve come a long way in a hundred years. The most popular women’s organization at the turn of the century was the National Mother’s Congress, and it explicitly supported the male provider role and fought to protect it. It’s wrong to misread our predecessor’s motives. They thought of jobs as limited resources and had high regard for the welfare of children. If nothing else, it’s important to discuss this issue to gain a better understanding of the past. I also think we should consider what’s ideal whether it’s attainable or not.
Thanks to all who have sent their thoughtful reactions, both pro and con, to this proposal.
Thanks for your comments but you seem to be taking very black and white views of things and resorting to stereotypes. [Laura: I’m talking about models for family life. Common ideals. These are always simpler than private reality. No society runs on pure individualism. It always provides models.] The issue of whether or not women work and the advantages or disadvantages of that work cannot be reduced to a simple approval or condemnation. [As a general model for society, it will be either approved or disapproved.] There are many women who have made considerable contributions to academic and professional fields. [These professional accomplishments taken together and measured by their worth to society are nothing compared to the cumulative accomplishments over many generations of those who have created happy homes, loving marriages, and children. Those professional accomplishments will happen anyway without women. The homes will never be created and the children never be born by men. Again, see Europe’s low birth rate.] There is no single prescription for society. [No single prescription is carried out in all individual cases. There are always prescriptions.] The issue depends upon the social and educational background of the woman, her field of work , capabilities and energy. Women vary in their abilities. There are some who successfully manage family and career and others who can barely manage a family let alone a career.
Women cannot be considered as a single group any more than men can and there never has been any notion of sisterhood. [Men do have shared attributes. They indeed can be considered as a group. It is you who are simplifying things by insisting there is no such thing as workable generalizations.] The customs of women from higher socioeconomic strata have never normalized behaviour for other social classes just as in Victorian Britain the use of nannies and governesses by the upper classes was not followed by the rest of society. [In America, the customs of higher status women have indeed affected lower status women. We do not have the strong tradition of class divisions.]The use of nannies by professional women does not normalize day care for middle and working class women. [In America, it does.] The problem of child care must inevitably have different solutions in different social groups.
“Yes, but at least housewives spend enough time with their children and husbands to at least know them. If they fail to do their jobs adequately it is not for lack of opportunity. Perhaps you might personally advocate not for the elimination of housewives, but for their better preparation. After all, many of these housewives you see have never received the slightest support or guidance in their work.”
The rigid view that women who work don’t have time for their families is untrue. [You are saying that women who spend eight hours and more away from their homes each day have as much time for their families as women who are there all day. Essentially, you are saying time is not quantifiable. It is a feeling.] Likewise the view that women who don’t work attend well to their families needs and support their husbands careers is erroneous. [Again, see the divorce rate in America. If divorce is only caused by incompatibility and lack of arranged marriages, why was there relatively little of it 50 and 100 years ago?] There is wide variation. Many women who don’t work don’t spend enough time with their families and many do not meet the emotional needs of their husbands and children. [Children in America were healthier – psychologically, physically, and intellectually – when they were under the supervision of their mothers. They were more wholesome, more innocent, happier.] There are many housewives who resent their husbands careers and don’t understand them. [Our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great grandmothers resented their husbands for their work and took no pride in their own work. We are the inheritors of their resentment. Western Civilization was one long story of female resentment until women were emancipated from their children, whom they could raise without spending time with them, and from their husbands, whom they envied. But, why did marriages last longer just 50 years ago? Why do surveys show women are unhappier today? Why do women seem more resentful, not less, since they were liberated?] There are many who fail to educate their children. This is not due to inadequate preparation but a consequence of temperamental unsuitability, personality disorders and other psychosocial factors. [So housewives are mentally ill. Our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great grandmothers were sick. They were jealous of their husbands and bored by their own children.] A woman’s ability to meet her family’s needs in any given situation has more to do with her social and educational backround and personality traits then the simple issue of work. [Eight hours or more a day away from family and home, plus the mental demands of career, make no difference at all.] The incidence of psychiatric disorders in the children of professional parents is the lowest in society. [These professional parents and their offspring may be psychiatrically fit, but they are creating a sick society. They are leading us to our ruin.]
Posted by Laura Wood in Feminism