Boomer feminism's big fails, the glamorization of divorce, the doomed fantasy of single living - and the utterly inhumane choice between work and kids
I've enjoyed reading your recent articles on feminism. As a stay-at-home-mom I have spent years being looked down on by other women. I was a 'feminist' until I chose raising my children over a career. My husband and I chose to live on less, to make sacrifices for the sake of our children and we get no end of flack for it. If you are a mother who isn't working you are useless or a failure, that is what society has been saying to me for years. It is nice to know that someone else has noticed that maybe that's not right or good.
I have really no idea who you are, but as a twice-divorced father of two, previously married to women exactly like you describe, I could (respectfully, of course) kiss you right on the mouth.
I've been a successful physician, investor, pilot - even coal miner during my college summers - but as a man who was raised in a traditional family by a mother who didn't work for wages, rather spending all her time on her family, I was unprepared for the "modern woman."
Always ambitious - perhaps overly so - I have been successful at everything mundane that I have attempted, but my love life has been a disaster. As I worked 60-hour weeks, both my wives spent their days in "self-actualization," one even reading self-help books and TAKING NOTES ON THEM - while my children languished in front of computer screens all day. Now both sons are near thirty and both live with me, neither with a job or even a girlfriend. Jesus God, if the Western culture is going to survive, something has to give.
I'm a 58 year old gay man who has lived with a debilitating chronic illness. Last year I cut off all contact with two upper middle class women who have been friends for most of my life. The reason? They honestly believe that living a full life means winning The Suffering Games. These are highly privileged white women with assets that anyone would envy, yet every single gathering was dominated by these women whinging about "Men!" and "the plight of women." Spending time with them required that I validate that my 30-year struggle with HIV/AIDS was easier than their struggles as female white professionals.
The solution became obvious. Life's too short. One morning I woke up and just blocked their phone numbers and emails. Ever since then I have felt a lovely quiet I haven't experienced in years.
Do feminists tell you that people vote with their feet? No sane man is going to engage any woman on #metoo or cancel culture. They will just walk away.
Tara — I just want to comment that I really enjoy your balanced, analytical writing whenever I read it. You are an inspiration of a woman!
This is a very good exposition of the problem and the dilemma. I'm a boomer who stayed at home when my two boys were young and had trouble establishing a career afterwards, I wouldn't downplay the importance of having a paycheck with your name on it for giving a woman autonomy. I remember that in the 1960s, when feminists argued that women were capable of moving into non-traditional jobs, they were scornful of the objections made by men: "What about 'that time of the month'?" "What about having sexual temptation posed by having female work colleagues?" Now, it's the feminists who are demanding special accommodations for 'that time of the month' and sexual politics at work is a big problem, both in private enterprise and the armed forces. Feminism's big fail is that it has always been incoherent. One branch insists that females are different ("If women ran the world, we wouldn't have war,") and another is mortally offended when you suggest there's a difference between men and women. One thing I don't blame men for is the fact that we are mammals--our reproductive years coincide with the years that we get our higher education and our careers. I don't see that as anybody's fault.
Very interesting. I commend you for being willing to ask tough questions of the prevailing narrative regarding the so-called liberation that increasingly looks, yes, like a dolled-up pig.
I would hope that the increasing number of women asking these kinds of questions can benefit from the thoughtful writings of women like Mary Harrington and Abigail Favale. It seems to me they've been exploring these themes quite perceptively.
For example, here are the closing paragraphs of Favale's essay called "Feminism's Last Battle" (https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2021/07/76717/):
"Feminism needs a serious reality check. In a Foucauldian framework that views reality as constructed by power, one must oppose reality in order to resist oppression. If the feminist movement hopes to endure and effectively advocate the dignity of women and girls worldwide, it must depart from the anti-realist path that led to this bloody battleground. To survive the pending Armageddon, feminism must lose its paranoid rejection of essential differences between the sexes. This does not mean a reversion to cartoonish, reductive caricatures. Men and women are different, but they are not polarized opposites; our difference is asymmetrical, consonant with a shared humanity and individual inimitability.
Only from a realist ground can we successfully discern which differences are a consequence of sexism, and which are not. Only from a realist ground can one make the confident argument that a man cannot merely opt into womanhood, because there is a pre-social givenness to womanness, a nature that is shaped by nurture, but not wholly conjured by it.
Institutional power and language profoundly influence how we perceive reality; that’s something the postmodernists get right. But to assert that power creates reality is to concede that woman is a construct—a concession that, for the feminist movement, will ultimately prove to be fatal."
Similarly, from Mary Harrington's piece 'Reactionary Feminism' (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2021/06/reactionary-feminism):
"For the age we are entering, a feminism in thrall to technology and its promise of an end to all limits will deliver—is already delivering—only misery. Instead we need a movement grounded in pragmatic realities. Male and female bodies are different; humans can’t change sex; most women want to have children; heterosexuality is the default human condition; outsourcing domestic chores is a movement to reintroduce a servant class; children do better in stable two-parent families; and our hyperfocus on individual freedom is a central factor in the plummeting of birthrates worldwide. Against technological developments that promise to free us from love, longing, and human nature itself, restating these truths is an act of feminist resistance.
We are liberated enough. What we need is more and better obligations: a feminism that seeks the proper limits on freedom for both sexes. Such a feminism occupies the most reviled position of all. Dissenting from the theology of progress, it revels in the mantle of the “reactionary.”"
Sorry for the long quotes. Keep up the good work.
I could not agree more with all of this. Feminism has been on many levels highly destructive to society. Women have been sold a bill of goods that they can have it all. Problem is they also end up doing it all, and more. Nobody can have it all. Life is about choices. Equality is a great ideal but we are NOT the same and it has harmed women and children the most. Men aren't fairing well either BTW.
My 83 yr old mother was one of only 2 women in her University B Comm class. She was divorced and raised 2 kids on a single income for a time (lucky for her she had that degree) She despises feminism and would never call herself a feminist.
Women entering the workforce and competing with men doubled the labor supply and thereby suppressed wage growth. Good thing for elites and shareholders, awful thing for everyone else. Now we are reaping what we sowed.
I don't call myself a feminist anymore, and I haven't for years.
The issues I care most about are cracking down harder on sexual and domestic violence, and more harshly criminalizing sex buying, (while decriminalizing the women, children, and young men who are exploited by predatory creeps).
So called "feminists" betrayed the most vulnerable people in society years ago by embracing "slut walks" and making "freeing the nipple" more important than freeing survivors of sex trafficking.(so called "feminists" tend to minimize sex trafficking or even deny that it exists).
I actually consider the Right to be more woman friendly these days than the Left.
It's the Left, not the Right, that came out against FOSTA (FOSTA holds web sites legally accountable for profiting from the sale of raped kids on their sites).
The Left basically spit in the face of the child trafficking survivors who fought bravely to pass the law. The "squad" has been dead to me since then.
Sexual and domestic violence affects all "identity" groups, and while most perpetrators tend to be male (because they are bigger and stronger) they are not the only perpetrators, and plenty of women express their sadism through enabling sexual and domestic violence (see: Ghislaine Maxwell).
Identity politics can take the most loving and supportive people in our lives (in my case, my husband and son) and turn them into "enemies". This is sickness, and it is grossly unfair.
Today, I stand with all people across all "identities" who fight to make the world safe from sexual and "domestic" violence.
Thank you for continuing to explore out loud the things some say quietly to their friends. As a GenX-er I know that i have benefitted in many ways from the feminism that came before. I still have the credit card my mom insisted I get in college, so I'd have a strong credit rating, separate from a future partner. I co-run a business, I vote, my days have more leisure hours than my grandmothers could ever have imagined, etc. I also see the mis-steps and places where an upgrade is needed. Like you, many of my friends have divorced at least once. For many, their emotional health is now better. But it also comes at enormous social and economic cost, and some have --at least temporarily--given up trying to find companionship of a domestic partner, because it's really hard. It's complicated. And we need to start saying that part out loud.
Wow Tara, this writing is sharp, brave, and has receipts to backup the ideas. It opened my eyes with a new perspective. Refreshingly counter-narrative. Thank-you! You are definitely Canada's Bari Weiss for such snappy, brilliant, topical writing. Here's a suggested theme for future consideration:. How do I snap Old Left'ies (and maybe New Left'ies) out of the spell of Progressivism before the divorce?
Another lens to view all of this through, is technological change. Life used to be physically hard for both sexes. And perhaps feminism only came to be a thing when labour saving devices came along, I don't know. But technological change was a huge factor this past century for everyone. Home life for women in the modern era gave them more free time, some capitalized on this to spend more time with children. Work life for men in the modern era meant change, and usually a loss of one's cultural heritage. The experience of the native 'Indian' male eventually became many men's experience. Drug use, even nicotine is highly correlated to coping with change. Humans are not designed or meant for perpetual upgrading. The video gamer culture is just another form of drug use to cope with a world spiraling out of control. Likewise smart phone addiction, was easily predictable to be net negative for today's youth. Mental health, or lack of it is now fashionable among the youth, or parents of tomorrow.
With all the modern conveniences of city life, many of the former jobs women used to do have been replaced. Likewise many of the jobs men used to do as farmers and labourers have evaporated and replaced with technology, a technology that is fragile and dependent on world peace it seems. So we have both genders looking for meaning. Technology has replaced our worth, even as technology stumbles and threatens to end all life. Do humans want to live, or be replaced by AI?
“Most women who have kids have no choice but to work full-time, and are in agony, regularly, over having to miss some of these same things that Bazelon mentions.”
Mostly women work based on the choices they made long before they had kids…same as it’s always been. How about empowering women to be at home with their kids, to really be there for them, and stop with the b.s. about how women need to find meaning outside the home. When you have kids, all the meaning you’ll ever require, and vice versa, can be had in those wee eyes staring back at you.
I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. A third of the women worked full time, even though they had children -- not because they wanted to, but because they had to. There were a lot of low-income families, especially immigrants. The dream of many families was for the man to land a job that paid enough so that the woman could stay home with the children.
We were getting there, bit by bit, through the 1960s. Then along came these middle and upper class women who told us -- and specifically the women -- that we had gotten it all wrong. Marriages oppressed women and they had to place their priorities on careers and other forms of self-actualization. Careers, eh? These were people who were lucky if they had finished primary school. The work they could get was mostly drudgery. But now they could be proud drudges.
And of course the middle and upper class women got an abundance of domestic help. Perhaps that was not what they intended, but it's curious that's how it worked out.
When Adele got her divorce, she had to pay her ex alimony and 1/2 of all she earned during the time they were together. It amounted £10s of millions. She was outraged and screamed in the parking lot that is was unfair. She wanted to appeal the ruling but it was final. You've gotten nowhere baby.
It's good to see some critiquing of feminism. What's going on here, however, is still feminism without the real critiquing it needs. For one, feminism has failed to create viable and healthy role models for women. The new Lois Lane is a great example. She is the perfect example of what men loathe. And frankly, women ought to loathe a character like that, too.
There's a lot to unpack on this subject, and I'm not prepared to get into all of it. Surely, however, a man's input would be useful. Yes, it's up to women, ultimately, to steer feminism to a better course. But there seems to be no understanding of men here.
Then there's stuff like this:
"If all of that wasn’t enough, there’s another powerful force at work here, too: 'From the moment the Pill became widely available, the effect of the sexual revolution has mainly been to make women more sexually available to men,” which, Andrews writes, has led to “the soaring out-of-wedlock birthrate.'"
How does one wind up skewing contraception—supposedly giving women more bodily autonomy—into a benefit mainly for men? . . a patriarchal ploy? Talk about conspiracy theories! It goes to show how women are always on the lookout for how the world is tilted unfairly against them. I’ve noticed this pattern in most of the women I know. No matter how well their careers are going. No matter how well they’ve managed to have high-paying jobs and families, there’s always something wrong and unfair that must be fought against. Considering how often I’ve been the unemployed one at the table, or the lower wage earner, I have found it galling to have to listen to this complaining. Not at any point, did they so much as acknowledge the irony of the situation. Never even a word to tell me what was essentially implied, which is that I was somehow an oddity and outlier as far as men were concerned, which is simply not true... Shameless. Thoughtless. Narcissistic.