Marcia Segelstein has covered family issues for over 20 years as a producer for CBS News and as a columnist. She has written for FoxNews.com, “First Things,” “World Magazine,” and “Touchstone.” She is a Senior Editor for “SALVO” magazine.
Syndicated columnist and author Mona Charen had a very personal wake-up call when it came to making family her top priority. A few weeks after she and her husband had adopted their infant son, Jonathan, she went to get him from his crib. No matter how she tried to engage with him, he seemed utterly indifferent to her. But when the nanny arrived, who worked five mornings a week, he positively lit up.
At that moment Charen vowed to make big changes in her life, putting family first and work second. Charen, already an established columnist, author and talking head on radio and TV, cut way back on her work schedule to make raising Jonathan, along with two more sons who would arrive later, her top priority.
If Charen had followed the dictates of modern feminism she would have rejected that call to prioritize motherhood over career. She writes in her new book, Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense, that feminism has led us all astray about many of life’s most important questions. The women’s movement took two enormous wrong turns in her view. First, it relegated family to insignificant status, deeming child care as a prison for women. Second, it embraced the sexual revolution.
Why should a movement ostensibly for women disparage women’s preferences? A 2012 Pew Research Center poll asked this question of parents: “Considering everything, what would be the ideal situation for you – working full-time, working part-time, or not working at all outside the home?” Sixty-seven percent of all mothers with children under the age of 18 at home answered that their ideal situation would be working part-time or not at all. Among marriedmothers, the figure was 76 percent. A CBS News/New York Timessurvey conducted in 2013 found similar results with this question: “If money were no object, and you were free to do whatever you wanted, would you stay at home, work part-time, or work full-time?” Among women with children under the age of 18, only 27 percent said they’d like to work full-time. Forty-nine percent preferred part-time work, while 22 percent said they’d prefer not to work outside the home. Of men in the same circumstances, i.e., with children under 18, 52 percent said they’d work full-time even if money wasn’t an issue.
Men and women are different. And, as Charen rightly points out, “Equality doesn’t have to mean sameness.”
As for the sexual revolution, feminism advocated it, pushing the idea that sex was mere recreation and that women should view it as the most callous of men would. Here’s her take on where that’s gotten us: “’No strings attached’ sexuality is debased and unnatural, especially for women – which, I submit, is why drinking to the point of blacking out has become so common among women. It is also one of the reasons why so many report being raped and assaulted in the world of drunken hookups.”
Also included in the legacy of feminism, Charen argues, is the rise of family breakdown, the sanctioning of single parenthood, and the ease and acceptance of divorce. Engaging in a war of the sexes has resulted in, among other things, a “coarsened culture saturated with vulgar sexuality, the hookup ethic replacing courtship, and the dark undercurrent of pornography,” she writes.
Another casualty of feminism has been marriage, and the idea that women (and men!) benefit from the emotional support and security it offers. “Far from a trap for women,” she writes, “marriage is an essential component of happiness.” Charen cites a variety of studies showing that married people are “healthier, wealthier, less prone to suicide, less likely to be drug abusers or alcoholics, less likely to be unemployed, and more likely to have broad networks of friends and relatives than single or divorced people.”
If feminism was supposed to make women happier, why hasn’t it? Every year since 1972 the General Social Survey asks a representative sample of American adults about their happiness levels. In 1972, women reported being happier than men, on average. Every year since then women’s happiness has declined slightly. By 1990 men and women switched places, and since then women report being less happy than men, in addition to being less happy then their mothers and grandmothers were at the same stage of life.
The feminist movement didn’t serve the interests of women – nor of men and children. It’s time to acknowledge sex differences, embrace love and fidelity and put family first. Here’s how Charen sums it up:
“Instead of fighting nature, let’s be comforted by its contours. The best and most important sources of identity, meaning, and joy, for men and women, are to be found not in the world of work but in our homes and families. If we get that right, the rest will largely take care of itself.”