It’s fitting that I read Stephanie Coontz’s New York Times’ op-ed, “The Myth of Male Decline,” the day before reading Suzanne Venker’s anti-feminist “war on men.” If women are waging a war on men, they are, to borrow a phrase from President Obama, fighting a nuclear war with horses and bayonets.
But Venker isn’t interested in the type of facts that Coontz lays out so clearly. Venker starts off by asserting that “the battle of the sexes” – a term as dated as Venker’s thinking on the topic – “is alive and well.” She backs up that assertion with stats showing that a higher percentage of women than men think having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives. I’m not sure how this demonstrates a battle of the sexes – especially considering that the majority of men and women both appear to have placed marriage somewhat lower on their list of life’s priorities – but let’s not allow reason to get in the way of a bad argument.
Venker claims that men don’t want to get married – at least, not to women – because “women aren’t women anymore.” By providing for and protecting themselves, women – or non-women, as it were – are depriving men of their DNA-encoded desire “to provide for and protect their families.”
And who or what is to blame? (in Church Lady voice) SATAN! Actually, feminism, which for a lot of conservatives, is tantamount to the same thing.
Venker says, “Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever.” I’m sure there are plenty of men smacking themselves upside the head at the revelation that feminists are out there giving it up at “hello.” Who needs bands to make her dance?
In her response in the National Review to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now-famous cover article for The Atlantic – “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Venker spells out her prescription for frustrated, unhappy women to whom feminism sold a bill of equal opportunity goods. Arguing that “[c]hildren’s needs conflict with adult desires,” Venker says, “Slaughter is wrong: Sequencing is absolutely the answer. So is creating realistic expectations for one’s life. Stop aiming so damn high. Be satisfied.”
By “sequencing,” Venker means women should have babies first and careers later – if at all. Of course, Venker’s claim that mothers who value career achievement and the ability to contribute to their family’s financial well-being are less dedicated to their children than mothers who derive their sense of purpose from caring for their children and household is beyond insulting. It’s infuriating, especially to those of us mothers who work damn hard to provide for our kids’ financial, emotional and physical needs.
As for women who stubbornly insist on pursuing careers as well as motherhood, certain career paths are simply off-limits. In a radio interview promoting her book, “The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know — and Men Can’t Say,” which she co-authored with her aunt Phyllis Schlafly, Venker explained how she would apply the “sequencing” and stop aiming so damn high” advice in guiding her own daughter’s career choices:
“Another point is why I say the reality is there are going to be some careers that are probably not going to be good options for you as a woman. I have an eleven year-old daughter and if we got into the conversation of what am I going to be in X number of years and she comes to me and says ‘Mom, I want to be a brain surgeon,’ I would ask her ‘Okay, is there anything else that you want in your life?’
“And if she presumably then says ‘well, I’d like to get married and have children too,’ I’d say ‘then you’d probably better pick something else.’ And here’s why: these two things are going to conflict majorly. You’re going to spend ten years preparing for this major life as a brain surgeon – which is one kind of life, all consuming – and then right as your body is winding down biologically, you want to get married and have children. That ain’t gonna work.”
Venker doesn’t explain what career choices would be acceptable for her daughter – or any other woman – who wanted both a career and a family. Curiously, given her support of conservative women like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, it seems “brain surgeon” is aiming too high, but “Congresswoman” or “President of the United States” is not. Bachmann has aimed pretty damn high in her career ambitions, yet Venker assured National Review’s conservative readers that Bachmann is no feminist. Perhaps this means the word “feminism” is bad, but equal opportunity for women is good, as long as women, once they gain power, use that power to deny equal opportunity for other women. Venker’s Aunt Phyllis obviously taught her well.
But “stop aiming so damn high” doesn’t even apply to Venker herself. Venker’s National Review bio describes her as ”a former teacher of at-risk youth, a mother of two, and an author and columnist.” In her “war on men” piece for Fox, she touts herself as ”the author of three books on the American family and its intersection with pop culture,” and boasts of her “thirteen years [spent] examining social agendas as they pertain to sex, parenting, and gender roles.” Jezebel took note of the hypocrisy: ”nice women-in-the-workplace-blaming article from a woman who opens by praising her own workplace experiences.”
Venker’s aunt Phyllis Schlafly is no stranger to this type of “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy, as noted by Meghan Daum in a piece last year for the Los Angeles Times:
“Those of us old enough to remember Schlafly may recall that of her many exasperating qualities, the one that most consistently drove people crazy was her insistence that if she didn’t need the ERA to help her raise six children while maintaining a career — hers involved being a writer, editor, lecturer and running for office as well as going to law school — why should anyone else?”
Daum got Venker to admit Schlafly had “some help” in managing her household while embarking on her extremely busy career. Venker, by contrast, claims to have never used a nanny or daycare. I haven’t read any of Venker’s books, but I wonder if Venker ever acknowledges all of the various levels of privilege that made her chosen life’s path possible: going to college, marrying a man who earns enough to support a family on his income alone, and starting one’s career well after the kids are in school -including writing books with a famous aunt.
This “work bad/marriage and motherhood good” mindset ignores that for many women, working outside the home is not a matter of choice, but financial necessity. It’s especially true for single mothers, although Venker would probably argue that “single mothers” should not exist, since no unmarried woman should have a child, and no married woman should get divorced. (I guess widows are given a pass, but only until they find another husband.)
The false motherhood/career dichotomy also ignores the fact that jobs and the economy were key issues among all voters in the recent Presidential election – including conservative women who supported Mitt Romney. While some of those conservative women may have been focused on their husband’s career goals, many of them certainly were concerned about their own job and career goals. Ignoring these women – or telling them “don’t worry, get married” – practically assures that the gender gap that propelled President Obama to victory will only widen in the years to come.