With all the talk of women leaning in and out, and of retro wives vs. feminist ones, you’d think at some point we’d come face to face with the elephant in the room. But alas, no. When it comes to the work/family debate, we talk about the pay gap, the gender gap, and the ambition gap. We talk about the economy and its relationship to female workforce participation. We talk about gender equality until we’re blue in the face.
But we never talk about the children or the reality of family life.
Yet this is the reason balance remains elusive. Having a family, having children, changes everything. If there were no children, there would be no conflict. Even the workplace would look different. Women without children out earn men. It isn’t until children come along, until the American family takes root, that the balance of power shifts. Presumably, one would think, family is worth it.
Sadly, this is not the case for everyone. A certain group of powerful women want to make the conflict between children and careers a societal issue. At the moment Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is leading this charge—and she has countless celebrities, as well as the entire media and a bottomless pit of cash, in her pocket.
What feminists like Sandberg want isn’t equality; it’s a new world order. They want to make gender obsolete, and they want a government that makes it easy for women to go back to work after they have children. But most women put their children’s needs first and are okay with making the necessary career adjustments.
Feminists don’t like that. So what they’re doing, in effect, is pitting the value of children and family against the value of the almighty dollar.
To be sure, our professional and domestic spheres are in flux. That is to be expected in a forward-moving society. But the fact remains that some things in life don’t change—and human nature is one of them. “Feminism has never fully relieved women from feeling that the domestic domain is theirs to manage, no matter what else they’re juggling,” wrote Lisa Miller in New York Magazine.
Indeed it hasn’t. And why should it? The domestic domain is a great place to be. It offers enormous flexibility and control over one’s life—and a boatload of power to boot. It’s a power of a different sort: the kind that matters.
If that sounds blasphemous or just plain odd, that’s because our culture has zero regard for the significance of family. Women have been the anchors of this sphere for eons, and we used to honor it. It used to be the bedrock of our nation.
No more. Modern women are encouraged to avoid or escape the home, not only because they “must” in order to make a living (which is a canard, not a fact), but because it’s assumed their brains will atrophy. In response to the dearth of educated women in top leadership positions, Forbes contributor Samantha Ettus says America is experiencing a “brain drain.”
But there are two sides to that coin. The more educated mothers are, the more educated their children will be—which bodes well for America’s future economy. Mothers who return to the workforce full-time almost always provide their children with less educated caregivers. Nannies and day care providers are not positions commonly sought by women with advanced degrees.
The message to children is simple: I’m too smart and important to waste my time on you. Let the little people do it.
Indeed, women have been assured that children, babies and toddlers in particular, do fine being away from their mothers all day, every day. That, of course, is patently false. But here’s something new: Is it possible mothers need their children?
To those who’ve been paying attention, the answer is a resounding yes. The number of women who’ve tried the feminist mantra on for size—who’ve focused their lives solely on career only to have it bump up against maternal desire and the reality of family life—is huge. They realize that if they want to be the boss at work, they will not be the boss at home.
Women also know, despite feminist protestations, that children need their mothers in a primal and unique way. That was the point of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article last summer in The Atlantic, when she wrote about the fact that her sons needed her—despite their father’s accessibility. “I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet,” she wrote.
And shift they will continue to do. Which means the question we should be asking ourselves as a nation isn’t how we can rearrange society to make life more suitable to the small percentage of women who value career over family.
The question we should be asking is: When will family come first?
Suzanne Venker is the author of “The Flipside of Feminism and 7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don’t Mix.” She has written extensively about politics, parenting, and the influence of feminism on American society. Her latest book, How to Choose a Husband and Make Peace with Marriage, is now available at Amazon. Also available is her new Kindle Single, The War on Men. For more on Suzanne, visit www.suzannevenker.com.