Liberated from the Confines of FeminismKARNA SWANSON
Deciding against the old ideas of feminism, women are taking on their true, identity — and offering society a unique and feminine contribution that unites instead of dividing.
I felt a little uneasy when Irving Kristol, writing in The Wall Street Journal, linked feminism to femininity.
"An older, masculine, paternalistic version of the welfare state is fighting a guerrilla war against a newer and firmly established feminine-maternalistic conception of the welfare state," he stated in an Oct. 19 opinion column titled "The Two Welfare States."
What he is saying is that there are two ways of setting up a welfare state. There's the masculine-paternalistic way a "safety-net" version that reflects the paternal desire of fathers who "want their children to grow up to be self-reliant, self-supporting and able to cope with a recalcitrant world." This version helps the individual who is down-and-out, but is willing to do what he or she can to get back on track. In the paternalistic system we find a reasonable way of helping others that is both respectful of the person and realistic in terms of the economic possibilities of the government.
At the other end of the spectrum is the feminine-maternalistic way the catch-all, expansive, dominating and over-protective reflection of maternal instincts of those who "want their children to be as completely protected as possible from such a world and to be gratefully attached to them as long as they live; the avoidance of risk gets a very high priority." This system is unrealistic and unreasonable as it works to meet absolutely every need of every person, thus reflecting the compassionate hearts of women who respond "with free-floating indignation, [to] the human suffering of those who have been victimized by the ravages of ill fortune or even by their own misdeeds."
But is this really what masculinity and femininity are?
The definitions Kristol offers for paternity and maternity are simplified and reduced conceptions of the respective roles of men and women that divide the two, thus placing each in a strict categorical role. The father is the "tough" one who challenges his children to be self-sufficient. The mother is the softy who only wants to make things as easy as possible for her little ones. In drawing this line of division, one loses the intended unity of the two. Men and women are not intended to be polarized; they are to complement one another. This is exemplified in parenting, in which the mother and father, not limited to restricted role assignments, participate as partners in the upbringing of their children.
Mothers and fathers are equally concerned for the safety and well-being of their children, although they certainly manifest this concern in different ways. Fathers, it is true, tend to be more willing to allow their children to take the hard knocks of life, but when real danger is at hand a father is not far away. Fathers readily sacrifice to provide for their children and keep them from harm, and to say otherwise is to belittle the humanity of most men.
A mother, on the other hand, is known to be at times overly preoccupied with the well-being of her child, but good mothers know how to let go and let their children walk their own paths in life no matter how painful it might be for a mother to watch her child endure the "recalcitrant world."
Together, the mother and father work to guide their child through life, each complementing the other's contribution, sheltering and letting go until the day when the child must face, life alone.
This balanced view of masculinity and femininity, and the intended unity of the two, is adversely opposed to categorical definitions of male and female offered by feminists.
Feminism, in its rawest form, is the empowerment of woman over and against man.
Far from true femininity, and even further from true maternity, the feminist sets herself not as companion and complement to the man, but as his adversary. Sowing division and not unity, feminists such as Shulamith Firestone write books like the Dialectic of Sex, which challenge women to throw off the "oppressive structures of power erected by nature and reinforced by men."
In applying this maternal-versus-paternal feminist dialectic to the welfare state, Kristol deepens the divide already created by those seeking women's domination over men. Granted Kristol is not advancing feminism, for he is quite clearly setting himself against feminist ideologies. Yet, in identifying femininity and what he terms the "'womanly conception of social policy" with "women's empowerment," he short-changes all women, defining them within the same limited strictures they're bound by in radical feminism.
This view of woman is unacceptable to the many women who are leaving aside tired ideas of modern feminism for the challenges and rewards afforded by traditional feminine roles. Don't take it from me. Take it from the readers of Mother and Baby magazine, 81% of whom recently said they'd prefer staying home and raising children to building careers in the marketplace.
Deciding against the old ideas of feminism, women are taking on their true, identity and offering society a unique and feminine contribution that unites instead of dividing.
Karna Swanson. "Liberated from the Confines of Feminism." National Catholic Register. (November 19-25, 2000).
Reprinted by permission of the National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
Karna Swanson writes from Rome, where she researches and writes on the new feminism.
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