Ms Discovers Motherhood: Ann Crittenden on mothers and choices

KATHRYN LOPEZ

Having decided to resign from the New York Times in order to raise her infant son, Crittenden found herself, like many feminists, faced with a shocker. Motherhood is actually important, enjoyable even.


"Didn't you used to be Ann Crittenden?" That question, posed to former New York Times economics reporter Ann Crittenden, was the catalyst for The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued.

Having decided to resign from the New York Times in order to raise her infant son, Crittenden found herself, like many feminists, faced with a shocker. Motherhood is actually important, enjoyable even. She writes of her prior naïveté, "I imagined that domestic drudgery was going to be swept into the dustbin of history as men and women linked arms and marched off to run the world in a new egalitarian alliance. It never occurred to me that women might be at home because there were children there; that housewives might become extinct, but mothers and fathers never would."

Many of Crittenden's observations will resonate with conservatives — not to mention real, live Americans. "Raising children may be the most important job in the world, but you can't put it on a résumé." Having become a mother, she is able to recognize "the cultural message that mothers have no stature."

In this vein, Crittenden has some very politically incorrect things to say. In a recent symposium in the lefty magazine The American Prospect on whether the very pregnant (with twins), recently installed governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift, should remain governor (surely the woman, critics wondered, should have more immediate priorities than juggling the business of the state?), Crittenden wrote:

New mothers do experience powerful hormonal changes. They do fall in love, to a degree many describe as "besotted." And for many, including myself, this new relationship often does take precedence over all other preoccupations. Men, by and large, just don't seem to be affected in the same way. Acknowledging this reality may help us understand why the "childbirth as appendectomy" model of maternity leave — have the baby and quickly get back to business as usual — doesn't work for large numbers of mothers. Many want much more time with their newborns than their jobs allow. This forces them either to quit paid work altogether or to rush back to the office too soon, with tears in their eyes and a breast pump clutched in their hands. As far as I'm concerned, that is unnatural, if not barbaric, and American women are almost the only ones in the developed world who have to make such a cruel choice.

The personal is political, remember? A longtime feminist — she authored an article in the inaugural issue of Ms. magazine, in the early 1970s — Crittenden wants to make her journey of self-discovery a political movement. And so she has, writing, "As the twenty-first century begins, women may be approaching equality, but mothers are still far behind. Changing the status of mothers, by gaining real recognition for their work, is the great unfinished business of the women's movement."

But please don't confuse Ann Crittenden with conservative writer Danielle Crittenden (no relation), author of What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. Ann Crittenden calls the conservative essayist "an antifeminist ideologue." And, like any good liberal, she finds the answers to women's problems in the federal government. A government, she says, which should be more like Sweden, which pays women to stay home for a year, which covers their daycare expenses thereafter, and which encourages men to take extensive paternity leaves. "The United States is a society at war with itself," Crittenden writes. She decries what she calls "the mommy tax."

Some of Crittenden's arguments are simply tired. She complains, "A survey of chief financial officers in American corporations found that 80 percent were men with stay-at-home wives." Well, so what? She also dredges up the radical feminist fiction that says a woman earns sixty cents to a man's dollar. Please. Lower-paid women, on average, simply work less; they stop working to have kids; they make "choices" (hey, wasn't "making choices" what feminism was supposed to be about?).

To be sure, Crittenden does acknowledge far more than her feminist sisters ever did. She admits, for example, "If young women doctors are willing to behave exactly like traditional men, they do just fine. The wage gap in medicine has virtually disappeared among physicians under age forty-five — provided that they work the same hours, pick the same specialties, and work in the same practice arrangements." (Message: The patriarchy still exists, only it's more slippery now — it pays women what they deserve, but only if they follow a "male" career trajectory).

She continues, "Women doctors work on average fifty-one hours a week versus sixty-two hours for the men — an obvious artifact of their greater family responsibilities. Women are more apt to be in less lucrative specialties, like pediatrics and family medicine, and to be in staff positions in hospitals or health maintenance organizations, which offer more regular hours."

Right, so what's the problem? You guessed it — you just read it. Her much ballyhooed "split" with her feminist sisters is remarkably short-lived. She contends, for example, that, "the movement of mothers into the labor market appears to have had … little measurable impact on children's well-being, despite vigorous efforts by traditionalists to prove otherwise." That claim simply flies in the face of reality and, as it so happens, federally funded reports. Most recently, a study financed by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that children who spend time in daycare tend to be more aggressive than those who are raised at home by their mothers. Of course, the media and child-care industry sought to bury the landmark study for fear that parents might feel guilty about whisking off their children to daycare. (Heaven forbid!) The elite media mercilessly attacked the study's primary researcher, Jay Belsky, whose earlier research had been skeptical of the merits of dumping kids off at daycare.

Despite having been besotted by motherhood, Crittenden remains a feminist, still worshiping at the idols of the sisterhood. She quotes Honoré de Balzac's claim that "Maternal love makes of every woman a slave"; she argues that, "Motherhood is the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age."

In the face of these feminist tropes, it's a wonder any woman gets married these days. Crittenden's hostile view of marriage is hardly unique — it's shared, for instance, by Marilyn Yalom, author of History of the Wife (2001). Yalom writes, "With divorce on the horizon for approximately half of all American spouses marrying today, why bother changing your name when you may have to take it back." (With divorce on the certain horizon for half of all marriages, both parties feel that they must be cautious in money matters as they prepare for the inevitable).

That is very much Crittenden's view. Always planning for divorce, the married woman should keep a separate checking account. Praising the Swedish model, Crittenden observes, "Swedish men are obviously presumed to be far more than a paycheck to their families." Yikes. Is that all she thinks American men are good for?

Crittenden has talked to mothers who are just plain "confused," as one told her. They feel trapped between what they want and feel for their children and what their feminist "role models" tell them. They are ashamed to be who they are. It's as if someone gave them a Barbie doll and said, "We girls can do anything — except be a mom." But to play house and mommy is the first thing they want to do. As Ms. Crittenden herself admits, it's only natural. No wonder they are so confused:

One mother told me that she felt "confident that the children are better off for my not working full-time," but that she was "not so proud of myself with the public at large. Leaving the business world took a toll on my self-esteem … When people ask 'what do you do?' I say 'consultant,' although I haven't consulted on anything for years."

Somehow, as important as she seems to know it to be, just being a mother isn't good enough for Crittenden. Being a working mother with a flextime package is better than simply being a mom raising the kids while Dad makes it all possible. Ironically, feminists, who trumpet "choice!" at other stages of the reproductive cycle, rue it when it comes to motherhood. Crittenden derides talk of choice as "not only overlook[ing] power but also ignor[ing] the pain embedded in mothers' tough trade-offs."

But are women actually losing out by being mothers? Crittenden insists that, "mothers' choices are not being made in a vacuum. They are made in a world that women never made, according to rules they didn't want." Right, but men didn't make that world either. And perhaps women actually got the better end of the deal. They may not make more money than men if they choose to stay home, but they do enjoy something far more precious. Crittenden knows that. She just can't fully accept its implications. You've come a long way, baby. Just a few hundred more intellectual leap years to go.

A version of this review will appear in the May/June 2001 issue of American Outlook, published by the Hudson Institute.

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The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued,
by Ann Crittenden
Metropolitan Books, 2001
323 pages, $25.00
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Kathryn Lopez. "Ms. Discovers Motherhood: Ann Crittenden on mothers and choices." National Review (June 9-10, 2001).

This article is reprinted with permission from National Review Online. To subscribe to the National Review write P.O. Box 668, Mount Morris, Ill 61054-0668 or phone 815-734-1232.

THE AUTHOR

Kathryn Jean Lopez is an associate editor of National Review and deputy managing editor of National Review Online.

Copyright © 2001 National Review


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