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Books: Feminists vs. women

Books | A history, analysis, and critique of feminism by a woman who has been there, done that

Issue: "Religious liberty fight," June 20, 1998

In recent months, feminist leaders have ignored Kathleen Willey, trashed Paula Jones, and winked at President Clinton. That's enough (at least temporarily) to discredit their efforts, but don't think feminism has been cowed. That's why F. Carolyn Graglia's book Domestic Tranquility is so well timed. In addition to being both a history and a critique of American feminism, it also serves as a useful primer on a movement that doesn't know when to slink off in embarrassment. Mrs. Graglia, a Cornell and Columbia University-educated lawyer, dropped out of the professional world to raise three daughters with her husband Lino Graglia, a law professor at the University of Texas. Despite what feminists have said, she didn't feel she was giving up anything important. "I have been happy in every period of my adult life," she writes. "Attending college and law school, practicing law, staying at home to raise a family, and creating a new life once my family responsibilities had largely ended. Yet those many years I spent as a mother at home from the birth of my first child until the last left for college were the best, the ones I would be least willing to have forgone." Mrs. Graglia engages feminism at all levels: political, literary, and social. Her chief image is that of "the awakened Brunnhilde." Brunnhilde, the warrior maiden who was transformed by her love for Siegfried in Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung, symbolizes the woman who opts for family instead of career-and is happier for it, no matter how much it angers the National Organization for Women. "Women who would like to depend upon men-not the men themselves-are feminism's primary enemy," she charges. "The salient characteristic of contemporary feminism-distinguishing it from an earlier social feminism-is that it belittles and seeks to undermine a woman's traditional role as wife and mother, thereby repudiating an understanding or pact that women at one time sought to maintain with each other." Mrs. Graglia's scholarship is impressive-showing the ties that bind Hillary Clinton's village to Plato's Republic, quoting from Yeats, Chesterton, and Walker Percy, among myriad others. And she convincingly shows the influence of feminism on American society in "a tangle of pathologies," including poverty, teen pregnancy, illegitimacy, and crime. But one warning: Her chapter on sexual politics is extremely unpleasant reading. In the end, she concludes, the movement has become destructive to its own stated ends. "It oppresses a woman who could delight in domesticity to tell her that her domesticity makes her a parasitic inferior of men. It oppresses a woman who yearns to stay home with her children to tell her she is worthy only insofar as she achieves in the workplace."

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