At the second busiest intersection in San Diego, a bright morning smiles in through the broad plate-glass window at Starbucks. But while the seductive scent of espresso rules the air inside the cafe, the morning outside must compete with a little girl's wide, green eyes.
"Hannah-Kristin-Kahl!" the sandy-haired 5-year-old announces brightly when asked her name. She leans forward to show off "Stinky," her Beanie Baby skunk, then skips off in pink sneakers and patchwork bike shorts to terrorize the condiment table. Two years ago, Hannah Kahl would not have been here to enjoy a morning treat with mom Colleen. Instead, she would have been in daycare from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. while Mrs. Kahl managed her husband's environmental consulting office. But in 1997, Mrs. Kahl hired a new office manager and quit her job to stay home with her kids. At that moment, she joined the growing ranks of American women who are marching to the beat of a more conservative drummer.
Researchers Liz Nickles and Laurie Ashcraft found that a growing number of women are kicking career off the top rung of their priority ladders. Ms. Nickles and Ms. Ashcraft have surveyed a statistically representative sample of 5,000 women ages 20-50 once each decade since 1979. The third installment, released late last year, found that the share of working women who said career is as important as being a wife and mother has plunged 23 percent since the 1970s.
And, to take the matter a step further to the right, another study released earlier this year found that nearly half of women ages 18 and older feel society benefits when the man is the achiever outside the home, and the woman stays home to concentrate on nurturing hearth and family.
But the trend toward female conservatism extends well beyond the question of career. The second survey, conducted by the liberal Center for Gender Equality, also showed that three-quarters of women surveyed now say religion is very important in their lives (up 6 percent from two years ago); half say it would be better for politicians to be guided by religious values (up14 percent since 1993); and 70 percent favor more restrictions on abortion, including 40 percent who think it should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother's life, and 13 percent who would not permit it under any circumstances. Two years ago, 45 percent of women would have restricted abortion in those ways, compared with 53 percent today.
So what's pushing the ideological pendulum from left to right for women in particular? Among the myriad causes: increased activism among Christian and conservative women; backlash among younger women against bankrupt Boomer values; legions of black women who've grown weary of the crime and poverty caused by liberal social programs; the glaring irrelevance of the ultra-feminist agenda; and a rising awareness among women of the high moral price of the daycare culture.
For Colleen Kahl, 34, an evangelical Christian who bet the you-can-have-it-all feminist philosophy of the 1970s and '80s, the payoff was a vicious cycle of boomerang guilt. Plagued by guilt for never being with Hannah and Bryce, her then-6-year-old son, she also felt guilty for her sub-par job performance, which was, in turn, the reciprocal fallout of guilt caused by absentee mothering. The result: a nervous breakdown.
"It just wasn't worth it anymore," says Mrs. Kahl, a slim and pretty green-eyed blonde, "I was sacrificing my children for my career, and it was making me physically sick." Mrs. Kahl isn't alone. A 1979 Nickles and Ashcraft study showed that nearly half of working women felt career was as important as being a wife and mother. The 1998 version of the same study showed that number had fallen to just over a third.
"Trying to maintain a career and a family is taking a larger toll on the peace of daily life than I think anyone expected," says Janet Bernstel, a freelance writer and mother of two in West Palm Beach, Fla. Mrs. Bernstel describes herself as a social moderate: liberal on the subject of religion or a "higher power," but growing more conservative on issues like education and welfare. She says "there is no utopian arrangement" for balancing career and family. But she knows what Utopia is not: Last fall, she quit a lucrative position as managing editor of an online magazine.
Mrs. Bernstel now works from home so that she can spend more time with her kids, ages 2 and 7: "Women are rethinking their options and I think that is definitely a good thing."
Women are also rethinking feminism. Many say they feel that most of the important battles of traditional, or "equity," feminism, like equal pay and equal employment opportunity, have already largely been won. But for more than two decades "gender" feminists, who subscribe to a divisive, anti-male worldview, have been haunted by the ghost of victimhood. And they've used friendly news and entertainment media to encourage mainstream women to do the same.
For example, the left-wing National Organization for Women invades the Capitol each April to promote "Pay Equity Day." Rattling the rusty saber of gender bias, the group claimed this year that women earn just 74 cents for every dollar earned by men. But Women's Figures, a new book released that same month by the conservative Independent Women's Forum (IWF), tells a much different tale. Instead of calculating broadside averages of men's and women's pay, Women's Figures compares apples to apples: the salaries of men and women in like age groups, in like occupations, with like education and without children. How does it all cash out? IWF found that women today earn 98.1 cents for every comparable male dollar. Unequal? Slightly. Worth an annual march on Washington? Hardly.
"Women are tired of the rhetoric of liberation and victimization," says Christina Sommers, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of the gender-feminist deconstruction manifesto Who Stole Feminism? (Touchstone, 1994). "Most American women do not see themselves as victims. That image doesn't resonate with the world they live in."
The image no longer resonates with La Mesa, Calif., resident Linda Duvall. A "Second Wave" feminist and former small "C" communist whose college major was Soviet history, Mrs. Duvall, 46, says the victim mentality doesn't mesh with reality. "When I was younger, I was willing to blame everything on society," says Mrs. Duvall. "As I've gotten older, I've come to believe that people need to take responsibility for who they are and what they do."
A former law enforcement professional who says she's grown more conservative on the issues of crime and education, Mrs. Duvall also says her family intends to become more involved in activities at a Presbyterian church near her home. During the years she embraced communism, she says, religion was not in her plans at all. But she now sees the church as a cultural and historical anchor, important to the education of her two sons-and, she admits somewhat reluctantly, to her own personal and spiritual development.
According to the Center for Gender Equality (CGE) survey, the number of women embracing religion has climbed from 69 percent to 75 percent over the past two years. Such revelations rankle CGE president Faye Wattleton, formerly of Planned Parenthood, who believes spiritual renewal among American women threatens the liberal political agenda.
She called the CGE survey results "disturbing," adding that it is "clear that women are becoming more conservative on a number of social issues as they become more involved with religion ... the divide between religion and politics is drifting, if not crumbling." Saying that trend "seriously threatens the cause of gender equality," Mrs. Wattleton blamed the shift on an increase in conservative religious political activism. It was, in part, the enormous influence on American women wielded by groups like Concerned Women for America (CWA) that prompted the CGE survey. Founded by Beverly LaHaye in 1979, CWA has become the largest women's public policy group in the country.
"Conservatives have had to struggle to get that platform," says Carmen Pate, former president of CWA. She believes the "liberal, even leftist" influence of the entertainment industry, media, and academia has long kept women's views suspended artificially left of center. But Mrs. Pate, an ex-feminist who raised two kids as a single mom, isn't surprised to see women returning to the conservative fold: "Many of the women who bought the feminist lies for all those years are now paying the consequences."
Another group, the Independent Women's Forum, was founded in 1992 by Barbara Ledeen, a Jewish ex-radical. Based in Washington, D.C., IWF promotes individual responsibility, personal freedom, community-level crime initiatives, welfare reform, and school choice, and emphasizes the importance of religion as a fundamental part of democracy.
Other secular women's groups are also upholding conservative values. The Women's Freedom Network promotes "equity" feminism-that is, equal protection for women under the law, but no special favors. Women members of the National Association of Scholars denounce vapid gender-feminist college curricula, and champion instead classical humanities and hard science. Feminists for Life, while liberal on issues like the death penalty, staunchly opposes abortion, euthanasia, pornography, and "socially enforced" poverty.
It is precisely the social enforcement of poverty that's resurrecting the dormant conservatism of many urban black women. Tired of the welfare-fed crime, violence, and addiction that proliferate in their urban communities, many are becoming more vocal about those values.
"Many black women now are really concerned about having a better life," says Beverly Williams, a resident of Watts, the infamous Los Angeles borough best known for the rival gangs Crips and Bloods and the race riots of 1965. Mrs. Williams, who knows firsthand what it's like to live on welfare, is now associate director of the Watts-based grassroots urban outreach Family Helpline. She says the "entitlement era" made it easy for people on welfare to give themselves over to vices like sex and drugs. But the recent slashing of the welfare rolls, she says, has sparked new ambition among urban black women, especially the young.
"These women know they can no longer afford to let things like drugs, promiscuity, and irresponsibility overtake them," Mrs. Williams says. "They're more oriented now toward education and career goals."
For example, one 19-year-old Watts resident Mrs. Williams ministers to has two kids and a sixth-grade education. While she once squeaked aimlessly by on government handouts, she now gets up every morning and goes to school. "She's really trying hard," says Mrs. Williams. "She was on entitlement and her mother was on entitlement before her. She wants more for herself and her kids."
According to Yankelovich, a Connecticut-based research firm, about half of Gen-Xers are children of divorce. That fact alone may be driving teens and twenty-somethings back toward traditional standards. Yankelovich analysts say studies like the UCLA American Freshman survey, which shows both young men and women trending right, may signal a Gen-X rejection of the self-indulgent value system constructed by Baby Boomers.
Both the UCLA study and a 1998 report by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., public-policy group, showed young women and men now hold more conservative attitudes toward sex, including the delay of sexual activity. In October 1998, even the liberal Alan Guttmacher Institute, the New York-based research arm of Planned Parenthood, admitted that falling teen pregnancy rates may be, in part, the result of new attitudes toward abstinence. The organization had long held that any decreases in teen pregnancy or venereal disease were the result of liberal sex-education programs.
"Young women today may be a little smarter than those of the '60s and '70s," says Mike MacIntosh, senior pastor of Horizon Christian Fellowship, an evangelical mega-church in San Diego with one of the largest youth ministries in the country. Mr. MacIntosh, a beach-bum child of the 1960s whom Christ saved out of the morass of drug abuse, believes many young women today are "breaking away. They're looking at the fruits of poor decision-making [by their parents], and making better choices."