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Why ‘freedom feminism’ is right

Q&A

The Dec. 28 issue of WORLD includes an interview with Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute, author of many books, including a new one published by AEI, Freedom Feminism. Here are some cogent remarks we didn’t have room for in the magazine.

Our interview with you shows how our current educational system hurts individuals, and particularly guys, educationally. What does it do socially, as people get into their 20s and early 30s and are thinking about marriage? Millions of young men don’t like school. They drop out, or if they graduate they do not pursue education beyond high school. They’re having a terrible time succeeding in this economy. More than that, they’ll have a hard time getting married, because women tend to want to marry someone who has some prospects. Across all the races and ethnicities young women are doing much better than their male counterparts, and the marriageable young men are not there. We have a vicious cycle, with more and more women having children out of wedlock, because the men are either not marriageable or the men won’t marry them. It’s a social crisis as well as an educational and an economic crisis.

What implications for counseling does an awareness of male/female differences suggest? Researchers interviewed a large sample of young men and asked them, “Why don’t you talk about your feelings and your problems?” They asked girls as well. Girls felt much better after talking about their problems. The boys didn’t. The No. 1 answer they got from the boys was, “Sitting around talking about your problems is weird and a waste of time.” It wasn’t because they were humiliated or they thought they’d be ashamed; they just didn’t find it practical or interesting. The young women at Patrick Henry College here should know that if you want to talk with your brother or even your husband-to-be, it’s not just for the sake of sharing feelings: Do that with your girlfriends, or your mom. Typically, a man won’t see the point of it unless there’s something to be solved.

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Why does “feminism” have negative connotations among Christians and conservatives, and among many secular moderates as well? Women can now do anything in pursuing their interests, and that’s a great achievement of the women’s movement. But the movement has become so elite and very, very left wing, and with a lot of kind of eccentric, male-averse views about the world. Some say you could reduce contemporary feminism to a phrase, “Women are from Venus, men are from hell.” And most women don’t think men are from hell; we’re rather fond of you. So, you’re not going to have a lot of recruits.

You write about the feminism of women like Hannah Moore in England … In this little book, Freedom Feminism, I went back and found wonderful precedents in the 18th and 19th centuries, where there was a women’s movement that united conservative and more liberal women. Hannah Moore was a peer of the most esteemed men of her age, Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke. She became an evangelical Christian and was friends with William Wilberforce. Just as he was a key figure in the abolition movement, so she started a movement for women’s education. She believed men and women were different, that women were the nurturers of the nation, and she thought, we can’t keep them in the home; they have to be out in society doing good works, philanthropic pursuits—and people listened. She was famous throughout the world, and now she’s been forgotten because she was conservative, believed in the free market, and didn’t like the French Revolution.

You see value in maternal feminism? Maternal feminists thought men and women were different and had different roles. Maternal feminism was tied up with the labor movement a century ago, and there was lots of efforts at protective legislation for women in the workplace, such as making sure that pregnant women wouldn’t have to lift heavy things. Eleanor Roosevelt was a part of that; she understood that the sexes were different.

Is there any overlap between maternal feminism and the feminism of Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who saw men and women as essentially the same and wanted to liberate women from their customary roles? I try to take the best from both kinds and call it “freedom feminism,” because I acknowledge that not all women are the same. About 20 percent of women in the United States and Europe are as career-oriented as any man, For the 20 percent I want a fair workplace. If they want to be CEOs or run labs and be full professors and all that, I am enough of an egalitarian to want that opportunity. But most women do not want to be men. Even given all of our rights, all of our freedoms, every opportunity to play with trains instead of dolls, most will turn the trains into dolls. Most women have a maternal instinct. It’s painful to be separated from your baby for 45 hours per week. How often do women abandon their children? Almost never, unless there’s mental illness or drug abuse or alcoholism, it just doesn’t happen. How often do men abandon children? It’s common.

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