In 1976, the French feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir said, “No woman should be authorized to stay home to raise her children. Women should not have that choice, because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”
That’s who thought of when I heard about the column Sarrah Le Marquand, editor-in-chief of Stellar, Australia’s “most read” magazine, wrote for the Daily Telegraph, in which she claims it should be illegal for mothers of school-aged children to stay home.
Yes, illegal. “Rather than wail about the supposed liberation in a woman’s right to choose to shun paid employment, we should make it a legal requirement that all parents of children of school-age or older are gainfully employed.”
Unlike de Beauvoir, Le Marquand is a wife and mother of two. She wrote her article in response to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that claims mothers at home represent “untapped potential” and create “potentially large losses to the economy,” a position with which Le Marquand clearly agrees.
Mothers who choose to mother—yes, that’s a verb—are the reason, she says, that Australia “continues to languish in the bottom third of OECD member states when it comes to female employment.”
And there it is.
As long as women with children put family first, feminists’ utopian vision for gender equality—where 50 percent of women hold top corporate and government positions right along with men—will never be achieved.
And they’re right, of course. It won’t. The mistake is in thinking most women care. The research shows, unequivocally, that they do not.
I remember my mother telling me, more than once, that when she attended her graduate school reunion at Radcliffe, one of the female professors gave a lecture about work and family and said women would need to deal with children as an “intrusion” in their lives.
That really stuck with my mother, who hailed from the Greatest Generation and who had great respect for motherhood.
So does Camille Paglia, the Baby Boomer feminist who parts ways with her ilk when it comes to the awesome nature of biology and human desire.
In her new book, "Free Women, Free Men," Paglia explains that feminists have zero regard for procreation. “Feminist ideology has never dealt honestly with the role of the mother in human life,” she writes.
Indeed it hasn’t. The truth is, women change when they have children. They care less about what they do for a living and more about how their children are faring. They also realize they’re needed at home in a visceral and primal way.
Fathers care just as much about their children, of course, and they too are needed at home. But men and women are different. Men have a visceral need to provide for and protect their families, whereas women are more invested in the home. Naturally, this is major a roadblock for so-called gender equality. Feminists need women to care less about the home and their kids than they do.
And women aren’t listening.
According to Pew Research Center, approximately 30 percent of married mothers with children at home are not employed. Of the remaining 70 percent who are employed, at least half of those mothers work part-time or far less than their husbands do. Even mothers who do work full-time do not put in the kind of overtime men typically do.
Asked what they value most in a job, working mothers say they’re more concerned with having a flexible schedule than they are with more pay or prestige.
Even the ‘breadwinner moms’ we heard so much about in 2013 don’t represent what feminists wish they did. Single mothers represent 63 percent of this group, which makes the share of married breadwinner moms considerably smaller than people were led to believe. It has jumped considerably—from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 2011—but it hardly represents the norm.
That’s why feminists are so frustrated. They can’t get women to do what they want.
The stubborn fact is that a woman’s desire to work for pay, once she has children, is not synonymous with a man’s. Even today, parents “split up paid and domestic work along gendered lines because that’s what most of them want to do,” writes Ashley McGuire of Institute for Family Studies.
If feminists like Le Marquand don’t like this fact, that’s too bad—but they’ll have to take it up with Mother Nature. A quick note of warning, though.
She always wins.
Suzanne Venker is the author of five books on marriage, feminism and gender politics. Her latest book is "The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage: HOW LOVE WORKS." Find her on Twitter@SuzanneVenker.