As often happens, the furor over Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article has brought her question into sharper focus.
Even the expected feminist blowback is illuminating. Writing for Salon.com professional feminist Rebecca Traister takes vigorous exception to Slaughter’s viewpoint.
In her words:
Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.
Traister is notably agitated by the notion of having it all. She declares, correctly, that no one can ever have it all. So she concludes that women are being told that feminism wants them to have it all so that when they discover that they can’t they will blame feminism.
Ergo, having-it-all-ism is a patriarchal conspiracy to discredit feminism.
In reality, this notion has been intrinsic to feminist recruiting efforts. Feminism is a cult. It tries to attract followers as any cult does, by promising that if you join it you can have everything that you have always dreamed of. You can be a feminist and be married and have a family and have a great career.
By now even Traister sees that the promise is fraudulent. Feminists are walking away from it because it is no longer luring young women into the feminist cult.
Most of the time, feminism is presented as a form of liberal or progressive politics. Most people, I would venture, see it as mainstream, middle-of-the-road, equally at home on the right and the left.
Who today would dare to say that women do not deserve equal pay for equal work?
On this score I agree with Traister and I give her credit for honesty. Feminism is a “revolutionary social movement,” a form of radical leftist social politics.
Whatever your politics are if you join the feminist cult or if you identify yourself as a feminist you are signing on to do the work of leftist extremists.
Since Traister sees feminism as a righteous struggle against, as it happens, human nature, she is correct to say that it should not be seen in terms of the goodies it can hand out.
We all know that the verb “to have” might have something to do with possessing something. You can have a car and a home and a husband and children. You can have dinner and you might have a Ming vase on your mantle.
But when you say that you have to do something, the verb “to have” has a meaning that is wildly detached from the idea of possession.
Besides, how warped do you have to be to consider that a husband and children are acquisitions, roughly equivalent to a new pair of shoes?
Yet, Traister is trying to make a larger point here. Allow me to clarify it.
She is saying that feminism does not promise a rose garden or a closet full of shoes. It seeks social justice and the overthrow of capitalism. This implies that those who respond to its siren song are asserting a higher degree of moral virtue than are those who join up because they were promised a house in the suburbs to go along with their careers.
In this context, we can reframe Anne-Marie Slaughter’s question. If a woman is both a feminist and a mother and if she chooses to make certain personal sacrifices to advance the cause, does she also have the right to sacrifice her children to the same cause.
To be more precise, is it Slaughter’s duty as a true-believing feminist to sacrifice her SONS to the cause?
The question involves two different forms of human identity. One is defined by social role; the other by ideological commitment. Any form of identity brings with it duties and obligations.
Of course, a woman can be a feminist and a mother. She can, with more difficulty, be a feminist and a wife. She can also be a feminist and an executive.
Now, what happens if her duty as a feminist conflicts with her duty as a mother or a wife or an executive?
Situations arise, as Slaughter makes clear, where a woman, like most humans who are not women, have to choose: loyalty to her ideology or loyalty to her children?
Slaughter recognized that her choice of a career opportunity had hurt her children. She decided that her duty as a mother was more important than her duty to feminism.
That is what most disturbs fanatical feminists like Rebecca Traister. They want to make world cultural history and will allow nothing to get in the way, certainly not their duty to care for a teenage boy.
Explaining her decision, Slaughter quoted Mary Matalin, who once said that she was dispensable as a member of the White House staff she was dispensable, but not as her daughters’ mother.
It was easier for the White House could find someone who could do her job than it would be for her daughters to find a replacement mother.
It is obvious to everyone who is not a true-believing feminist that the role of mother cannot be separated from human biology. As Nancy Chodorow once said, it is a universal fact: “Only women mother.”
The duties and obligations that inhere in the role of mother are consonant with biological realities. When a woman functions as mother to her children her moral behavior is in harmony with nature.
Traister seems to disagree. Like all ideological zealots she is at war with reality, especially with human nature, so she does not accept the need to live in harmony with human biology.
Her solution should make us all cringe. She wants nothing less than to rewire your brain.
In her words:
We are still very much in the midst of reversing eons of gendered injustice, overheated headlines (from the, uh, Atlantic) about contemporary female dominance to the contrary. Brains are still getting rewired, systems are still being reworked to accommodate evolving roles.
I admire Traister for so clearly stating her totalitarian aspirations.
Rewiring the brain is obviously a very contemporary concept. The more traditional term is brainwashing.
Clearly, the culture wars being fought in the media and the schools and in government involve an effort to brainwash the citizenry, beginning with children.
Feminists and other radical leftists are trying to brainwash us all into thinking illogically and irrationally, into favoring ideology over empirical fact, into making us put loyalty to the cause ahead of responsibilities as spouses, parents and citizens.
Your highest loyalty, Traister is saying, should be to the grand cause of global Revolution.