Anti-feminists have always intrigued me. Anyone who builds a career trying to debunk one of the most significant social movements of the last 30 years always strikes me as nervy, to say the least.
The newest dragon-slayer on the block is Danielle Crittenden, who has written a book called What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes The Modern Woman. Crittenden, who also recently became a columnist for the National Post, believes the road to personal happiness for both men and women involves turning back the clock.
At the very least, she advocates re-learning the lessons of an earlier time, when women withheld sex until they married, ideally in their early 20s, and had children well before turning 30.
Why, you might ask? In order to make men take their family responsibilities seriously, and, of course, to snap up the best men before they have to compete with a younger crop of nubile young things.
Crittenden says women are squandering their sexual power in their 20s instead of using it to make men toe some imaginary line. She insists that she’s not advocating a return to Ozzie and Harriet land, but it’s hard not to reach that conclusion. She endorses the view that women must act as the civilizing force, and it’s up to them to bring men in line. Lately, thanks to feminism, Crittenden believes, women have neglected this social duty to pursue their careers.
It’s true that more women are in the work force than ever before, but let’s face it, it’s an exaggeration to say that the majority participate in something called a “career.” Most have jobs that bring in a paycheque, period. And let’s not forget that many university and college-educated types carry sizeable student debts for several years after graduation, which is a significant factor when making decisions about when to have children.
Crittenden’s arrogance is breath-taking. She’s the daughter of long-time Toronto Sun columnist Yvonne Crittenden, step-daughter of the Sun’s co-founder Peter Worthington, and is married to author and fellow National Post columnist David Frum.
No-one would begrudge her the happiness she claims to experience, but she’s hardly a role model. Her journalistic career began when she wrote a column in the Sun as a teenager. It took off from there, allowing her to skip university and build her credentials in journalism in her early twenties.
It’s interesting when someone as privileged as Crittenden is critical of the tendency to defer marriage and childrearing, and attributes this trend to feminist propaganda. Her thinking here is that women have been encouraged to take their careers seriously, and so are reluctant to interrupt them to have children.
For Crittenden, this deferral is damaging to all concerned: women who are bitter and childless at 30, and men who never need to grow up and become responsible family men.
After all, “men bridled at the arrangements of the past, too. The old deal might have gotten him a hot meal on the table and a clean house, but it could also feel confining – as much to the man, who was going to work day after day, as to the educated women locked up in the suburbs. What made a husband get on that train every morning and stick to that marriage was a sense of obligation reinforced by those around him in the same position, and the penalties levelled against him if he left. If he decided to abandon his family for anything less than the most compelling reasons, he faced banishment from the company of respectable people as well as the obligation to support forever the wife and family with whom he no longer lives.”
This kind of thinking makes me wonder how anyone can think that heterosexuality is natural; it appears to require a great deal of institutional and social support. The straight women Crittenden addresses perhaps aren’t unhappy, they’re simply exhausted by all the regulation that falls to them.
That, however, is their responsibility. For someone like Crittenden, who believes that the work of the feminist movement is done – we have birth control and we can have careers – it’s time for women to quit pretending to be like men and get back in touch with our innate, feminine selves.
She insists that she’s not advocating a return to Leave It To Beaver, but because she doesn’t declare outright her conservative agenda, it’s impossible to resist that conclusion.
What she won’t consider is that the feminist movement expanded its focus beyond the needs of the straight, white, middle-class women she addresses a long time ago. Who was going to do the housework seemed trivial when feminism began to consider the needs of working class women or women of colour – or lesbians – for that matter.
Crittenden is apparently wondering why her book has drawn so much harsh criticism. Perhaps when you exclude so many women from your analysis, you find that they’re unwilling to be receptive to your argument.
Certainly, Crittenden could use a little help with her thinking on homosexuals, judging by the following comment from her book:
“What the feminist vision of marriage amounts to is that every marriage should resemble a gay marriage, without husbands or wives or fathers or mothers. Instead both ‘partners’ or ‘spouses’ should occupy the same role within and outside the home. And all of this may sound fine, even attractive in a science-fiction sort of way, and it will last precisely as long as the romantic attraction between the two partners lasts.”
I guess the aliens are not considered a worthy audience.
What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us.
By Danielle Crittenden.
Simon And Schuster.
202 pages. $34.