Dr. Crouse delivered the following speech at Princeton University on October 7th on the intersection of conservatism and feminism.
A recent CBS poll revealed that three out of four women described the word feminist as an insult.
Another study found that the number of working women who believe that a career is as important as being a wife and mother has fallen 23 percent since the 1970s.
What has caused such a dramatic change in women’s attitudes?
Cindy Crawford, the supermodel, dislikes the word “feminist.” An interview in the September 2000 issue of George magazine explains, “The word feminist has such negative connotations to me.”
Cindy is not alone. Experts agree that women are growing more and more uncomfortable with the current feminist movement.
What has happened to a movement that was supposed to make it possible for women to “have it all?”
Feminism has gone the wrong way, baby!
Feminism is out of step with mainstream women.
“Having it all” — for most women — doesn’t mean: hatred for men, lesbianism, and radical politics. — most women can’t relate.
I could spend our time together giving you facts and data about the outcomes of modern feminism.
Instead, you can access and study that data in a report I wrote called, “Gaining Ground: A Profile of American Women in the Twentieth Century,” which can be found on our website: www.cwfa.org. In that report you will find 100 years of data about women’s well-being — much of it previously unpublished.
But let’s make it more relevant to your own lives. Your generation has seen the personal disaster of the feminist movement and so-called sexual freedom in the lives of the women you know. Many of you are yourselves children of divorce. Many of you have helped a friend deal with a surprise pregnancy — perhaps even walked that friend through her abortion. STD’s . . . broken hearts. . . the list could go on and on.
Let’s ride the feminist wave backward a bit, and revisit the foundations of modern feminism, back to the Second Wave of the Sixties and Seventies. Let’s look at the effect feminist ideals had on the lives of three founders of modern feminism. You know these women’s writings; they are feminist icons. But how much do you know about their personal lives? As they say, “The proof is in the pudding.”
Betty Friedan — Friedan, the mother of the feminist movement, gave us “The Feminine Mystique” — and the “problem that has no name.” That problem – according to Friedan – is that women are victims. Being female means having delusions and false values and being forced to find fulfillment and identity through husbands and children. Friedan worked 9 hours a day – declaring that being a wife and mother was “not going to interfere with what I regarded as my real life.” Even her friends describe Friedan as difficult, ill tempered, disagreeable, ego-driven, rude, nasty, self-serving and imperious. Unhappily married for 21 years, her three children had to undergo therapy to deal with what was called “the emotional fallout.”
Gloria Steinem — Steinem was the beauty queen of the feminist movement. Steinem, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate, was engaged to her college boyfriend. After breaking up with him and discovering that she was pregnant, she had an abortion. Later, Steinem founded Ms. Magazine and coined two phrases — “reproductive freedom” and “pro-choice” — bringing a brilliant sense of marketing to a movement that glossed over the realities of promiscuity and abortion and propelled so-called “sexual freedom” into the mainstream. Steinem famously declared that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. She remained single until her 60s — when she recently married a divorced man with grown children.
Germaine Greer — Known as the diva of feminism, Germaine Greer is, like Gloria Steinem, now in her 60s. Greer has two books: “The Female Eunuch” kick-started her fame and “The Whole Woman,” published recently basically repudiates everything Greer had said previously. Known for her bawdy diatribes, Greer preached that sexual liberation is the path to fulfillment. Greer has had “several” abortions — leaving her unable to have children. She was married — briefly — for a week, during which time, she brags, she cheated on her husband 7 times. She has stooped in recent months to getting attention by being an apologist for female genital mutilation. Greer was married once for three weeks. She bragged that she cheated seven times that week. But at age 60, she mused: “The finest time in your life was when you fell asleep in someone’s arms and woke up in the same position eight hours later. Sleeping in someone’s arms is the prize.” Inevitably, she sleeps alone.
What do these women — and other disparate personalities like Patricia Ireland, Alice and Rebecca Walker, Hillary Clinton — have in common? All of these women are Utopians. They scorn the lessons of history.
The First Wave of feminism won the right to vote and the right to own property.
The Second Wave won no-fault divorce and abortion on demand.
The Second Wave drove their political ideology, but its not just about being Democrats. I want you to think beyond partisan politics and see the motivating ideology at work.
Tonight, look beyond the surface debates over the issues that capture the headlines and roil the waters – abortion, gay rights, eating disorders, comparable worth — and think about the animating spirit – the gravitational pull, if you will — that keeps the waves crashing on the beach.
Perhaps that is why the Organization of Women Leaders has as part of its mission statement to rewrite the definition of feminism, transform people’s perceptions, and challenge the conventions about women’s roles. You are a group of remarkably gifted, talented young women. The goals and aspirations you have for your lives are exciting. And you will, just as you have planned, change the world in many ways. Living in American society today offers unprecedented opportunities for women. These opportunities were hard-won. We owe a great debt to the early feminists. Because of their work years ago, women today have incredible horizons.
But from my vantage point, having walked ahead of you through many of life’s opportunities and challenges, I am equally aware of the pitfalls you face because modern feminism ignores the relationship between decisions/choices and consequences. For instance, more than 10 times as many women cohabitate now as when I graduated from college. And most have no idea that these relationships generally last a mere 18 months. Most are clueless about the fact that when living together turns into marriage it is almost always the guy who makes the decision and those marriages are 50% more likely to end in divorce than are the marriages where the couple did not live together before marriage.
So, the so-called sexual freedom — a basic tenet of modern feminism — has been disaster for women. Your generation recognizes that even better than mine. And, you are leading the effort to reconstruct feminism, to repackage, and reposition the movement into a Third Wave of feminism. I understand that OWL recently had a discussion about “what is feminism?” I am going to guess, from looking at your goals and activities as an organization, that you would broadly describe your agenda as falling under a rubric of empowering women. Frankly, most people would join you in that admirable goal. As you pursue that laudable goal, I want to challenge you NOT to repeat history.
To that end, tonight, let’s review two historical 20th century Utopian experiments — communism in the east and feminism in the west.
Both movements originated as a result of discontent with flawed social, economic and political systems.
Communist Discontent originated over the barely subsistence wages given to labor and the unequal distributions of wealth. Marx, in writing “Das Kapital,” his monumental critique of capitalism, argued that capitalism was fundamentally exploitive and so hopelessly flawed that it would collapse under the weight of its contradictions. Marx offered a shining vision of an egalitarian socialistic society where the output of the community would share according a noble, altruistic principle: “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.”
The feminist theorists of the mid 20th century also put forward a Utopian vision of the “good society” based on often-savage critiques of the existing progressive social order. Feminist Discontent originated in women’s dependence on men and their unequal opportunities. The feminists’ Utopia was a blend of sexual and economic equality, borrowed from earlier First Wave champions of women’s rights, and social justice borrowed from the civil rights movement, which had just come into full flower with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Both movements rebelled against deeply entrenched obstacles.
It is worth noting that communism first came into being via the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 — a rebellion NOT against a system of free market capitalism — but against the dictatorial monarchy of Tsar Nicholas II.
The Marxist rebellion, then, was against a dictatorship and a cruelly class-stratified society; it was an attempt to end poverty. To communist thinkers, once the workers’ paradise was fully established, poverty would disappear and the temporary dictatorship required by the transition to socialism would become unnecessary and the state would wither away.
The feminist revolution rebelled against inequality and the domination of patriarchy. To feminist thinkers, the great obstacle to progress toward a sexless, egalitarian society- where women could be free to realize the fulfillment of their heart’s desires-was patriarchy and all elements of the social order that supported it, particularly marriage and religion. The males in society had to be reeducated as to their proper roles relating to women and, where necessary, coerced into letting women pursue their professions on a “level playing field.” In the event that sexual activity resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, abortion on demand would be readily available. In those instances where a woman chose to have children, institutional arrangements had to be put in place so that the rearing of those children would not be burdensome or interfere with career aspirations.
Note that in both of these systems of thought, the source of the problems-the obstacles to progress-were faulty institutional arrangements, factors external to the individual. Defective institutions produced defective behavior that produced negative outcomes. The solution was not individual moral accountability for greed, oppression, and exploitation. The solution was to change the institutional arrangements, which would then produce positive behavior and outcomes.
Who is not inspired by the thought of an egalitarian society, where an equal distribution of wealth, power and influence is the norm . . . and NOT a mere utopian dream? Who is not inspired by the elimination of poverty? The elimination of patriarchy?
But, everywhere that Communism has ruled, it has been via a totalitarian regime established by force, never by free elections. As Mao famously said, “All power comes from the barrel of a gun.” Well, let us visit Utopia and see the outcomes. Let us ask the residents of Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
In Russia, to usher in the worker’s paradise, Stalin engineered a famine in the Ukraine, which is estimated to have killed 7 million. Mao’s man-made famine in China killed more millions than died in the USSR. Pol Pot was responsible for the deaths of up to 2 million Cambodians, 25 percent of the population. He literally emptied the cities in his attempts to produce an agrarian Utopia during the mid-1970s. Another 2 million are estimated to have died in North Korea . . . so far!
Stalin is quoted as having said, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” Utopian schemes produce a lot of statistics.
Let’s try to grasp those statistics:
Line up a million people in a column 10 abreast with each row 3 feet behind the one in front of it; the column would reach the 51 miles from Princeton to 5 miles beyond New York City. If the column marched by us at 3 miles per hour (that’s 20 minutes to walk a mile), it would take about 19 hours for it to pass. This is just one million. Some estimates of the total number who died under communism in the 20th century put the number as high as 100 million. We are not talking about war casualties here; we are talking about totalitarian regimes killing their own people. And why? This was done in the name of establishing a Utopian workers’ paradise.
How ironic. Marx had promised: Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.
It didn’t work out quite that way.
The Marxist rhetoric was high sounding and noble, but in the forced labor camps, individuals are insignificant and expendable.
How does this relate to feminism? We are confronted with another utopian ideal, whose animating principles —- women’s rights, sexual equality, and the fulfillment of women’s potential- are high-sounding and noble.
But like the tragic irony of communism, feminist ideals have betrayed us and produced massive damage both to women and to their children:
Divorce upon demand since 1970 has meant millions of homes have been pried apart, leaving some 35 million kids bereft, longing for the return of their absent mother or father, and the majority of them living in poverty. Abortion upon demand has meant the end of life for 43 million babies. . . and untold pain for the women who would have been their mothers. To the abortion provider these babies are inconvenient bits of tissue whose removal is a source of revenue in the same way that the removal of tooth decay is a dentist’s livelihood. But to the woman, it is the beginning of a recurring nightmare that knows no end. 10 million adults under the age of 25 will contract an STD this year. The skyrocketing increase in out-of-wedlock births is the defining characteristic of the demographics of the 20th century — one-third of children are born out-of-wedlock.
How is possible to start out with high sounding, noble ideals and end up with so much wretchedness? What are we to learn for the examination of these two massive Utopian experiments? There are two sources of difficulty.
The first is metaphysical: the origin and nature of evil. I’ve already alluded to this issue by my observation that both of these systems of thought ascribed negative, evil outcomes as being the result of faulty institutional arrangements external to the individual.
The second source of difficulty is the fact that you cannot ignore nature, specifically human nature.
The Utopians deny the fact that human nature makes demands on all of us — that there are realities that we all have to deal with in life. They naively believe that they can shape the world to fit their utopian vision. They want a world where they can control both their actions and the consequences of their actions.
But of course, choices do have consequences and we have to lie with them – for good or ill. We frequently use that phrase when we want to emphasize avoiding negative consequences. But tonight, I want to emphasize to you, that there is a tried and true path to positive consequences in your life. Not to Utopia – but to a life of fulfillment and positive accomplishment that benefits both you and society.
I chose a different path than Gloria Steinem, Betty Freidan, and Germaine Greer. But my circumstances were not all that different; nor were the ambitions and inner drive any less compelling. I want to share my story because your generation needs to hear from someone in my generation how you CAN just about have it all.
I grew up the oldest of 7 children. My teenage parents were happily married and provided an ideal childhood in very modest circumstances. I was gregarious and driven to succeed from my earliest memories. Even though my friends dreamed of marriage, white picket fences and children, I knew that marriage meant full-time responsibility — preparing 3 meals a day, laundry, housecleaning and staying home. In short, to me, it meant the end of “fun.” During college, my friends counted 67 guys that I had dated. I was definitely NOT going to “go steady” and get serious. I had places to go and things to do and marriage, household drudgery and a passel of children did not fit into that picture.
THEN ALONG CAME GIL
Gil Crouse decided that he wanted me for his wife and he set about to win my heart.
He studied me; he asked questions and probed my psyche until he knew me better than I knew myself. He understood what made me tick. And, over two years time, I learned to trust him and knew beyond any doubt that he would put my interests and needs ahead of his. I began to care about him so much that I wanted to put his interests ahead of mine. I chose to limit my career options in order to marry a man of integrity and character. I made the decision fully aware that it meant compromise. Neither of us brought into our marriage sexual experience or emotional baggage. And while we have had other marriage adjustments and problems typical of two hardheaded, hard driving individuals, I will frankly tell you that the sex has never been a problem; it’s always been superb. Ironically, whatever elusive “freedom” I gave up by loving Gil was far overshadowed by the opportunities I have had by forging a partnership with him. Each of us is a stronger more successful person because of the influence of the other.
THEN ALONG CAME KIDS
Neither of us was in a hurry to have children; with my teaching at one of the best schools in the city and his graduate studies, it simply wasn’t something we were ready for. But after a couple of years, as they say, I “found” myself pregnant. We were both relieved when I miscarried at about 3 months along. Don’t think for a minute, however, that that was the end of it! I have relatives with children the age that miscarried child would have been and I have not forgotten. Strange how those hormones affect our emotions and how long lasting are those feelings. Imagine our shock then, about 6 months later when in the middle of the night I began crying in Gil’s arms wanting to have a baby! Where in the world, we wondered, had THAT urge come from? This was an instinctive drive that had no basis in logic or planning – we were surprised by the instinctive need for children. We ended up with two children: Our daughter is finishing up her dissertation for a doctorate at the University of Virginia. Her area is political science and she is a writer and television commentator. Our son is a Ph.D in aerospace engineering; he is founder and president of Davinci Technologies. He has produced award-winning software packages for designing airplanes. They are both happy and well adjusted. They are both happily married. Our son has 2 little boys and our daughter is expecting baby #5 this month.
From this brief overview, you can see that the things motivating me were not different from Betty, Gloria or Germaine. You can also see the different values, priorities, and the different choices we made and the different outcomes. All four of us started out with the same hard-driving ambition, but we had different priorities and different goals.
I don’t have the fame or fortune of those feminist pioneers. I do have a husband who cherishes me and whom I cherish. I have children who love to come home and grandchildren who squeal in delight when they see me. I have a career that is very fulfilling. While some of my goals are out of reach and some of my dreams remain unfulfilled, I have more opportunities than I have time to accept. Three out of four is not too bad! On my scorecard; the three 2nd wave feminist icons have, at most, one!
WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE?
Like the three feminist icons, in this country I had the freedom to make choices, to determine my priorities and establish the beliefs and values that would guide my life – and so do you. I chose to marry a man of integrity and character — I made certain that he was a person I could trust and respect. Also, I determined to be a person that he could trust and respect. Together, we made a covenant to make our marriage a priority, to put each other first, and to grow together in our interests and activities. Together, we made the sacrifices necessary to nurture our children, to instill values and to develop character in them. Together, we made the sacrifices necessary for both of us to get the education, credentials and experience that would prepare us for excellence wherever our careers took us.
What do I think is wrong with feminism? I think somewhere along the way, feminism lost its way. The movement forgot that “having it all” included the personal dimension. Life is not just profession and career. Success is not measured JUST in paycheck and status.
The 2003 young businesswoman of the year, Gabrielle Molnar, explained that she didn’t want to be called a feminist because feminism doesn’t support the cause of women.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Feminism has lost sight of what it is that women REALLY want. Most women want to love and be loved. They want the freedom to be all they can be and they want to be treated with dignity and respect. They also want the opportunity to have meaningful careers and productive lives — but most aren’t willing for their ambition to harm their relationships or damage their children.
I’m grateful that you are working to change people’s perceptions of women – bright, talented women have plenty of opportunities for professional growth today and you have more flexibility than the women who preceded you. What is needed most — at this point in history — is the chance to revel in being feminine and to relish a fulfilling personal life.
More power to you as you take all that into account as you redefine what it means to be a woman and what it means to “have it all.”
I’d like to conclude with a brief story:
A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a liberal arts college convocation. The President of the college and I stood at the front of the auditorium watching the students as they arrived. He turned to me and said, “Janice, do you realize – THERE IS THE FUTURE OF AMERICA?”
I’m tremendously impressed by your ambition; by your talent and your dedication to excellence.
I admire your willingness to accept the challenges of leadership.
Tonight as I look out at you, I am very much aware that:
“YOU ARE THE FUTURE OF AMERICA.”
May God bless you and, through you, may God bless America.