The Men vs Women scorecard is getting messy. “Fairness” is difficult to judge. In an empirical sense, sometimes men are treated unfairly. Sometimes. And yet, even though she recognizes this messiness, Louise Perry persists in calling herself a feminist, a maternal feminist.
….not only because I enjoy confounding my critics’ expectations (although I do). I believe that there is some merit in using a looser definition of feminism that incorporates the recognition of substantial differences between the sexes. I assert that there are important ways in which men and women differ from one another, both physically and psychologically, and that these differences mean that the interests of the sexes are sometimes in tension.
Women are less likely to be found in positions of power. This is true for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that it is women who give birth to babies, and women who tend to experience the strongest emotional pull towards being in close proximity to their young children. This basic biological fact means that all mothers will have to spend a short period of time out of the labour force when they give birth, and many mothers will want to extend that time further in order to care for their children. That’s a completely legitimate desire, but it inevitably impairs a woman’s career progression. Combine this with women’s higher average agreeableness (that is, the urge to put the interests of other people before one’s own), and we end up with an important problem: the interests of women, particularly mothers, are less likely to be given voice in the corridors of power. Feminism—specifically, a feminism orientated towards maternity—is, I posit, the political movement that exists in order to counteract this problem.
I make no secret of the fact that I oppose the kind of feminism that seeks to erase the differences between men and women in the hope of erasing the status gap. I reject the kind of feminism that insists on 50/50 representation in boardrooms while forgetting about 50/50 representation in waste disposal, since the goal is not “equality” per se, but rather masculine status.
I oppose that project not only because it’s hopeless, but also because it doubles down on the disdain directed towards femininity and so ends up causing material harm to other women. An unfortunate feature of the influx of women into elite professions over the last half century is that the women who tend to get to the top of the ladder are the women most likely to deprioritize motherhood relative to career.
My proposal, instead, is that feminists should play a different status game entirely by pugnaciously asserting the status of motherhood—a status no man can ever achieve, whether he be a CEO, an astronaut, or the President of the United States. Fairer Disputations contributor Helen Roy describes the self-sacrificial beauty of the maternal ideal:
I don’t know a mother who would not die for her children. There is no greater love, and, speaking politically now, there is no greater responsibility. Contrary to the oft-parroted shibboleths of modern feminism, a mother’s role is not beneath her. It is actually above her, in the sense that motherhood inherently elevates women as cultivators of the gratuitous gift we know as life itself.
Perhaps you’ve seen the 1997 cinematic blockbuster Titanic starring Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
While various popular movies, like Titanic, and other dramatizations of the disaster have played up isolated incidents of chaos and cowardice, most survivors told a different story. For at least the first hour after the iceberg collision, the ship’s crew downplayed the danger. Many passengers remained optimistic. There was no commotion, no panic and no one seemed to be particularly frightened. Charles Lightoller, the highest-ranking crew member to survive, was in charge of loading lifeboats on the port side. “There was no jostling or pushing or crowding whatever,” he testified at a British inquiry. “The men all refrained from asserting their strength and from crowding back the women and children. They could not have stood quieter if they had been in church.”
Accounts of how John Jacob Astor, among the richest men in the world, behaved in the face of death was inspiring. According to multiple survivors, Astor put his pregnant young wife in a lifeboat, politely asked if he might accompany her, and, when told that only women were allowed, simply stepped back with the rest of the men.
He died in the sinking.
The lower class “steerage” folk had a tougher time getting to safety. But the classic “women and children first” still provided a guiding light for those men too.
And still should.
Perry, one of the sharpest ladies around, is a feminist advocate for women & children first. You should read her entire piece.
Women AND Children First!