Feminists' failures

September 28, 1994|By Mona Charen

I AM OFTEN asked how I can be so cool toward the feminist movement when I myself have taken full advantage of the blessings feminism has bestowed -- enjoying a career and a family at the same time.

There is no short answer to that question. A full reply would have to touch upon the fraudulence of feminist claims of credit for the manifold accomplishments of women (the overwhelming majority of which took place long before and bore no relation to the strident "liberationists" of the 1960s), the cruel linkage of female liberation with abortion, the intellectual vacuity and downright weirdness of academic feminism, the stupidity of embracing the sexual revolution (which damaged women and children grievously), the concordat between feminists and radicals of various persuasions, disbelief in conspiracies (including the "patriarchy").

But most of all, the reason I have kept my distance from feminists is because I have always believed that they were at war with the family -- and therefore that they were at war with children.

A recent panel discussion on women and the press, aired on C-SPAN, drove the point home once again.

The panel featured prominent women in journalism, including Cokie Roberts of ABC News and National Public Radio, Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio and Lindy Boggs, former representative from Louisiana, wife of the late Hale Boggs and mother of Cokie Roberts.

In the course of the discussion, Lindy Boggs took the opportunity to reminisce about her life as a mother, and she told a story that sounded both well-rehearsed and apocryphal.

Mrs. Boggs recounted that when Cokie ("my baby") was 5 years old, she decided that since this was her youngest child, "the last little chick in the nest," she would abandon all of her other projects as "president of this and chairman of that" and just "devote myself to this precious little person."

Well, she continued, this arrangement lasted about a month. At that point, little 5-year-old Cokie came to her mother and said,

"Gee, Mama, can't you manage to get to be president of something or chairman of something?"

"Why?" asked her mother.

"Because I cannot live up to being your project."

The audience laughed and applauded appreciatively. But what were they applauding? The precociousness of little Cokie? Well, Cokie Roberts is a bright lady and was no doubt a bright child, but no child talks that way at 5 -- at 15, perhaps, but not at 5. They don't think that way. They soak up parental attention like sunlight, and though they can be taught, incrementally, that parents have interests other than in them, it would never occur to a child of that age to shoo a loving mother away because she was cramping her style.

But many a mother who chooses to leave her child rationalizes the decision by reference to the preternatural independence and maturity of the child: "She wanted to go to school at 18 months -- couldn't wait."

The audience that applauded Lindy Boggs'

story was applauding the fiction that children don't need their parents. It may be the case that Lindy Boggs was a splendid mother; I have no way of knowing and don't pretend to pass judgment. But the story she told was intended to drive home a feminist point -- that mothers are often not needed by their children and would do better for themselves and for their kids if they led their own lives.

That's why the feminist rallying cry is always for "quality day care" (federally funded, to be sure) instead of flex-time. Why do feminists never campaign for increasing the dependent child-tax exemption? Because allowing parents to keep more of their own money would make it easier for more women to work part-time and be at home with their kids -- and the feminist agenda is to get them out of the home. Polls show that most women would like to spend more time with their preschool children and would do so if the family could afford it.

A true feminist agenda would help women do what they want, rather than propagandizing them to want what an angry minority wants.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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