In case you missed it, there has been a running debate over at The Economist about the proper role of women in society today. Both Carrie and Karin have discussed it over here at the Inkwell. For anyone who believes the modern feminist movement was about freedom, equality under the law, and the right to make choices, this is in some ways an inane conversation without a correct answer.

Still Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, offers some poignant remarks and a gentle reminder that “women are diverse and have different preferences about balancing work and family.”

She delves into many of the cardinal IWF issues, including the myth of the wage gap, but she also highlights the very interesting case of the women in the Netherlands:

Consider what is going on in the Netherlands. Dutch women are arguably the freest, best-educated and happiest people in the world. In studies of life satisfaction and well-being, Dutch women (and men too) consistently score at the top. But more than 70% of Dutch working women work part time—and when asked if they would like to work more, the vast majority say no. Is it because they are held back by inadequate child-care policies? No, even childless women and those with grown children abjure full-time employment. “It has to do with personal freedom,” says Ellen de Bruin, a Dutch psychologist and the author of “Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed”. “What is important,” she says, is that “women in the Netherlands are free to choose what they want to do.”

But the Netherlands would get failing grades for workplace equity in the World Bank or UN reports cited by Ms Basch. (A UN equity committee recently censured the Netherlands for the “low number of women who are economically independent”.) A 2010 Slate article is less censorious: “Women in the Netherlands work less, have lesser titles, and a big gender gap, and they love it.” The author concludes by advising her American sisters, “Maybe we should relax and go Dutch.”

Sommers refers to the Dutch feminist phenomenon as “Feminism 4.0.”  What it emphasizes – and what women’s groups ought to be focused on – is how to reconcile the freedoms women have with the choices women make. Many feminists, who would like to see parity in all areas of education, work, and politics are often disappointed by the choices women make.  

But the next wave of feminists must accept that what women can do – and what they choose to do – is not always going to be the same.