After announcing that American Enterprise Institute scholar and IWF friend Christina Hoff  Sommers had won the Economist magazine’s debate on the role of women in contemporary society, moderator Barbara Beck added, “But it’s hard to be sure what our participants meant voting as they did.”

Well, golly, Ms. Beck, I think I can help you. The resolution posed in the magazine’s Oxford style debate: This house believes that a woman’s place is at work.

Hoff Sommers’ opponent, Linda Basch, president of the National Council for Research on Women, argued in the affirmative:

Women belong in the workplace. It is right for families, communities, the economy, and, most importantly, for women so that they can live to their full potential as productive and self-reliant individuals.

Hoff Sommers spoke for another point of view:

Women do not have an assigned place. In free societies, they choose where they wish to be. For at least 5 million women in America, that happens to be in the home as full-time mothers. What is wrong with that?

Interestingly, Hoff Sommers admits that defending motherhood isn’t as easy as it might seem. The organized feminist movement always has taken a stand against women who don’t want to join the workforce:  

Antipathy towards stay-at-home mothers goes back to the early days of modern feminism. In her classic, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan called the traditional suburban home a “comfortable concentration camp” and described housewives as “walking corpses.”

But Friedan was a moderate compared to feminist pioneer Simone de Beauvoir. Beauvoir once said, “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children … Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”

The word “authorized” is interesting, no?

Hoff Sommers praises Barbara Beck for her cordiality throughout the debate, though she could not help noticing Beck’s dismay as Sommers headed for the winner’s circle. Beck even made a feint at redefining the terms of the debate. But her confusion as to what the outcome meant?

Hoff Sommers elucidates:

Here is what I think they meant. With few exceptions, participants celebrated women’s progress and opportunity. They were rejecting a rigid, gender-quota feminism of the sort featured in [an Economist feature by Beck]— and captured in the phrase “A woman’s place is at work.”

Congrats to Christina!