Radical feminism may pack its biggest punch on college campuses, where gender-identity issues can be injected into any academic topic and impressionable students are encouraged to see the world through a skewed feminist lens, but its impact ripples through society, seeping into political debates and the popular culture.
An article in the New Republic taken from an upcoming book, The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-Seven Visions of a Wildly Better Future, offers a window into the bizarre world of hardcore academic feminism. What we see is a little confusing, a lot contradictory, and completely disconnected from reality.
Shelia Bapat, the essay’s author, laments America’s idealized conception of the family, and the traditions that burden women with thanklessly raising children and tending the home. Her solution is to pull the “entire concept of family” out of the “private sphere” and have an “economic organization and policies (that) would respond to individual family members’ needs.” What would this mean in practice? Bapat wants society to place more value on work performed at home, so envisions the government paying people to care for their dependents.
Economics is just one stumbling block on the road to realizing this vision, and yet Bapat offers a purposefully opaque description of how this new Feminist Utopia would be financed. She explains it “would not, necessarily, be . . . anticapitalist,” but, recognizing the realities of man’s greedy nature, would employ “a robust and fearless public sector and an equally robust and fearless feminist legal code” to subdue those evil impulses and force them to serve feminist ends. She offers no explanation for why this feminist attempt at a state-controlled economy would fare any better than the communist or fascist attempts that have come before it.
Fanciful economics, however, isn’t feminist utopia’s biggest obstacle. It’s women—actual individual women who have their own plans and dreams for their lives—who really doom feminist visions such as Bapat’s.
Bapat, who carefully mentions both “men and women” receiving payments for caring for their own dependents, nevertheless assumes that this system would encourage more men to participate in childrearing. In fact they have to, otherwise she’d have to acknowledge that her system would dramatically undermine other central feminist goals, such as increasing women’s power and prestige in the world of corporate and political affairs. Bapat’s feminist sisters dream of women holding (at least) 50 percent of all corporate board positions and elected offices, and their policies’ aim is often to make it easier for women to succeed at work.
In the countries where such government-sponsored policies have been implemented, however, they have often backfired when measured in these feminist terms. Western Europe, for example, is often held up as a model for their state-provided family-leave policies and childcare subsidies; many European countries even provide a version of Bapat’s direct cash payments to parents for taking care of their own children. Yet a sober examination of the results of these programs reveals that they have impeded women’s economic advancement, making it more likely that women will earn less and hold fewer leadership positions in the business world.
The insurmountable problem for those who dream of a feminist utopia is that most women simply don’t seem to share the feminists’ obsession with economic power, and often prefer spending their time and talents at home, even when their work there offers no monetary reward.
Take this just-released Gallup survey. It’s no surprise that Gallup found that women with children under age 18 were far more likely than men with children under 18 to prefer to be at home rather than working for pay (56 percent of the mothers wanted to stay home, compared to 26 percent of the fathers). Certainly feminists will dismiss this as an outgrowth of our social system which guilts mothers into feeling obliged to care for children. Yet more tellingly, women without children were also much less interested in work than their male counterparts. Just 58 percent of women without children wanted to work outside the home, compared to 76 percent of men. Women simply don’t seem to crave economic power in the same way men do.
Academic feminists may try to explain this away too as a function of the patriarchy: Women know they are doomed to be drones in our male-dominated economic system which is why they retreat to home and hearth. But the rest of us ought to trust that women are actually expressing legitimate preferences and simply have priorities other than obtaining economic power. Those who truly value women and feminine impulses might appreciate—even celebrate—women’s instincts to prioritize activities like childrearing that, while less remunerative, have their own form of compensation, such as with love.
Feminists’ utopian fantasy is just that—a fantasy—and we shouldn’t allow it to guide public policy or impact our culture. Women often dream of happy homes rather than more money and high-powered careers; that’s a positive feature of our world, not a flaw that society needs to try to correct.