If you are coming to IWF’s blog, you likely have thought about what kind of feminism is most conducive to promoting fulfilling lives for women.
The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett puts some of the questions we’ve asked for years in the spotlight.
The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a “three-initialed icon” for women, and the New York Time’s Ross Douthat proposes in a must-read column that Amy Coney Barrett has the potential to become a very different kind of three-initialed icon.
The lives of both women have profound implications for feminism. Here is the gist of Douthat’s argument:
Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s choice to take her seat, is a signifier of a different sort. In her combination of elite accomplishment with a faith and a family life that’s unusual among her high-achieving peers, what she condenses isn’t the recent history of feminism but a question that its success has created: Namely, can there be a conservative feminism that’s distinctive, coherent and influential, at least beyond quirky religious subcultures like the faculty at the University of Notre Dame?
By conservative feminism I mean something different from 1970s-era female resistance to the women’s movement, whether in its arch Joan Didion form or its mass-movement Phyllis Schlafly incarnation. Schlafly’s anti-feminism, the core women’s conservatism of the ’70s, argued that the push for female advancement was either unnecessary or destructive, that it gave women things they didn’t really need and it took from them — from mothers, especially — protections that they relied upon. Its icon was the beleaguered homemaker; the fact that Schlafly was herself such a vigorously public figure didn’t change her fundamental identity as a defender of the domestic sphere.
A conservative feminism today, on the other hand — again, if we can say that it exists — is adaptive rather than oppositional. It takes for granted that much of what Ginsburg fought for was necessary and just; that the old order suppressed female talent and ambition; that sexism and misogyny are more potent forces than many anti-feminists allowed. It agrees that the accomplishments of Barrett’s career — in academia and now on the federal bench — could have been denied to her in 1950, and it hails that change as good.
But then it also argues that feminism’s victories were somewhat unbalanced, that they were kinder to professional ambition than to other human aspirations, and that the society they forged has lost its equilibrium not just in work-life balance but also in other areas — sex and romance and marriage and child rearing, with the sexes increasingly alienated from one another and too many children desired but never born.
Some of Barrett’s choices are anathema to what we generally consider movement feminists. Her elevation to the Supreme Court, if, as seems likely, it happens, will generate a healthy discussion about feminism and perhaps the development of a different kind of feminism.
No, Barrett’s new visibility does not mean that all women should have seven children and sit on the Supreme Court. (The Babylon Bee parodies this.) It is time to create a new kind of realistic feminism (which takes into consideration how challenging it is for women to have a career and, say, one or two kids).
We should be realistic about economics, childcare, and what an individual woman wants. But this really is an opportunity to do something thinkers such as Christina Hoff Sommers have long advocated: reclaiming feminism.
Along these lines, IWF’s Hadley Heath made an excellent point about any redefinition of feminism in our email exchange this morning:
Can I add that marriage is so, so important in all of this. If anyone becomes a cultural icon here, I hope it’s Jesse Barrett. Like, I can only be an Amy if my husband is willing to be a little bit like Jesse. I know this focus on the man would upset many feminists… but it’s undeniable that his willingness to support his wife’s career is a big part of the story here. I don’t think there are a ton of men (especially men married to highly educated women) who are explicitly telling their wives to work less, but actions speak louder than words. I’d love to be a fly on the wall during the Barrett family discussions about how to work together as a family.
Do I feel a panel discussion coming on?