An Untaught Generation

The fourth letter to the editor of First Things in this set surely expresses the perspective of many Westerners now entering middle age and finding the unexpected light of adulthood opening their eyes:

Meanwhile, I have gravitated to a certain type of mommy-blog: one written by a stay-at-home mother, lovingly grateful to her provider-man, capably in charge of every detail of her children’s lives and home: the Angel in the House, as we might have sneered back in English 101. While the blogger and I remain quite different people, she seems to have grasped, early on, some essential fact about gender relations that no one ever told my husband or me. Those brave and brainy revolutionaries who raised us—parents, professors, Self magazine—never so much as hinted that someday we might want to act like men and women. Having dodged that retrograde fate, we had turned into neutered freaks, mired in resentments and domestic dysfunction. Our lucky kids!

This is not to call for a return to the inequalities of the past, and it’s not to say that everybody in an entire generation was raised equivalently. (My own upbringing, for example, was not as drastic as the writer’s.) But I don’t think that there’s any question, on the broad level of a culture, that the middle and later decades of the twentieth century saw a too-dramatic disregarding of deep cultural and biological tendencies.

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MadMom
MadMom
11 years ago

As a middle-aged mother, I would gravitate to a mommy blog about as quickly as I would to a NASCAR blog. No appeal whatsoever. Perhaps the great falsehood perpetuated by feminists that a woman can “have it all” will now work itself out in the coming years, so women can make the choice that works best for them and their families, with neither the traditional demand that the woman stays home to become the Angel of the House (how my husband would laugh at that!) nor the push to be super career woman who must also bear the brunt of doing most everything on the homefront as well.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
11 years ago

Justin,
I offer the following statement, from Justice Bradley’s concurring opinion in Bradwell v. Illinois. It’s an excellent example of the use of natural law in judicial decision-making. I’d be gratified to hear your opinion of it.
It is true that many women are unmarried and not affected by any of the duties, complications, and incapacities arising out of the married state, but these are exceptions to the general rule. The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society must be adapted to the general constitution of things, and can not be based upon exceptional cases.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Sorry, Thomas. You may be in the liberated space between semesters, but I’m working full days on top of holiday obligations and don’t have the time to walk into a professorial net. If you’ve got an argument that you’re edging into, you’ll have to just go ahead and offer it up… as if I were a peer, not a student.

Tabetha
Tabetha
11 years ago

MadMom wrote: Perhaps the great falsehood perpetuated by feminists that a woman can “have it all” will now work itself out in the coming years, so women can make the choice that works best for them and their families, with neither the traditional demand that the woman stays home to become the Angel of the House (how my husband would laugh at that!) nor the push to be super career woman who must also bear the brunt of doing most everything on the homefront as well. Response: I think it really comes down to whether or not people in their individual relationships are willing to work things out in a way that does not necessarily conform to traditional gender roles. My husband is currently working as a waiter while I pursue my PhD and work as a teaching fellow. We make about the same amount of money right now and we just had a baby. While I work on collecting my dissertation research he is going to be home caring for the baby (about 3 days a week) and I will care for the baby in the evenings and during the weekend. He is currently not pursuing other career options because his job as a waiter allows him to be off the 2 nights I teach and the 3 days when I will collect data. We will be putting in about an equal amount of time on childcare, which is actually great because our daughter will have the chance to bond with us both and to see both of us in a nurturing role. Once I finish my PhD and get a position as a professor somewhere, my husband plans to explore his career options more. We each provide and care for the home. He likes to cook so he… Read more »

madmom
madmom
11 years ago

Tabetha,
Your ability to choose in such a way as you have to fit your lifestyle and your family is exactly what I mean by my commentary. Instead of having to choose from a set menu, it is far better to be able to choose a la carte based on one’s relationship, career, and family situation. Not to mention that having father’s actively involved with child caregiving is a proven positive in childhood development, especially for girls. I have found a similar, yet different balance within my family. Kudos to you for figuring out what works for your situation.

Tabetha
Tabetha
11 years ago

I agree completely. One size certainly doesn’t fit all! I think finding what works in one’s one situation is truly key to a happy and fulfilling life. I think it is also important to be supportive and understanding of others’ choices. I have seen that too often people (unfortunately often women) will criticize one another. Stay-at-home-moms accuse career moms of abandoning their kids; career moms belittle stay-at-home-moms as “desperate housewives.” I think it would be nice to see everyone more willing to accept one another and understand that what works for one family may not work for another family. It is great that we have each found paths that work for us and still have the perspective that our way is not the only way.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
11 years ago

Sorry, Thomas. You may be in the liberated space between semesters, but I’m working full days on top of holiday obligations and don’t have the time to walk into a professorial net. If you’ve got an argument that you’re edging into, you’ll have to just go ahead and offer it up… as if I were a peer, not a student. Justin, I actually don’t have an argument. It’s really a question, but one meant to probe your beliefs, not just as a peer, but as the editor of the blog of which I am only a reader-commenter. I understand from your post that you approve of recognizing the “deep cultural and biological tendencies” that have been ignored and would like us to begin again to “act like men and women”. Right so far? I also understand you (from past posts) to be a proponent of “natural law” an a supporter of Justice Thomas (and others) who would read the Constitution as an expression of natural law. Also right? Therefore, I wondered if you were a supporter of readings of the Constitution that interpret the roles of men and women in such terms. In short, in considering the limits of governmental power to draw distinctions between men and women, should the Court read Constitutional provisions, especially those regarding “equal protection” in light of those “deep biological and cultural tendencies” of men and women? I’d be happy to pose specific cases if you prefer them to the general question. Also, if I may, the period between semesters involves grading, committee reports, book orders, planning syllabi, lectures and readings for next term, letters of recommendation for law/grad school and much more. While it does provide a respite from the chaos and panic of end-of-semester, it’s not all fun and games. With all sincerity… Read more »

Justin Katz
11 years ago

See, this is why we have such difficulty communicating. What does reading gender differences into the law have to do with “the broad level of a culture”? It’s telling that your reading of my past work suggests that I might think the judiciary should rule the “destinies of women” into the law rather than that I think the judiciary ought to read the law as it’s written, without presuming to determine matters of destiny and life’s profundities.
Where it is clear that the law recognizes differences between men and women, the court should apply that recognition and point to the legislature as the appropriate branch to deal with changing mores.
But my point wasn’t that our society should head full-tilt back toward strictly defined gender roles, but that we need to acknowledge general tendencies and resist radical calls to rebel against them… casting them as inherently oppressive when they can be liberating.

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