Working Mothers—A False Dilemma

One of the key values in our feminist-ruled social order is women’s professional achievement. Enabling women to achieve professionally has taken precedence, with the result being that women of all political stripes are mixing demanding careers with motherhood even while their children are young. Feminism has created the “working mother’s dilemma” in which a woman is pulled in the two directions of tending to her career and tending to her children. While there have been numerous cries that all is not well, such as the one made by Anne-Marie Slaughter in 2012 in her much-read essay, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,[i] no one is willing to rock the feminist boat that created the problem in the first place.

The problem of the working mother isn’t properly addressed because feminist indoctrination is complete in the West. Women’s empowerment is now viewed as essential to the well-being of society. Feminism has won, and whatever outbursts feminists are now making are a result of women still not having what they want because they’ve relied on feminism to fulfill them, and it cannot. Women could be paid twice what men make for the same work and they would still not be satisfied. Women’s empowerment does not equal women’s happiness. Why this is should become clear by the end of this essay.

Discussions around the plight of the working mother are not fruitful because those involved in the discussion eventually come up against the reality of women’s lives—something they don’t want to admit to because it flies in the face of feminist ideology: women become mothers, children need their mothers, the workplace doesn’t need mothers; therefore, women belong with their children in the home.[ii]

Books about the struggles of working mothers are now almost a sub-genre with a string of titles published during the last 15 years. These books generally focus on how to manage stress and achieve “work-life balance,” as well as on what supposedly needs to change: men need to help out more at home, companies need to implement policies that make the lives of working mothers easier, and women need to not feel guilty about leaving their children to be cared for by someone else. Recommended policies include paid maternity leave, flex time, and affordable child care (government subsidized).

The underlying assumption in these discussions is that society needs to change, not women. In other words, society needs to adapt to mothers choosing to fill two competing roles because this is what feminist ideology dictates. However, it is not the system that needs to change to accommodate mothers in the workplace, as people like Slaughter insist—it is women who have to acknowledge reality. Motherhood and a career do not mix well.

There have been trends in the approach to the working mother’s dilemma. There was the “opt-out revolution”[iii]—it’s okay to opt out of your career for a while to take care of your children—and the more recent suggestion to “lean in”—don’t opt out, rather, unleash your ambition—suggested by Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. The trend now seems to be for women to do a little of both: work part-time or do freelance work while your children are young but don’t let go of your career. Hence, the rise of female freelancers and “mompreneurs” who can set their own schedules and work from home.

However, the writing on the wall is clear: empowering women to be leaders will not be sacrificed and women’s ambition will not be thwarted.

Among the books and articles published on the subject of working mothers there is one that stands out: 7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don’t Mix by Suzanne Venker[iv] pays little heed to political correctness and is critical of at least some aspects of feminism.

In the book Venker discusses why women can’t “have it all” and breaks down myths surrounding working mothers, such as the myth of economic necessity:

. . . those who do decide to go back to work are not comfortable telling people they work because they want to. So they’ve come up with a more acceptable reason: money. . . . According to popular belief, most mothers today work because they “have to.” In the meantime, the truth—that many women would simply rather be at the office than home with their children—lies buried in our social conscience.

Venker also wrote about this in her more recent book, The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know—and Men Can’t Say. She writes that the argument that married women must work because two incomes are necessary in these economic times is a red herring:

The spin sisters make it sound as though modern women are victims of the economy, as though most mothers want to be home but can’t be. Yet nothing happened to married mothers to drive them in to the workforce—the way the death or unemployment of a spouse might. Feminists created an environment that demanded it. “All the income growth in the U.S. since 1970 has come from women working outside the home,” wrote Bridget Brennan in Why She Buys.

Note the date: 1970. That’s when feminists began waving the flag of liberation. Before then, American families lived differently. They owned one car, one television, and one stereo. Their houses averaged two thousand square feet; their children shared bedrooms; and a typical vacation might include camping. Then American women joined the workforce, and their incomes slowly created “a new norm.”

Today, the average home has 38 percent more square footage; kids have their own rooms; each member of the family owns his own cell phone and iPod; televisions are in many rooms; toys abound; and a trip to Disney World is considered a rite of passage. How did this happen? Employed mothers caused a dramatic change in lifestyle. Families can afford posh lifestyles because both parents are producing an income. . . . Therefore, to say dual-income families are a necessity is misleading. Parents are working to support the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.[v]

Venker doesn’t mince words, as the following passage from 7 Myths shows:

. . . the fact remains that some careers just won’t be an option for women—particularly the powerful and lucrative ones. We can choose them, if we wish; but not without ramifications. What’s difficult about this, of course, is that it flies in the face of feminism. That is, women can’t really do or be whatever they want—as men can—because of sheer biology. Becoming a doctor or a big-shot attorney, for example, will inevitably pose a problem for women who plan to have children.

However, while Venker is more honest and realistic about women’s lives than are her peers, her approach is ultimately flawed.

First, Venker differentiates between a good and a bad feminism. I’ve discussed how all feminism is bad in The Total Anti-Feminist and The Many Faces of Feminism and Why Catholics Can’t be Feminists. To summarize: conservatives cannot split off what they like in feminism (equal pay, for example) and leave what they don’t (abortion, for example) as feminism is one ideology and all aspects of it share the same root. That root is an incorrect philosophy of man and his place in the universe where man takes the place of God and becomes a little god unto himself. Feminism is part of the Revolutionary[vi] spirit of modern times that seeks to sever man from the old way of doing things—the Catholic way—and to destroy man’s relationship with God.

Venker, like many conservative writers when they critique feminism, takes pains not to appear old-fashioned or traditional. For example, she writes in 7 Myths: “Thankfully, motherhood no longer means living a life akin to that of the 1950s housewife. Not only have house dresses been replaced with work-out garb, mothers have every convenience they could ask for . . .” Venker seems to have bought into a stereotype and fallen prey to the Left’s maligning of the 1950s housewife. Further, women dressing in yoga pants instead of a shirtwaist dress for casual attire is a sign of our decay—a dying and decadent society places little value on women’s modesty and dignity. Our descent into moral decay is personified in the throngs of women walking around in skin tight yoga pants with bulges of barely-concealed flesh hanging out in all directions. If this is considered progress we are indeed an insane society.

Venker—despite her insistence that women can’t have it all—really means women can have it all, just not at the same time. Venker still has a feminist, careerist attitude and follows the directions Betty Friedan gave to women: do not be a housewife only. In many ways Venker merely offers the conservative version of Lisa Belkin’s “opt-out revolution.”[vii] While Venker stresses the importance of mothers being at home to care for their children, being a stay-at-home mom is portrayed as a break from a woman’s true calling—her career. “There is no reason to try to do everything at once,” Venker writes, “We can afford to take time out of our 40-year careers to raise our children.”

The scenario of a woman taking time out of her career to raise her children and then jumping back in assumes that she will use some form of birth control. If she does not and she marries around 30 and is healthy and fertile, she can have children until her early to mid-40s. If she waits for her last child to be in school she will be in her late 40s, possibly even her early 50s. If she waits until her children are 18, she will be 60. She will have been out of the labour force and away from her career for 20 or more years and will find it very difficult if not impossible to return. Unless, of course, she uses birth control and has two children in quick succession making it far easier for her to opt-out for a few years and then get back to her career. A contraceptive mentality is essential to Venker’s vision.

Further, women’s lives are now viewed, even by conservative commentators like Venker, as being propelled by personal “choice”: should I work or stay at home or try to do both? Venker’s whole book is about why opting out for awhile is the best choice. However, staying at home to raise one’s children should not be put to mothers as a choice, and this is done only because feminism gave to women a sense of unlimited and unhinged autonomy. Caring for one’s children should not be based on a personal choice a woman makes, but based on submitting to one’s duty; ultimately it should be based on accepting and following the order God has imposed on us and the role he has designated for women.[viii]

The practical goal of liberal feminism is for women to have the freedom to “have it all” but the backlash has been that women can’t have it all. The compromise position is that women can have it all, just not at the same time. There is backlash against the latter position as well—women should be able to have it all, at the same time. What underlies this reaction is the belief that it will be possible for women to have it all, at the same time, when society becomes a utopian playground of perfectly equal and free human beings where our happiness and fulfillment is fully realized.

The discussion about the working mother’s dilemma is, in the end, about how to be happy. It is feminism that stands between women and greater contentment, not unaffordable daycare, lazy husbands or inflexible work schedules. Feminism created the working mother’s dilemma in the first place by insisting women fill two incompatible roles. Women have always desired motherhood but it is only very recently, thanks to feminism, that they need a career for validation. Contraception, abortion and daycare have been introduced to allow women to limit and adjust their role as the bearer and nurturer of children.

This is the real dilemma: feminism has created a distorted view of womanhood and turned women against their own nature. This explains how common it is for a mother to kill her baby in the womb or dump her child at daycare.

The ambitious professional woman with children is a sign of the disorder in Western civilization. It does not correspond to or is accepting of the nature of women. Rather, it is a situation that has arisen out of a potent mix of ideology and lies that requires constant marketing so that the reality of it will not rear its ugly head.

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Liberals like Anne-Marie Slaughter are actually correct when they insist that society needs to change; but how and why they claim society needs to change is incorrect. Slaughter wants society to change so that women can “have it all”—a career and motherhood—and more generally, so that everyone’s lives are improved. She is vague about what this new society will look like, but in her view it involves a woman president and will happen when “women wield power in sufficient numbers” (and when men act more like women by talking less and listening more).

Slaughter, like all liberals in the West—which is just about everyone since the liberal mindset has infected even those who call themselves conservatives[ix]— sees the problems around us, wants things to change, but only has at her disposal the liberal values of equality and liberty. Such ideals, however, are distortions of what true equality and liberty are, altered as they were by the men of the 18th century Enlightenment. [x]

It isn’t helpful, but typical of the modern liberal mindset, to focus on “changing social policies” to “create a better society.”[xi] This policy work gets done over and over again by government agencies and non-governmental think tanks. Yet man’s unhappiness only increases, culture becomes more degraded, and the social order becomes more chaotic.

Will anyone inquire into the source of the problems we face in trying to be happy? Probably not, since there are no careers nor any money to be made in proclaiming the Kingship of Christ over all creation.

In her essay about working mothers, what Slaughter doesn’t admit is that the elusiveness of “work-life balance” means we are a nation of workaholics who cling to professional success and material wealth for our happiness. People want to organize and lead their lives to maximize their happiness, but unless one lives in accordance with the order set down by God and His plan for us, one will not be happy.

Alice Von Hildebrand, in her book The Privilege of Being a Woman, writes that in our fallen world the “hierarchy of values” has become upset: “Power, riches, fame, success, and dominance are idolized; humility, chastity, modesty, self-sacrifice, and service are looked down upon as signs of weakness.” Von Hildebrand writes that because women are weaker than men they in particular have become the victims of this distorted hierarchy of values.[xii] Men have been able to adapt more easily to the changes industrialization and modern technology have brought, for example.

The ultimate source of this disorder is the Fall; however, the 16th century revolt led by Luther and Calvin against the order established by the Catholic Church exacerbated the predicament of fallen man. The Protestant Revolt was a revolt against God’s plan for man and rather than being a positive critical influence, injected chaos into order. It introduced a spirit of individualism and self-seeking and laid the foundation for the degraded way we live now.

Father Denis Fahey explains the roots of our predicament in The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World:

The doctrine, held by both Luther and Calvin, of the essential corruption of nature by Original Sin, had as consequence that redeemed man is never admitted to live the Divine life vitally as his own. He is never intrinsically purified by the infusion of sanctifying grace, participation of the Inner Life of God in Three Divine Persons. Contemplation and love of the Blessed Trinity present in us by grace—beginning of Eternal Life—ceased therefore to be man’s highest activity here below, to which all other activities should be directed. Human activity was sundered from grace and accordingly came to be an end in itself. Self-seeking inevitably gave birth to the present sad situation. [xiii]

In The Framework of a Christian State, Father Edward Cahill writes that the “purely selfish and materialistic outlook on life” of “Individualistic Capitalism” was inherited from the Protestant Revolt. “This attitude of mind, which is fundamentally opposed to the spirit of Catholicism, appears in its worst form in the spirit of Calvinism and Puritanism.” Cahill writes that this spirit triumphed in England which became “the homeland of the Capitalistic Economic Regime and the breeding ground from which the individualistic spirit of modern capitalism has spread over a large part of the modern world.”[xiv]

Protestantism became the basis for our culture in the West and gradually replaced the Christian social order of medieval Europe. In his book From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond: The Long, Jagged Trail Into a Postmodern Void, Thomas Storck discusses what happened:

In Europe . . . important and increasingly powerful states had already loosed themselves from Catholic unity. Protestant England together with Holland and for a time Sweden became the chief loci within Europe aiming at the destruction of Catholic civilization. These became not only political and military rivals to Catholic powers, but erected an alternative model of Western cultural life, a model which has exerted a powerful intellectual appeal on many.

Subsequently the United States became the foundation of this Protestant culture worldwide. . . . These various Protestant powers worked by seizing bits of Catholic territory all around the world, by sending out Protestant missionaries into Latin America and other Catholic lands where they have contributed to the destruction of Catholic faith and culture, but perhaps most importantly by offering an alternative model of Western culture that appeals strongly to modern materialist man.[xv]

Ideas of success in Western culture—to lead in politics and the economy and generate personal wealth and power—were created by Protestantism. “It was in the peculiarly British variety of Calvinism, known as Puritanism, that all the Calvinist doctrines of success in life as a sign of man’s predestination, of the respect and veneration due to wealth, had their fullest development,” writes Father Fahey in The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World.[xvi]

Now, instead of contemplating God we make money. This is especially true in the U.S., a country that never had the benefit—unlike countries in Europe and South America, and even Canada—of being converted to the Catholic Faith, however far such countries have fallen away from that Faith. Whether one looks at the Puritanism of the colonial period or the Deism of the revolutionary period and beyond,[xvii] there was never a true Christian civilization in America. A true Christian civilization is a Catholic one, as was found in medieval Europe during the Golden Age of Christianity.

Thomas Storck writes about this in his essay, The Social Order as Community:

The old things that are destroyed by capitalism are not just inefficient firms or industrial methods invented in a prior era. They include things such as families and communities and even Christian civilization itself. Nor, as some like to pretend, is all this the result of some recent bad turn in our history, a falling off from an earlier and so-called Christian America, a land that never was. No, it is inherent in the commercial republic constructed at the end of the 18th century by the Founders of this country, who consciously and carefully rejected traditional European civilization in order to attempt to build the Novus Ordo Saeclorum, the New Order of the Ages.[xviii]

There is no room for contemplation in our modern, materialistic, success-obsessed world, which runs at a ridiculously fast-pace due to new forms of technology and an old form of motivation—greed. With so much money to make and material possessions to gain, there is no time left to contemplate Truth or even to discover reality. There is hope, however, but the solution to our predicament is radical and difficult for modern man to grasp. Father Fahey explains the solution in The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World:

 . . . to cure the evil radically, the ideal of life as grasped by the men of the Middle Ages must return. By grace we share in God’s life. God’s life is knowledge and love of Himself, and it is from that knowledge and love that His action springs. So, too, must it be with us. Our action must spring from the Divine Life in us and must aim at strengthening it. That ideal must prevail amongst us, not only individually but socially, and men must come to recognize once more that the contemplative religious Orders discharge the most vital function.[xix]

The “hierarchy of values” will only be restored in a truly Christian social order—where contemplation and love of the Blessed Trinity takes precedence. Then, and only then, will the contemplative religious orders that once built up a great Christian civilization again lead us, and sanity return.


[i] Anne-Marie Slaughter, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, The Atlantic, July/August 2012: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/
[ii] Not all women become mothers but most do. In previous times, entering a religious order was an alternate route a woman could take, but Protestantism and modernism destroyed this for the most part.
[iii] Lisa Belkin, The Opt-Out Revolution, The New York Times Magazine, October 2003: https://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/26/magazine/the-opt-out-revolution.html
[iv] Suzanne Venker, 7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don’t Mix, Spence Publishing, 2004
[v] Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly, The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know—and Men Can’t Say, WND Books, 2011, pg. 110-111
[vi] “Revolution” here does not refer to a specific revolutionary event but to the slow and violent sweeping away of the Christian social order, starting in the late Middle Ages. The Protestant Revolt, the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution are all specific revolutionary events that are part of the overall “Revolution.” The Revolutionary spirit is characterized by anti-Catholicism and the worship of “liberty” (a.k.a. license). Under the Revolutionary order the rights of man usurp the rights of God. See Revolution and Counter-Revolution by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira for more on this topic.
[vii] Lisa Belkin, The Opt-Out Revolution, The New York Times Magazine, October 2003: https://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/26/magazine/the-opt-out-revolution.html
[viii] As I wrote in an earlier note, in previous times Religious was a well-accepted role for women, in addition to the role of wife and mother. See my essay The Complete Woman for more on this.
[ix] The Trump administration—which was supposed to be a triumph of true conservatism—shows this well. According to Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a working mom herself, empowering working mothers is at the heart of Trump’s agenda and the Trump administration is working on policies that will incentivize women to work and raise children. If there really is such a thing as “conservatism” in the U.S. then this is certainly not part of it. The conservative way, one would think, would be to put policies in place and change the system to ensure all women who are mothers stay at home and raise their children, and let their husbands support them.
[x] Liberty, for example, is not the freedom to choose what one wants, but is the freedom to choose the Good which is God’s Will.
[xi] See Anne-Marie Slaughter, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, The Atlantic, July/August 2012: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/
[xii] Alice Von Hildebrand, The Privilege of Being a Woman, Sapientia Press, 2004, pg. 23.
[xiii] Father Denis Fahey, The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World, Christian Book Club of America, 2012, pg. 21-22.
[xiv] Father Edward Cahill, The Framework of a Christian State, 1932, pg. 143.
[xv] Thomas Storck, From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond: The Long, Jagged Trail Into a Postmodern Void, Angelico Press, 2015, pg. 36-37.
[xvi] Father Denis Fahey, The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World, Christian Book Club of America, 2012, pg. 16.
[xvii] See Christopher Ferrara, Liberty: The God That Failed, Angelico Press, 2012, pg. 154.
[xviii] Thomas Storck, From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond: The Long, Jagged Trail to a Postmodern Void, Angelico Press, 2015, pg. 54.
[xix] Father Denis Fahey, The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World, Christian Book Club of America, 2012, pg. 21-22.