If you remember, Clarissa was the one who claimed that modernity was worth its steep price because it liberates people from inherited norms, which then opens the way to a more self-defining life based on one's own choices.
To understand what is wrong with this liberal way of looking at modernity, consider a post that Clarissa wrote just a few days ago. The post is about the Katy Read story in Salon. Katy Read is a middle-aged, recently divorced American woman who has expressed regret that she spent years working part-time to be with her children rather than remaining full-time at work.
Clarissa, it turns out, doesn't like the idea of women choosing to stay at home with their children. She thinks that one positive effect of the economic downturn in the US is that fewer women will give up full-time work:
As with everything else in life, however, the crisis has brought about some positive things as well. Less and less women will be "choosing" to abandon economic independence and professional realization now that they see how costly such a decision is turning out to be to many former housewives. The fear of finding themselves indigent and with no way of proving their worth socially, professionally or financially will finally convince many women that the self-infantilization of housewifery is not worth the risk.
So already we have the career option praised as leading to economic independence and professional realization, whereas the stay at home option leaves women with no way to "prove their worth" and is merely a form of "self-infantilization".
Katy Read, the author of the article, tries to suggest that she had given up on working for fourteen years for the sake of her sons. Nobody, however, needs a parent to be constantly at home until one is 14 ... Like many other women, Read simply didn't want to make the effort of going to work every single day ... It's much easier to pretend that you are a little girl who needs to be provided with everything by a big, strong man.
The traditionally male career role is associated here with independence and adulthood. Therefore motherhood gets turned on its head. It no longer marks a transition to adult womanhood but a regression to girlhood. All those women in centuries past who gave much of their adult lives to the care of their children were, in Clarissa's eyes, just pretending to be "little girls".
As evidence for her theory she calls in the testimony of her sister, who works as a recruiter:
During preliminary interviews with housewives she saw that they had one thing in common: an extremely infantilized mode of behavior. Whenever the conversation didn't go exactly as they wanted, they would become highly emotional, raise their voices, become irritable, cry, make unreasonable demands.
The insults peak in the final paragraph:
Read's advice to women is not to fall into the same trap of the patriarchal discourse that keeps suggesting to us that women are somehow not fully human and should be fulfilled with less than what men need to be happy. I hope many people read this article and abstain from castrating their lives in the same way as Read did.
Charming. Clarissa is suggesting here that it's the traditional male career role which makes people fully human and fully happy. Stay at home mothers are therefore accepting a less than fully human life. In fact, they are "castrating" their lives by looking after their own children (echoes here of Greer's "female eunuch").
I know some of my readers will immediately dismiss Clarissa as a mad lefty, not worth the time of day. But I think there's more to it than this. Clarissa is adopting one of the possible liberal options open to her.
Remember, the point of liberalism is to maximise individual autonomy. But this aim has an inbuilt contradiction.
One way that you maximise autonomy is by giving people greater choice. But if you do this, people are likely to choose goods other than autonomy. They are likely to choose to sacrifice a degree of autonomy for some other good, such as motherhood. So autonomy is not maximised.
Another way to maximise autonomy is to rule out the choice of non-autonomous goods. In other words, you only allow people to prefer goods that maximise independence, such as the financial independence that comes with careers. But the problem with this option is that it cuts back on the degree to which people can choose for themselves. So this option also fails to maximise autonomy.
The only way the contradiction might be resolved is if people, when given maximum free choice, were to naturally choose autonomy as the highest, overriding good. And therefore it's understandable that many liberals prefer to believe that people really would choose this way. For instance, in another post Clarissa approvingly quotes this opinion:
The natural desire for freedom and autonomy exists in women, and has always been nearly impossible to smother with bribery (the carrot of the wedding and the family and the home) alone. The stick also has to come out, and that's where the pervasive threat of rape comes into play.
The suggestion here is that women would in a non-patriarchal society naturally choose "freedom and autonomy" as the highest goods; that this natural preference cannot be smothered with other false and inferior goods such as marriage, children and home; that the patriarchy therefore has to force women to deny their natural desires coercively with the "pervasive threat of rape".
But that's a fantasy. Even after decades of feminist indoctrination, the majority of women still express a desire to spend time at home with their children (a recent survey put the percentage of women preferring to stay at home at 69%).
What this means is that in a liberal society there is likely to be a continuing conflict in how people attempt to resolve the contradiction. If some take the "choice" option, then others like Clarissa will point out that this does not, in fact, create maximum autonomy as it leads people to choose goods other than autonomy.
So Clarissa is carrying through logically with an aspect of liberal politics. She cannot just be dismissed as a one off.
Having said that, we should take the time to register exactly where Clarissa's liberalism has led her. It has committed her to the idea that the mothering of children, the core role played by women since the dawn of time, is a less than human option because it involves interdependence with a man.
It has led her to characterise motherhood not as a fulfilment of adult womanhood but as infantile. Motherhood is no longer associated in Clarissa's mind with fertility or fecundity but with sterility - with female castration.
Is it any wonder that in a liberal society young women so often defer a serious commitment to marriage and motherhood? Particularly those most exposed in higher education to liberal academics like Clarissa?
Finally, it's important to underline the fault I am pointing to in Clarissa's liberalism. In one post she tells us that liberalism frees us to self-define and to make our own choices. But a few days later she savages the idea of women choosing to be stay at home mothers. She leaves women with only one legitimate choice, that of being a full-time careerist. In fact, she establishes careerism as the only way for both men and women to be fully human and self-realizing adults.
Liberalism doesn't work out the way it is supposed to. Clarissa wants women to have a self-defining life, but she then rules out the life that the majority of women want to have. And along the way she manages to grossly distort a basic human good such as motherhood.