Why would a left-liberal woman feel doubt and uncertainty about feminism? I'll quote the relevant passages in a moment. But her argument seems to be this. Women feel vulnerable in life. The feminist response is to empower women by making them autonomous careerists. But this autonomy is, first of all, illusory as it has to be propped up by the state on which women then become dependent. Second, women were ushered en masse into the workforce just as much to supply cheap labour as to make women economically independent. Third, when women have children their priorities often change and they can become less ambitious at work and more committed to caring for their children.
Here's the first relevant passage:
The archetypal feminist of the 80s and 90s had a fulfilling and dynamic career, wonderful children, a lovely home and fabulous grooming. Consensus on the impossibility of such a lifestyle for any but the wealthiest has been long-since reached. But the recession and its subsequent deficit have shown all too starkly that even the seeming achievement of more modest autonomy for women is heavily subsidised by the state.
The stock response is that the state has, and should have, a duty to support parents and their children, and that's true up to a point. But it is hard to foster dependence without fostering vulnerability as well. Feminism, in truth, is entirely concerned with limiting female vulnerability, real as well as perceived. But its rhetoric can seem instead to be all about asserting and celebrating female strength.
In the next passage she correctly notes that women were fast-tracked into the workforce for economic reasons:
The mass entry of women into the workplace in the latter half of the last century was claimed too unequivocally as a purely feminist achievement. Yet the door opened so easily when pushed because the needs of capitalism had undone the bolt. Everyone knows the Empire Windrush didn't dock at Tilbury in 1948 to promote multiculturalism. It arrived to provide cheap labour in the employment marketplace, as women did too. Likewise, the fast-burgeoning demand for professionals did as much to usher women into flashy jobs as female liberation did.
Deborah Orr then admits that the wage gap as it exists today is due more to women's preferences than to discrimination:
But equal opportunity in the workplace has not resulted in equal achievement, and not all of this is the fault of continuing chauvinism. Women bear the children and, far more often than not, they wish to be the primary carer for those children. At its most strident, feminism can be mistaken for an ideology designed to make women feel they are wrong to want that.
Worse, feminism has accidentally promoted the idea that it's pretty easy to work and have children, with the right support in place. On even an average income, it's never easy, even once children are at secondary school (though it's certainly easier then). Your priorities change. Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway. Ambition can dissipate.
Finally, she criticises feminism for being unwilling to openly discuss these issues:
For many women, that's a self-evident truth. But feminism forbids women from admitting too many self-evident truths, for fear that the utterance of them will encourage discrimination.
I'll finish with a thought of my own. Deborah Orr writes about women feeling vulnerable and seeking economic and material security by being autonomous career girls. She is aware, though, that this kind of independence has to be propped up precariously by the state.
Why not seek security through marriage to a man who is committed to supporting his family? Feminism tells women that men, far from being protectors, are a threat. Men are portrayed as exploiting women and as being the perpetrators of domestic violence and rape. Feminists suggest that it is average men who are committing such acts to a threatening degree.
That's why it's important for traditionalists to continue to scrutinise the statistics that feminists throw around when it comes to family life. When feminists come up with the "1 in 3" statistics, they do so knowing the effect that it will have - that it will make women feel as if they cannot rely on a man and that being a mother at home will be too great a risk to endure.