Friday, March 15, 2013

A feminist explains her problems with family

An Australian research agency has found that 42% of Australian women rate family as their highest life goal, well in front of security, prosperity or an important life.

The result is disconcerting to feminist Clementine Ford. But why?

The gist of her answer is that there's nothing wrong with wanting a family, but it's something that should be created around you rather than something you pursue as a life goal. If it's a life goal then it's something that defines you as a person and robs you of autonomy. Men, according to Clementine Ford, don't have family as a life goal and are therefore free to live exciting, important and prosperous lives.

In her own words:
There's nothing wrong with desiring family or considering the formation of it as integral to your life happiness. Certainly, wanting nothing more than to have children and a familial environment in which to raise them is as admirable a pursuit as any other.

But firstly, 'family' is generally considered to be something that happens around men rather than a life goal that they pursue. Men are enabled by social values to pursue the 'important' lives, the exciting lives, the prosperous lives women are evidently eschewing, because it's understood that for men these choices aren't incompatible with having a family.
This is such a curious belief system. It rests in part on a misguided envy of the lives of men, who are perceived to be free to live important, exciting and prosperous lives (it would be like a man seeing a group of happy, beautiful young women and thinking enviously that they had it made - hopefully, good sense would kick in and banish the thought, but Clementine seems to be sticking with her moment of envy. Note too that even though she gets to have a relatively cushy job as a freelance writer, she still believes that the average labouring man gets a free pass compared to her.)

Nor does Clementine understand how important family is to most men. Getting married and having children is a life goal for most men, one that men do self-consciously pursue.

Clementine has also bought into liberal autonomy theory: the idea that we should not be defined by predetermined factors like biology or custom (and therefore motherhood), but by things we choose for ouselves (such as career). She complains:
Children, and the act of having them, is still seen as something that elevates women into personhood.

Their childless lives are precursors to their real purpose - having babies, and discovering what it is Their Bodies Were Meant To Do...mothers also...suffer the indignity of being assumed to have lost an essential part of their autonomous identities as women...

By all means, women should make family central to their lives if that's their choice. But it's dangerous to view it as a life goal, as an act that will secure happiness at the expense of the pursuits that will secure freedom, independence and autonomy.
Look how clearly she states it: a woman's life goal must be freedom, independence and autonomy. And that's not something you get from family.

She has so much bought into the idea of individual autonomy that she refuses to recognise the shared purposes of husbands and wives. And so you once again get curious ideas like the following:
But secondly, the cost of raising children is still significantly high enough for women that encouraging them to view it as a goal - something they pursue and achieve, rather than something created and managed around them - has potentially damaging consequences. Unfortunately for women, the financial burden of caring for children still falls overwhelmingly to them.

Leaving aside the gender pay gap that affects most women working in salaried positions, their prospects for retirement are bleak. Women's superannuation, already estimated to be about half that at retirement age as men's, is damaged further by being out of the workforce for long periods of time.
Clementine here repeats her belief that family should be something "created and managed" around women, rather than something they set out to achieve. She also believes that a married woman will be harmed compared to men by the loss of superannuation. But how? Does she think that the husband reserves his superannuation for himself only, leaving the wife to fund herself out of her own?

Clementine Ford seems to be trying to find a way to give women permission to have a family, whilst keeping freedom, independence and autonomy as their life goal. But if you were sincere about the pursuit of freedom, independence and autonomy then you wouldn't marry, regardless of whether you were a man or a woman. You would stay single.

What Clementine Ford needs to recognise is that not everyone sees autonomy as the sole, overriding good in life. She should not assume that men see it as the overriding good and get the freedom to pursue it. She should recognise too how odd it is, first, to see husbands and wives as not pooling financial resources and, second, to think that family can be "created and managed" around people, rather than being a life goal in itself.


  1. Yes, it's very much an impossibility

    But here's another aspect of this woman's thinking, one that permeates a broader set of minds than just those of feminists: there is a special kind of self-delusion and bad faith necessary to continuing attempts at this circle-squaring.

    Family can in some circumstances be "created and managed" around a person, but it requires that others be kept in a position of relative servitude. Someone else must change the diaper, mind the health, treat the education of the child. And the more that such functions are taken up by another, the greater the likelihood that the "other" must be maintained in a much lower station than oneself. Economic sense tells us as much.

    So then, what about the "freedom" and "autonomy" of the people to whom you have delegated your natural responsibilities? At a certain point down the ladder, mothering cannot be "outsourced," for no one remains to take pennies for the job. It therefore doesn't happen at all, or is maintained by some extended-family predicament where even more mouths are maintained by even fewer dollars.

    Being stridently attached to "autonomy" requires that the the mind's eye closes at the approach of this question. Because how can freedom and autonomy be genuine standards if their range of achievability is so constricted?

    Say what you will about a man like Rousseau; he at least understood the tension. Your run-of the-mill feminist has not thought this through at all.

    --Aaron S.

  2. Aaron, excellent point.

    It's a pity liberals aren't challenged on these matters. I've often read liberal writers who assume that the mark of an autonomous life is a creative, professional career. But, as you put it, the "range of achievability" of this outcome is limited to perhaps 10% of the population. Not everyone can be an artist or academic.


    a) Push their philosophy as something for the whole society


    b) Define their philosophy in such a way that only a small class of creative professionals can ever succeed in meeting its demands

  3. I don't think Clementine Ford would describe her freelance writer job as 'cushy'!

  4. I've often read liberal writers who assume that the mark of an autonomous life is a creative, professional career. But, as you put it, the "range of achievability" of this outcome is limited to perhaps 10% of the population. Not everyone can be an artist or academic.

    10% is a wild exaggeration. There are 29,000 Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers in the USA, and maybe 1 to 1.5 million professors. Basically 0.3% of the population.

    Everyone else is, essentially, an employee -- i.e., not autonomous.

  5. Anon,

    Yes, it's a very small number.

    Tim T,

    Well, maybe not cushy, but she's complaining that women don't get to do the creative, socially influential jobs and men do - even though she's the one living as a writer and broadcaster, whereas the average man is out doing the necessary but less glamorous work.

  6. Clementine Ford is a lesbian, hardly an expert on "Family" life.

    As usual, she obviously cannot make up her mind and may have changed back to a "nomal" relationship but it hardly makes her a spokesperson for the entire population of Aus. let alone anything else as she is so skewered and completely blinded by feminism.
    Part of the problem with feminists is that they suffer from a severe dose of cognitive dissonance and that also would exempt her opinion on basically any issue regardless of content. Just a hollow sounding gong and the same relevance.

  7. Christian,

    I think that's another Clementine Ford (an American actress).

    The Australian one has written about her unsucessful attempts as a 29-year-old with internet dating.

    She won't have an ordinary suburban bloke, but she didn't like the guy who tried to woo her with lefty/green/intellectual credentials either.

  8. " Men, according to Clementine Ford, don't have family as a life goal and are therefore free to live exciting, important and prosperous lives."

    It sounds like we have a claim that can be subjected to empirical testing. Only 42% of Australian women list family as their highest life goal. What is the number for men?