Anyway, a British Labour Party feminist, Harriet Harman, was speaking. There is something icy in her personality, but to draw a laugh from the audience she noted mockingly that a generation ago many young women would leave school and have as their highest aspiration finding a husband and starting a family. On cue there were chortles of laughter from the audience at the thought.
The underlying message is that the highest ambition for everyone, male or female, is to participate in the market as a unit of labour. Although their reasons might be different, left liberals and right liberals end up in agreement on this. Careers come before family.
And the message has seeped through society. I had one of those moments of mutual incomprehension with a group of my students the other day. The topic was career advice, some of the students were disengaged, so I urged them on with the comment that choosing a career and choosing a spouse were the two most important life decisions.
The girls (aged about sixteen) looked at me with astonishment. They said they agreed that choosing a career was important, but they didn't think that choosing a spouse mattered as much. They couldn't believe that anyone would think it was that important, especially compared to a career.
If you want to blame modern day feminism for this you would be mistaken. The problem goes back to the first wave of feminism in the nineteenth century. In 1869 a college for women, Girton College, was established at Cambridge. What was the outlook impressed on the young women at Girton? One Girton girl put it this way in 1889:
We are no longer mere parts - excrescences, so to speak, of a family ... One may develop as an individual and independent unit.That is a highly significant, and radical, change in life outlook. Think of it this way. The traditional view is that we do not develop, ideally, solo. If, for instance, you are a 25-year-old man, then ideally you will look to develop who you are as a person by seeking to become a husband and a father. As a husband you can develop your masculine personality by fulfilling your drives to provide for and protect a wife, by fulfilling your desire to form a loving union with someone of the opposite sex; and by fulfilling the innate instinct to reproduce yourself biologically, to reproduce your own family lineage and to reproduce your own larger ethnic tradition.
There are also, of course, aspects of a young man's development, such as the cultivation of virtues like fortitude, which could be done solo, but much would be left out if it were left at this. And even a man who never marries is likely to develop aspects of who he is in relationship with others, such as his parents and siblings, or (if a priest) in relationship with a church and parish.
But look at what the Girton girl is saying. She is radically diminishing the importance of family in her self-development. In fact, she has been educated, by first wave feminists, to utterly dismiss the role of family in self-development. The language she uses suggests that being a member of a family is a merely mechanical, static, impersonal thing. She speaks of being a "mere part - excrescence" of a family.
She goes on immediately to speak positively of solo development. She conceives the alternative as developing "as an individual and independent unit".
For some generations, men have been encouraged to develop, as before, in relationship with others, but young women have been encouraged to see this as oppressive and to develop solo. It's possible that this explains, in part, the reluctance of many women to see their husbands as making sacrifices on their behalf - perhaps women assume that men have the same outlook, of solo development, that they themselves have been brought up to believe in, or perhaps they even think it wrong for a person to develop in relationship with others rather than as a solo act (so they mentally refuse the idea that it is a good thing for their husband to make sacrifices for them).
This is one aspect of life in which a traditionalist community could very readily distinguish itself. We could return to the older, fuller understanding of human development for both men and women.