The argument is one that crops up every now and then in feminist circles. The problem to be addressed is this:
1. Liberalism wants maximum individual autonomy. This means that each individual is to be free to choose as they wish without restraint, unless it limits the choice of others.
2. This presents a conundrum if a woman chooses to be a stay at home mother. On the one hand this choice does not maximise her autonomy as she is choosing to be interdependent within a family rather than an independent individual focusing on solo development. This fails the liberal principle. On the other hand, if she cannot choose to be a stay at home mother the liberal principle is also denied.
Chrissy Stockton argues in her piece that the stay at home option is the one that fails the test:
Every time I hear someone say that feminism is about validating every choice a woman makes I have to fight back vomit.
Do people really think that a stay at home mom is really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself?
Here she is clearly advancing the argument that what matters is independence. She goes on to draw out the argument that motherhood, being something common to women, is not a uniquely self-determined achievement - it is not "exceptional":
Having kids and getting married are considered life milestones. We have baby showers and wedding parties as if it’s a huge accomplishment and cause for celebration to be able to get knocked up or find someone to walk down the aisle with. These aren’t accomplishments, they are actually super easy tasks, literally anyone can do them. They are the most common thing, ever, in the history of the world.
...I want to have a shower for a woman when she backpacks on her own through Asia, gets a promotion, or lands a dream job not when she stays inside the box and does the house and kids thing...
...You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.
So in this worldview showing your independence by backpacking alone in a foreign country is a greater achievement than getting married and having children. (Which may help explain those articles encouraging women to journey solo to those parts of the world most dangerous to women - this being the realm of liberal female accomplishment.)
Chrissy Stockton wrote another piece at around the same time titled "Successful women do not fall in love". Again, this is one of those opinions that appears in feminist thought from time to time. The argument is that if what matters is a uniquely self-determined accomplishment, and if this accomplishment is our career, that love distracts us from our career goals and should be suppressed. Alexandra Kollontai, writing in the early twentieth century, put it this way:
this motive was a leading force in my life ... to shape my personal, intimate life as a woman according to my own will ... Above all, I never let my feelings, the joy or pain of love take the first place in my life ...
I still belong to the generation of women who grew up at a turning point in history. Love ... still played a very great role in my life. An all-too-great role! It was an expenditure of precious time and energy ... utterly worthless ... We, the women of the past generation, did not yet understand how to be free. The whole thing was an absolutely incredible squandering of our mental energy, a diminution of our labour power.
A century later Chrissy Stockton followed suit by arguing that it is important for a woman to guard against the impulse toward self-sacrificing love:
We’re kind of brainwashed to take care of other people, and make them happy and for me, being single is kind of an armor guarding against whatever cultural or biological intuitions are telling me, as a woman, to be self-sacrificial.
...I am in love with myself, in love with building my work, which will outlive me, and in love with proving people wrong, the ones who told me what I couldn’t do– be happy and secure and the center of my own world.
There were criticisms of Chrissy Stockton's attitude toward mothers. She defended herself by writing:
If we were convinced that motherhood and being a wife was a freely made goal that did not in any way encumber women, my post wouldn’t have over 200k social shares, I wouldn’t have received hundreds of emails in the span of a few days...
That's a revealing comment. It shows how much Chrissy Stockton based her ideas on a liberal worldview. Note that being a wife and mother are put in question because they are not "freely made goals" (i.e. not self-determined) and because they "encumber women". The dictionary definition of encumber is "restrict or impede (someone or something) in such a way that free action or movement is difficult." Liberals often use the term "encumbered self" in a disparaging way.
This is highly significant for what comes next. To this point in time, Chrissy Stockton's ideal is a world in which we are not restricted, in which our free action or movement is not impeded. It is also a world in which self-sacrificing love is a barrier to achievement and in which relationships are too ordinary to matter. And it is a world in which we are to develop solo, in denial of the longstanding belief that we are fundamentally social creatures.
Fast forward to the present day. Has Chrissy Stockton proved her critics wrong and become "happy and secure and the center of my own world"? Well, no. She does have an interesting job as an editor of an online magazine. She admits, though, that she has an anxiety disorder and that she is frustrated in love. She has also come around to the view that love is a fundamental human need. Most interestingly, she acknowledges that an unrestrained dating culture undermines her own ability to form loving relationships - an illustration of why restraint can work toward the human good (and should not always be sacrificed to the liberal aim of maximising individual autonomy).
Here she is, for instance, describing how a hook up culture can leave people jaded and less able to pair bond:
I don’t have an infinite reservoir inside me of love and affection and self-confidence. When a guy ghosts me...it has a cost. I have to spend months getting over this.
Instead of viewing marriage and motherhood as being "super easy" to achieve, she now worries that they won't happen for her:
Men and women seem so different. There are so many ways we don’t speak the same language and yet there’s this overwhelming sense that I should one day find complete partnership with a dude. It seems like such an unlikely thing that we understand each other’s needs and are free enough from baggage and emotional dis-ease that this will become a reality.
It feels very disorienting to be asking for someone to at least be polite when they decide they don’t want to see you anymore. I don’t think these guys would behave rudely to a stranger they met off the street, but they are rude to me and it is sad and confusing.
Men lose interest when they’ve slept with you. It’s not the beginning of anything for them, it’s the end.
I just want to be full-time adored.
It’s scary that it’s [getting married] supposed to be so important but also that it’s so hard
It’s scary to be worn down. There are many things that get better with aging but you have to work purposefully at not getting bitter and the more tired I get the harder it is to frame my dating life as something other than failing. What is going to happen if I fail for another 10 years? I think it would be just fine to be single for 10 years or the rest of my life but I’m not sure I can take the pressure of knowing that I failed at something that is so fundamental to our humanity.
She is now complaining not of being encumbered by marriage but of men's fear of commitment. She writes to one such man as follows:
Maybe you’re afraid of commitment. The way someone runs from a scary monster or a man with an axe. But I’m a girl with a cozy bed and a full heart and a hand to hold. I want to love you...
Maybe you’re just busy. Though we all know “busy” means something like “I have a lot I’d rather do” and like I told you when we were in bed with our whole bodies touching: I just don’t know what else there is, besides this.
From previously having diminished the importance of relationships with men, she now utters the line "I just don't know what else there is, besides this."
She wrote this about another man who would not commit:
I spent a lot of nights that spring touching his skin and playing him music and telling him how great he was. In retrospect every feeling I was trying to hold in was completely called for, natural, and appropriate for the situation.
Nothing about the act of caring for someone makes you crazy. It’s human to care. It’s human to have a relationship with the people who touch us and play music for us and tell us how great we are. But we were in a silent competition to care less than the other person, to keep it more casual, to act more indifferent. Which is a pretty gross way to go through life.
She had once commended the suppression of love as a way of staying free to focus on career. Now an indifference to love is described as "a pretty gross way to go through life".
Here is a poem she wrote idealising love for a man:
We sit under cedar rafters
Cross legged and
I say that I will make you the best person you can be
You will make me
I trust you completely
Everything in our lives together will be good and beautiful
With my eyes big like
In the Cancerian full moon
(Imagine that light on your skin in your bedroom at night)
(Light a candle with a wooden match)
(Wrap each arm around your body and
Way that I love him.
Her strident views on solo development and achievement also seem to have mellowed:
I don’t think I’m a particularly strong woman...And here’s the thing: I shouldn’t have to be strong. Why should I have to possess every single positive quality?...
...Here’s another thing: we need each other. We need each other to be different.
It’s so easy to see this with parenting. It’s not very controversial to say it seems ideal for kids to be raised by two parents. We acknowledge that mothers and fathers generally bring something different (and valuable) to the table
...The gift of community is that we don’t have to be uniform. We don’t have to do everything on our own, our gifts serve the collective and our weaknesses are balanced by it.
I don’t want to have to be strong when I think the ways I am weak are a price I pay for the other valuable assets I bring to my community. I am good at making people feel loved. I don’t care if it makes me too vulnerable sometimes. I’m okay with that. When people tell me all women are strong, there is a way I hear “it’s not okay for you not to be strong.” There is a way that this devalues characteristics that have long been associated with women.
Instead of promoting solo achievement along tough masculine lines, she is now defending what is brought by the feminine to a community.
Chrissy Stockton's story illustrates some of the weaknesses in the liberal worldview that is currently our state ideology. Her younger self was wrong to believe that it is only a uniquely self-determined achievement that brings meaning. There are experiences "fundamental to our humanity" that we do not uniquely self-determine but that still bring fulfilment, including loving relationships with the opposite sex. Nor are all women suited by nature to a lone wolf life of personal ambition or rugged individualism; Chrissy Stockton acknowledges that her own gifts as a woman are more relational.
The liberal belief that we should liberate people from restraints has also failed women like Chrissy Stockton. Some of the restraints on behaviour in traditional societies were aimed at fostering family formation and preserving the ability of people to pair bond. Without them men and women increasingly lose trust in and admiration for the opposite sex. In theory Chrissy Stockton has been sexually liberated, but it has left her working "purposefully at not getting bitter".
Chrissy Stockton does seem to have had something of a change of heart over the past six years. Perhaps others will do likewise and there will be a better chance to open up a conversation about the place of liberalism within Western culture.
A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.