Monday, December 18, 2006

In defence of Caitlin

Caitlin Flanagan is a controversial figure in America, but hardly heard of here in Australia.

She's rubbed some feminist women up the wrong way by defending stay at home motherhood (admittedly she sometimes does this provocatively, as if courting publicity).

She was interviwed in the Sunday Herald Sun last week (Mother knows best 10/12/06), and acquitted herself reasonably well. I was interested to read that:

She grew up in Berkeley ... the daughter of a professor of English and a housewife whose homely presence she idolised - so much so that she was traumatised when her mother returned to work as a nurse when Flanagan was 12. "To my thinking, my mother's change of heart constituted child abandonment, plain and simple."

It's refreshing that Caitlyn Flanagan should think back to her own childhood and the importance of her mother to it, rather than conveniently ignoring such realities as modern society generally prefers to do.

The journalist interviewing Caitlyn Flanagan, Julia Llewellyn Smith, does end her piece with an admission that Flanagan is good at raising unpalatable truths. She writes:

As much as it pains her detractors, there are many women who are taking her message to heart. After all, some of her views - that when both halves of a couple work, their home may be neglected; that the achievements of the women's movement "have been bought at the expense of poor women, often poor brown-skinned women"; that men who want to share equally in the housework are not the kind of men most women want to marry - are undeniably true, if unpalatable.

However, the sharpest observation is the one made by Caitlin Flanagan in response to the following from Julia Llewellyn Smith:

One of the most troublesome aspects of Flanagan's views is her idealisation of the nuclear family, and the assumption that husbands are not only high earners but also faithful and supportive. Fine, I argue to push this as the ideal, but so many marriages end in failure because the husband runs off with another woman.

Caitlin Flanagan replies:

"It's the great risk of marriage, the eternal risk a woman takes," she says, shaking her head dolefully. "It used to be that when a man did that, there was a very high cost. He would be shunned by polite society. But now the attitude is, 'Oh, divorce is normal, adult life is messy.' So we've made it safe for men to do that and I would posit it to you that one of the things that made it safer was feminism, which said, 'Women don't need men to raise children.'

"That whole notion that there was not an essential and irreplaceable role for the man of the household has made it easier for men to leave."

Which is surely true. If men are told endlessly that women can raise a child just as well without them, then it becomes easier for men to walk out on their families and for a society to casually accept the decision.

So modern women can't have it both ways. It's not reasonable to promote single motherhood and at the same time expect the male commitment to marriage to remain as strong as it was traditionally.

(I haven't read it, but Caitlin Flanagan has just had a book released in Australia: To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife.)


  1. Caitlin Flanagan sounds like a woman who'd write a good book with lots of common sense and wisdom.

    Talking about books written by women with the ability to see what's of value in tradition, a few minutes ago I happened to browse the reader reviews of a book on relationships just out by blogger Dawn Eden, and was quite impressed. I haven't read the book -- just now learned of it -- but from the sound of these extremely favorable reviews it might be something to check out. It's apparently aimed not at the younger cohort of women in their late teens and early 20s but at women still single in their later 20s or 30s who've "been around the block a few times" and found the casual-sex lifestyle hasn't gotten them where they wanted to be in life. The reviews are here, here, and here. (Here's Dawn Eden's log entry.)

    Here's the author's brief book blurb/bio:

    "I'm a former rock journalist and Sixties-pop historian (having written for Salon, New York Press, the Village Voice, Billboard, Mojo, and many others, as well as liner notes to over 80 CD reisues) who bought into the culture's ideals about many things -- including premarital sex.

    "As I write in my book, 'I had dutifully followed the Cosmo rule, which is also the "Sex and the City" rule and really the Universal Single-Person Rule in our secular age: "Sex should push the relationship." This rule can also be expressed as, "We'll talk about it in bed." '

    "Seven years ago I had an intense faith experience that transformed me from an agnostic Reform Jew to a believing Christian. In the light of my new faith, I came to the hard realization that all the sex I ever had -- in and out of relationships -- never brought me any closer to marriage, or being able to sustain a committed relationship.

    "As I write, 'By viewing sex as a means to an end rather than the fruit of a loving relationship, I rendered myself incapable of having a loving relationship. Love -- the true love that comes from God -- requires pure motives.'

    "That realization began my journey -- a journey in which I reevaluated not only how I related to men but how I related to the world at large. In the process, I discovered what I describe as 'life more hope-filled, more vibrant, more real' than anything I experienced when having sex.

    "That is the thrill of the chaste -- and I want to share it with you."

  2. That's very good, but you fail to point out the equal risk men take, that a woman will walk out on them. I understand that about 2/3 of divorces are filed for by women. So both sexes are undervaluing the male contribution.

  3. That’s true.

    with the exception of extreme cases of violence, the law needs to get completely out of personal relationships. If the government continues to play financial ‘surrogate husband’ to divorcees, the divorce rate will continue to increase & men will avoid it.

    If you make the consequence of divorce for women highly attractive (ie. independence, freedom, money, child custody, support, being single again, dating again, etc) – then WHAT.ON.EARTH will stop women choosing the ‘shining light’ of divorce over riding out the bumps in a marriage? Parenthetically, why would men aspire to BE married in today’s times when she gets almost everything after divorce? – and more importantly… HER version of “What constitutes a happy marriage” is the RULE.

    Traditional marriage had sacrifices BOTH parties had to make for the good of the Family. Feminism has foisted the notion (or modern Truth) that women are entitled to everything, and not required to give much of anything. Since Feminism wants to dismantle marriage (because they see it as oppressive to women), it pushes women who chose it (much to Feminists dislike) to be as demanding, and un-cooperative as possible. When men take this belligerence at face value, and want no more to do with marriage & women, the Feminists are perversely happy.

    Feminism teaches women to think of themselves as the most important thing on God’s green earth. Everything & everyone (mainly men) must follow its (her) new rules. Anything to the contrary is seen as ‘oppressive’, ‘sexist’ or ‘misogynist’. It wouldn’t be as frustrating to watch the crumbling of society under these ridiculous ideals, if not for the fact that Feminists don’t take responsibility, nor ‘lead’ by example.

    It’s STILL up to men, in blame or responsibility. In historical (chauvinist) terms, at least men took responsibility for ‘leading’. I think it’s one of the most frustrating things to watch. Those who can lead are not allowed, while those who are incompetent are given the reigns at the expense of everyone else.

    I just hope more women start to see reality in the direction that Caitlin proposes. Rather than ‘wanting’ everything and being disappointed when their lives are ruined by their childish ‘choices’ – it’s time they started to realize that the world consists of more than just a cosmopolitan feminist lifestyle.

    There are other things on this planet that women must live in ‘co-operation’ with.


  4. The biggest problem is that there is a defence of the "nuclear" family in her writings, which for many people means the no-mess, 2 child family.

    The problem with conservative men is that they are still liberal at heart - they wish to minimise fatherhood through contraception and maximise the benifits of married life by having the Little Woman at home to do all the housework and therefore freeing up their husband's leisure time. Presumably these men wish also to maximise their sex lives and minimise the inconveniences naturally associated with it (ie children).

    Any marriage based on the idea that children are not part of the good of marriage is doomed.

    I believe that a woman's place is in the home, and so is a man's. In a truly family-friendly society, the economy would be such that families could provide themselves with a livelihood which provided the essentials without breaking up the family into separate "working units" - which is how liberalism views people.

    Anybody who truly cares about family, will think about what really helps families to be strong.