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.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.)
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.
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.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.
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.
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.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?
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 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.