Sunday, April 14, 2019

Prager's troubling thought

Dennis Prager is an American classical liberal. He decided recently that he would read Betty Friedan's influential feminist work, The Feminine Mystique (1963).

In this book Friedan claimed that American women were unhappy with their lives as mothers and housewives. As you might expect of a classical liberal, Prager is sympathetic to Friedan's message. Most liberals base their politics around the idea of autonomy, in which individuals are supposed to be "liberated" from predetermined qualities and roles, like those relating to our sex. And so Prager likes the way that most women now put their primary focus on a "self-determining" career role rather than "predetermined" roles relating to motherhood and family.

So far, so predictable. However, I have to give some credit to Prager for what happens next. Prager notes that things have moved exactly the way that Friedan wanted them to:
But a big and troubling thought hit me while reading the book. In the 56 years since "The Feminine Mystique" was published, every complaint Friedan made regarding the situation of the American woman has been addressed.

So women should be happy now, right? Prager is honest enough to admit that they are not happy. Far from it:
Yet, if you were to listen to many American women today, you would think nothing has improved. Every women's group and millions of individual women say women are "oppressed" despite the fact that virtually nothing remains of the "feminine mystique" described by Friedan.

Prager is aware of the anxiety and depression epidemic among women:
In fact, women today, including young women, who lead lives the very opposite of those described in "The Feminine Mystique," are about twice as likely to be depressed as men. And that statistic is true for women across all economic, racial and ethnic groups.

So if society is progressing along liberal lines, but there is no improvement in happiness, what is a liberal to do? Again, I have to give Prager some credit for his response. Prager does something unusual for a liberal. He abandons blank slatism and wonders if there is not something within female nature that might cause women to be malcontent regardless of their social situation. If this is true, then women need to overcome an aspect of their own nature in order to develop into successful adulthood.

Here is how Prager defends his idea that women might more easily than men, as a part of their nature, fall into being malcontent:
This is no more an attack on women than describing men's nature as aggressive is an attack on men. Each sex has built-in issues that an individual has to overcome in order to develop into a mature and good person. Men have to deal with aggression and the sexual predatory aspect of male nature in order to develop into mature and good men. Women have to overcome the power of their emotions and their chronic malcontentedness in order to mature into good women. But in our disordered society — a society that has rejected wisdom — in raising their children, two generations of Americans have told only their sons, not their daughters, that they had to fight their nature. The feminization of society has brought with it the destructive notion that only males have to suppress their nature. Feminists really believe females are superior, so why would women have to fight any aspect of their inherently beautiful nature?

I disagree with Prager on most things, but this is exceptionally well put. The only thing he leaves out is the reason why generations of women have been told that they don't need to regulate aspects of their nature. It's not just that female nature has been held to be superior to male nature. It's also a consequence of liberalism itself. If what matters is that I am autonomous, then I should be free to self-determine who I am and what I do, which means that I should not be limited by any ideas about an inborn nature, and which also means that I should be free to act on my own desires, no matter what they are, unless this interferes directly with others doing the same. That has been the logic of Western culture for some time.

It's great that Prager, as a liberal, has stepped back from this. In a sense, Prager is now setting objective standards, standards that represent an ordered personhood, standards that demonstrate both goodness and maturity. A community needs to do this, and to get as close as possible to the truth of this, if it wants to flourish.

The next step for Prager would be to consider not only the flaws within female nature to be overcome, but also the positive aspects of female nature that connect a woman to a higher, meaningful good that she can embody in her life and that she might therefore seek to cultivate.

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.


  1. The idea by Leftists that women are morally superior to men goes back at least two hundred years. I suppose this is correct if you consider Leftism to be morally superior. Women make better Leftists than men.

    1. The idea by Leftists that women are morally superior to men goes back at least two hundred years.

      The idea is certainly an old one. But I don't think it originally had anything to do with leftism. It was the kind of thinking you get when you combine liberalism with Christianity.

      Mind you, back in the 19th century men believed that women were morally superior and for that reason should not be permitted to vote or engage in politics. So it's not the same kind of thinking that you get in modern liberalism/modern feminism. Believing in the moral superiority of women can be combined with a firm belief in traditional sex rôles.