By Scott Keith –
The recent controversy about the professional position of married women was part of a much larger controversy, which is not limited to professional women or even women. It involves the distinction that controversialists on both sides commonly forget. As it is conducted, it turns largely on the query about whether family life is what is called a “whole time job” or a “half time job.”
– G.K. Chesterton, “Where Should Mother Be?” in What’s Wrong With the World
Oppression comes in many forms. The worst form of oppression is that which is disguised as freedom. Like men, women should be free to pursue higher education and a career if they have the means, the intelligence, and the aptitude. Yet, they too should be free to pursue motherhood and wifehood without impunity. In short, women should be free.
College enrollment rates in the US are soaring. As Matthew Lawler pointed out some weeks ago, it seems that our society has gotten to the point where one must achieve at least a Bachelor’s degree to avoid being labeled an absolute failure and have any relevance in our economy and culture. This is apparently even truer for women than it is for men. The Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that females outpace males in college enrollment. In 1994, 63% of recent female high school graduates and 61% of male recent high school graduates were enrolled in college in the fall following graduation. By 2012, the share of young women enrolled in college immediately after high school had increased to 71%, but it remained unchanged for young men at 61%.
These statistics indicate something I think many of us have felt for some time. That is, our society had systematically diminished the role of women in the home and elevated the role of women in the workplace. This is not to say that college is unimportant for a woman if she desires to be a wife and mother. It can be very important to that end, but how many women are encouraged to attend college in order to be a better more educated wife or mother? I would venture few. The real issue is that the liberation movement does not seem to have been a movement that accomplished what its proponents told us they intended. They promised freedom! Freedom and equality seem to have been trampled under foot. I do not actually believe that, on the whole, women feel free to get married young, start a family, have children, and stay home and raise those children. Rather, they are so highly encouraged to pursue higher education and a career that the “choice” to do anything else is presented as no real choice at all.
I have seen this time and again in my personal life. My wife left college when she was pregnant with our first child, Caleb. We now have three almost grown children and from Caleb’s birth forward she has both worked and not worked, though for the last 8 years she has been a stay at home mom. When she tells people that she did not finish her BA, they look at her with awe and dismay saying something like: “well now that the kids are bigger don’t you want to go back so you can get a real job?” My daughter too has faced this scorn. She is now 15, and when people ask her what she wants to major in while she is in college she will sometimes say “literature,” but other times she’ll say that she is not sure she wants to attend college. Better yet, she expresses that she wants to be a mom. I often wish I had my camera ready so that I could capture for posterity the look of horror on the faces of those interrogators of modern women’s liberation virtue.
So is the modern woman really free? I don’t think so. She will be free when she is free to choose without societal scorn or impunity what she believes is the virtuous path. Again, every woman that has the means, intellect, and aptitude ought to be free to pursue higher education and career. Yet, she too should be free to choose a husband, children, and home. For those that believe that she is able to choose both, I would encourage that they wrestle with what Chesterton’s posed at the initiation of this article. Is family life what is called a “whole time job” or a “half time job?”
As women freely make these decisions, it is my hope and prayer that they are encouraged to consider all of the facts. I will not here make the case for higher education and career as I believe that others frequently do that better than I. As for the virtue of working in the home, I think that there is much to say that is often left unsaid. The home is the place that babies are first brought home to and laid safely in their beds. The home is the place where love and care grows between husband and wife, parent and child. The home is often the place where men and women die. The home is that place where the entire drama of that thing we so cavalierly call life is acted out daily. It is not as large as an office complex on the outside, but it is much larger in its qualitative reach and scope to those whom we love. And while I would not be the fool that insinuates that it is the only place where a woman should work, I would say the home is the only place that contains the whole amalgamation of the human quality experience. As such, women should be as free to choose to head a home, as they should to be the CEO of a company. It is time that we admit that it is the home that contains the integration and absoluteness of our humanity that is simply not fashioned by any other incoherent experience within the outside workforce. As C. S. Lewis said, “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.” Being a wife and mother is honorable, and ought to be listed among those free choices, which the liberation movement sought to make available to all women.