Biology, Destiny and “Having It All”
In case you’ve missed it, there’s been a lot of talk about the life of a working mom lately and it hasn’t all been pretty. Snowballing the latest conversation on “The Mommy Wars” was this month’s cover story in The Atlantic, leading to an overnight avalanche of responses and rebuttals to Ann-Marie Slaughter’s personal experience and social observations. The successful career woman’s decision to step away from her demanding D.C. job in order to meet the demands of her family signified far more than a working woman’s career change; instead it conceded the ineffectiveness of an entire worldview: “The feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet.” Slaughter’s story revealed that despite dramatic social changes occurring within her lifetime, women find themselves stuck in a society where they still can’t “have it all” in comparison to men’s ability to achieve a work-life balance. She notes that men are “still socialized” to believe they are the family’s primary financial providers and women to believe they are the family’s primary caregivers. Full-time working men are “routinely praised” for putting work ahead of family and while full-time working women still pull a “second shift” at home full of domestic responsibilities and chores.
Some criticized Slaughter’s reasoning for leaving the workplace as undermining social progress, others attempted to defend their work-life juggling act. Still another made the point that men can’t “have it all” either – in fact, no one can. The problem of inequality has shifted focus from the workplace to the home. But the proposed solution is still the same. One responder commented, “The problem isn’t that women are trying to do too much, it’s that men aren’t doing nearly enough.”
But the issue of “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” seems to pose a much deeper and subtler question – so deep that it underlies her entire article and so subtle that it’s never explicitly stated: Does having children hold women back? According to women like Ann-Marie Slaughter, only if your society has conditioned you to believe that you are the primary caregiver. And, for Slaughter, as well as many other feminists in the workplace, fixing these gender-gap distinctions involves one of the final frontiers to be conquered, one that, no matter how many opportunities for education and career exist for women today, continues to perpetuate their work-home predicament: Social Policy.
Here’s what Slaughter said about the need for public policies and societal reform for working women: “If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women.” Another feminist writer, criticizing much of Slaughter’s perspective, wrote that “If we accept the gendered narrative that says women do care, work, and stay-at-home because it’s fulfilling—rather than because it’s necessary—then we support the idea that it’s women, not men, who should be doing the bulk of domestic work and that we need no policies to support us. Because, hey, taking care of our kids is reward enough!” Whether it’s adapting career demands to accommodate working from home, or adjusting our perspective on women who take career breaks to raise their children then jump back into the workplace, the underlying need for women in the workplace is a change in society that is achieved through legal means.
Slaughter and her colleagues aren’t the first to pinpoint public policy as women’s solution to inequality.
In fact, their proposed solutions date back to an era before the feminist movement even began – back when TV moms wore pearls to vacuum the house and many women were still first generation voters. The French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote a seminal work on gender issues called The Second Sex. DeBeauvoir claimed that women were slaves to their reproductive roles, claiming that “Biology Equals Destiny.” While males had the liberty of siring a child with no biological consequences, females were left with aftereffects of conception – pregnancy, nursing, the social expectation to rear their children, not to mention the hormonal and physical effects of reproduction and menopause. Since women have defined themselves in relationship to men, their biology has been used to confine them to domestic roles.
For DeBeauvoir, a woman who is confined to the home is denying herself of things that she would otherwise be accomplishing if she weren’t subservient to the demands of marriage and maternity.
DeBeauvoir’s solution? Liberate woman from the effects of her own reproductive role, making the results of her sexuality (pregnancy, breastfeeding, maternity, child-rearing) as distanced from the female as it is from the male. How? Social Policy. Just as a man has the freedom to fulfill his role in reproduction (conception) with its effects happening outside of himself and left to a woman (pregnancy), a woman ought to be able to fulfill her role in conception (pregnancy) with its effects happening outside herself and left to the State, through either legalized abortions, socialized childcare…or some form of social policy. For both pre-feminists like Simone de Beavoir and modern-day feminists like Ann-Marie Slaughter, the solution is ultimately for greater government regulation. And for the modern-day feminists, like the pre-feminists, that means a form of socialism, ironically placing their individual’s rights in the hands of governmental control.
So why would this tidbit of gender studies matter to you?
First, we need to recognize the grains of truth in these cultural messages. Our feminist friends are right in their belief that parenting is not a gender-specific role. God’s Word is clear that both mothers and fathers have equal parenting responsibilities. But , we must remember that equal responsibility does not mean having identical responsibility. Proverbs 31 shows a productive, business-savvy woman whose activities outside the home were for the benefit of her home. Titus 2 connects whether we keep our homes as our first priority to whether God’s Word is discredited in our lives. Does biology equal destiny? No…but it certainly does help us define it.
Kay Arthur said it this way: “Like it or not, God has ordained that the home is the domain of the woman and that she is to be the worker of the home, and she is to be the keeper of the home.” In our opportunity-filled world each of us must determine what that work/life balance looks like for our personal lives. But whether married or single, with or without children, the priority we give to that microcosm of culture called “the home” reveals whether our hearts are in line with God’s purpose for us. And this purpose is incongruent with the message that, “You should be able to have a family if you want one—however and whenever your life circumstances allow—and still have the career you desire.” (Slaughter)
Can a woman with children work outside the home? Sure! The glaring question behind the “Mommy Wars” is Why? Is it because the idea of a job outside the workplace (a.k.a. the home), even for a few years, is personally unfulfilling or considered “unsuccessful”? Or is it because the best way you can care for those in your home is to be in the workplace and provide for them? And to the single working moms out there reading this, you’re doing just that! You are the heroine juggling lunch-boxes and bills, board meetings and PTA meetings, all with little-to-no help. Without knowing anything about your personal life, my guess is you’re doing it all for your family.
Second, on a more global note, we must be aware of the social undercurrent that accompanies a campaign for social policies in the workplace. None of Slaughter’s ideas for workplace reform are negative – in fact, changing the work-culture to allow more family time is a wonderful suggestion. But you and I must be cautious of solutions that point to policy change as our social savior. It’s the same line of thinking that leads to other government regulations on our personal lives and religious institutions…like a law-defined right to affordable health care – even if that health care comes with conviction-defying strings of providing abortifacient drugs attached to it. In discussing any social policy promising to regulate our cultural challenges, we’d better read the fine print.
Can we “have it all?”
I guess that all depends on the “all” that we believe is worth having. Even a successful career woman like Ann-Marie Slaughter acknowledged that it’s not about women “having it all” but “valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.” Perhaps that’s because no matter how career-driven we women may be, our souls are hard-wired to fulfill our created purpose and our families will always come first. At some point in each of our lives, whether we’re stay-at-home moms, working moms, single moms, married women, or single women, you and I will probably come to a place where we have to ask ourselves: “Who does The Lord want me to be? What does that look like for my life? Am I willing to give up what is necessary in order to fulfill His purpose for me?” As His heir, you already possess all that is worth having in Christ (Rom. 8:17). It may not be what the world would call “having it all” but it will be to the glory of the One who is worthy of all of our lives!
Katie McCoy is pursuing a Doctorate in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary. When she’s not studying for her classes (a rare occasion!), she loves hanging out with friends, eating sushi, learning new words and is currently a political news junkie. Connect with Katie on Facebook or Follow her Twitter!