Opposing Suzanne Venker’s View on Women’s Happiness

Posted on February 18, 2013

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Author Suzanne Venker promotes the idea that women and men are not equal, and everyone would be a lot happier if we all just acknowledged that and went back to our old traditional roles.   Venker’s  bio page at Amazon reports that “Her roles as wife and mother make up the core of her existence–shaping her attitudes, beliefs, and several of her books. Women, according to Venker, are happiest and most satisfied when they reject the feminist creed and embrace their femininity.”

Well, well.  Here  we have another conservative woman telling every other woman out there the only right way to be happy.  “Those of us with children know better,” she writes. “We know little girls love their dolls and boys just want to kick that ball… It just means each gender has its own energy that flows in a specific direction. For God’s sake, let it flow.

Excuse me, I think I just barfed a little.

As I have written before, I never – never – was interested in dolls or babies,  and I resent the hell out of know-it-all women like Venker telling me what I like.  I am not unique, nor do I have any kind of gender disorder.  I’m a straight, married woman who simply wanted a career and did not want children.  Wake up, Ms. Venker:  this is a normal, valid choice, I am thankful to have had that choice, and I am sick of some people telling me that it was somehow “wrong.”

Ms. Venker, who says she was born in 1968, apparently slept through the 1970s, or at least has a really selective memory.   In a stunningly ill-informed statement, she writes:  “Prior to the 1970s, people viewed gender roles as equally valuable. Many would argue women had the better end of the deal!”

Really?  I don’t think so.  I was awake at the time, and recall the real attitudes of the 1970s and 1980s precisely because they chafed and insulted me so very much.  I was told repeatedly by my own young peers, their parents, my teachers, and neighbors that this or that activity, sport, or  job was not for me, because I was a girl.  I was supposed to grow up and get married, have babies, cook, set the table, wear dresses, and stay home (screw that!).  Even when I was in college in the early 1980s, I was actually told to my face – more than once – that women only go to college to find a husband.

Despite Ms. Venker’s assertions that women were equally valued, they were in fact largely relegated to a few limited, under-paid professions – nurse, teacher, secretary – which remain majority-female, underpaid professions today.  Even those who worked in “the men’s world” weren’t paid the same or promoted for the same work, because, you know, they were just going to leave and get married and have babies anyway.  It wasn’t like they were serious about their jobs, ha-ha, right?  That, ladies, was the often-touted, unapologetic “reason” routinely given for treating women like crap in the workplace, and Ms. Venker’s assertion –  that she knows that all women really want home, hearth, children, and a man to protect and provide for them – is dangerously close to that old patronizing, male-chauvinistic line.

I actually agree with Ms. Venker about a few things.  For instance, I agree that women can’t have it all.  There just are not enough hours in the day to be a fully effective mother and a fully effective careerist.  I also agree that women don’t do themselves any favors by playing fast and loose with sex.  We’re still the ones who get pregnant, after all, and no amount of social change will change biology.  But the Women’s Lib movement wasn’t about loose sex or “having it all”; it was about having choices.  Whether and whom to marry.  A career or a family.  When to have children, and how many.  It was about being equally educated, equally employed, equally paid, and equally respected no matter which choices we make.

I suspect that at the root of it all, Ms. Venker just wants someone to take care of her, provide for her, protect her, and she wants that choice to be just as valid as a career.  In a Daily Beast interview in which she tries to backpedal on some of her more controversial points, she ends up digging in deeper:  “[Women] are confusing what empowerment means. They think it’s about money and prestige, but there is a tremendous amount of empowerment in surrendering in the home and letting the man in your life be what he wants to be, which is to protect you and care for you and provide for you.”  Also:  “Women may say I really want to exercise or hang out with my friends and have coffee or go shopping and have a cushier life, and your guy will be happy to do that, and go to the office all year long for 40 years to allow you to do that. Men don’t have that option.”   Err… yes, actually, they do, and I have personally known some stay-at-home dads whose Army wives were the breadwinners.  But I digress.  For her own part, Ms. Venker seems to have found what she was looking for in her second husband, who she says enabled her to stay home for 13 years and write her books.  You go, girl!  Glad it worked out for you.  But leave me the hell out of your grand, ill-informed conclusions about what women want.  I categorically do not want and have never wanted what you so happily have.

I also suspect that Ms. Venker is envisioning a romanticized version of the past through heavily rose-colored glasses.  One deeply flawed example she gives to show just how beloved, valued, and protected women were in the glorious pre-feminist years is based on the legend of the Titanic, of all things.   “It’s hard to claim women were oppressed in a nation in which men were expected to stand up when a lady enters the room or to lay down their lives to spare women life.  When the Titanic went down in 1912, its sinking took 1,450 lives. Only 103 were women,” she rhapsodizes.  Well, numbers don’t tell the whole story, Ms. Venker, and the Titanic was the exception, not the rule.  Check out some facts:  an analysis of shipwrecks between 1852 and 2011, involving over 15,000 people, proved that women and children have the highest death rates in maritime disasters, while captains and crew have the best chance of survival.  Being a woman was a survival advantage in just two wrecks:  the Birkenhead in 1852, and the Titanic in 1912, and not because it was any kind of standard of the times; it was only because their captains so ordered it.  Indeed, aboard the Titanic, the captain and crew more or less enforced “women and children first” at gunpoint, and some men were actually shot or beaten to keep them from forcing their way into the lifeboats.  As the analysts note, the Titanic was “the last time that women benefited from the Birkenhead tradition.”  So much for that “women and children first” thing.  Ah, well, it was a  beautiful dream.

Oh, another thing about the Titanic:  the U.S. women survivors would not achieve the right to vote for another eight years.  Because, you know, they were so equally valued in their gender roles.

Related articles:

Ultraconservative Women:  Choose for Yourselves but Not for Me

I Never Wanted to Be a Mommy

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