The problem with conservatism isn’t our principles – it’s that people confuse a return to those founding principles with a return to the late 1700s social norms that were in place when the founders were alive. Take this essay from Fox News – authored by Suzanne Venker – which argues that women who work are not womanly enough for marriage, no one wants to marry them, and women should leave the workforce so that men can have their jobs back, because men should have jobs, and women should be women, and we should all just get along. She claims, “In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy.”
WHOA. Venker, though an esteemed researcher, gets conservatism all wrong. She gets women all wrong, too. We’re not angry. We’re just ambitious. And if any man can’t accept this, then how much of a man is he really?
We cannot be – nor should we be – the side that thinks women are too ambitious, too smart, or too driven. America needs all hands on deck to pull us out of this recession. Individual liberty, personal responsibility, and freedom can still work for us today. These principles are strongest when everyone, including women, participates.
This is real conservative feminism: Women have the same freedoms as men and the same responsibilities as men. Wealth is allocated according to what we do with our freedoms and how we manage our responsibilities. Gender doesn’t need to enter the equation. The Left is going to freak out about it because they think women need special government “help.” But what we’re seeing now is that it’s just not true – we aren’t some feeble, marginalized group that flounders without Big Brother.
Venker claims that men don’t want to get married because “women just aren’t women anymore.” What? That’s not a reason – it’s an excuse. Holding down a job and working really, really hard at it does not make me any less of a woman. If anything, it’s taken a college kid, put her in lipstick and pencil skirts and made her really, really appreciate the guys who hold doors when you’ve got a tote bag in one hand and a coffee mug in the other. Those guys still do exist. And I bet you that they’re not the ones making excuses.
The idea that women are crowding men out of the workforce is – to put it kindly – wrong. Men lost more jobs during the recession because our factories were hit the hardest. And who worked in those factories? Mostly men. But not to worry, they’ve bounced back: Men gained more jobs in this “recovery” than women did.
It is true that women are getting more college degrees than our male counterparts. That’s not because we are angry. It’s because you have to compete to get into college and the majority of the recent winners have been female. It is not because we are female that we have won: Competition drives the application process. Competition is what also should drive the economy. When we compete based on merit, and one team wins, all competitors improve in the process (I see you there, Adam Smith).
It is also true that division of labor within any pairing allows for maximum productivity. (Oh look, it’s Adam Smith again.) This means that when one person on the team specializes in one thing, like raising children, and the other person specializes in the other, like working in an office, the household maximizes its productivity. Now, there are certainly jobs for which women and men are each better suited. For example: It is an optimal outcome when the Victoria’s Secret Angels are exclusively women, and the NFL linebackers are exclusively male, but this kind of gender exclusivity doesn’t really exist outside of those very specific workplaces.
No one gender is entirely best at bringing home the bacon. And no gender that’s entirely better than its partner at cooking it. Throw in same-sex partnerships, which, like it or not, are a reality in this country, and you’ve got a big gender jumble in which who goes to work is determined by different talents and not by different chromosomes. Oh, and thanks to this Obama economy, it’s uncommon for households to be able to survive on one income. When mom and dad both have to work, it negatively impacts dad and kids when mom can’t get a job.
Conservatism, at its core, means equality of opportunity. We’re not there yet in this country, but we get closer every time we cut bureaucracy and improve our schools. This is, after all, what makes it easiest for more people to achieve at a high level. In a free market we all compete with one another. In a free market workers are valued for their skills, and not because of any union or demographic group they may belong to. The free market cares about cost and value. It does not care about male versus female. Venker’s “war on men” is unfounded, just like the “war on women.” It’s time for men and women on both ends of the political spectrum to call for a ceasefire.
Angela Morabito | Georgetown University | @_AngelaMorabito