Gloria Steinem: Women Need Men to ‘Have an Equal Role in Parenting’

From the “Truth is Stranger than Fiction” Department comes this article (Sydney Morning Herald, 11/16/10).  It’s very strange for one reason and only slightly so for another.

The article is about a speech by Gloria Steinem.  Who’s she speaking to?  A conference of professionals on eating disorders, that’s who.  Why’s that strange?  Because Steinem is the one who famously informed us in 1992 that, in the United States, some 150,000 women and girls die of anorexia each year. 

Now anyone who took even a casual glance at that number would sense something amiss.  After all, 150,000 deaths would put anorexia third behind only heart disease and cancer as the leading causes of death for all people.  If the figure were accurate, anorexia would lead stroke, respiratory illness and accidents as causes of death.

But maybe Steinem was just speaking off the cuff and simply misspoke; maybe she made the kind of error anyone is liable to make in extemporaneous speech.  Nope.  The claim appeared in Steinem’s book Revolution from Within.  As such, it was consciously stated.

And of course it bore no resemblance to the truth, which was that, according to the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association, 54 deaths occurred from anorexia nervosa in 1991, the year before Steinem’s book appeared.  In short, Steinem was off by a factor of over 2,700. 

This is the woman who’s lecturing a conference on eating disorders.

What’s more important and only marginally less surprising is that Steinem has finally come to understand what countless others have known for a long time – that women cannot “have it all.”  By that she means that working full-time, having a career and being a full-time mother are incompatible; one must give way to the other, at least in part.

Now, women and men who are less privileged than Steinem needed no convincing; they understand the concept of tradeoffs – more time with your children means less time at work, and vice versa.  Why it took Steinem decades to grasp what should have been obvious all along is likely an outgrowth of two things, elite status and a none-too-secret agenda.

That feminists like Steinem see the world through the lens of their own elite status is news to precisely no one.  Feminists like bell hooks have been harping on that for many years; African-American feminists, shut out of the movement for suffrage by their more affluent, white sisters found it out long before hooks was even born.  Sojourner Truth’s question “Ain’t I a woman?” is no less important today than it was when she rattled a group of mostly white well-heeled feminists in Toledo, Ohio.

As if to make the point, Steinem spoke about “the ethic where a size zero and plastic surgery is the admirable norm.”  Face it, for about 95% of women, that ethic, if it even exists, is simply irrelevant to their lives.  Size zero clothing and plastic surgery might be pressing issues for Steinem and her friends; for most women they’re not.

So, in the first place, the concept of “having it all” was always and still is an idea promulgated by a privileged few.  Feminists who waxed poetic on the glories of paid work ignored the large majority of women for whom work was not a liberating choice but an everyday requirement of life.

If “having it all” meant both work and children, with dad shoved to the curb along with the rest of the oppressive patriarchy, how did feminists believe they would avoid the tradeoff so many women found to be necessary?  That’s where the scarcely disguised agenda came in. 

Reading the words of certain feminists past, it’s hard to avoid concluding that what they really aimed at was the state’s replacing the father in family life.  If not the state directly, then state-funded childcare would do nicely.  The feminist ideal of which Steinem spoke was one in which women, either single or in same-sex pairs, gained the freedom and power that a self-sufficient income provides.  State-subsidized childcare would nurture the kiddies during the day and Mom would have them at night.  The perfect man-free world.

Steinem now calls that notion a myth, which means she’s finally caught up with so much of the rest of humanity in understanding the many flaws in the concept of “having it all.”  Writing men out of the script of family life turned out to be harder than those feminists thought.

I suppose that’s why Steinem seems to admit that fathers actually need to be part of the cast.

Steinem told the group of several hundred attendees, many of them psychologists, physicians and nutritionists, that women cannot “have it all” unless and until men have an equal role in rearing children.

Thank you, Ms. Steinem, for finally figuring out the truth of what fathers’ rights advocates have been saying for many years now.  The state will not replace us; for most women, single motherhood is not liberation but its opposite; children need two parents, not just one; women, at least straight ones, are safer, more secure, healthier and happier in relationships with men than they are without.

And women (and men) with children have a very hard time achieving their best in their careers if they don’t have a partner who at least helps with the children.  The more men can care for children, the more women can succeed at work. 

She didn’t say it in so many words, but it’s beginning to look like Gloria Steinem agrees with fathers’ rights advocates.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but there it is.  Maybe the next thing we read Steinem will be espousing family court reform to achieve the equal parenting she already supports.

Yes, I’d be surprised if that happened, but, as I said before, truth is stranger than fiction.

Thanks to Don for the heads-up.

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