Feminist Leaders Compared to Religious Right Leaders

A recent study found that the number of working women who believe that a career is as important as being a wife and mother has fallen 23 percent since the 1970s.  Apparently, women are growing more and more uncomfortable with hardcore feminism and believe that it is out of alignment with the views, values, and aspirations of ordinary women.

Let's ride the feminist wave backward a bit and revisit a few feminist icons.  How much do you know about their private lives?  As they say, "The proof is in the pudding." 

Betty Friedan - Friedan, the mother of the feminist movement, gave us The Feminine Mystique -- she called it the "problem that has no name."  That problem -- according to Friedan -- is that women are victims.  Being female means having delusions and false values and being forced to find fulfillment and identity through husbands and children.  Friedan worked nine hours a day -- declaring that being a wife and mother was "not going to interfere with what I regarded as my real life."  Even her friends describe Friedan as difficult, ill-tempered, disagreeable, ego-driven, rude, nasty, self-serving, and imperious.  Unhappily married for 21 years, her three children had to undergo therapy to deal with what was called "the emotional fallout."  She died in 2006.

Gloria Steinem - Steinem was the beauty queen of the feminist movement.  Steinem, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate, was engaged to her college boyfriend.  After breaking up with him and discovering that she was pregnant, she had an abortion.  She remained childless.  Later, Steinem founded Ms. Magazine and coined two phrases -- "reproductive freedom" and "pro-choice" -- bringing a brilliant sense of marketing to a movement that glossed over the realities of promiscuity and abortion and propelled so-called "sexual freedom" into the mainstream.  Steinem famously declared that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.  She remained single until her '60s -- when she married a divorced man with grown children, David Bale (father of Christian Bale) who died of lymphoma just three years into their marriage.

Germaine Greer - Known as the diva of feminism, Germaine Greer wrote two books: The Female Eunuch, which kick-started her fame, and The Whole Woman, which basically repudiates everything Greer said previously.  Known for her bawdy diatribes, Greer preached that sexual liberation is the path to fulfillment.  Greer has had "several" abortions, leaving her unable to have children.  Greer was married once for three weeks.  She bragged that she cheated seven times during that marriage.  More recently, and evidently desperate for attention, she stooped to becoming an apologist for female genital mutilation.  At age 60, she mused: "The finest time in your life was when you fell asleep in someone's arms and woke up in the same position eight hours later.  Sleeping in someone's arms is the prize."  But the fruit of her personal philosophy and lifestyle is that in her old age, she sleeps alone.

In stark contrast, consider two female leaders from the "Religious Right" who chose a different path from those of Gloria Steinem, Betty Freidan, and Germaine Greer.  Their circumstances were not all that different, nor were their inner drives any less compelling.  Today's young women need to hear from those who have shown that you can just about have it all, provided you have a true understanding of "all."

Beverly LaHaye - The founder of the nation's largest public policy women's organization has been honored with literally dozens of accolades (several Woman of the Year awards, Religious Freedom Award, Thomas Jefferson Award, an award from the U.S. House of Representatives for her service to the country, and the list goes on and on).  She is the author or coauthor of more than a dozen books, including several bestsellers.  She hosted an award-winning radio talk show and was interviewed on all the major television and radio outlets.  All that work, though, is secondary to her work with her husband in conducting family life seminars around the world and to her own family of four adult children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  Mrs. LaHaye has both professional accomplishments and a rich, fulfilling family life.

Phyllis Schlafly - Named one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century, Mrs. Schlafly has been a national leader in the conservative movement for over three decades.  In addition, she is an active leader in the pro-family movement.  She founded the Eagle Forum, a force for conservative causes, and she has written more than two dozen books, as well as a monthly newsletter and a weekly column that is widely published in popular outlets.  She is a frequent media commentator.  Mrs. Schafley is a lawyer by training and is admitted to the practice of law in two states, in Washington, D.C., and at the U.S. Supreme Court.  A Phi Beta Kappa graduate, she earned an M.A. from Harvard and a J.D. from Washington University Law School.  Her writing, which exposed the flaws and fallacies inherent in the Equal Rights Amendment, was instrumental in its defeat, and she wrote A Choice Not an Echo, which became a bestselling playbook for the conservative movement.  Her personal life is also full of excellence: she was married for 44 years before her husband died, and they parented six children, all outstanding professional adults.

From this brief overview, it is obvious that the things consciously motivating Beverly and Phyllis are different from those motivating Betty, Gloria, and Germaine.  You can also see the different values, priorities, and choices these women made, along with the different outcomes.  They all started out with the same hard-driving temperament, but they had different priorities and different goals.  Like the three feminists, in this country, the two conservative leaders had the freedom to make choices, to determine priorities, and to establish the beliefs and values that would guide their lives.

  • The women of the "Religious Right" chose to marry men of integrity and character and made certain that they were persons who could be trusted and respected.  Likewise, they determined to be that type of person, too.  Together, the couples made a covenant to make their marriages a priority, to put each other first, and to grow together in interests and activities.
  • Together, they made the sacrifices necessary to nurture their children, to instill values, and to develop character in them.
  • Together, they made the sacrifices necessary for both to be prepared for excellence wherever their careers took them.  They focused on service rather than power.

Somewhere along the way, feminism lost its way, and power became the "be all and end all."  The movement forgot that "having it all" included the personal dimension.  Life is not just profession and career.  Success is not measured just in paycheck, power, and status.  Feminism has lost sight of what it is that women really want.  Most women want to love and be loved.  Certainly they want the freedom to be all they can be, and they want to be treated with dignity and respect.  Obviously, they also want to contribute and to accomplish.  They want the opportunity to have meaningful careers and productive lives -- but most aren't willing for their ambition to harm their relationships or damage their children.  

I'm grateful that today, talented young women have opportunities to develop to their full potential, to achieve professional growth, and to have more flexibility than the women who preceded them.  What is needed most -- at this point in history -- is a rebalancing of the scales, so that today's young women will have the chance to revel in being feminine and to relish a fulfilling personal life.  It is appropriate for the nation to honor Women's History Month; let's pray that today's young women will take the personal and spiritual into account in defining what it means to be a woman and what it means to "have it all."

Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D. is an author, commentator, and columnist who works at Concerned Women for America.