The pursuit of women’s equality and happiness is often assumed to be closely tied to choosing work. But would it really be so bad if many mothers—who have the financial means—decide to work part-time or stay home with their children full-time once the COVID restrictions are lifted?
One of the details of George Weigel’s biography of John Paul II that has stuck with me for years is the testimony from one of the once-young people whom the young Karol Wojtyla mentored in his days as a priest. The story was that confession with Fr. Wojtyla was often painful not because he was harsh with penitents but because of his demands. When the penitent was having difficulty with some situation of temptation and asking about what to do, the young priest would say, “You must choose.” Rather than giving penitents commands, he would challenge them to Christian manhood or womanhood by making them decide for themselves what they must do in order to avoid or defeat temptation.
This was savvy not merely because it went against the grain of the clericalist mentality but because it aimed at forming adult behavior and faith. We see too little of that these days.
I was thinking about this story when I saw some comments from the journalist Emily Ramshaw, founder of The 19th, a news organization that focuses on fighting for women’s equality in all aspects of society. (The name comes from the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote.) “Suddenly, today,” she wrote in a pair of tweets on March 5:
I panicked about life inching back toward “normal.” I don’t want to travel endlessly for work. I don’t want my weekends to be over-committed with activities. I don’t want to miss bedtime with my kid. I don’t want to wear blazers—or, hell, even shoes. This year has been heartbreaking, depressing, paralyzing—in almost every way. But some things about it have also been liberating, and I have to figure out how to cling to those things in a vaccinated future—even when others expect me not to.
Some people noted that her comments were tone-deaf, to which she copped a plea in a follow-up tweet. She at least understands that her own place is a privileged one—one of the people who could just check their internet connection, keep working, drawing paychecks, and, most likely, end up richer since travel, restaurants, and other ways of spending were limited. I wish she would realize that the measures that allowed her to keep going but others to lose their livelihoods were not necessary.
But despite her own progressive views and upper-class privilege, she has recognized an aspect of the modern way of doing things that is not always healthy. She has seen that despite her success, her life was not as much fun pre-COVID as it was when she was able to work from home and be with her kids. That will soon change.
Julie Kelly, a conservative editor at American Greatness, instinctively saw this, replying on her own Twitter feed that she was seeing “lots of criticism for these tweets” but thought that the takeaway was not simply one of progressive views or privilege. “Aside from unjustified COVID panic,” she wrote, “millions of career moms realize what they’ve missed by not being home. All those moments lost you can never get back—I wonder how many women are re-evaluating their choices.” She later observed that this went for dads, too. “It’s not as if pre-COVID modern life is without criticism and reflection.”
No, it was not. Alas, I am not one of those people who believe that post-COVID life will return to normal. We have as a society now normalized the rule of “experts” over our business and daily lives to an extraordinary degree. Even if this “emergency” is finally declared finished—and my state, Minnesota, is still being ruled by the governor’s fiat under “emergency” powers despite the fact that the effect of COVID is now negligible—there will be further “emergencies” that will dictate non-democratic and non-republican rule by elites working for our “health” and “safety.” Environmental activists in the U.S. and abroad are trying to have “climate change” emergencies declared so that the president can use extraordinary powers apart from Congress. No doubt governors who have savored their absolute rule will get in on the act on the principle that we should think global-warmingly and act locally.
But on the hopeful possibility that at least some things will, as Ms. Ramshaw thinks, return to “normal,” what will she choose? Will she figure out a way to be at home with her children at bedtime? There is an irony in that her news outfit’s push for women’s equality both supports COVID restrictions and laments the fact that many women have been pushed out of the workforce during the last year by these same restrictions. And a further irony is that “normal” for the pursuit of women’s equality and happiness is assumed to be so closely tied to choosing work—even as Ms. Ramshaw recognizes the goods of family life that she now wants to keep were not compatible with that “normal.” True, some women will need to work outside the home again to make ends meet, but some will not. Would it really be so bad if many women of means—women who truly could choose whether and how much to work without undercutting the monetary needs of their families—decide that they want to keep taking time out to be with their children and maybe even have a few more?
Though Ms. Ramshaw said she was not hoping for the pandemic to continue, some of her readers discerned a desire in her for the government to keep dictating just enough so that she can stay home and put her kids to bed. It would not surprise me if that were true. Human beings, having cast off divine authority, are almost always looking for a human one to direct their paths. The irony of most progressive causes is that they are waged in the name of liberation, but their proponents and those who murmur amen do not seem free to make the choices that they actually want to make. After all, as Ms. Ramshaw wrote, “some things about” her COVID-restricted life “have also been liberating, and [she has] to figure out how to cling to those things.” A woman who wants to work part-time or stay home with her children full-time must explain her free choice to those who will judge it slavery.
I hope Ms. Ramshaw keeps up her blazerless, shoeless days and nights with her children even if restrictions supposedly justified by COVID are lifted. But in that case, she will have to listen to the advice of the Polish pope: She must choose.
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