Caricatures of women

Interesting WaPo piece by Anne Applebaum on what she calls the “motherhood debate.”  Her point is that women’s life choices — whether to work or stay home seems to be what Applebaum means — are usually not really chosen, and rarely follow directly from adherence to some ideology.  “Most such choices,” she writes, “are determined by more mundane factors, such as money.”

The motherhood debate, according to Applebaum, is a series of extreme poses struck by women who ignore this mundane reality.

In this debate, the temptation to make oneself fit into a caricature and make one’s “critics” fit into a caricature must be overwhelming, since those who enter it almost always do. In one corner, the “feminists,” with their hatred of men and their baby-free careers; in the other, the “traditional wives” with their ironing boards and their Sunday meatloaf. But do such women exist, except in television commercials for detergent or on the pages of Ms. magazine?

Fair enough.  Nobody ever lives according to an ideological template.  Still, we all try.  Why?  Ideology is another word for morality.  Morality is the ideal of the good life, to which everyone aspires.  As I have written elsewhere, the “ideal” part of morality communicates the lessons of past generations, and provides a roadmap so that every individual isn’t forced to discover her own good and evil, her own ten commandments, her own understanding of what success means in life.

Applebaum is right:  necessity trumps many choices.  But it never rules our minds.

The motherhood debate is a dispute about the good life, which for women has become a very confused subject.  The caricatures are unfortunate and unnecessary, another symptom of the superficial moment we seem to be travelling though in history.  But the debate will go on, and should.


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