In its latest piece of feminist orthodoxy, “Raising a Feminist Son,” the New York Times instructs parents how they can raise children who reject the traditional roles of men and women. The author exhorts parents to resist “gender stereotypes” in nearly all aspects of life:
- in division of work, because if mom is seen cooking and dad is seen mowing the lawn, it sends a message
- in the toys children play with, because “boys also like to play with dollhouses”,
- and even in the cartoons they watch “Why does the mother in the Berenstain Bears always wear a housecoat and rarely leave the house?”
Readers’ responses put the full thrust of feminist parenting on display. “Keep fighting to help/coerce your husband to see what is needed to build equality,” one reader encouraged. Another reader, a teacher in Michigan, described how she’d helped her students combat gender discrimination by studying Beyonce lyrics.
The movement to raise feminist children raises several important questions. Have American men, from the birth of our nation, been treating American women as inferior beings? Does America really deserve the narrative of shame propagated by the feminist movement? And what are the consequences of eliminating traditional gender roles?
Some answers are found in Alexis de Tocqueville’s landmark work Democracy in America.
On the topic of gender equality, the French political historian wrote, “There is no subject on which the coarse and disorderly imagination of our century has been given a freer rein.”
That was in 1835.
It’s difficult to imagine Tocqueville’s reaction to today’s “third wave” feminism, which conceives of gender as a fluid, seemingly limitless social construct. But with startling relevancy, Tocqueville delivers a powerful rebuttal to those who would erase the differences between women and men.
There are men in Europe who, confusing the different attributes of the sexes, claim to make the man and the woman beings, not only equal, but similar. They give to the one as to the other the same functions, impose the same duties on them, and grant them the same rights; they mix them in everything, work, pleasures, public affairs. It can easily be imagined that by trying hard in this way to make one sex equal to the other, both are degraded; and that from this crude mixture of the works of nature only weak men and dishonest women can ever emerge.
The Americans, Tocqueville says, are “in better harmony with themselves.”
Tocqueville believed that the unique roles of men and women were divinely authenticated, and that men and women maintained a deep respect for themselves, and each other, in these distinct occupations. Contrary to the prevailing feminist dogma, he thought the vast majority of men in American history did not view women as less than their equals.
American men constantly exhibit a full confidence in the reason of their companion, and a profound respect for her liberty. They judge that her mind is as capable as that of man of discovering the naked truth, and her heart firm enough to follow the truth; and they have never sought to shelter the virtue of one more than that of the other from prejudices, ignorance or fear.
Tocqueville’s American woman inspired respect because of her reason, her moral judgment, and her desire to find and follow the truth. Today’s feminist woman demands respect on the basis of her power, her fame, or her sexuality. The movement that began as a quest for equality under the law is now characterized by selfishness, intolerance, and emotionally-charged zealotry. Is this the inheritance we want to leave our children?
Just as American men did not believe they were degrading women by delegating to them the primary care of the family, the American women Tocqueville observed did not feel they were being degraded. He writes:
I did not notice that American women considered conjugal authority as a happy usurpation of their rights, or that they believed that it was degrading to submit to it. I seemed to see, on the contrary, that they took a kind of glory in the voluntary surrender of their will, and that they located their grandeur in bending to the yoke themselves and not in escaping it.
Modern feminism has convinced women that the roles of wife and mother are drudgery at best and slavery at worst. But for women in Tocqueville’s time, the sacrifices of marriage and motherhood were a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. Impressed by the queenly grace with which they nurtured their homes and families, Tocqueville—after documenting American social and political life in meticulous detail—declared that the success and prosperity of the American people was owed to the superiority of their women.
Tocqueville considered the Americans of his day to be marching with an equal step, though they marched along different paths. The roles of men and women were divided so that the greater work of society, the raising of the rising generation, could be accomplished most effectively. “Progress,” he writes, “(Does) not consist of making almost the same things out of dissimilar beings, but of having each of them fulfill his task to the best possible degree.”
On a soccer team, the goalie and the forward are equal human beings. But a wise coach places them in different roles for the good of the team as whole. One can imagine the chaos that would ensue if both players were told to guard the net and score goals simultaneously. Similarly, men and women fill different roles in the family and in society, but one is not valued over the other.
For Tocqueville, the idea that we need to raise “feminist sons” in order to have decent, compassionate men in our society is simply false. True respect for women is not feminism; it’s the Christian idea that every individual has intrinsic worth. And it flourishes in the system that did more to level the moral and intellectual playing ground between human beings than any other: American democracy.