‘Freedom Feminism’ and the Pursuit of Happiness

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My latest article published at Oklahoma’s free-market think tank, The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs here.

With 70 percent of women now in the workforce, at first glance the audience might seem enormous for the recent bestselling career book Lean In, in which author Sheryl Sandberg discusses perceived roadblocks women face in their careers.

Sandberg herself is a Harvard-educated woman who before the age of 30 had followed her economics professor Larry Summers to the World Bank and then served as his chief of staff when he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury. She helped start Google and is currently second in charge at Facebook, serving as chief operating officer. For the .001 percent of women like herself who are Ivy League-educated and determined to reach the highest levels of business leadership in their professional lives, she has much to teach.

However, to the majority of women what she offers is her plan to compete with men to reach the corner office—which is squarely at odds with what most women say they want for themselves.

In a 2013 national poll on parenthood, the Pew Research Center asked mothers and fathers to identify their ideal work arrangement. A full 61 percent of mothers said they would rather work part-time or not at all while 75 percent of fathers preferred full-time work. Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points to similar results found by sociologist Catherine Hakim at the London School of Economics when she studies the preferences of women and men in Western Europe.

In a recent article, Sommers said the progressive feminist movement views these choices as “evidence of entrenched sexism and internalized oppression.” She continues, “The National Organization of Women points to ‘persistent stereotypes’ and ‘myriad forms of sexism’ that ‘steer’ women to particular paths and family roles.”

In an interview on 60 Minutes, Sandberg opined that the greatest threat to a woman’s career is that point in a woman’s life when she is considering having children. She says it is at this point that women tend to stop aggressively pursuing more challenging tasks in their jobs, and that this is when they should “lean in” instead of check out for mommy duty.

Sandberg even contradicts herself when asked if she feels guilty about her decisions. To lend credibility to the content of her book, she should definitely say “no.” Instead, she says all women feel guilty about the professional decisions they make and this is a fact of life that doesn’t afflict men. That feeling is one that progressive feminists would have us women ignore. However, when a woman like Sandberg, who has written an entire book supporting progressive feminist ideology, publicly admits that even she feels guilty, we have a problem with how American culture perceives the role of women and work.

The progressive feminist agenda pits women against men as they vie for the same jobs as men. The assumption is that men and women are interchangeable. Those who are in traditional marriages are told that domestic duties should be equally shared. This is a necessity in Sandberg’s eyes as well. According to her, studies show that a wife’s estimation of her husband’s sexiness increases if he does the laundry. Perhaps this is true; however, what doesn’t correlate with Sandberg’s prescriptions for women’s success and happiness is the evidence of what women themselves are saying about the type of work arrangements they prefer and the professional fields they are actually pursuing.

According to Sommers, women remain far more likely to enter fields like teaching, child care, social work, nursing, and pediatrics. Men are far more likely to be engineers, auto mechanics, metallurgists, and construction workers. As Sommers rightly questions: “Are these trends the result of sex discrimination, hostile environments, or invisible barriers—as gender activists never tire of saying? They could be. But isn’t it possible that in the pursuit of happiness, men and women take somewhat different paths?”

We are not a genderless society. The evidence is clear that women and men prefer different occupations and different work arrangements (full-time, part-time, stay-at-home). Sommers says that feminism needs to be redefined, and I agree with her. She has coined the term “freedom feminism.”

“Freedom feminism stands for the moral, social, and legal equality of the sexes—and the freedom of women to employ their equal status to pursue happiness in their own distinctive ways,” she says. “Freedom feminism is not at war with femininity or masculinity and it does not view men or women as opposing tribes.”

What I value about this type of reform of progressive feminism is that if offers us a feminism that affirms a woman’s moral compass and personal liberty.

photo by: Morning theft

Reducing College Costs Is Crucial for Families

Graduation Girl

My latest article published at Oklahoma’s free-market think tank, The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs here.

I recently attended a lecture where a gentleman discussed how my kids could obtain a college degree by age 18 at a fraction of the cost of attending a traditional university. So, not only would they have an additional four years of earning potential, I might save up to $116,000 per child (as the estimated costs to attend a private college are around $33,000 per year).

I immediately started thinking how families might adjust their decision-making if they knew about this option when planning for their children’s futures. Because right now, there are certainly many problems with the traditional way of financing a college education and the corresponding results we’re seeing in the economy.

Consider: two-thirds of the class of 2011 hold student loans upon graduation, with the average borrower owing $26,600. Moreover, as Mitt Romney pointed out on the campaign trail last year, more than 50 percent of college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. It’s clear that the higher education system is broken.

There are numerous reasons for this, of course, but one is administrative bloat. A 2010 Goldwater Institute study found that between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at the University of Oklahoma grew by 52 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research, or service only grew by 26 percent.

Fortunately, there are some things we can do as parents to help our children obtain a college degree without being beholden to the current failed system. As I mentioned, I had the pleasure of listening to the CEO of an organization which helps high-school students earn college credit for the courses they’re already taking through CLEP exams and community college courses. The high-school students then finishes earning the credit for their B.A. degree through an accredited college for the final 12 to 18 months of their high-school experience. In addition to the unbelievable savings that can be realized, this type of option, over time, could change behavior to the extent that it impacts family formation.

Few people disagree that children have become more and more costly since World War II. Outside of providing necessities, it is the cost of daycare and education that most heavily weighs on a married couple’s assessment of the financial impact of having additional children.

As OCPA research fellow Vance Fried has been pointing out, there are encouraging signs all around that college is about to become drastically cheaper—so much so that a mother may choose more time with her children over more paid hours at work because the financial stress of paying for her child’s education has been significantly lifted. Additionally, couples may choose to have an additional child because they can now afford the education for that child. A potential savings of $100,000 per child is nothing to scoff at—it could significantly alter fertility.

Let’s consider the tradeoffs that women must make. With 70 percent of women in the workforce, most women must choose which domestic and child-rearing duties can be outsourced and which duties simply cannot be provided given their finite amount of time to be divided between their job and domestic life. Ultimately, women have a finite amount of time to allocate between their job, a husband, children, and leisure. How women value these things is what has changed over the last 40 years, albeit partly because of the increasing cost of educating a child.

These choices or tradeoffs women have to make are never easy and are often accompanied with regret, as evidenced by even the most successful women in America. Three very successful women, two of whom are very much in the public eye and among the first women to reach the highest level of their professions, have said things that contradict their public image as liberals and feminists.

Take, for example, Katie Couric, who browbeat the former Alaska governor (and mother of five) Sarah Palin with respect to her foreign-policy acumen. Couric told Good Housekeeping last year: “I love being around my kids. I’m not a particularly solitary person … I like a big, chaotic household—noise, commotion, laughter! Sometimes I think I should have had six kids. Or I wish I’d had one [more] at 37, but I was busy. My career.”

Another public personality, and the first female Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, made this statement: “We are who we are and, in large part, who we are is dictated by our biology. I believe women can do everything. They just can’t do it all at the same time.”   There again is the mention of a woman’s tradeoff between excelling in her job versus rearing children.

Finally, Erin Callan, the former chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers, recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Times admitting the great regret she has with regards to pouring herself into her work at the expense of her marriage, which ended in divorce and zero children. “I have spent several years now living a different version of my life, where I try to apply my energy to my new husband, Anthony, and the people whom I love and care about,” she wrote. “But I can’t make up for lost time. Most important, although I now have stepchildren, I missed having a child of my own. I am 47 years old, and Anthony and I have been trying in vitro fertilization for several years. We are still hoping.”

There is discontent among women who have to sacrifice time with their family for their jobs—even at the very highest levels of success. Family finances have a mammoth impact on a married couple’s decision to have an additional child.

The significant decline in the cost of college, over the long run, might bridge the financial gap needed for married couples to increase fertility.

photo by: BdwayDiva1

Young Women Switch Focus From Career to Finding a Life Partner

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This just makes sense. More about women paying attention to family–in the WSJ. There are consequences for not having as many kids as WWI and WWII generations as well as outsourcing our domestic duties for the kids we do have. Most people think the WW2 generation was one of our greatest generations–doesn’t that perception have something to do with their attitudes about family ?