Margaret Sanger is long gone, but her life’s work of fomenting feminist rebellion remains alive and well. We don’t need Sanger, because we have (collectively) taken up the mantle of her and her pioneering colleagues. Feminist rebellion is now a core value in the West, and as I’ve discussed previously it shows up in the most unexpected places.
Much of the problem comes from our extreme difficulty in spotting feminist rebellion in the first place. As feminist thought has taken hold across our culture, instead of becoming more vigilant to feminist rebellion we have become desensitized to it. We can now reliably spot it only in its most outlandish forms. If a woman isn’t carrying a sign in a slutwalk or doing something similar, we can’t spot the sin.
This played out recently after Donald McClarey at The American Catholic was kind enough to link to and quote one of my recent posts on Margaret Sanger. As is quite common, pretty quickly in the discussion a woman showed up reframing the absurd rebellious wife into a sympathetic character. To do this, she began by inventing an entire backstory on behalf of Sanger’s rebellious housewife:
If we can leave Margaret Sanger out of it for a moment and just focus on what this anonymous housewife reportedly said, it is quite plausible. I would think that her husband, in writing letters home, would probably leave out most of the gory details, not wanting to burden her or make her worry about his safety, and would try to focus on the positive. Plus, his letters were almost certainly censored by the military and any details that could reveal where he was fighting or the number or type of casualties his unit was suffering, or inflicting on the enemy, would have to be left out. So all that he COULD talk about, perhaps, would be stuff that would make it sound as if he were on a great adventure of some kind, and even if she knew intellectually that his job was not all “fun” she probably couldn’t help but feel a bit envious. Bear in mind, also, that gasoline rationing and car ownership not being as prevalent at that time probably meant she didn’t get out of her house or neighborhood very often. Also, we are not told why she was on the train or where she was going. It may not have been a “pleasure” trip; perhaps she was on her way to visit an ill or distressed or difficult relative.
But she was just warming up. Next she introduced a new character into the discussion, an exemplary Catholic wife who couldn’t help but feel the same way Sanger’s character did when her own husband went overseas in the military:
About 20 years ago I met a very exemplary Catholic wife, whose husband was in the military over in, I believe, Bosnia, who admitted to similar feelings of jealousy toward him at times — “you get to see the world and I’m stuck at home wiping the kids’ noses all day!” This woman was NOT naive or spoiled, she knew her husband’s job was dangerous, but she admitted to feeling that way at times.
Expertly done, but creating a feeling of sympathy and understanding for wives mired in envy of their husbands was only preparation for her next step, to propose a feminist solution for the problem of feminist rebellion. The logical solution, she explained, is for husbands with envious and rebellious wives to take over more of the child care duties:
All that said, the solution to the bored/trapped housewife’s problem was not for her to divorce her husband or abort her children, but simply for someone to give her an occasional break by offering to babysit or take her kids to the park, etc. while she did something else. If her husband were not willing to do it, a friend, relative or neighbor could have.
Note the lack of repentance here. The solution to the sin of feminist rebellion is not for the wife to repent, but for the husband to become more egalitarian. This important part tends to get lost in the emotion of the situation, as what husband doesn’t love his wife enough to help her out from time to time? But in this specific context the husband helping out with childcare isn’t about helping out a busy wife (a normal and loving thing), but catering to a rebellious wife.
After I responded pointing out the problem with her recasting the rebellious wife in the most sympathetic light possible while proposing more feminism and not repentance as the solution, she initially changed her stance. She claimed she was aware of the feminist rebellion in the wives under discussion all along. She explained that she only mentioned the Catholic housewife because it was an example of how even a very devout woman would need to resist this kind of temptation (emphasis mine):
I never said these women were right or justified in how they felt, only that I tended to believe the woman-on-the-train story COULD have actually happened, in contrast to those who suggested that Sanger probably just made it up to advance her point. The second woman I described as an “exemplary Catholic” not because her OCCASIONAL twinges of jealousy were worthy of emulation, but because she was a committed, orthodox Catholic, very involved in her parish and in the pro-life movement, and also homeschooled her older children. In other words, she was one of the last people on earth I would have suspected of being guilty of the “sin of feminist rebellion”.
But this new tack was short lived. After I challenged her a bit further and some local white knights galloped in to her defense, she doubled down on the need for more feminism, not repentance. If wives in feminist rebellion don’t have their demands met, she explained, bad things are in store for their children and husband. Focusing on repentance will only lead women to divorce, have abortions, commit child abuse, have nervous breakdowns, and develop addictions:
So giving a stay at home mom an occasional break from taking care of her kids is sinful in your book? If she’s going bananas cooped up at home, she should just “repent” of her “rebellion” and push all thoughts of having even a couple of hours to herself out of her mind? That way of thinking, sorry to say, feeds right into Sanger’s argument — that divorce, contraception and abortion are the ONLY alternative to a life of unrelieved drudgery and isolation for women.
Call it a “feminist solution” but I would think that if asking one’s husband or a friend or relative to watch the kids so you can get an occasional afternoon or evening out keeps you from having a nervous breakdown, developing an addiction, or taking out your frustrations on your kids via verbal or physical abuse, I see nothing wrong with that. If Sanger “would have approved” of this idea, well, a stopped clock is right twice a day, and a good idea doesn’t become evil just because an evil person happens to approve of it. If that were the case, we should denounce interstate highways and Volkswagens as evil because they were Hitler’s ideas.
It is important to remember that the example we are discussing is a woman with a single child who was complaining to strangers on a train about all of the “fun” her husband was having fighting in the European theater. This was a few weeks after the Normandy landings and prior to the Normandy breakout. No matter how absurd and outrageous the example of feminist envy, the lure and emotional power of rebellion can quickly carry all reason away.
Note: Donald McClarey has been a gracious host to me, and my strong preference is to keep further discussion of this here on my blog unless he indicates a desire to host it on his blog as well. I have no power to enforce this, but I ask this as a personal favor of my readers.
My other request, and something I can and will enforce, is to refrain from personal attacks against anyone participating in the discussion at The American Catholic. Disagreement is of course fine, as is pointing out what you believe is their error (and agreement is of course fine as well).