The attack on femininity is destructive and drab. Do better.
Maiden, Mother, Matriarch
Any authentic women’s movement must acknowledge the realities of womanhood.
The modern woman considers herself unique among all women of history. Unlike her forebearers, she is ageless. She is independent. She is dominant, sexually and professionally, and in all areas she transcends the limitations once imposed, it is understood, by an evil, ephemeral, patriarchal society of the past. Through a series of ritualistic procedures, the modern woman affirms her liberation.
It seems to go without question now that all people—until the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, or perhaps until Kamala Harris said “I’m speaking”—had it wrong when it comes to women. The past, with its distinctions and definitions and hard categories, was harmful. Limits in themselves are harmful. The limitless future is female, they say, and this is good. What is female? Everything you want. Anything you can imagine.
One day, at some point, the modern (or postmodern) woman wakes up from this fantasy. She discovers that she is left with—that she has become—nothing at all.
Beginning in high school, she learned to poison her body with artificial hormones. She treated her fertility as if it was an illness, a practice that continued for the majority of her adult life. In college, she learned to laugh wives and stay-at-home mothers out of the room. She earned her stripes in the same way her male peers did. After a period of career-chasing and “partner”-chasing from one urban center to the next, she froze her eggs on the false hope, propped up by constant propaganda, that she would “start trying” at 39. Maybe 40.
Sadly, despite her trend-savvy, pioneering sense of self, this retail feminist failed to anticipate her own banality. Nobody—no one she knew—warned her she was going to hit the wall. Despite unprecedented access to knowledge (scientific, literary, carnal, whatever), despite “doing everything she was supposed to”, she failed to know herself at all.
This tragedy is now a commonplace. Women’s willfully ignorant ideas about reproductive biology are finally revealing their disastrous consequences. At long last, too late, biological truth is beginning to butt heads with myth.
Perhaps our great-great-grandmothers knew something we didn’t.
The Woman’s Journey
Womanhood was once generally understood to wax and wane through three basic phases: maiden, mother, and matriarch. Each archetype points to the next, punctuated by rites of passage. The freshly debuted maiden becomes the bride, who gives birth and then, over the course of time and a thousand little sacrifices, earns her status as the root and regent of an extended ancestral line. The queen is the lifeblood of her family, and she enjoys the status she has earned.
In this more natural progression, duty increases while freedom narrows over time. Each phase commands particular virtues corresponding to her present station in life, in order: virginity, creativity, and wisdom. These come and go like the tide. Transitions are commemorated by the loss of a good thing. But as each blessing recedes, something more metaphysically beautiful and important is revealed.
When the maiden becomes a mother, loss of innocence becomes new life. As a mother becomes a matriarch, the loss of physical beauty is leavened by the acquisition of wisdom. In the wake of a matriarch’s death there remains a legacy, a guiding example for generations to come. Each phase is dignified in its own right; each phase passes.
The forgotten ideal woman, leaning hard into whichever virtue the season requires, becomes more abundantly giving to those around her, in different ways, with each step forward. The pain of growing older is alleviated by this fact.
The Stones Cry Out
But this particular form of incremental social self-sacrifice, the inextricable throughput of the female story, is what modern woman eschews as a form of entrapment. Instead, convinced of her natural inferiority to the male, the retail feminist robs herself of domestic tranquility by pursuing what is unnatural to her. In a futile effort to maximize choice indefinitely, modern womanhood instead collapses into one permanent phase: the forever maiden.
Obsessed by the intoxicating power of “what if,” the myth of infinite variety, the seemingly limitless potential and energy of youth, and the masculine archetype of achievement, we now see legions of menopausal women, would-be grandmas, paying doctors to stretch and staple their faces back over their bones, as if to convince themselves and the world that they are still nubile maidens, and that their societal value as such has not expired—as if to remember a time in life when she felt needed. We see mothers achieving the proscribed 1.5 children (rounded down) but going no further, having determined it is more economically and professionally expedient to outsource homemaking. The majority of employers also expect them to return to work 10-14 days postpartum. Husbands are passively satisfied. We see maidens self-immolating under the pressure of the modern lifescript and never becoming mothers at all.
Seasons are created to pass. When we attempt to preserve artificially what naturally expires we destroy its potency. This quest for endless leverage becomes the quiet tragedy of life for Woman under the current conditions: she finds herself in a state of constant misalignment. The degree to which she defies her feminine nature corresponds to her unhappiness. Therapy helps, but not enough.
The traditional conception of womanhood not only makes sense on the basis of reason; it also, when widely understood to be true and shared openly and intergenerationally between women, offers girls a lifescript they can actually, happily, follow. Put simply, the most charitable thing you can offer a modern girl is an honest, positive account of her unique nature. If an authentic women’s movement is to account for real women’s real interests, it must be unafraid to generalize on these terms. For whether it is articulated and channeled or disdained and suppressed, the reality of natural sex will assert itself—even to the modern woman. Even if she refuses to listen.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.