Recently, feminist author Sarrah Le Marquand made headlines when she reinvigorated a debate over motherhood. She went beyond the traditional fight for paid maternity leave, demanding that her Australian government outlaw stay-at-home mothers of school-aged children.
She writes, “Rather than wail about the supposed liberation in a woman’s right to choose to shun employment, we should make it a legal requirement that all parents of children school-age or older are gainfully employed.” She goes on to say “only when we evenly divide responsibility for workplace participation between the two genders will we see a more equitable division between men and women in all parts of Australian life.”
In an attempt to control how men and women function in society, Le Marquand wants to establish new regulations that will ensure equality. She has good reasons to be concerned. According to Pew Research Center, more women than men want to stay home with their children. And more men than women feel compelled to work to provide for their families. Only 31 percent of women who live comfortably view working full time as their ideal. And only 23 percent of married women view working full time as ideal. When given a choice, most women prefer to stay home.
This reality creates a problem for Le Marquand and other feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, who once said: “No woman should be authorized to stay home to raise her children. Women should not have that choice, because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” Both have concluded that women lack the intelligence to choose wisely. Thus, that choice must be removed.
Le Marquand argues that requiring mothers to work makes economic sense, but such thinking is woefully shortsighted. Economic value cannot be measured via the size of one’s paycheck. For example, a student who is in medical school makes very little money. Even so, the person’s earning potential will grow exponentially once he or she is out of school. Lack of gainful employment does not necessarily imply that a person is not contributing to a nation’s economic well-being.
Quite frankly, raising the next generation by ensuring that children are equipped to contribute to society and to the workforce allows the mother to do more for her nation’s well-being than her spouse does. By running her home well, she empowers both her kids and her spouse to engage society in a more meaningful manner and to work more effectively. To miss this fact is to doom your economy. The demographic disasters that are currently brewing in Japan, China, and all across Europe illustrate this point well. Maximizing a workforce solely for today at the expense of investing in future generations always has disastrous consequences.
Moreover, the equality of function that Le Marquand demands does not exist. Yes, both men and women are fully equal (Gen 1:27). Both are created in the image of God. But equality of value does not equal equality of function. Men and women function differently because they were designed differently. Women are naturally more nurturing than men; this is reflected in the fact that women’s bodies nurture their unborn children for nine months and feed their newborns for many months after birth. In addition, differences in the brain structure of men and women have shown that women have “more wiring in regions linked to memory and social cognition.” This is part of the reason why many women tend to be better at understanding the feelings of their children, and are thus more equipped to nurture them. Even those who wish to argue against the presence of these differences cannot ultimately escape them. As psychologist Emma M. Seppala concluded, “While women’s expression involved nurturing and bonding, men’s compassion was expressed through protecting and ensuring survival.” Women tend to be better equipped biologically and sociologically than men to care for their children.
As Pew Research Center discovered, most mothers will prefer being a stay-at-home mom over being a bread winner. This ability to care for the next generation does not preclude mothers from contributing directly to their nation’s economy if they so choose. But when women make the choice to focus primarily on raising the next generation, they are expressing their special and unique feminine capacity for nurturing their children. This is not a bad thing that must be legislated against. It is a natural function of femininity that should be embraced—not just for the benefit of children, but for all of society.
Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.