Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Conflicting Ideas On Modern Feminism


Earlier this year, my next guest made headlines at the Conservative Political Action Conference when she challenged Conservatives about their indifference to women's issues.


MONA CHAREN: I'm disappointed in people on our side...


CHAREN: ...For being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women.

MARTIN: That's Mona Charen. She is a conservative columnist, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. But lest you think Mona Charen's main focus is the failings of Conservatives, think again. Her latest book takes aim at feminism. It's called "Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch With Science, Love And Common Sense." She was kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C., to talk to us about her latest book. Mona, thanks so much for joining us.

CHAREN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: But we also invited another big thinker about women's issues to join our conversation. Hanna Rosin is the co-host of NPR's Invisibilia podcast. She's also the author of "The End Of Men: And The Rise Of Women," which made a big splash when it was published in 2012. And that book argued that women have pulled ahead of men in the classroom and on the job and that traditional gender norms in America are changing rapidly. And Hanna Rosin is also with us in Washington, D.C.

Thank you so much for coming as well.


MARTIN: So before we dive in, one of the reasons we invited you both here is that I've read both of your books. And although you come to different conclusions about the meaning of these big changes in women's lives about the - perhaps the cause of these changes in women's lives - you know, changes in the way they relate to men, approach the workforce, think about things like their own sexuality - the reality of it is you both agree that a major change is taking place and you've noticed some similar things.

So I'm going to start by asking you, Mona, since your book just came out, is there a problem? And if so what is the problem?

CHAREN: There are enormous numbers of problems. And I was hoping, with this book, to restart a conversation about the mistakes that feminism made. Obviously, the gains of feminism are obvious, and all reasonable people agree women should be full legal, moral, ethical and every other way equals of men, and women should earn the same and so on and so forth. But where I believe feminism took a couple of very disastrous wrong turns was in rejecting the family as antithetical to women's interests and in endorsing the sexual revolution, which turned out to be less than satisfactory for women, and actually, we're now seeing has very, very baleful consequences for men as well.

MARTIN: Talk a little bit more, if you would, about your sort of core thesis here because I do want to establish for people that you're not saying that women shouldn't be able to get a credit card in their own name.

CHAREN: No, of course.

MARTIN: So I just want to be very clear that that's not what you're saying.

CHAREN: No. So I join others in calling myself, I suppose, an equity feminist, believing in full equality between the sexes, but I don't necessarily agree that we are the same. We're not. We have important differences. And many of the choices that women freely make tend to get attributed to lingering prejudice - glass ceilings, leaky pipelines and that sort of thing - whereas I think women make choices about prioritizing their families that ought to be upheld and honored and not denigrated. And we shouldn't see it as a problem that those are the choices women in wealthy countries freely make.

MARTIN: And what is the problem that you see overall?

CHAREN: There isn't just one, but to cite probably the most societally important one it is the collapse of intact families that is having quite negative impact on those who are less educated. College graduates and beyond are tending to act in the same ways socially more or less that they did in the 1950s. But people with lesser education, for them, marriage is no longer the norm, and even to suggest that it ought to be because it's the royal road out of poverty is seen as somehow backward or antifeminist. And my point is, no, it's not.

It's really important for people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum - for them even more than people at the upper end - to have those intact families that are the cradle of good habits, good character, good upbringing. And for boys in particular, we are now - the social science is showing us that boys who are raised in single-parent families suffer even more than girls. They are less likely to be employed, less likely to go to college, less likely to have ties to their communities and more likely to have drug and alcohol problems than their sisters who grew up in the same kinds of environments.

MARTIN: So, Hanna, let's turn to you. Your book, "The End Of Men," includes some of the same observations about women's behavior - the hookup culture specifically. So the first question to you, though - is there a problem, though, that needs to be addressed?

ROSIN: Well, so it's funny. Listening to you talk about the symptoms, I pretty much agree with all of them - like, all the symptoms you laid out are there. I just don't agree about the diagnosis. Like, I don't think feminism caused - I don't even think feminism caused the sexual revolution. We've been through an inevitable age of self-expression and personal fulfillment, and feminism is a part of that. But men drove the sexual revolution as much as women did. So I just can't put those links together. Like, feminism happened; families broke apart is not, to me, the history of the last 40 years. And therefore, we disrespect women's choices to stay home. So it's more like I see the symptoms, but I don't - I can't follow the whole sort of chain of analysis.

MARTIN: So let me ask you about happiness because one of your core arguments, Mona, is that women are less happy than they were 40 years ago.

CHAREN: They are less happy than they were 40 years ago, according to the General Social Survey. And they are less happy than their mothers or grandmothers were at the same stage of life. Now, this is a datum. You - it may have many causes, and I don't presume to know the answer, but I will give an answer. And I will say that what we know about women across the board from many other sources - how they behave when it comes to spending their money, how they vote, how they respond to polling questions. What does this all add up to? Women crave security.

And what is the big thing that women have lost in the last 40 years? Security. It is much less likely that a woman now is protected against the vicissitudes of life if she does not have the security of marriage and a home and a society that is supportive of women's needs. And saying we want more radical independence is a feminist idea that may have appeal to an elite few. But for most women, that doesn't fulfill their basic needs. They want security and love and home and hearth and a job and equality, and those things have become harder to obtain.

MARTIN: Well, here's where I want to go back to the happiness question. Mona was asking are women - she's saying women are less happy today than they were 40 years.

ROSIN: I have a couple things to say about that. Everybody measures less happy except black women, I would say, in the - so hats off to that. That is the truth in the statistics.

CHAREN: It is true.

ROSIN: I can't explain that to you, but that's the truth.

MARTIN: I could.

ROSIN: Everybody measures less happy. I would chalk that up to a lot of things, one of them being is that we are a lot more attuned to how we are feeling than we were in the '50s and '60s. So children measure less happy. Teenagers measure less happy. And I think that's because that's how we talk now. And so when you give somebody a survey, their image management and their self-expression - everybody in America is less happy than they were.

MARTIN: Well, I want to give Mona the last word because it's her book. But, Hanna, did you have prescription in your book? You were observing some similar things about the changes in the culture and the way women and men kind of live in the world but with a particular focus on the United States. Do you have a prescription?

ROSIN: My feeling is you can never go backwards. So whenever I read things that say, like, just do it like how he did it before. Like, when in history has that ever been the way we did it? I think that you have to be sort of more creative and imaginative about what you consider a family, for example. That's one thing you could do without saying, like, everybody has to be married the way upper-class people are married. It's like, look, people are changing. Self-expression, personal fulfillment is the way that we are constructed now, so let's work within the boundaries of who you realistically are and create equal opportunity for people in the way that they want to live.

MARTIN: Mona, final thought for you.

CHAREN: Yeah. So, first of all, I would say I would completely endorse the idea that we should no longer have the expectation that everybody will marry or that everybody will have children. That's freeing, and that's good. On the other hand, the idea that to say marriage is incredibly important for social cohesion and for personal happiness and for the welfare of children is somehow going back, when, at this very moment, the educated classes are doing exactly that. You know, tell all those doctors and lawyers and accountants that they're living in the 1950s when they have these nice, solid families and these secure futures because they are following a life script that leads to those things.

And so my prescription would be that we have a huge movement, a social movement maybe not unlike Mothers Against Drunk Driving, where we make it clear that the success sequence in life is finish high school, get a job, get married before you have your first child, and you will not be poor, and your children will thank you for it.

MARTIN: That's Mona Charen. She's a conservative columnist and author of the new book, "Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch With Science, Love And Common Sense." Also with us - Hanna Rosin. She's the author of "The End Of Men: And The Rise Of Women." She co-hosts the Invisibilia podcast on NPR. And they were both kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C.

Thank you both so much for speaking to us.

ROSIN: Thank you.

CHAREN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.