Our friends at The Imaginative Conservative have unearthed a 1998 essay by the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, in which she ponders the effects of feminism (both good and bad) on the family.
“On the positive side of the ledger,” Fox-Genovese writes, “women’s political activism of the past few decades has decisively improved the independence and dignity of women as individuals. Women today enjoy opportunities to fulfill their talents, attain an education, pursue a career, run for and win political office that most of our mothers and grandmothers could not have dreamed of.”
Specific feminist victories included “a married woman’s right to own property in her own name” and later “no-fault divorce, recognition of marital rape, and other forms or assistance for the wives of abusive husbands.” As she points out, few would now “dispute the positive value of these and related changes, but some are also beginning to worry that they have come at an exorbitantly high price”—that is, the dissolution of the family.
Although she criticizes many aspects of twentieth-century feminism, she does not consider conservatives above reproof:
Conservative women . . . often campaign vigorously for “family values,” but more often than not they show no inclination to pay for services that might help less affluent Americans to hold families together. For better or worse, we have moved well beyond the point at which it is realistic simply to exhort people to do the right thing. . . . We may reasonably assume that without substantial support and incentives neither marriages nor two-parent families will regain their standing as foundational social institutions.
In light of today’s growing marriage gap between rich and poor (and the many social problems to which it contributes), promoting marriage seems even more crucial than when Fox-Genovese was writing. Incidentally, research does support her argument that merely telling poor people to get married is unlikely to restore the institution.
In any case, I’d urge you to read the whole piece.