A new kind of feminism

Hedge fund billionaire, Paul Tudor Jones, was recently put in the doghouse for stating the obvious: so long as women continue to have babies, there will be more male than female hedge fund traders. The comment that really got him in trouble was this one: “As soon as that baby’s lips touch that girl’s bosom, forget it.” (If this rubs you the wrong way, read the full context of his remarks.)

Contrary to the uproar, I didn’t find myself offended by his remarks at all. I agree that women should be taken seriously and thought of as capable and relevant, and I also agree that women should be paid the same amount of money as men for the same work done, but does anyone really believe that something as significant as giving birth to a helpless and dependent infant isn’t going to affect a woman’s performance in the workplace? Where is the headline? What is the surprise here? More importantly, why is what he said so offensive? When I read his words I actually thought, Wow. Here’s a man with the guts to say the truth. Motherhood trumps career. Motherhood is such a beautiful and powerful thing that it overpowers everything else–as it should.

I know that what I’m saying here is part the “problem” according to some people. And it’s true, I’m not one of those women who believes that having a baby won’t affect a woman’s ability to perform in the workplace to one degree or another. There are many who contend a woman can balance career and family, and strive to prove that very thing by stretching themselves to the breaking point. (I’ve heard the mantra: Lean in.) I don’t disagree that a woman should be able to try to find the perfect work/life balance if that’s what she really wants. I’m just in the camp that believes that most of us really can’t “have it all”. There are only so many hours in a day and so much energy to go around, and then something’s gotta give. Especially when babies are involved, and especially if you are a hedge fund trader. (There are much more family friendly career choices.)

Again, why is a woman shifting her laser focus from hedge fund trading over to the bonding process with her offspring considered a bad, weak thing in the first place? I’m just so tired of the implied message that comes from some men and women that the natural feelings and experiences of a mother who has just given birth are something to be overcome or pushed aside as quickly as possible so she can get back to something more “important”. (Or should I say impressive?) This applies to both the women who want to go quickly back to work as well as the mothers who “stay home” but would rather do just about anything (go to the gym, shop, run the PTA) than stay home. When will we start to see a feminist movement that promotes the idea that a woman’s greatest power is actually found in her motherhood? One of my all-time favorite quotes on motherhood comes from Neal A. Maxwell, a notable religious figure who was also an accomplished educator:

“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”

When people argue that this way of thinking or talking is hurling women back to the 1950’s, I wonder what they mean. I wish I could get a bullhorn and scream from the housetops that the problem with motherhood in the 50‘s wasn’t motherhood itself, but how men and women viewed motherhood. If we lived in a culture that viewed motherhood as Neal A. Maxwell did, then men wouldn’t see their work outside the home as more important than the “woman’s work” done in the home, and the women who do a mother’s work in the home (again, both working as well as stay-at-home moms) wouldn’t see motherhood as a prison, but as a place to provide a safe harbor, a school, and a lighthouse for the future leaders of the world.

To be brutally honest, I couldn’t care less about “equal” opportunity. I’m much more concerned about equity. It makes no more sense to treat men and women the same than it does to treat each of my children the same. Men and women have inherent differences just as all individuals do, and there is a whole heck of a lot of difference between the ability of a woman who has just had a baby to focus 100% on her career, and the ability of a man to do the same when he either doesn’t have a baby or he has a wife at home functioning as the primary caregiver. That’s just common sense.

Even if a woman has a husband or caregiver taking care of her baby at home full-time, I still believe it is difficult for her to turn off the natural instincts that kick in after giving birth. And again, there is nothing wrong with that. To say that a woman’s primary focus may temporarily shift from her career to her baby for a few years after giving birth is not a bad, insulting thing. It doesn’t mean she is less capable, it just means she is shifting her focus. This happens to both men and women at various times during their careers. Health concerns, moving, or suddenly having to care for an aging parent all act the same way. Having a baby is just one more major life change that will naturally affect a woman’s ability to focus completely on her work. And the fact that Mr. Jones treats this natural phenomenon more like a compliment than an insult is a credit to him, which is why I really don’t understand the controversy.

I know not all feminists agree with those who criticized Mr. Jones. I am grateful there are many types of feminists, including those who support motherhood as a valid career choice. That’s what feminism should really be about, right? Being able to choose your own path? Dictionary.com calls feminism “the doctrine advocating that social, political, and all other rights of women should be equal to those of men” and the Urban Dictionary defines it as “the belief that women are and should be treated as intellectual and social equals to men.” Call me crazy, but these definitions actually seem quite broad. So broad, in fact, that they could support the smart, competent, and well respected hedge fund trader who chooses to focus on her baby more than her job for a few years or maybe even until her children go to college!

The fact is, women can pursue various dreams at different stages in their lives, and there is nothing wrong with focusing primarily on motherhood when there are babies and young children in the home. To that point, I love how some mothers and fathers are getting better at supporting each other both in the home and in fulfilling their individual dreams. Many dads are becoming more involved than ever in the home and with their children. That is the kind of “feminist” shift we need to see, because that is where men will also have the greatest influence in the world–at home. (We need look no further than the opposite end of the spectrum at the social epidemic of poverty and crime that stems from fatherlessness to know this is true.)

The fight for equality of the sexes should be moving in this direction, not the other way around. We need more fathers who feel their work outside the home is really about supporting the mother in the home. As C.S. Lewis said, “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.” I’m certainly not saying anything at all against working mothers, or trying to convince women they should never do anything outside of caring for home and family. Clearly, I am doing something right now that falls outside of the immediate realm of motherhood. Women will continue to do various types of work that are meaningful to them that have nothing to do with motherhood and everything to do with personal fulfillment and contributing their talents to the larger world–and that’s wonderful! There is no argument here about whether or not mothers will or won’t do work outside of motherhood and whether or not that is a good or bad thing. I am only trying to say that in my dream world, both women and men see motherhood for what it really is and praise instead of criticize a man for recognizing that “as soon as that baby’s lips touch that girl’s bosom” she will find herself in a league all her own. That’s why we created this website. To be one more voice supporting the idea that deliberate motherhood is at the crux of civilization.

I think rather than paint Mr. Jones as a sexist who wants to hurl women back into the 1950‘s, we should see him as an honest and gracious man who has enough real-life experience and perspective to know what’s really important, and then praise him for saying it without apology. In his words, “Every single investment idea . . . every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience . . . which a man will never share, about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby.”

That’s my kind of feminism. Bravo, Mr. Jones. Bravo.

QUESTION: What’s your definition of feminism? Do you think Mr. Jones’ remarks deserve praise or criticism?

CHALLENGE: Challenge your own definition of feminism and consider the idea that the greatest power women have is found in their motherhood.

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