Despite the dog days of August, there have been some heated arguments about the foundations of culture — although the participants may not have recognized the import of their rhetoric. The announcement of Paul Ryan joining the Republican ticket rebooted the hysteria concerning Ann Romney that had previously waned, since now both candidates had well-educated wives who chose motherhood. A vocation considered typical for centuries — nay, millennia — can now be categorized as a “red meat” topic, enraging those who scorn the traditional family and women’s enduring commitment to it.
One online article provided a bio for Ryan’s wife, Janna, relating that she had graduated from Wellesley — her own mother’s alma mater — and after attending law school went to work for PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Washington, D.C. According to some, that education didn’t achieve its obvious purpose of entrenching her in a vaunted career, for she subsequently married and stayed home to raise the couple’s three children.
In the comment box below the piece, one woman wrote: “Lovely, another upper middle class female who got the expensive education and does nothing with it but change dirty diapers. She should have had her parents give all that education money to a young woman who needed it and would have really used it. She is a disgrace to educated women everywhere. Get a job.” Another added, “I am sick to death of what the Republican party represents, war, repression of women, elitism, religious fanaticism, destruction of the environment, and nothing but an artificial, superficial value system that the rest of the world despises. That’s just what we need, two Stepford wives as first and second ladies.”
The venom flowed freely, indicating that there is truly a chasm between those who value motherhood and those who see it as a degrading form of slavery. Considering the fact that every person reading that piece (and this one!) was carried, borne, washed, and fed by a woman who cared for someone other than herself, such diatribes reveal more than self-absorbed adolescent petulance — they reveal a deeper animus that needs to be explored.
Ironically, in the same week that Paul Ryan was chosen there was the noted passing of a woman who may provide one key to these rants against motherhood. Helen Gurley Brown, who died at the age of 90, was the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine from 1965 until 1996. During her reign, during which she worked non-stop, 12-hour days (she boasted that the only days she ever took off were for cosmetic surgery), she shamelessly preached “men, love, work, achievement, fun” in every issue.
Brown glorified uncommitted sex, and was firm in making sure that her readers never encountered references to motherhood. The perfect female counterpart to Hugh Hefner, she prioritized carnal delights — even at the expense of family commitments and professionalism in the workplace. By the end of her career, having enthusiastically promoted decades of debauchery — with her own body a masticated parody of the perennial coquette — she had left an extraordinary influence on the culture.
The collapse of Christian values, of course, cannot be laid solely on the shoulders of those who produced such smut — for they were only serving an existing market. Surely our decline has been a coalescence of personalities, philosophies and events that has steadily led us towards moral anarchy. In that regard, the coming election is about more than health insurance, the deficit, and national security. It’s just as much a referendum on marriage, motherhood, and the dignity of the human person. Truly, these are not “superficial value systems,” but the fabric on which our entire culture rests. We ignore the present moral chaos at our peril.
[The Anchor 8.31.12]