I developed this freedom-centered alternative by studying the history of the women’s movement. Since its beginning in the 18th century, reformers have taken distinct positions on gender roles. Egalitarians stressed the metaphysical equality and essential sameness of the sexes and sought to liberate women from conventional roles. By contrast, “maternal feminists” were not opposed to gender roles. They fought for an empowered femininity and looked for ways to enlarge and strengthen the roles of wives and mothers.
Contra Presley, I don’t endorse maternal feminism. I praise both schools for advancing the cause of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. Women appear to have made their greatest progress when the two movements worked together. But, as I make crystal clear: the world has moved on and neither theory quite works for 21st century men and women. That is why I proffer “freedom feminism.”
Freedom feminism shares with egalitarianism an aversion to prescribed gender roles: Women should be free to defect from the stereotypes of femininity if they so choose. At the same time, however, it respects the choices of free and self-determining women—when they choose to embrace conventional feminine roles. Nowhere do I say women should stay in the home or that women who defy convention are “aberrations.” I simply note that, to the consternation of hardline contemporary genderists, many women, when given their full set of Jeffersonian freedoms, continue to give priority to the domestic sphere. Somehow in Presley’s mind “giving priority” means a total rejection of the workplace. Not at all. But many women, especially when they have children at home, do appear to have a strong preference for working part-time.