Women Who Make the World Worse, by Kate O’Beirne. New York: Sentinel, 2006. 230 p., $24.95.
A friend loaned me this book and recommended I read it. Having finally finished all the other books currently on my list, I acquiesced. The book was frustrating in its caricatures, intriguing in its rhetorical approach, and unable to provide a coherent conservative response to the women’s movement.
In her book, O’Beirne reviews the damage done to the moral fiber of society and women’s welfare by activists from the 1960s forward who have agitated for more rights for women. Efforts to support and encourage working mothers, reduce discrimination and domestic violence, integrate women into the military, and remove perceived gender biases in the educational system are unnecessary, counterproductive, and incompatible with basic biological differences of men and women, according to the author. Per O’Beirne, abortion is the “holy grail” of the women’s movement, the ultimate means for feminists to circumvent biology and reorient society towards an androgynous, gender-neutral world.
Like many politically-charged books, this novel makes more emotive claims than it can substantiate. More rigorous sources would have been helpful, and the selective quotations from studies and feminists so clearly despised by O’Beirne are suspect. The author frequently emphasizes opposing arguments as so clearly wrong and evil that they need no rebuttal. But I found myself frequently confused by this approach. For example, is not “mother love” at least in part a social construction? Should not women, if they choose, cultivate their skills and identities outside of rearing children? These are legitimate questions that deserve an honest examination.
If we accept O’Beirne’s claim that biological differences between men and women necessitate dramatically different social positions for both genders, where is the role of culture, society, and civilization? The concluding chapter is entitled, “Mother Nature is a Bitch” and highlights some intriguing evidence about the biological differences of men and women. I certainly agree that men and women are different. But in my mind, the role of culture and civilization is to bring order and morals to a Machiavellian world. Taking O’Beirne’s basic argument to its extreme would suggest a Paleolithic world where polygamous men brutally have power over strictly monogamous women. Obviously, this is not the author’s objective. But what is her ideal civilization? In what year do we freeze social progress?
Certainly, the women’s movement—and any social movement for that matter—can frequently promote misguided initiatives. On that point, O’Beirne has some valuable things to say. But any effort that seeks to proscribe one acceptable mode of behavior—whether it states that all women should stay in the home or go to work—is wrong. The ennobling aspect of a progressive civilization is its empowerment of individuals to be themselves. The women who make the world worse are those that insist that women (and men) must act according to a certain strict standard that is uniform across the gender.