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Feminism has triumphed. No longer a movement or even a controversy, feminism has become a piety.

In many respects, this is worth celebrating. Equality has borne abundant fruit and enriched the lives of
women, men, and children. But feminism has carried costs too. Very high costs.
While women have dramatically increased their earning power, educational attainment, and
independence, many of the crucial supports for a happy and balanced life are further out of reach than in
the past, and further out of reach than they need to be. Feminism is thought to be synonymous with
women’s interests and women’s wishes, but that is far from the case.
Every year since 1972, the General Social Survey has asked a representative sample of American
adults how happy they are. In 1972, women, on average, reported being a bit happier than men. Every
year since, women’s reported happiness has declined, both in absolute terms and when compared with
men’s. Around 1990, the sexes traded places, and since then, women have reported being less happy than
men, and less happy than their mothers and grandmothers were at the same stage of life. A 2011 survey
found that women are two and a half times as likely to be taking antidepressant medication as men.1
Happiness, then, has not marched forward with feminism.
Women’s lives are more varied than they once were, but also far less secure. Men and children are also
unmoored in often damaging ways.
Sheryl Sandberg, in her feminist blockbuster, Lean In, writes, “A truly equal world would be one
where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would
be a better world.”
I don’t, and it’s not because I object to women running countries or companies or men running homes.
It’s because I don’t think “equality” means “sameness.” It need not frighten or bewilder us that, on
average, women tend to be more inclined to choose children over work than men, and I have never
understood why feminists consistently disparage women’s preferences. The Pew Research Center reports
that in 2012, 67 percent of mothers said their ideal was either part-time work or no work outside the
home. After declining for several decades, the percentage of mothers with children under the age of
eighteen who choose to be full-time homemakers has been increasing. And less than a third of mothers
say their ideal working arrangement is full-time work.
Still, Sandberg speaks for millions, especially our opinion leaders. The conventional wisdom spans the
political spectrum. Conservatives as well as liberals, and Republicans almost as much as Democrats, bow
to the idea that equality must mean sameness. Like totalitarians everywhere, they are determined not to
understand people but to regiment them.
Our society devotes tremendous resources, psychic as well as actual, to the attempt to make women
and men alike. Thousands of women’s studies departments catechize college students to be lieve in
perpetual female oppression. Children are instructed that we expect them to play sports in equal measure.
As they mature, young people learn that they are expected to spend the same number of hours at work, to
engage in sex in the same spirit, to study the same subjects in the same numbers, to change the exact same
number of diapers, and to divide all jobs in the economy right down the middle.
Women must be roofers and loggers, and men must teach kindergarten and do social work in the same
proportions. (By the way, the percentage of workers who are killed on the job tends to range from 95 to
99 percent male. You rarely hear feminists decry this inequity.) In our era, any story of a boy or girl doing
something usually associated with the other sex is guaranteed to be hailed as a landmark in the long
march toward an androgynous utopia: a girl who wants to play on her high school’s football team; a boy
who wants to be homecoming queen.
We’re told that “all sex differences are socially constructed.” In our time, this has expanded to the
notion that the male/female binary is imaginary as well. There are not two but many genders. Sexuality is
a spectrum.
Yet resistance stubbornly persists. Most Americans reject the label “feminist” for themselves. A 2016
YouGov poll found that only 26 percent of Americans call themselves feminists. Only 32 percent of
women and 19 percent of men were comfortable with the term. Asked why they rejected the label, 47
percent of women and 35 percent of men said that “feminists are too extreme.”5 Twenty-seven percent of
men also agreed that feminists are “anti-men.” Other polls have found even fewer people accept ing the
feminist designation. A 2015 Vox poll found that while 85 percent believe in “equality for women,” only
18 percent of Americans said they would welcome the feminist label.6
Our society has devoted endless effort to freeing men and women from traditional sex roles in family
life. These roles are outmoded and limiting, we’re told. Back in the 1970s, when second-wave feminism
was gearing up, Betty Friedan asked Simone de Beauvoir whether women should have a choice between
being homemakers and working full-time. “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to bring up
her children,” declared de Beauvoir. “Society should be totally different. Women should not have that
choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”
De Beauvoir may have been onto something. I made the choice to put my family first, and as she
might have put it, Je ne regrette rien.
By the time I became a mother, I’d been a minor public figure, a talking head on TV and radio. I’d
written thousands of columns, reviewed books, written two best sellers, spoken to civic organizations,
served on boards, and so forth. When children came, I assumed that I would fold them into my busy life
as I had many other obligations. I learned better.

Reprinted (or Adapted) from SEX MATTERS: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science,
Love, and Common Sense © 2018 by Mona Charen. Published by Crown Forum, an imprint of the
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.