Just a dozen years ago or so, even Chesterton’s followers considered his views about womankind quaintly outdated. His detractors found his notions about “women’s rights” hopelessly repressive and bigoted. Many accepted the doctrine that women can find fulfillment and happiness only in professional careers. The role of wife, mother, and homemaker was mercilessly attacked and belittled.
As usual, Chesterton’s view was not exactly what you might remember or expect. His main argument about careers for women was that the feminist view is simply the masculine view applied to women. Rather than follow a revolutionary course with truly feminine ideals, the feminists of his day and ours simply demand to have what men have. If men have careers, then women must have careers, for if men have economic independence women must have the same.
It was quite clear to Chesterton that having a job might make a woman independent of husbands and families, but it also made them dependent on employers, dependent on wage-earning, and servants to a business as most men already were. The feminists, he said, always talk as if holding down a job
were a beatific benefit first bestowed on men in a spirit of favouritism and then withheld from women in a spirit of repression.
Today, the feminist view is starting to fade. More and more women are discovering that real happiness and “personal fulfillment” are not to be found in the factory or office, and that few jobs offer beatitude but, rather, boredom, drudgery and stress. Women are saying in ever greater numbers that they want marriage and family, and that they want to devote full time to it. Those who have to keep working wish it were otherwise. [J.P.]
For further reading in Chesterton’s works see “The Prudery of the Feminists,” Fancies Versus Fads; “Feminism or the Mistake about Woman,” What’s Wrong with the World; “Woman,” All Things Considered; “On Women Who Vote,” Avowals and Denials.